I always get angry when I see an advert for a documentary-type show with “monsters” in the title, but when I tune in, it’s just about alligators or something. They’re trying to attach my sense of uncanny to something I am extremely familiar with. It won’t work. Gators haven’t given me that “What is thiiiiiis?!” feeling since I had a rubber alligator for the tub, age 2. If I see “monster”, I want it to be as Other as possible. (And don’t talk to me about Komodo “dragons”. They barely kill anyone.)
These books below are about real monsters. You can decide for yourself whether they are extant or not. Maybe they are. Maybe they were. There are more things in heaven and earth, right? In order to make this post more applicable for you, dear reader, I’m offering suggestions from each book as to which monsters would make the best pets. Studies show that owning a pet will increase both your lifespan and your quality of life, even if the pet will eat your face or steal your soul. Don’t skip the reading, though. The trick with exotic pets is to know what you’re getting into.
Monsters – John Michael Greer is a warlock. (Some might say “druid” – fine – just sounds too New Agey, Spinal Tap-y to me. Warlock is like, black wings and a sword and crazy hair. Though he just looks like a folk singer in all the pix I’ve seen. I digress.) In this very interesting, very straight-faced TOME (I can use that kinda stilted lingo when the book is written by a – pardon my anglo-saxon – FUCKING WARLOCK, man), he shuffles a few of our conventional ideas around. Vampires are real, but they don’t use (or have) teeth. Lake monsters exist, but they’re kinda magic/spiritual. He explains different planes of existence: astral, ethereal are the ones with all the invisible critters that hide your keys. There’s a section on investigating monsters, including a protection spell. Of course, no way I’m messing with spells – ever. Just don’t. As the late, great Terry Pratchett taught us, “Any wizard bright enough to survive for five minutes was also bright enough to realise that if there was any power in demonology, then it lay with the demons. Using it for your own purposes would be like trying to beat mice to death with a rattlesnake.” Caveat emptor.
Pet: Perhaps a Brownie? But don’t let them hear you refer to them as a pet. Keep milk on hand.
The Resurrectionist – Let’s say, in the distant past, evolution wandered down a few hidden paths. Let’s imagine natural selection allowed a few subplots in the descent of our species. Dr. Black does more than imagine it. Putting pen to paper, scalpel to flesh – maybe controlled substance to brain – he diagrams the actual physical structures of our wish-you-were-imaginary-but-you’re-actually-my-COUSIN forebears. He’s sort of a genetic Dr. Frankenstein.
Pet: Winged Horse. Do NOT go with the three-headed dog. “Fetch” becomes a bloodbath.
Praise for the Hairy Man – Sasquatch wears many hats. He is imaginary and/or real. He is a relic hominid and/or alien and/or inter-dimensional visitor and/or magick phenomenon. He is solitary and/or tribal and/or part of a global extended family including Yowies, Yetis and Orang Pendaks. You can explore these ideas in this collection of two dozen interviews with proponents on all sides of the debate.
Pet: The Orang Pendak or maybe a Yowie are your only options here, unless you want to spend your every last cent feeding a fully-grown adult Sasquatch.
Tracking the Man-Beast – Joe Nickell is kind of a party-pooper, if your party is attended by apparitions, lycanthropes and relic hominids. He’s gonna walk around with his plastic red cup and measure/test/predict your guests out of existence with his fancy-pants “scientific method”. Booo. Now it’s just you and Joe with all this food. But he is a very interesting dude. My knee-jerk reaction to anyone I assume is enslaved to some kind of pure materialism is to be very judgmental about their lack of soul and imagination. Unfortunately for this bad habit of mine, Joe Nickell writes poetry. Dammit. This book (which has nary a poem) is his skeptical quest through all kinds of Other critters. He’s a monster hunter armed only with a tape measure and little yellow notepad. And a red plastic cup, on a good day.
Pet: Just get a dog, you credulous fool.
The Ancient Giants Who Ruled America – Yes, giants. A huge population of 8 foot+ people cruising around prehistoric America, raising cain. Cool, but wha-? I dunno, man; read the book.
Pet: Too close to human. You can’t have a giant as a pet.
The Zombie Book – Redfern & Steiger is a pretty heavy hitting combo for a book. Both have written small libraries in the paranormal/monster genre – meaning, they take it all very seriously and have developed theories and so forth, especially Steiger. Here they cover every aspect of the insatiably hungry undead – from Sumerian legend to modern pandemic to pop culture manifestations of zombisheness. I actually have little respect for zombies. I prefer an enemy I can reason with or relate to on some level. With Da Zs, it’s like brain or be brained – c’est tout. Meh. But if the ‘pocalypse was ‘round the corner, I’d make sure I had me one of these.
