Stray Thoughts: Cultivating Monsters

Odd thought I had the other morning: advances in human technology and increased population should lead to more supernatural creatures, not less.

I know this seems counterintuitive, and certainly counter to so many “the Magic Goes Away” fantasies. Let me lay out my reasoning.

Monsters tend to have three main origins. First, they may be a manifested fear of the unknown. Second, maybe they’re predators like wolves and tigers, just of supernatural lineage. Third (more common in modern Asian stories, but check out just about any folklore), they were regular creatures that somehow evolved to take on more human-like forms and mentalities.

So how does the modern world affect each of these?

I would argue the modern world has a greater scope for fear of the unknown than just about any time in the past. Sure, a millennium or even a hundred years ago you might not know what was going on half a world away, but most of the time, it didn’t matter. The odds of it affecting you personally were small. (Unless you’re talking something like Krakatoa, but hey.) Now we live in a world where not only do we not know exactly what’s going on half a world away, but we also know for sure it could wind up literally in our laps by way of a plane ride. That’s a lot of fear. Compound that with how much scientific knowledge of the world is currently out there, too much for any one person to grasp. Meaning there’s all that which we know we don’t know. That’s a lot of Unknown to be terrified of.

There are also more people in the world than any time in history, supported by advanced agriculture and health care. If you see monsters as just weird predators on humans, then there should be more of them out there than ever. Predators expand to match their prey base. All they need is a way to hide from prey, and they’re set.

Finally, if monsters are creatures that wanted a human form – if you’re a nonhuman looking at humans through most of history, there’s not a lot of advantages to being human (ish). Smaller than a lot of predators, weaker, no claws, no wings, a lifetime of constant toil to stay fed…. About all we’ve got going for us is the opposable thumb.

In the internet age, that thumb opens the way to wonders. And there are labor-saving devices all over the place. Washers! Dryers! Microwaves! Kindles! Even with the attention span of your typical drunken fox spirit, you can manage a hot meal, a nice, clean bed, and a library of esoteric knowledge (or racy porn) at your fingertips. That’s a lot more drive to cultivate a human form.

Given that – how do you think modern monsters should evolve?

Advertisement

24 thoughts on “Stray Thoughts: Cultivating Monsters

  1. modern monsters should be more like Frankenstain, the mad scientist trying to (no, not take over the world), but make his crazy idea into reality, and crush anyone who would try stop him, or, a monster, created by a frankenstain.

    Chronicles of Darkness series has a new splat that fits the theme, Deviant: The Renegade
    The idea is that either a group, most likely a conspiracy, took a human and then using stuff – maybe bodyparts of a classic type supernatural, or leftovers of their magic, or magic items, and sought to insert it into the human subject (could be animal subject too) resulting in a human soul breaking as its overloads, and making the former human, into not so much one… you get options on how it shows up, it could be purely psychic powers, maybe ability to ‘talk’ to machines, or to always know anybody around you in certain radius, like living radar, or it could be some physical fusion, like animal parts – maybe a animal spine showing from the back, and claws on the hands, maybe strong armor carapace replacing skin. Could even turn into stuff like human torch from marvel – either way the result is superhuman, and not entirely mentally stable.

    A Monster that seeks revange agaisnt the ‘Dr. Frankenstain’ taht made it, and the organization that funded said doctor, by any means necessary,

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I recall a store or set of books about a fellow who wound up in a ‘magic’ realm, learning a very few very simple spells and then combining them Forth-like into things of generally unexpected power. One result was the manifestation of a new (to the realm) creature for which they had no name. It was a gremlin.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. They have the sense to realize that the fate of the dodo awaits the rash.

    And perhaps it did so only sensible ones survived.

