Creating Monsters

by Phyllis Irene Radford

From ghoulies and ghosties / And long-leggedy beasties / And things that go bump in the night, / Good Lord, deliver us!

— Robert Burns

What was your first nightmare? Chances are it was your worst because it was the first and haunts you still. For me that would be spiders. Big spiders, as big as my dad’s fist and black as midnight on a moonless night.

Babylon 5 did that with the Shadow vessels, accompanied by an ear-piercing screech.

In later years my dreams focused on open weeping sores that built ugly scabs, and little kids eating their own scabs.

Plague movies do that too.

Then there was the Drahk on Babylon 5. When first we encounter these crusty-headed aliens they morph from one dimension to another so that they flow rather than walk and their outline is blurred so you can’t aim a weapon at them because you don’t know where precisely they are. And they can shift between dimensions for that fraction of a second it would take an energy beam to hit them. I don’t know why the producers abandoned that concept when we see this species later in the series. Maybe the camera work and CGI were too expensive.

Would that our nightmares could be chopped with the stroke of a pen by a bookkeeper.

In literature we don’t have those limitations. I mentioned that morphing concept in a short story, Image of the Beast, available here in my collection of short fiction Fantastical Ramblings by Irene Radford.

Whatever makes your knees wobble, robs your head of blood flow, and turns you stomach, it seems that the horror and Sci Fi genres have already dealt with it.

I don’t like to think what kind of nightmares haunt the dreams of production designers for them to come up with some super scary beasties.

So, what’s a gal to do when she needs to invent a demon for an Urban Fantasy? I need new monsters, not recycled Hollywood designs.

For my Tess Noncoiré Adventures by P.R. Frost, Hounding the Moon, DAW Books 2006, Moon In The Mirror DAW Books 2007, Faery Moon DAW Books 2009, and Forest Moon Rising DAW Books 2011, I borrowed heavily from European myths and legends. Many of them come from a time when traversing the dark and mysterious forests could be dangerous to body and soul. Outlaws and predatory animals were nothing compared to some of the dark elves.

A Field Guide to the Little People by Nancy Arrowsmith with George Moorse published by Hill of Wange of New York 1977 goes into gruesome detail of what these paranormal creatures like to do to unwary Humans. No Disneyfication here. These creatures spring from the ugliness of life at the peasant level in the Dark Ages and Middle Ages. Blaming their overlords for everything that goes wrong in life brought retribution. So, the dark and evil creatures that disappear into the shadows when you look directly at them must be responsible for everything from failed crops to, deformed sheep, to wasting diseases.

Those are real nightmares.

An anthropologist like Marie Brennan could tell you more.

But some of the precautions against demons actually have a purpose in our era where we are more aware of hygiene and insect-borne diseases. It seems that covering the water bucket or pitcher (no plumbing or running water) to keep demons from pissing in it, also kept down germs and bugs and such.

Once again I am facing the challenge to invent a monster for a sekrit project. I think I’ll head to one of my other great fears—falling into the open ocean and becoming helpless against the currents, the predators, and smashing against sharp rocks with no rescue in sight. My monster must have sharp teeth, clasping claws, slimy to the touch, and totally relentless in pursuit of its prey. Cthulhu type squids have been done. I need something… more.

Anyone got a cute cartoon princess I can play with so I don’t have nightmares about sea monsters?


About Phyllis Irene Radford

Irene Radford has been writing stories ever since she figured out what a pencil was for. A member of an endangered species—a native Oregonian who lives in Oregon—she and her husband make their home in Welches, Oregon where deer, bears, coyotes, hawks, owls, and woodpeckers feed regularly on their back deck. A museum trained historian, Irene has spent many hours prowling pioneer cemeteries deepening her connections to the past. Raised in a military family she grew up all over the US and learned early on that books are friends that don’t get left behind with a move. Her interests and reading range from ancient history, to spiritual meditations, to space stations, and a whole lot in between. Mostly Irene writes fantasy and historical fantasy including the best-selling Dragon Nimbus Series and the masterwork Merlin’s Descendants series. In other lifetimes she writes urban fantasy as P.R. Frost or Phyllis Ames, and space opera as C.F. Bentley. Later this year she ventures into Steampunk as someone else. If you wish information on the latest releases from Ms Radford, under any of her pen names, you can subscribe to her newsletter: Promises of no spam, merely occasional updates and news of personal appearances.


Creating Monsters — 6 Comments

  1. I keep rats as pets, can handle spiders, snakes, snails, bugs, and any manner of ugly whatcamacallums, my kids received Cthulhu plushies one Christmas (well, they already had a zoo of plushie bats, sharks, spiders, and STD viruses, plus a cuddly boa constrictor three meters long).

    But there is one monster that causes me to run ot of the whole apartment, screaming, in my underwear if need be, never to return until some brave soul assures me the intruder has been driven away. This horrifying creature is called a butterfly (never mention his even scarier cousin, the moth).

    Now, seriously. Look at a butterfly, without the pretty wings, enlarged. Screeeeeeeech!

    • As a kid I watched a trilogy of short horror movies with Boris Karloff. One featured a nurse who had to deal with a dead woman, prepare her for burial. The woman had a ring. The nurse stole it and afterward was menaced by a moth. Butterflies and dragonflies fascinate me. Moths still scare the dickens out of me.

  2. I’ve never found monsters to be scary. But I haven’t found much fiction at all to be scary. Maybe that’s because I haven’t had real-life experiences that taught me to be scared. (I didn’t cry at sentimental stories until I almost lost my wife). So monsters are more of an intellectual thing for me.

    That said, I prefer a Hannibal Lecter type of monster – that appears to be a normal person. We can sit next to him and gradually learn about our danger.

    • While sipping on a nice glass of Chianti, no doubt…

      For me, right now, there are too many human monsters skulking around in realtime for me to get hung up on aliens or other supernatural beasts. In all of nature, I don’t think anything compares to the level of malice that humanity harbours and actively cultivates.

  3. Babylon 5 is an amazing series, and they did an amazing job with it (I watched it through for the first time last year). And yes, the Shadows are definitely creepy – as were the final season creatures that rode some of the characters.