• Editorial: The Many Monsters

    The phrase "monster" is a big thing this season thanks to Grogar. Yet in a magical world with plenty of strange creatures, can they all be called monsters? Vampire fruit bats, Orthos, Cerberus, Hydras, there's more than a few creatures to choose.

    Let's get to the root of what a monster really means. Check out the full editorial after the break!

    1. An imaginary creature that is typically large, ugly, and frightening.

    Look at that, Google! You made Fluttershy upset. Besides, that definition comes up short since we apply it to more than just imaginary creatures. There are other definitions depending on the source and many speak more to abnormalities. Even a living creature that differs from the norm can fall under this purview, including people. Yet anyone who has watched The Elephant Man would understand that categorizing someone as a monster based on physical appearance would be a cruel injustice. 

    Trust me, you will care about the story of John Merrick.
    Money and Monster
    I don't think it'll be a huge shock for folks to learn that "monster" and "money" share a root etymological word. Both began (as far as we can tell) from the word "monēre", which means "to warn or advise". The Goddess Juno, patron god of Rome, held the epitaph Juno Moneta. This means that Juno would often warn Rome of impending danger. Hence Juno's temple is featured on early Roman coins with that very epitaph.

    In Moneta we trust!

    Monēre would branch off and further evolve into the term monstrum. This word means "an omen, supernatural being, or object that is a warning of the will of the gods." Consider how many cultures in the world feature beings that are the creations of the gods and the ruin of men. Roman and Greek mythologies are abound with giant creatures that test heroes and bring despair to communities. Both Gilgamesh and Beowulf prove their mettle by besting terrible foes that are created by both god and demon.

    Beowulf showing off Grendle's arm.
    The old-school selfie.

    In time, monstrum transitioned into the French term monstre, "malformed animal or human, creature afflicted with a birth defect". A term that can sound clinically unemotional but in our modern context isn't a word someone should use to describe a fellow human being. From there, the term "monster" would arise and become a part of the English language.

    Monstrous Associations
    At first one would think that the term monster only applies to giant creatures or beings that are unnatural. The product of divine powers, they have no basis in nature. In fact, as an article on Pocket Worthy noted, many monsters appear to be hybrids. Even as children we have the ability to sort shapes and features into categories. Yet a monster often bridges this by having traits that defy the norm. That, or we get to enjoy a variety of platypus jokes.

    This creature laughs at your preconceptions
    and categorizations!

    Yet violating the rules isn't enough to invoke our fear, and the fact that My Little Pony features so many mythical creatures is a testament that something about these creatures sticks with us. Often these creatures possess elements that are already frightening. One set of sharp teeth is a danger, but on multiple heads? There lies the threat of the hydra. Or what about a creature as physically intimidating as an elephant, while possessing ther serpentine attributes of a snake? That African creature is called the Grootslang.

    Apparently, the gods messed up with this creation
    and split it into the elephant and snake. But they
    missed one...

    My Little Pony has played on this by featuring creatures that could be frightening, but sometimes presenting the visuals in a way to remove the menacing association. The Orthos and the Tri-horned Bunyip are great examples. Both possess physical traits that should not be possible or are simply so big as to intimidate. Yet the show designers remove the fear association ingrained in our unconscious by modeling each creature after certain dog breeds. Any dog can look fearsome while baring it's teeth, but features like saggy jowels, puppy eyes, and perked ears can lower our defenses. Would you still call these creatures monsters?

    Say what you will about the pony selling the orthros, but he did keep its teeth clean.

    Yet other designs, such as the Cragadile, are meant to be threatening with sharper lines, emphasized jaws with large teeth, and an unnatural pairing of a crocodile and stone. Few of us will ever have even passing interactions with crocodiles, yet we are aware of them and their predatory danger. That fearful association carries forward when we see this fictional creature, and I would use the term monster.

    That's a pretty freaky image right there.
    Sleep well!

    A Monster's Message
    Joseph Campbell once stated that we populate the unknown with creatures from our subconscious. Fears, desires, complexes, and impulses find expression through strange imagery. Case in point, vampires and mermaids both posses a sexual representation even as they also play on fears such as mortality and the deep sea.