    Huh. In my many meditations on the monsters in hiding, that never came up. Probably because it would end urban fantasy as we know it.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Hmmm, my brain tends to go in the direction of thinking about it in either terms of Chinese Cultivation or Japanese Yokai. Either way provides some interesting food for thought about this idea…

    With Oriental Cultivation, I was under the impression that more “common” people DO equal MORE monsters, but also less remote places for them to hide. This would definitely push the blending in with humans and such. Depending on if you want to go with the issues with undead and fierce corpses from MoDC: while there would be more people burying people properly, there is also a LOT more crime and murder. To drag politics in a little, imagine a more “modern” version of cultivator (most likely a Lan if I’m going to stay with the MoDC idea) having to rush to the scene of a Mass shooting to calm the victims (both living and dead), especially if it is alleged to be Hate motivated? Ooo, I have a fun little bunny stirring about that idea! 😈 and yes, I have discovered some fanfiction written for modern cultivators, they are pretty fun. But I also love the idea of a regular novel going that direction… Aside from dealing with restless dead and such, depending on the lore of cultivation, some monsters can cultivate, Vathara References that in her current FanFic. So it follows that, in order to survive, more and more monsters would have to cultivate to a certain level in order to hide or blend in.

    With Japanese Yokai, there is already a precident for the monsters blending in, the more powerful you become the more human you can appear (Inuyasha comes to mind) however, depending on the lore, most of the lower level monsters relied on ignorance as well as the unknown. So certain kinds would probably still die out, and oddly enough, I think 99 year spirits would also become very rare. Mainly because things aren’t made to last anymore, most regular items break, fall apart or stop working long before 99 years. But then there would be new demons/spirits just from the modern world. And some old kinds would Thrive, Kappa’s come to mind, for some odd reason, because of how people have treated rivers and bodies of water. I would have to check the lore, I can’t remember if they need clean water or dirty water.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Eh, I think there’d be more, and odder, 99 year spirits than you think. Nokia cellphones are in museums now. And there are a lot of vintage items out now. I have a re-creamer from the Great Depression in my house. (Shoulda kept the other one, this one looks identical but doesn’t do as good a job. Gave the one that worked to my sister.) I’m also in the South, lots of people have Civil War era stuff around.

      Imagine the cultivator having to hunt for a 99 year spirit hiding at a historical re-enactment. Think of the ghosts! The nice lady who’s at every one, tending the cooking fires, teaching each new woman how to swing her hips slightly to use the hoops of her skirt to create a breeze around her legs. The cheerful young buck who’s always got a hint about how to hold the rifles more comfortably. The grumpy grey beard who tells everyone they’ve got the latrines placed badly, disease is going to run rampant. That one canon that you have to keep an eye on, there’s always just a little more bang than the charge should account for.

      Liked by 5 people

    2. It should be noted that the “99” in “99 Year Spirits” doesn’t have to do with the *number* 99. It has to do with the general idea of “really, really old”. So anything “old enough” could have a spirit attached to it. There’s also the idea with a 99 Year Spirit that it takes on the qualities of wherever it was being used or whoever was using it. So a 99 Year Spirit of an object with an owner that took good care of it generally wasn’t malicious, while a 99 Year Spirit of an object that was used for evil deeds would keep doing those evil deeds after it was separated from it’s owner.

      In a lot of ways, you can think of a 99 Year Spirit like how people anthropomorphize cars and computers and their phones. Once the car/computer/phone gets “old enough”, they have spirits of their own and start dong the behaviors people kept saying they were doing before they were a spirit.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. So one possibility is age.

    Plenty of monster origins imply that it takes decades, if not centuries, for an object to gain superpowers.

    Now in the modern era, where everything is disposable, it doesn’t work so well.

    “Remember the Good Old Days, when things were built to last?”
    “Then they ate your face. I remember, those days sucked.”

    ***

    The other issue is “ancient magic is better.”

    Lots of the plots run around finding some long-forgotten super-magic.

    If the villain dug up the ancient curse and said “Wait, this is useless. It doesn’t even work with MagicOS 2.3!” then the story would be over quick.

    ***

    It is often frustrating when they bring out “modern tech interferes with magic.”

    Shouldn’t that just mean a different kind of magic?

    Sure, the forest magic is probably having trouble with just a couple trees in the median, but that just means you need to develop new magic to work with concrete!

    Honestly, to me it feels like a lot of “traditional” magic users are come across as lazy.
    If they can’t copy someone else, they don’t bother.

    Liked by 5 people

  6. So here’s another thought.

    What if it goes by cycles of use?

    If a sword becomes supernatural after killing 1,000 people, that would take a while, even with lots of wars.

    But if a computer program would become supernatural like that, it could happen in a day.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Well….there is more worrying about stuff, but it’s also known unknowns.

    It seems like most of the old monsters were an attempt to make the unknown unknowns that they knew were out there, somewhere.

