New York Times best-selling author Keith Donohue's The Boy Who Drew Monsters went on sale yesterday. It's a hypnotic literary horror novel about a young boy trapped inside his own world, a boy who nearly drowned a few years ago and since then refuses to go outside. Instead, he stays in his room and draws monsters--but those drawings begin to blur the lines between fantasy and reality. To celebrate monsters, and Keith Donohue's new book about monsters, we're posting the author's list of favorite monsters.
Monsters prowl the shelves of bookstores and hide between the covers, ready to spring out and catch the unwary reader. From the great monsters of myth and fable—the gorgons and harpies, the dragons and ogres—to the nightmare visions of today’s masters of horror, the supernatural takes form in hundreds of great stories designed to pluck at our deepest fears. Here’s a list of 12—no, make that 13—literary monsters I have loved.
1 and 2. Grendel and his mother from “Beowulf.” Grendel is bad enough, a giant shadow walker who likes to visit the mead hall and snack on drunken revelers. He is defeated by Beowulf, who rips off the monster’s arm, and leaves him to die. This upsets Grendel’s mother, who is somewhat worse than the son. John Gardner’s novel Grendel tells the story from the monster’s point of view, and Seamus Heaney’s bristling adaptation breathes new life into this ancient story.
3. Caliban, from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” Many of the other characters in the play refer to him as a monster, and he is often depicted as deformed in productions, but is he a true monster? Or a reflection of our inhumanity?
4. Frankenstein’s monster. It’s hard not to imagine Boris Karloff’s flat-headed monster with bolts through his neck, but the real monster, the creation of Mary Shelley in her novel, Frankenstein, is something much worse. Stitched together from cadavers, it’s been alive for nearly 200 years.
5. Dracula. Again, the movie is not the book. The vampire as portrayed by Bela Lugosi and scores of others loses some of the oomph from Bram Stoker’s weird novel. A study in point of view, the novel uses letter, diaries, and other eyewitness accounts of the descent into madness. Dracula may not even be the scariest monster in the book: think of poor Renfield and his most unusual diet.
6. The Pooka MacPhellimy from Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds. Drawn from Irish folklore, the Pooka is one of the great comic literary monsters. Witty and urbane, he spends a great deal of the novel discussing philosophy with an invisible and quarrelsome Good Fairy who travels along with him in the Pooka's pocket. He believes his wife may be a kangaroo.
7. The Devil’s entourage in Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. The devil, Woland, comes to Moscow in the 1930s, to wreak havoc on the Soviets. Among his entourage are a wisecracking giant cat named Behemoth, a redheaded succubus named Hella, and several henchmen, including Azazello, a broad-shouldered man in a bowler hat who has one fang sticking out of his mouth. They are far more fun than the Communists.
8. The monster from Stephen King’s novel It. Usually shows up as a clown, which preys on children. A clown!
9. The Tooth Fairy. The late Graham Joyce was a master of the story that deals with the psychology of fear and anxiety. “I am less interested in ghosts than in people who see ghosts,” he once wrote. In his wonderful coming-of-age novel, the Tooth Fairy shows up one night, oddly dressed and smelling of horse's sweat and chamomile, to visit the seven-year-old hero. And she stays through adolescence.
10. The Other Mother in Coraline. For me, the best of Neil Gaiman’s monsters is the Other Mother, who lives in a dimension apart from Coraline and her family, with a box of buttons.
11. The wraith in Sjon’s From the Tale of the Whale. There is a ghoul afoot in Iceland, the wraith of a man drowned in the sea, who must be hunted down by the hero of this lyrical gem of a book. The best way to catch a ghost might be: “to tell the ghoul the history of the world, of spirits and men, both evil and benevolent. In that way it will eventually see where it fits into God’s great mechanism and realise that it is in quite the wrong place. For how is a dead man to tell the difference between himself and the living if he is still able to walk around, participate in fights and run errands?”
12. The goblins in Maurice Sendak’s Outside Over There. A picture book about a girl named Ida, who must rescue her baby sister after the child has been stolen by goblins and replaced with a changeling made of ice. This is for children.
13. The ghost in Toni Morrison’s Beloved. “124 was spiteful. Full of a baby's venom.” A ghost, who reminds us that such monsters are often born out of our torment and longing.
Donohue’s fourth novel, The Boy Who Drew Monsters (Picador), was published on October 7th.