Watching movies since I was a kid, I’ve noticed an escalation in the fearsomeness of cinematic monsters.  Things like quicksand and skeletons were all it took to scare the bejesus out of me in the 50s.  Granted, I was a kid, but flicks for adults weren’t much more ambitious in what they used to frighten.  Though we had the atomic bomb in our lives to invest emotion into the latest film creations, what appeared on screen hardly competed with the kinds of silver screen horrors available today.

And so, perhaps, we might trace an evolution of those things we use to scare ourselves, beginning with the myths and legends from the past.

Obsessive person that I am, twelve years ago when I reviewed all the myth and legend literature I could find on dragons, I created a database with 428 incidents of dragon contact over the course of several thousand years on six continents.  Noted in the database is the dragon appearance, country of origin, date of conflict, dragon’s lair, his or her weak spot, weapon used if there was a fight, assistants used if the hero required help, and the nature of the treasure the dragon might have been protecting.

Searching “bow and arrow,” I learn that eleven dragons were killed by an arrow (34 by sword), seven dragons lived in lakes (36 in caves), and that dogs assisted in the harassment of dragons on nine occasions.  More dragons were killed from blows to the head and throat than any other part of their bodies.  One dragon’s vulnerable spot was his butt.

One of the things that jumps out at me when clicking through the entries is how easily these “monsters” were dispatched.  Back when you could get bubonic plague, when half the children died before adulthood, when there were constant wars, disease, starvation, major dental issues and extended families living at home, stories of relatively easily vanquished monsters were no doubt appealing.

Not so today.  We live in a golden age of monsters.  They don’t go without taking lots of humans with them.

I’ve always thought Gene Roddenberry was best when a danger was diffused by taking the Enterprise and its heroes directly into the mouth of the beast instead of fighting or withdrawing.  Star Trek loved third options.  In myth and legends, humans either slew or withdrew from dragons.  I’m sure that on Star Trek, some third choice would have been uncovered.

Taming dragons, embracing the monster, is a storyline that has emerged more with time.  E.T. championed the concept.  That scripting keeps evolving.  And so now twin monster concepts accompany us on tube and screen: terrifying, civilization-eating titans balanced by the other as ally.

We are deep into the conceptual transition that involves each of us individually facing the truth that we ourselves, and our societies, are our own worst enemy and our best friend.  Monsters evocatively fleshing out both polarities help us to exercise our imaginations.  Imaginations exercised, we are empowered to make the choices and develop the strategies to make the changes necessary for a peaceful world.

If life were a movie, the monster has arrived.  The scientist has just told us she is pregnant.  Next move, ours.


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