Sunday, October 25, 2015

Jay Gertzman's Pulp According to David Goodis: Literary Monsters

Here is a brilliant synopsis, with gripping images, of stories of doppelgangers, species of madness, and investigations of the various selves within one tortured psyche. The list is not only a great guide to horror noir, but also reminiscent of the kind of suffering, and need to explore its sources, that makes some of Goodis' nightmares and noble losers as scintillating as they are. 

Halloween used to belong to the monsters. Tracing a perfect near-continuum from the Frankenstein’s Monsters and Gill-Men that papered many a boyhood bedroom to the disturbed teenager’s diet of Lovecraftian doom and the unlaid English major’s repository of Victorian dreadfuls, the creatures of the night once held a monopoly on populist hair-raising. But in the hallowed eves of today, you’re more likely to see the harbingers of nostalgia—the likes of Urkel, Carmen Sandiego and drag Monica Lewinsky—than the emissaries of the undead, the restless hunger for immortality, lycanthropy, and Modern Prometheum seemingly slaked by Sexy Corn, rock star wish-fulfillment and an endless contest to achieve the slyest wordplay couple costumes (last year’s winner: Baroque-en Record and Edwardian Scissorhands) or tastelessly topical shock valets (I don’t mean you Binders-Full-Of-Women, I mean you, Zombie Jon Benet Ramsey). When did the stop-motion lizard people of the late-night circuit, the high gothic of Mary Shelly and Siouxsie Sioux, become passé and what is to be done when Bela Lugosi is forced to take a backseat to SpongeBob and Shrek? And who will haunt the suburban thoroughfares and laborsome loft parties when we are gone? For those of us that borrowed our friends’ cars to see the midnight showing of The Hunger and maintained a preference for muppets over CGI, monsters weren’t a fad, but a lifestyle. Assigned Ayn Rand and A Separate Peace, we snuck away to read Anne Rice, I Am Legend,and Poppy Z. Brite. Once the moon was full enough to cover every one of us; adolescent America was one big Midnight Society gathered around the campfire and we all had hooks for hands.
Fortunately, literature—even as compared to movies and bartender tattoos—isn’t just full of monsters, literature is monsters. Admittedly, the most memorable killers have come in human(ish) form, from Blaise Cendrars’ Rippers-eque Moravagine to sign-of-the-time slashers like Patrick Bateman and Hannibal Lector. But that’s not to say that books aren’t rich with waking nightmares, undigested psychological ectoplasms and tentacles in general. The following list aims to undo the long influence of irony with its evil twin and opposite number: deliberate obscurity and humorless elitism. All vampires, Gorgons, flesh-eating cadavers, Kaiju and denizens of the Monstrous Manual have been scrupulously excised. This, if you dare, are the well-nigh forgotten monsters of classic literature, because the idle past is always preferable to the overfamiliar present, and true monsters are not just the embodiment of period anxieties, but the horrific realization of the future. For that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives.

  1. The Sandman From “The Sandman” by E.T.A. Hoffmann (1816)
  2. Gil-Martin From The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg (1824)
  3. The Man of the Crowd From “The Man of the Crowd” by Edgar Allan Poe (1840)
  4. Beatrice Rappaccini “Rappaccini’s Daughter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1844)
  5. Silas Ruthyn From Uncle Silas by J. Sheridan Le Fanu (1864)
  6. Lokis From “Lokis” by Proser Mérimée (1869)
  7. The Horla From “The Horla” by Guy de Maupassant  (1887)
  8. Ayesha From She and Ayesha and others by H. Rider Haggard (1887)
  9. The Damned Thing From “The Damned Thing” by Ambrose Bierce (1893)
  10. The Great God Pan From “The Great God Pan” by Arthur Machen  (1894)
  11. Morlocks From The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (1895)
  12. Sredni Vashtar From “Sredni Vashtar” by Saki (c. 1901—1911)
  13. Count Magnus From “Count Magnus” by M.R. James (1904)
  14. Alraune From Alraune by Hanns Heinz Ewers (1911)
  15. Thak, the Man-Ape From “Rogues in the House” by Robert E. Howard (1934)
  16. The Newts From War with the Newts by Karel Čapek (1936)
  17. It From “It!” by Theodore Sturgeon (1940)
  18. Cassavius From Malpertius by Jean Ray (1943)
  19. Tash From The Horse and His Boy and The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis (1954 and 1956)
  20. The Howling Man From “The Howling Man” by Charles Beaumont (1959)
  21. The Plants From The Genocides by Thomas M. Disch (1965)
  22. Behemoth From The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (1967)
  23. Knife-Wielding Death Dwarf From Daphne Du Maurier’s “Don’t Look Now” (1971)
  24. The Cupboard Man From “Conversation With A Cupboard Man” by Ian McEwan (1972)
  25. Misquamacus The Manitou by Graham Masterton (1975)
  26. Freddy From Freddy’s Book by John Gardner (1980)
  27. Larry the Lizard From Mrs. Caliban by Rachel Ingalis (1982)
  28. Mr. Hood From The Thief of Always by Clive Barker (1992)
  29. The Thieving Bears of Thieving Bear Planet From “Thieving Bear Planet” by R.A. Lafferty (1992)
  30. Mr. Potato Head From “Subsoil” by Nicholson Baker (1994)
  31. Kafka’s Father From Letter to His Father by Franz Kafka (First, Last and Always)

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