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Author Topic: Here there be Monsters  (Read 14001 times)

Offline Yora

Here there be Monsters
« on: October 29, 2014, 10:42:34 AM »
It just occured to me that I can't really think of a lot of fantasy books in which monsters play a significant role in either the plot or the world as a whole. What occasionally shows up are some kind of zombie horde controlled either by the Dark Lord or a human sorcerer, or some kind of creepy, not-quite-human servant of the Dark Lord. And of course dragons.
The one exception I can think of are Andrzej Sapkowskis Witcher books, in which the main character is a professional monster hunter who likes to show of his monster lore when starting to investigate the clues left after an attack by an unknown creature.
But other than that, monsters seem to be much, much more common and numerous in RPGs and videogames, where they offer new kinds of enemies that fight in different ways that human soldiers.

I love monsters. For me, they are pretty much what fantasy is all about, even more so than magic. Why is it they appear to be so relatively rare, and what do you consider good uses of monsters in a story?
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Offline Nyki Blatchley

Re: Here there be Monsters
« Reply #1 on: October 29, 2014, 06:02:46 PM »
Out of the more recent authors, Peter V Brett has plenty of monsters, and there are plenty of them in classic S&S. And of course, Tolkien has the Watcher in the Water.  I'm sure there must be plenty of others.

I use monsters as and when I need them, using creating my own.  My novel At An Uncertain Hour has a couple of scenes with different kinds of monsters, and I have a scene in an unpublished novel with a thing I call an ice-worm.  It's pretty disgusting  8)

Offline Elfy

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Re: Here there be Monsters
« Reply #2 on: October 29, 2014, 07:36:21 PM »
It does seem to be something that happened more years ago. Beowulf and The Hobbit spring immediately to mind and given Tolkien's interest in the former, that shouldn't be any great surprise.
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Offline xiagan

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Re: Here there be Monsters
« Reply #3 on: October 29, 2014, 07:53:51 PM »
Peter V. Brett's Demon Cycle books, Terry Brook's Shannara, to a degree Steven Erikson's Malazan and Tamora Pierce's Immortals series come to my mind.

And there's our (err...) highly successful book club read Foundling (also known as Monster Blood Tattoo) by Cormish.
"Sire, I had no need of that hypothesis." (Laplace)

Offline Yora

Re: Here there be Monsters
« Reply #4 on: October 29, 2014, 10:23:56 PM »
Tolkien actually had a decent range of creatures. Trolls are perhaps on the border between monster and people, but then there's giant spiders, and the balrog and the watcher, which I think are described as just two examples of two much larger families of creatures. And there's mention of werewolves and vampires, though those don't seem to be the classic Transilvanian types, but something else.

I've recently been reading Robert Howard and Fritz Leiber, and was quite surprised that the number of monsters in their Sword & Sorcery stories is relatively moderate. At least much less than I expected. Conan generally faces one creature per story. Sometimes two, but in those cases one of them tends to be a monstrous ape or a giant snake, which are still relatively "mundane" wildlife creatures. And I don't recall any monsters in Leibers stories (though that might just be my memor, but if there were, they were rare).

By contrast, any fantasy roleplaying game will have at least one book entirely devoted to creatures, often around 200 per volume.
I must admit having read none of the popular novel series of the last decades, but could it be that we're currently seeing a phase in which political intrigue and war stories are very much in fashion? Song of Ice and Fire would certainly fit that, and I believe Wheel of Time as well. From what I've gathered of The First Law, Malazan, and Farseer,  they seem to fit as well. Mistborn might be the one exception among the books that are very popular right now, but I am not sure what exactly they are about. Such stories wouldn't really need monsters, as there are plenty of human(oid) threats that are directly relevant to the story.
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Offline cupiscent

Re: Here there be Monsters
« Reply #5 on: October 30, 2014, 02:06:10 AM »
Well, Wheel of Time has the Trollocs. But yes, Brett's Demons was the first thing that sprang to mind for me (probably because I tended to skim-read the pages of demon-smashing because there was no real plot or character impact in the smashing itself). And I'm currently grumbling my way through Brian Staveley's Emperor's Blades, which seems to have a few kinds of monstrous things included.

But fantasy at present definitely seems more interested in people versus people, rather than people versus monstrous threats. Possibly a post-cold-war thing. Given the state of the real world, "killing the dragon" seems laughably naive.

Offline jefGoelz

Re: Here there be Monsters
« Reply #6 on: October 30, 2014, 03:36:31 AM »
I think the absence of monsters is a very recent thing.