    Thundercats combined a vampire and a mermaid.
    It really didn't enhance anything.

    Much like the original meaning for monstrum, these creatures serve as warning of our own failings. The hydra has been described as a representation of a recurring fault that cannot be killed or removed from our persona. A bit like the pride Twilight has demonstrated in "Feeling Pinkie Keen" and beyond.

    I wonder how close the hydra resides to Ponyville.

    Often a monster appears in a story because humanity has wandered off the right path. In keeping with the original, divine concept, the monster appears as a punishment and a reminder. This has been a central concept to Godzilla in many forms.

    With Avengers: Endgame over, Godzilla is my next
    big-anticipation flick.

    It's true that even in My Little Pony, the lead characters don't encounter random monsters. They often provoke them. From trespassing in the quarray eels' territory to carelessly wandering the Everfree Forest and encountering timber wolves, the ponies often trigger the confrontation. They go beyond their limits and this trespass carries consequences. 

    Look at it this way: Maud is technically a home-delivery meal.

    However, there are times where it seems like they've done nothing wrong. The bugbear was an arbitrary appearance that was meant to distract the Mane Six from the 100th episode. There was no lesson to be learned there; only a spectacle to witness. And what about the original Changelings, who seemed to be aggressors without any provocation.

    You know, time and characterization have made me more fond
    of the reformed Changelings. Huh...

    The Question of Sentience
    It's one thing when a creature is driven by primal urges such as the need to feed. This doesn't make them any less of a menace but it can influence how we view them. In some ways this heightens the terror as there's no way to reason with our placate the threat. Much like the Xenomorph in Alien.

    Nothing personal. You're just protein for this thing.

    In other ways this impersonal approach makes it strangely hard to resent the creature. We know none of this is done out of malice. Not so when a being has the awareness to make decisions and speak. Consider the vanity and violence of Smog or Queen Chrysalis' enjoyment.

    I consider this the most chilling image MLP has created.

    Fluttershy often defended Iron Will as not being a monster, even though many of the choices he's made have not been for others' benefit. Yet let's double back to the original ideas behind a monster. It's a being whose appearance can only signal misfortune and grief. Something that will invoke despair and leave destruction in its wake. Iron Will is a questionable business maker at best, but he hasn't crossed that line yet. And no, I will not be counting the IDW "Siege of the Crystal Empire" as part of his character.

    The only monsterous thing about him is that gun show!

    Yet beings like Chrysalis, the Sirens, and the show version of Sombra I would describe as a monster because their decisions and actions have this very damaging effect. Maybe they could choose different paths and given enough time might reform. Yet surveying their actions, impact, and driving motives I think the label applies well.

    Sombra in the show would be a warning against pride.
    But don't you dare diss the theatrics!

    When we label a person a monster, we are saying that they are incapable of doing good or creating a positive impact. The best they can offer is to serve as an example of what not to be. A reminder to guard against the vices or malignancies that empower their worst behavior.

    The comic Sombra was more driven by self-loathing.
    He tries to be the monster everypony thinks him to be.

    I think that's why we're often curious to know how a villain/monster became this way. The actions they perform can be labeled wrong or evil, but we cannot learn from these actions alone. We want to know the "why" behind each action so we can then be on guard against the same trap.

    One fallen alicorn is an example of pride and jealousy taking over.
    The second is more a fear that the same could happen to her.

    Bonding Over Monsters
    One final note is that the fear a monster can evoke is actually a tether between us and the larger culture. When Chrysalis was first revealed as glowing eyes and fangs against a dark silhouette, I think almost ever fan felt the same chill. No matter the culture, there are symbols that demand a response and afterwards we might even share a laugh. It is possible to bond with other people over a shared fear or having a laugh at our own sense of vulnerability. It's why so many of the creatures seen in My Little Pony are designed to either invoke a fear or subvert them.

    I remember it was so creepy seeing the cockatrice slither out from cover.

    Though in truth I think I'm more like to ask friends, "Wasn't that creature freaky?" instead of, "Awe, wasn't that creature cute?" Even in a show like My Little Pony, I'd likely talk about the former.

    "Whoever fights monsters should see to it 
    that in the process he does not become a monster."

    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!

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