Monsters are becoming more mainstream. Or at least it seems that the ridicule factor, with which I had to deal as a child, has moderated a bit. A friend recently sent me a link to Hog Island Press’s Monsters in America map. No doubt, skeptical persons will dismiss such whimsical charts as a load of hooey, but people continue to see unusual things. Although we don’t subscribe to any television service, it has become clear that ghosts and Bigfoot have become pretty standard fare for reality shows. Lake monsters still make appearances from time to time, and since we aren’t always watching the waters, nobody’s terribly surprised. And who knows what’s flying below the radar at night? People have believed in monsters from the very earliest of times. We, however, live in an age when belief can’t exist without proof, and our world of the plausible has shrunk because of it.
Another problem here is the definition of “monster.” The traditional monster was pure fiction—werewolves, vampires, and zombies simply don’t exist. We tell scary stories about them because it’s fun to be afraid when we know there’s really no such thing. American monsters, on the other hand, are based on eyewitness reports, reliable or not. I grew up literally on the edge of the woods in a rural town and never saw anything cryptozoological in nature. At the same time I learned that it’s difficult to see everything in the woods. I would’ve never guessed, for instance, that the number of deer and bear that were shot each season were only a small representative of their populations. The woods, it seemed, should’ve been much more crowded.
Those who’ve spent time in the woods know that nature doesn’t reveal everything easily. Looking at the Hog Island Press chart, I notice some new creatures (to me) and some surprising omissions. Wisconsin and Michigan, both heavily wooded and (I speak from experience here) areas of strangeness, seem devoid of the creatures so commonly reported. Linda Godfrey has written extensively about the dog-men (or werewolves) not uncommonly reported in both states. I suppose that in making such a map there is an embarrassment of riches. People see things all the time, and urbanites have a difficult time identifying species the naturalist finds, well, natural. One need not be credulous to enjoy the monsters of the natural world. It is fun, in any case, to consider the possibilities, now that monsters have gone mainstream.