    So, if they’re known unknowns, maybe they become more human like?

    Liked by 3 people

  8. There might be more supernatural creatures, if they disguise themselves as animals. An episode of River Monsters had Japanese Giant Salamanders, which could be the inspiration for Kappa. Japanese Giant Salamanders are on the endangered species list.

    So, if a supernatural creature can disguise itself as something endangered, then it’s protected by humans, by law. It’s also likely to be in a zoo, and zoos have breeding programs. That’s humans aiding the creatures, helping them survive longer, and ensuring their population increases.

    Or they might be able to disguise themselves as someone’s pet. Then again, some species might originate as someone’s beloved pet, but a break in and a dead owner could cause them to become a supernatural creature, depending on the types you have in your world.

    I’m not sure if the Eastern breeds of Dragons would benefit, people damming the rivers would prevent carp from swimming up river to then jump a waterfall… But you also have carp as invasive species in America, and they’re on the endangered species list in their native habitat…

    Liked by 3 people

  9. For a total Fridge Horror set of monsters… Child/Infant-eating monsters are nearly a universal concept, it’s just the execution of the idea that differs most of the time. On the one hand, modern society has a much lower infant mortality rate than it used to historically. At least, of infants that are actually *born*. On the other hand, the abortion rate is much higher than it has ever been as well. Let’s just say I can imagine *exactly* where infant-eating monsters of the past would be hanging out if they wanted snacks… Similarly where the child-eating monsters would get themselves set-up if they wanted access to children no one cares about too much to notice when they get lost in the system… meep.

    On a much more lighthearted note… a lot of ancient magic involved what was considered the most advanced math and geometry of it’s era. Shapeshifting magic beings are also a nearly universal concept. And a very fun part of advanced math and geometry is topology… aka geometry if everything was made out of rubber. Linked to that is also the idea of “higher dimensional math” and “imaginary numbers” (where a lot of fractal math finds its home) and fun concepts like “hyperbolic space”. All those ideas feel like a natural fit for anything that changes shape or has access to spaces/locations that are larger on the inside than the outside, has access to spaces/locations that seemingly go on forever, have impossible architecture, etc. So it feels like a good place to go looking for oh… fae, youkai, and any supernatural being that warps space would be the local university’s Theoretical Mathematics and/or Theoretical Physics department. At least they wouldn’t be *bothered* there by anyone not interested in their research topics… like the pesky liberal arts students who have all kinds of assumptions about how magic isn’t a science…

    Speaking of Physics and magic… let’s talk particle accelerators… especially something like CERN. They have all the hallmarks of “major magic working”. Huge circle made out of steel! Lots and *lots* of energy being pored into said circle! All that energy rushing around the circle at close to the speed of light! Particles crashing into each other at those high speeds in high-energy collisions! All for the purpose of discovering the fundamental nature of the universe! Oh, and one of the buildings next to CERN is where they’re trying to make enough anti-matter to study it’s properties IRL as opposed to theoretically! If that doesn’t sound like a bunch of wizards in their tower poking at the universe to figure out how it works in a series of experiments they don’t know the full ramifications of, I don’t know what does. Or maybe the whole “discover the fundamental nature of the universe” thing is a cover! Maybe they’re running the world’s biggest summoning circle! Maybe they’re trying to *un*-summon something. Maybe someone else one plane of existence over is trying to get in an “reversing” it with a giant magic circle made with human ingenuity is keeping it shut.

    Bonus points is that something like CERN is an international scientific endeavor, so there are scientists from all the world working on experiments at it. So there’d be a good reason to have a bunch of different supernatural creatures from all over the world being in the same location. Same thing goes for the “Theoretical Mathematics/Physiscs department is filled with supernaturals” idea for that matter.

    The other thing with a particle accelerator is that if it *is* magic, then “building” a smaller one could be a thing. For all your characters could know, the “magic circle” is really a very small particle accelerator people with magic have been making use of for seemingly forever. It’s only once general chemistry caught up to magical ideas (unknowingly) that non-magical humans thought to go *build* a magic circle with technology to figure out how one worked (without knowing it was a magic circle). And now that they have… weird stuff is happening because… well… they’re playing with a giant magic circle without knowing how magic works. Oops.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Ooh. Traveling monster hunter or monster hunters, from a family with secret inherited magic and lore, letting them see monsters, etc.

