In The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, we find monsters of varying sizes and shapes. From the face filled chests of the Blemmyes to the one legged Sciapods, these monsters all exist far away from “monster free” England. To encounter these monsters, one must impart on a journey crossing many lands, and leave the safety of England behind. In the Middle Ages, monstrosity was marked by distance. The farther away from England, the more peloric the monsters become. All of the monsters have one thing in common though, and that is their resemblance, in part, to the human form. Each deformity is an extension or revision of physical human possibility. The deformaties, ( a dogheaded cynochepali) stand as representations of differing cultures and practices, and represent the fear of otherness. Any human who encountered one of these “monsters” would be advised to engage in combat as form of purification and cleansing. While the Middle Ages focused on the external Monster, the contemporary world is more concerned with the internal monster.
Today, many of the “monsters” that exist within the folklore focus on “hidden” deformities. Witches, vampires, even zombies, present as human, yet are triggered by events emotional and physical to reveal their monstrousness. The monsters of today are many times endowed with a code of ethics, and often fight internally against their “monstrosity” to preserve their humanity. In other words, monsters of today are often portrayed as beings that are reverent of the human condition. One such monster that has captured today’s imagination in popular fiction and film is the modern day vampire. The authors of today such as Anne Rice use their vampires to explore internal questions of God’s purpose, morality, vice, and justice. Vampires such as Anne Rices’ Louis are portrayed as suffering human inhabitants of non-human bodies. Louis constantly looks inside of himself for guidance, rather than reacting solely to the physical environment around him.
Unlike Mandeville’s monsters, the modern day monsters co-exist with humans. They are unmarked physically unless triggered in some way and so are undiscernible from any other human. Within this environment, humans end up creating relationships, often amorous with the monsters which complicates the issue of monstrosity. If you can copulate with a monster, are they of your species, or are you part monster yourself? Unlike the flight or fight recommendation of the Middle Ages, there is a call for internal investigation with today’s monsters. A witch or werewolf, by today’s standards may come in handy as a protector. Their “deformity” used for good, where a Blemmye is viewed as useless fit for nothing more than target practice.
Both Medieval and current monsters focus on overt sexuality, but one focus’ on the physical animalistic form of sexuality, while the other, the mental form. Melville gives us men whose testicles reach their knees, and amazons who carve off a breast and keep men for their pleasure. Today’s vampire focuses on the art of seduction, capturing our desire through imagination and intense pleasure rather than aweing us with size or shape.
We are asked to search within ourselves for our similarities with Monsters rather than our differences, so much so, that the desire to engage with today’s monsters creates a desire to take on their physical differences rather than annihilate them.