“Top Ten Tuesday” is a feature started by “The Broke and the Bookish“, in which people list their top ten books that match some given criterion. It changes every week, and happens on a Tuesday. Lots (a frankly ridiculous number) of bloggers take part.
This week, the theme is Halloween, without further elaboration. In the spirit of that then, I’ve chosen to list monsters who it is difficult to actually be angry with, regardless of what they do.
Some monsters are knowingly, malevolently evil. They torment and hurt and kill because they choose to, because they delight in misery or benefit from our pain. Other monsters are different – still evil, still dangerous, but not as spiteful; they do evil things for less evil reasons – because they were trapped or tricked into it, or because they just don’t understand.
I’m not saying that we should let any such monster get away with it. All of the beings on my list should be totally opposed, if you come across them. But there is an important difference in how angry you can be at them. Fear is fine – be as afraid as you like – but anger should be reserved for monsters that choose to be evil, not monsters that are evil because they have no other way to be. There is a clear difference between the malevolence of the Woman in Black and the dispassionate destruction of an avalanche.
The following monsters are ones who don’t hurt for the sake of hurting. They are compelled to, or can’t understand what they’re doing, or are justified, or at least think of themselves, quite reasonably, as justified. Reasonable is not, of course, the same as right. The list of monsters is in no particular order.
1. The Ringwraiths, from J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings
Oscar Wilde famously said “I can resist anything except temptation”, and that’s a viewpoint I have a lot of sympathy with. The ringwraiths are definitely evil, but it’s an understandable evil – pride and lust for power that stop you seeing the danger until it’s too late. Left to their own devices, they would be arrogant-but-otherwise-fine kings. It’s the corrupting force of the Ring that is to blame. Be mad as Sauron instead.
2. Mrs. Rochester, from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre
Thankfully, I’ve never been in a situation where my husband has locked me in an attic and begun pretending I never existed. But if that had happened, regardless of his reasons, I would feel absolutely justified in setting him on fire.
3. The Cenobites, from Clive Barker’s The Hellbound Heart
This one depends on perspective. From a human perspective, the cenobites are torture priests who trap humans in hellish dimensions of pain. From a cenobite perspective, pain and pleasure have blended together – what they do isn’t really torture so much as sensory overload. It’s not really their fault if people can’t handle what they ask for.
4. The Children of the Corn, from Stephen King’s Children of the Corn
Neither children nor cultists are known for their reasoned judgment. Belief and fear drive people to extremes even without direct evidence of a dark god walking behind the rows. The Children of the Corn are victims of circumstance; if they lived elsewhere, somewhere with fewer farming demons, they’d probably be delightful children with good grades. Besides, films and books about rural America have convinced me that all that sort of thing is relatively normal over there.
5. The Auditors, from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld
The auditors are very tidy. They like lists and organisation and above all order. Life is messy, defying tabulation and boundaries. People have all these messy urges and emotions that complicate things. Can you really blame the auditors, for whom individuality is literal death, for their crusade against life and experience?
6. Cujo, from Stephen King’s Cujo
Cujo was a good dog. It’s not his fault he got rabies. He doesn’t want to hurt people, he just doesn’t understand. Cujo is terrifying and heartbreaking, but you end up sorry for the monster at least as much as you are afraid.
7. The Grim Reaper, from basically everything
Death doesn’t kill you. The reaper might separate your soul from your body, or guide you to whatever afterlife you have earnt, but they bear no responsibility for your death. That happened earlier, before they arrived and back when you had a pulse. Despite many attempts to rehabilitate Death – most notably Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s different interpretations, the hood-and-scythe combination still gets quite a bad press. Death enjoys marking time, sitting on the moon, playing chess and cutting corn. Don’t fear the reaper.
8. The Black, from Paul Cooley’s The Black
The Black is a sort of sentient oil field that murders people. Specifically, it murders people who stab it with a massive drill and then try and store its essence in barrels. Really, that makes the murders self-defence.
9. The nanobots, from Michael Crichton’s Prey
Computers do what you tell them to; that’s a principle I repeat endlessly to my students. If you didn’t mean to tell them to do something, then that’s on you – you have to think through the consequences of giving unclear instructions to something that has no choice but to follow them as exactly as possible. The scientists in Prey want to create independent, self-reinforcing swarms of nanobots, and then seem surprised when the nanobots start independently self-reinforcing.
10. The shark, from Peter Benchley’s Jaws
Sharks are simple, beautiful things. They do shark stuff full-time, and shark stuff consists of being terrifying and killing things. It’s not reasonable to blame a shark for hunting and eating things, even people. It’s not doing it to be deliberately evil, it is simply doing the only thing it knows how to do. The correct response to a man-eating shark is not to start killing sharks back (did you know we kill many, many more sharks than kill us?), but to get out of the water.
Should you find yourself face-to-face/face equivalent with any of the above monsters, I strongly urge you to fight back. Do not go gentle into that good night, et cetera. Just going along with whatever they want would end very badly for you. However, as you are struggling for your/your specie’s continued survival, spare a thought for the monster. Forgive them, they know not what they do.
The parent post on The Broke and the Bookish is here.