Words fascinate me. They always have. One of my earliest memories, at four years old, is scribbling on a piece of paper and asking one of my parents if I had made any words. I was told one of them looked like the word "deer" or "dear."
Judging by the way I am now (and have always been) it wouldn't have surprised me if I was told, "That looks just like the word 'monster.'" That would have pleased me to no end.
Monsters fascinate me, too (I have books on them), as do horror stories, myths, fairy tales, comic books and cartoons.
Let me explain.
A single word can have a great deal of wisdom in it. That half-repulsive, half-fascinating word "monster" is one of them. It comes from the root "to warn." It's the same root for "admonish" and "demonstrate." A monster is a warning, a demonstration.
If a monster is a warning, what is it a warning about?
An understanding of the horror story is necessary to understand a monster. All horror stories have the same structure: Order invaded by Chaos. You can call it Good invaded by Evil, if you wish.
The classic horror story in the West is that of Satan. Satan is the epitome of Chaos, attacking the Order of Heaven. Every horror story is pretty much based on Satan's attack.
I should point out that when I write "Order" I don't mean some sort of stale, boring Order, the way that many teenagers and the more naïve libertarians see society. Another definition of "monster" is "an offense against the natural order." A monster is that which attacks the natural order of things. In essence, a monster is an assault on Natural Law, the laws that create peace, prosperity, liberty, happiness and fun.
At the risk of oversimplifying things (although in a certain religious sense it wouldn't be), you can say that Heaven is always under attack by Hell.
Stephen King wrote an entire book about horror, called Danse Macabre. He used fancier terms – the Apollonian invaded by the Dionysian – but it's still the same as Order invaded by Chaos. And if anyone should have an understanding of horror, it would be King.
King also noticed, quite correctly, that horror fiction is essentially "conservative," in the sense that it supports Order against Chaos. This is why, in the '60s TV program, Get Smart (which was horror disguised as comedy), the Good Guys work for CONTROL, and the Bad Guys are agents of KAOS.
Horror fiction, unfortunately, mirrors human nature. If it didn't, it wouldn't exist. That's why so much can be learned from it. And horror fiction isn't just the "pop" stuff. The greatest writers have large elements in horror in their fiction, be it Shakespeare or Doestoevsky or Conrad.
One of the most well-known founders of modern conservatism, Russell Kirk, was also a superb writer of ghost stories. I've found his stories to be better than his non-fiction. He wrote a truly eerie story called, "That Peculiar Desmene," in which he made the completely accurate observation that human evil is caused by "the monstrous ego."
A true conservative is one who sees society as a thin, fragile veneer holding down all the badness that exists in human nature. This doesn't mean there isn't a lot of good in people, just that there is the potential for a lot of bad. A liberal – a leftist – is someone who sees society as bad, holding down all the goodness in humanity.
To a conservative, destroying society allows all the badness in human nature to pop up. To a liberal, destroying society frees all the goodness. Conservatives have the better of the argument. Leftists, on the other hand, are practically insane, because they have no understanding of human nature. You need look no further than Karl Marx.
A monster is an agent of Chaos (this also means that leftists are agents of Chaos, just too blind to know it). A monster is a warning that Chaos is about to follow. Imagine one day you see one of H.P. Lovecraft's monsters coming over the horizon. I can't think of anyone who would see that as a good thing. It's a warning of Bad Things to Come.
In a sense, monsters have no independent existence, because they are created by Chaos. If Chaos didn't exist, monsters wouldn't exist. But since Chaos is inherent in the universe, monsters will always exist. That, too, is the conservative position, unlike the liberal one, which believes evil can be eradicated.
Looked at that way, the people in the current US administration are not conservatives, but in many ways leftists, because they believe evil can be erased from the world. David Frum and Richard Perle even wrote a book with the title, An End of Evil.
It would be great boon to mankind if we could tell monsters by the way they look. It's easier in fiction, because all the monsters look like monsters. It doesn't matter if it's Grendl or Gollum or Brain from Pinky and the Brain. They look like monsters. Although I'd rather deal with Brain than Gollum, and Gollum rather than Grendl.
In real life, people are the only monsters that exist. Unfortunately, they don't look like Ming the Merciless. Often they wear suits and ties. If human monsters did look like monsters, it'd be a cinch to identify them.
The serial killer Ted Bundy didn't look like a monster. He was rather handsome, actually. But, afflicted with Kirk's "monstrous ego," he murdered dozens of women. He also told the police, "I'm the most cold-blooded sonofabitch you'll ever meet."
If human monsters don't look like monsters, how then, do we recognize them?
There is only one way: by what they say and do. All monsters support Chaos, both in words and action. They desire murder, theft, destruction, and power over others, and they almost always let it be known.
By their fruits you will know them. Brambles don't produce figs. The poor are always with us. The blind leading the blind.
The greatest sin of all monsters is that of Hubris – Kirk's "monstrous ego." It's the sin of Satan, which is the most accurate horror story that exists. Because of this Hubris, monsters usually can't keep their mouths shut. They're compelled to tell everyone how great they are, and just how dumb are their opponents.
Hubris is the desire to be God, and to be willing to use murder, theft and destruction to achieve that goal. Some names? Herod, Caligula, Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao Tse-Tung. They wanted power over others. All were perfect examples of the saying, "Power is the horse that evil rides."
Hubris always leads to Chaos. That's why the Bible has the comment, "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." Or as the Greeks put it, Hubris followed by Nemesis.
To identify a monster, look for someone afflicted with Hubris, and who supports murder, theft and destruction. It's as simple as that. Look for someone with a monstrous ego who can't shut up. These days you'll find them on TV.
All monsters are cowards, liars and tricksters. They attack from behind, they try to trick others into fighting for them, and they slander and lie about their opponents.
Who are their opponents? The ones who always fight against monsters? They are the heroes. And who are the heroes? Anyone who supports peace, prosperity, happiness, liberty, fun and power over themselves as against murder, lies, destruction and power over others. The heroes support the Economic Means, and the monsters support the Political Means. Liberty against Slavery.
As monsters always support Chaos, heroes always support Order. It was Superman who supported truth and justice, not Lex Luther. It was Beowulf and Underdog who fought to restore order, not Grendl and Simon bar Sinister. Monsters and villains that they were, they wanted, just like Satan, to destroy and rule.
It is sad, but true, that since Chaos and Hubris are always with us, heroes must always fight against them. This wisdom is contained not only in horror story, but in every myth, every fable, every fairy tale, and every cartoon. And every religion.
As Edmund Burke put it, "All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." Heroes understand this. Unfortunately, so do the monsters.