      How fast would one be lynched for writing a series of stories where such a monster hunting vigilante is wanted by the feds, due to Gosnells, etc.

      I’m afraid that I probably would not want to write such, the mindset my muse thinks would be correct to write them with is a bit too crazily paranoid for me.

      Liked by 3 people

  10. Now that you describe this problem, I notice all the “AI/robot uprising” stories fit perfectly into your description of “monsters” under all three conditions: they depict fear of the unknown (what will happen when AI/robots get ‘good enough’, and will we recognize it in time?), predators (almost always turning against humans and hunting them, often for reasons that fit within the realm of predators vs prey), and regular creatures/objects advancing to become more human-like (often the starting point of the story is “and they became too much like humans, and rebelled”). Now I can’t unsee “AI/robots uprisings are just modern skins on monster stories”.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. I always liked the idea of vampires and werewolves and other creatures that humans can be turned into, as part of a parasites life cycle. We have parasites that get eaten, grow and multiply in the digestive tract and the get excreted to continue the cycle. And if you do generate a medicine to eliminate the blood craving, sunlight hating, flight allowing parasite, are you more or less vulnerable to other infections?
    Antibiotics save lives, but using them can also make your intestines lose most of its good bacteria that makes them so effective in digesting food and signaling the brain about what food is food or not. The gut flora change appears to be permanent, over 18 months. Multiple antibiotic treatments for ear infections as kids has been linked to higher obesity and diabetes rates when they grow up. This obviously has a knock on effect for the rest of their lives. Chemo and radiation cancer treatments have similar long lasting effects.
    How would a the effects of anti vampire treatment change disease and monsters?

    Like

  12. Re: 99 year old things — Of course, in the Catholic tradition, a lot of things and critters tend to be blessed on various feast days, or other occasions. House blessings. Field blessings. Blessings of the boundaries of the parish. Blessings of animals. Blessings of cars. Blessings of harvests. Blessings of boats. Blessings of all kind of little things.

    They had the local Blessing of the Bikes yesterday out at Kil-Kare Raceway, for motorcycles and other bikes. So it’s on my mind.

    Also, one of our local priests from an Indian/Portuguese family just got consecrated as Bishop of Columbus, Ohio, and it turned out that one of his students was our motorcycling former chaplain here, Fr. Ethan. And it turned out that the giant Our Lady of Guadelupe car cling thing, and the Catholic motorcycle jacket thing that Fr. Ethan was into, were ideas that then-Fr, now-Bishop Fernandes had come up with. So yeah, it’s amazing how much less hassle there can be about blessing stuff, if you can point to a priest with interesting ethnic origins. (Dumb, of course, but if SJWs are going to create loopholes, everybody else might as well exploit them for good.)

    (Yes, some Catholic priests got taught in modern seminaries to be ashamed of blessing stuff, and to do it as little as possible. Which is kind of a waste, honestly. It’s not like you’ve got a normal profession, so why try to hide it?)

    Liked by 3 people

    1. The internet has brought back a lot of lay-blessings– because folks are hungry and thirsty for them– and for an example, our little parish has what looks like an unheated version of a big coffee brewer, full of holy water, with containers on top.

      So folks can take the…. sacramental, I think is the right term, baby on shoulder can’t change tabs– and bless their homes.

      And there’s chalking blessed phrases on doorways, and… tons of stuff.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yup, lots of sacramentals, and lots of “it’s a custom, but probably it’s blessed” things associated with areas that didn’t have priests around for a long time.

        Like leaving stuff out in the dew on the eve before St. Brigid’s Day. Because there wasn’t a church anymore, or a priest to bless it, so hopefully the saint or Jesus would take care of it.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. For folks listening:
        Yeah, Himself can do that, too.
        The big deal with the a-priest-does-it is that you’re *sure*, not that it’s the only way to get it.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. Re: modern stuff, of course there are a lot of empty villages and fallen-down farmhouses in the world, because populations are smaller or rural populations have moved to bigger towns.

    Still laughing over places being formally designated cities in honor of Queen Elizabeth’s Jubilee.

    Colchester was a city when the Legions were stationed there!

    Doncaster was a city a hundred years ago!

    Snort snort snort.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s