“Since childhood I’ve been faithful to monsters. I’ve been saved and absolved by them because monsters are the patron saints of our blissful imperfections.” Guillermo del Toro’s quote came to me via my colleague John W. Morehead’s wonderful Theofantastique (actually its Facebook page). I get the sense that those of us in the field of teratology parallel play a lot. At least I console myself that way because so few monster sites link to my blog. Nevertheless, I have great respect for del Toro and his drive to bring monsters into the mainstream. His quote, however, hits upon a central theme of what I try to do here and elsewhere—reflect on what monsters have to do with religion.
Notice the religious language (obviously intentional): faithful, saved, absolved, patron saints. Monsters are indeed self-reflections, and they play on the same field as religion does. Often at the same time. Religion, even in the best of circumstances, entails fear. If everything were fine all the time, what need would we have of it? Instead, aspects of life we don’t cherish or anticipate come at us. Winter comes far sooner than we expected. Monsters lurk in that brief season between summer and winter, that autumn of the soul. They know us quite well. Our weaknesses are evident to them. But as del Toro notes, they absolve. And more readily than any Episcopalian. The religion of monsters is fierce and forgiving. When we watch them on the screen, we’re watching the drama of, in del Toro’s nomenclature, salvation. If we didn’t require saving, again, why would we need religion (or monsters)?
Being faithful to monsters again bears comparison with the divine. Should you become one of the lost while the 99 don’t require any assistance, your monsters will come find you. In fact, that’s what they most specialize in. What are dark nights of the soul without a little company? It’s not sacrilegious to map the divine world with that of monsters, for any language regarding such high stakes beings must be metaphorical. Our standard version of God is often a large human. Generally he’s male, and he doesn’t always display compassion, although capable of doing so. Monsters may be creatures of our own imaginations. They are cast large on the screen since they too stand in for those to whom we owe some tribute for this is not a safe world in which to raise your kids. Guillermo del Toro understands; we should listen.