Immortal Monster: The Mythological Evolution of the Fantastic Beast in Modern Fiction and Film

Immortal Monster: The Mythological Evolution of the Fantastic Beast in Modern Fiction and Film

by Joseph D. Andriano
     
 

Imaginary beasts have figured prominently in literary works ever since the ancient world, when these myths were first formulated. But the nineteenth century witnessed the rise of science, the discovery of geological findings that challenged the biblical myth of creation, and the birth of Darwin's theory of evolution. Since then, monsters have evolved from

Overview

Imaginary beasts have figured prominently in literary works ever since the ancient world, when these myths were first formulated. But the nineteenth century witnessed the rise of science, the discovery of geological findings that challenged the biblical myth of creation, and the birth of Darwin's theory of evolution. Since then, monsters have evolved from supernatural creatures to natural ones endowed with exceptional size, strength, or intelligence. This book explores both literary and cinematic texts that are especially explicit in their Darwinian portrayal of monstrous beasts, though these creatures retain an archaic mythological quality. The myth of Leviathan and Behemoth, for instance, is as central to Jaws as it is to Moby-Dick; indeed, Jaws inherits the myth directly from Moby-Dick, as does King Kong. These and other monster tales, such as The Creature from the Black Lagoon and Grendel, keep the ancient myth alive and relevant by recasting it in the context of biological and cultural evolution.

There is a pattern of alternating bestialization and anthropomorphism in many monster tales, suggesting that these images are being displayed in repeated attempts to define who we are in relation to animals. Thus the more beastly the monster, the more insistently we erect the old paradigm of the Ladder of Being, placing ourselves on a higher and separate rung; but the more human-like the creature, the more readily we shift to the paradigm of the Tree of Life, in which all creatures are more closely related. Since the matter of distinctions between species also involves questions of race, the monster myth is often conscripted to serve racist agendas. But more often than not, the myth has an anti-racist subtext that undercuts the hierarchy. The closing chapters of the volume consider the notion of artificial evolution in works such as The Island of Dr. Moreau, and human-machine interaction in Gravity's Rainbow. As fables of identity, monster tales dramatize our anxieties and fears about our own animal nature and provide a means of coming to terms with our evolution.

Editorial Reviews

Booknews
Explore works of fiction and film that develop the myth of the evolving monster from its modern to its postmodern manifestation, suggesting that, as readers and viewers, we can interpret fantastic beasts in terms of human evolution because the texts are productions of a culture which has been deeply concerned with evolution since Darwin. Looks at works including Moby Dick, Jaws, King Kong, and Congo, as well as The X-Files and Grendel. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780313306679
Publisher:
ABC-CLIO, Incorporated
Publication date:
01/30/1999
Series:
Contributions to the Study of Science Fiction and Fantasy Series
Pages:
202
Product dimensions:
6.14(w) x 9.21(h) x 0.50(d)
Lexile:
1240L (what's this?)

Meet the Author

JOSEPH D. ANDRIANO is Associate Professor of English at the University of Southwestern Louisiana. He is the author of Our Ladies of Darkness: Feminine Daemonology in Male Gothic Fiction (1993), and his articles have appeared in several journals, including Poe Studies and ATQ: 19th Century American Literature and Culture. He has also published short stories in Argonaut and The Chattahoochee Review.

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