Offline Ryan Mueller

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Re: Here there be Monsters
« Reply #7 on: October 30, 2014, 04:24:31 AM »
I love monsters, and I don't think there are enough of them in fantasy. In urban fantasy, you see plenty of them. Of course, I feel like my writing is a mix of epic and urban. I have the epic plot lines, but I like to move them along with the pacing of urban fantasy (and monsters). The key thing is making sure it's more than pointless monster killing. You have to present the possibility that characters will die in these battles.

That, for me, is the biggest failing of R.A. Salvatore's Icewind Dale trilogy. It's fun, but the battles get kind of old after a while because you never feel like anyone's in danger.

Offline Yora

Re: Here there be Monsters
« Reply #8 on: October 30, 2014, 09:59:29 AM »
But fantasy at present definitely seems more interested in people versus people, rather than people versus monstrous threats. Possibly a post-cold-war thing. Given the state of the real world, "killing the dragon" seems laughably naive.
Perhaps. I think there's definitly a post-cold war change in storytelling, but I think in regards to fantasy, that would mainly make "fighting hordes of orcs" no longer relevant. Fighting beasts seems to fill a different purpose. I think that's more a case of extremely dangerous wilderness. Demons would be a supernatural evil.
Orcs and the like would be "the evil others", and that's something that doesn't really fly anymore. Not that I am missing that at all.

As I said in my first post, fantasy in which there are one or two types of fictional monsters are quite common. What I am thiking about is worlds in which there are dozens of monster types. That seems to be quite rare outside of games.

Salvatore does have monsters, but he's doing licensed gaming fiction, so I don't consider it an exception to the general phenomenon.
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Offline Elfy

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Re: Here there be Monsters
« Reply #9 on: October 30, 2014, 10:52:24 AM »
Maybe people are the real monsters.

Offline xiagan

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Re: Here there be Monsters
« Reply #10 on: October 30, 2014, 11:43:20 AM »
Maybe people are the real monsters.
Yeah, that's certainly what Grimdark is all about. ;)
"Sire, I had no need of that hypothesis." (Laplace)

Offline K.S. Crooks

Re: Here there be Monsters
« Reply #11 on: October 31, 2014, 09:38:19 AM »
I like having monsters in my fantasy stories. I like to start with the weaknesses of my main characters and create creatures that have strengths in those areas. Using animals as guides is helpful in terms of their appearance and behaviour. A person encountering large, four-legged beast may find it territorial like hippos or elephants, or may simply wander off lie a black bear would, depending on what you want it to be like. Monsters also provide the opportunity for fighting without in-depth reasons needed. This provides immediate action to the story whether the monsters are the ones killing or being killed.
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Offline Justan Henner

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Re: Here there be Monsters
« Reply #12 on: November 04, 2014, 06:23:46 PM »
To me, monsters have always seemed more a mainstay to horror than to other fantasy genres, if only because (in my head) a monster should be scary, and quite frankly, trollocs, orcs, etc. aren't so scary. Xiagan mentioned Malazan, but as he hinted at, most the creature's in those books aren't exactly monstrous, and to me it comes down to the fact that the beings I'd otherwise call monsters tend to have their own cultures, and their cultures are complex enough to humanize them (the T'lan Imass, the K'Chain Chemalle, and so on). I think that's sort of why monsters have fallen out of fashion, because a scary monster has to be either a hard to understand intelligent being, or some kind of beast that's scary for the fact you have no chance of reasoning with it, otherwise it's just a separate species.

For things like video games, I tend to classify all the diverse organisms as either cultured humanoids or beasts, and a lot of the time, demons tend to fall into the cultured category.
« Last Edit: November 04, 2014, 06:25:43 PM by Justan Henner »

Offline AzWingsFan

Re: Here there be Monsters
« Reply #13 on: November 05, 2014, 05:46:54 AM »
Mine tend to have a bit more than most contemporary fantasy.
Fan of Classic/Epic Fantasy and Grimdark

Working on writing a book. Any advice will be taken graciously.

Offline AniOneHereAlive

Re: Here there be Monsters
« Reply #14 on: November 05, 2014, 06:02:05 PM »
I think monsters have fallen to the wayside because a lot of writers seem to focus more on the human condition for lack of a better phrasing. That and monsters don't offer as much of an obstacle in most modern readers minds, because like someone stated previously they're just not scary anymore. I know for myself, I'd rather face down a cougar with a sword and shield than a sentient being who is plotting against me.  The cougar's motives are transparent, they fight for food and territory while the sentient being's motives are unknown as are their capabilities. That unknown with it's myriad of possibilities is far scarier.

Also, with Sapkowski in the Witcher it's human-ish sentient creatures and humans who perpetrate the most evils and are far scarier than the monsters who appear mostly as local nuisances. Yennifer scares the crap out of me.. (don't judge!)