Thoughts, Opinions, Gripes, and Grievances


Kian Pfannenstiel, Writer

There are a plethora of classic monsters resurfacing (or, more accurately, never fading) in pop-culture. One of my favorites is the vampire, though there are, of course, many more. Other good ones, which I am sure you know, are the werewolf, the dragon, the ghost (and its many other names), and the invisible man. Though, they are not all the same. Various authors, film directors, screenplay writers (I’m sure there is a word for that, but I don’t know it), and game designers have all taken their creative liberties on these monsters. I’d love to discuss all of the renditions of each of these monsters and more, but I’m lazy and will cover only some of the many renditions of the monsters and only some of the monsters.

Let’s begin with my own favorite, the vampire. The most famous vampire, Count Dracula, titled his own book, Dracula, as I’m sure you know by now. But, vampires looked different in that time than we assume they do now. At the time, vampires looked like normal men and women with minor differences. They were paler than normal, their teeth were visibly sharper and larger than normal, and their lips were redder than normal. They were incapable of forcing anyone into their own home and were incapable of entering another’s home without their invitation. My understanding is that they also have some kind of connection to the dirt they live on, but I’m not entirely certain of it. When they feed, they become visibly younger, wrinkles in their skin smoothing out and color returning to their hair. They did not appear in mirrors and could turn into wolves and bats as well as control those creatures. The novel series Necroscope writes a lot of this off quickly. Vampires drink blood because it is like a person eating a cow, and a cow eating grass. Everything eats the flesh of those lower than it. And they don’t turn into wolves or bats but use mass hypnosis to make it look like they do. The Shadowrun franchise takes a different look at vampires. They make it into an STD called the Human Meta-Human Vampiric Virus (HMHVV) which attacks the production of red blood cells, causes teeth to grow, destroys all pigment, and demolishes your digestive system. In order to stay alive, individuals with HMHVV must drink “copious amounts” of the blood of meta-humans (humans, orcs, elves, dwarves, trolls, etc.) and stay out of the sun, because it will destroy their skin. The most popular depiction of vampires is that of Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows (however, it exists elsewhere), white skin, black hair, claws, invulnerable to most physical harm, immortal, etc. The least popular depiction of vampires has them sparkle, and I’m sure that you know exactly where that comes from.

Spirits, shades, ghosts, ghouls, poltergeists, and phantoms, spectres, and wraiths, along with anything else, were all synonymous. However, as pop-culture needed to come up with ways to differentiate between the various forms of spirits returned to the Material Plane, we began coming up with specifics. All in all, it’s really just splitting hairs. For instance, a poltergeist is just a loud ghost. A shade is a semi-material ghost. Wraiths are just slightly different semi-material ghosts. I don’t think there’s very much to say about them, sorry to disappoint. Sources for the split-hairs are with almost any fantasy-setting, including role-playing games (D&D, Pathfinder, Starfinder), fantasy sourcebooks (fantasy encyclopedia), or literature that claims there is a difference.

Zombies have been through a bit. Current zombies have pretty poor explanations, but as far as I can tell they never had a great explanation. There were many reasons for their existence, the most common modern explanation is that it is a disease that causes death and takes over your dead body, similar to certain fungi. An ancient Norse explanation for their draugr is difficult to find, and it seems they lack a consistent explanation. The abilities of zombies are also varying, the modern interpretation that they are weak, slow, and uncoordinated, but they make up for it by the ease with which they reproduce. All they have to do is get some part of them in your bloodstream (saliva, residual tissue), spreading the disease, while the draugr just became after the individual died. The draugr were also incredibly powerful. They could turn into a mist and swim through rock, weighed immense amounts, could change their size, which also changed their weight, were incredibly strong, and carried the “unmistakable smell of decay” with them wherever they were.

Another well-known one is the werewolf, but the specifics aren’t clear. Some say that werewolves transform on command, some say that it is on the full moon (modern interpretation is the latter), some say they become a full wolf and others say they make a man-wolf hybrid (again, modern interpretation is the latter). Usually, modern interpretation states they lose their sense of self when they turn, but it wasn’t ever specified, per se. Werewolves can be created in a few ways, or, more accurately, someone can become one in a few ways. You can be bitten or scratched by an existing werewolf while in their monstrous form, spreading their curse to you as with the zombies, or you can be cursed to be a werewolf. Personally speaking, though, I don’t see it as much of a curse if one goes by the older interpretations, you just end up with superpowers. However, the modern interpretations definitely seem like more of a curse. If you aren’t careful, that is.

I don’t have time to write about any more monsters, and I’m sure I seem like a broken record, but I enjoyed writing about this, which is really what I care about. If any of these piqued your interest, or you’ve always had a fascination with classic monsters, I encourage you to research them, they’re incredibly interesting.