Monsters are the patron saints of imperfection.
- Guillermo Del Toro
My possessions circle around me like some sort of pop cultural accretion disc. In Phillip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”, he refers to it as kipple. Kipple is the stuff that piles up, the random bits of detritus and trash that, if left untended, will evolve into mounds of problems.
I have lots of kipple.
X-men posters from junior high. Pez dispensers. Action figures.
The other day, while descending into a dig in my garage best described as archaeological, I located a bunch of my old Dungeons and Dragons stuff. It’s mostly AD&D and 3rd edition stuff, source material that isn’t particularly useful for the modern ruleset. Books about elves. Books about thieves. And so so many binders of monsters.
I guess it’s not much of a surprise that most of my D&D books are Monster Manuals.
The monsters were always my favorite. The weirder and more horrific, the better. My players hated me for it, but any time a new book of fiends was released, I had to have it. Of particular interest were the ones from settings that cannibalized/re-purposed real world cultures, like Kara Tur, Al’Qadim, Ravenloft, etc.
As I grew older, I went from gobbling up all of these make believe monster manuals, to collecting books about ‘real world’ monsters. I don’t mean politicians or Kardashians. I mean folklore, like the manananggal of the Philippines or the Slavic leshy.
You can learn a lot from cultures by what they’re afraid of. While it’s always fun to scroll through the SCP archives or to get lost in some rambling, poorly written account of someone’s cousin who I swear to God saw something watching him at Skinwalker Ranch . . . There are more scholarly ways to get your chills and thrills.
Over at Monstrum on PBS, Dr. Emily Zarka is building a menagerie, cataloguing all of the profoundly strange creatures from across the world. Every two weeks, she adds something horrible and often bizarre to her collection with a well-researched, concise, and immaculately produced examination of some abomination. Her approach analyzes these myths from a literary, historical, and anthropological bent. And if there’s anything I love, it’s getting nerdy about horror.