The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits– I suppose it’s rude to call a human a monster just because they no longer occupy an actual body, but they are definitely Other. And there are lots of kinds of ghosts – some not strictly speaking human, as this densely packed book explains. Apparently, Edith Wharton and Henry James still occupy one of her previous homes. The Last Bookstore has the ghost of a maintenance worker decapitated in an elevator shaft a few decades back (not in this book) and one of our G-men saw a glowing leg whisk by a dark doorway upstairs in the Labyrinth. Five of us investigated during the Christmas party last year, but all we saw were pink elephants, if you know what I mean. Here’s an amazing list of spooks from the ghosthunters at Tor.
Pet: Ghost. You don’t choose them, they choose you, and you might already have one.
Lovecraft’s Monsters– Heebee. Jeebies. If you like tentacles, ritual sacrifice and sesquipedalianism – you will love anything by old Mr. HP Lovecraft. But this collection is actually of stories by other writers you may have heard of (Neil Gaiman, Nadia Bulkin, Gemma Files, Thomas Ligotti and… others). Each entry focuses on a monster that Lovecraft himself discovered. I mean, of course, invented. Whichever. Well, believe what you want. It doesn’t matter what you believe actually, and you might be better off not knowing. That ignorance, that naiveté of yours – O! How I envy such a poultice for sanity! You, with your blissful, restful, ruddy soundness of mind! If you but knew what lay beyond! Magna Mater! …Atys…Ungi…rrlh…chchch…
Pet: Cat. And it is not a pet, it is an ally. Don’t forget it. Keep milk on hand.
Yokai Attack! – Japan is a pretty safe place, if you are a real-life person. If you are a character in some sort of story, you’re totally @#$%ed. Japanese horror has a solid and familiar place in film, but its origin lies in older tales. These monsters are called yokai. And – gawd – they’re just so damn weird. Besides the famous ones like kitsune and kappa, there are some really bizarre and dangerous critters in the abundantly wild Japanese islands. Yuki-onna is a danger to mountaineers, as seen in Kurosawa’s Dreams. Her Greek name is Hypothermia.
A newbie to the ancient yokai “Mounstaa Skuwadou” is Kuchisake-onna. With a horrifically slit-wide mouth full of teeth hid behind a surgical mask, she will ask you a trick question: “Am I pretty?” The answer is: it don’t matter, fool, you’re @#%$ed. And you can’t even run away, because she runs especially fast. For no apparent reason.
Night Parade of One Hundred Demons by Matthew Meyer gets an honorable mention here, as a solid source for all things yokai. It’s a little more sober-looking with a more shibui title (more so than Yokai attack!!! anyway), but is still damn readable.
Pet: None, unless you want to live in terror.
The Book of Imaginary Beings – Culled from world literature, and sometimes grouped into types (eg – One-eyed Beings, The Double), a lot of territory is covered here. It’s saying something when oddities appear in a book already about monsters. Fauna of Mirrors are our identical opposites, long ago doomed (a la General Zod in Superman 2?) to mirror-imprisonment after their failed invasion of this side of mirrors. Apparently, they’re coming back some day: “Others believe that in advance of the invasion we will hear from the depths of mirrors the clatter of weapons.” The Mandrake is, near as I can tell, a bush with medicinal/magical uses, sometimes screams and sometimes grows a human-shaped gourd, that runs around the bush like a lunatic dog on a leash. Not something you want in the planter box on your window. There is also the sad and ugly Squonk from Pennsylvania. It can weep itself out of existence. This book is so fun. It’s by Borges, so it’s pretty legit.
Pet: Ink-Pot Monkey: 5 inches high, only needs ink to survive. It will sit and watch you write. I have one here right now. Or, if you’re the quality of person who would adopt a mangy Basset Hound, adopt a Squonk.
On Monsters – This is as broad as it gets. Everything else on this list is examined in this book, including a few things that aren’t, like serial killers and cyborgs. Just be careful: looking at something too closely, you might see all its parts and how it’s put together, but you sometimes stop seeing what it really is.
To find classics like Frankenstein and essentials like dragons or much from outer space or underwater, you’ll have to burrow into the details of these recommendations. Bring a light source, snacks and maybe one of these. And when you get your monster home, make sure it has plenty of water, birch wood shavings (so they can make a little bed), and maybe an exercise wheel. Then run like hell.
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