AskDefine | Define monsters

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  1. Plural of monster

Extensive Definition

A monster is any of a large number of legendary creatures which usually appear in mythology, legend, and horror fiction. The word originates from the ancient Latin monstrum, meaning "omen", from the root of monere ("to warn") and also meaning "prodigy" or "miracle".
The term "monster" refers to a being that is a gross exception to the norms of some ecosystem. Usually characterized by an ability to destroy human life or humanity, more than an example of "survival of the fittest", natural law, or innate evil. A person referred to as a monster is taken as exceptionally evil, grotesque, unreasonably strict and uncaring, sociopathic, and/or sadistic. The word monster connotes something wrong/evil; e.g.: a monstrous being is: very morally objectionable, physically or psychologically hideous, or a biological sport (a distinct sense of the word), i.e a freak of nature.

Social concept

Monsters appear in many of the earliest epics, myths and legends of mankind. Often, such creatures are represented as human-animal hybrids, combinations of various animals, or humans or animals with unusual features such as great size or multiple heads. For instance, in ancient Near Eastern mythology one can find creatures such as the aqrabuamelu or scorpion men, the primordial sea dragon Tiamat, the Humbaba, numerous demons (including Lilith and Pazuzu. Another race of monsters, the Apkallu, were seven half-fish half-human beings whom the Sumerians claimed were sent by the God Enki to teach mortals the arts of civilization. Similarly, the Egyptian Sphinx is believed to have been a guardian figure. However, many of the best known monsters come from Greek and Roman mythology. Examples of these include such creatures as the immortal phoenix bird, the one-eyed cyclopes (the most famous of whom was Polyphemus), the chimera, the harpies, the minotaur, Scylla and Charybdis from Homer's Odyssey, and the gorgons (including Medusa). The hero Heracles fought, killed or subdued numerous monsters in his 12 labors, including the Nemean lion, Lernaean Hydra, Stymphalian birds, Geryon and the three-headed hound Cerberus. Writers like Herodotus, Pliny and even Aristotle included numerous monsters in his works, such as giant gold mining ants, dog-headed people, dragons, people with no head and a face on their chest, people with feet so big they could use Medieval European and Middle Eastern scholars eagerly added to Classical traditions of monsters. Medieval bestiaries describe numerous animals, both real and mythic, attributing moral lessons to their behavior. Creatures from classical mythology such as the human-faced manticore, unicorn, mermaid, griffin, lamia and hippocamp were disseminated through interest in Greek and Roman culture. Other local creatures also became prominent as well. The gigantic Roc, flesh-eating ghuls and malicious djinn feature prominently in ancient Persian legendary, such as the Thousand and One Nights. Norse legends told of fearsome trolls, jötunn and surtr, alfar, dwarves, the fenris wolf and the kraken, amongst others. Celtic legends also refer to numerous fantastic creatures as well, like the Cu Sìth, banshee, the skinless Nuckalavee and Scotland's redcap. English monsters include the lindorm and Grendel from the epic of Beowulf.
Asian mythology is also replete with numerous fantastic creatures. Demons such as the Asura, Daitya and shape-shifting Rakshasa frequently oppose the Gods in Hinduism. The Ramayana, popular across the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, tells the story of King Rama as he tries to rescue his true love Sita from the Rakshasa king Ravana in Lanka. Other beings, such as the Nāga, vanara and makara, could be more benevolent. Malay folklore tells of the Penanggalan, a witch who could detach her head from her body, and the Filipinos have creatures like the aswang, tikbalang, kapre and manananggal. East Asian also has many distinct monsters, such as the oni, tengu, kappa, kitsune and numerous yokai. Chinese stories tell of the jiang shi, undead monsters who sometimes plague the living. In contrast to western mythology, dragons in East Asia are usually wise and benevolent.
Before Europeans explored the world, sea serpents and monsters were said to lurk in the unknown corners of the world. Parts of 'monsters', real or imagined, frequently featured cabinets of curiosities in Europe. Other monsters were recorded by missionaries, explorers and naturalists. Father Jacques Marquette reported seeing a Native American painting of the Piasa bird when exploring the Mississippi, and Australian settlers told tales of the bunyip and Queensland tiger. In American folklore includes fantastic creatures like the hodag, wampus cat, hoop snake and other fearsome critters. This led to numerous hoaxes such as the fur-bearing trout, jackalope and giant locusts which often feature on postcards and the like. More dramatic hoaxes from the 19th century include the cardiff giant, fiji mermaid, de Loy's ape, the Cottingley fairies and the Tombstone 'thunderbird' photo. Col. Percy Fawcett reported seeing giant anacondas in the Amazon, and giant squid were discovered to be real creatures rather than myth.

Religion and mythology

In eastern religions such as Hinduism, as well in ancient Greek and Norse mythologies, monsters are often depicted as enemies of the gods. Ragnarok (of Norse mythology) referred to the final battle between the virtuous gods of Asgard and the many monsters of the world.
Ancient peoples often considered "freaks" to be demonstrations of the wrath of the gods. The first so-called monstra were showpieces in traveling carnival freakshows, and were often people afflicted with disfiguring conditions like elephantiasis.
Fictional monsters are often depicted with decent intentions-- and a grotesque physical appearance leading to unfortunate misunderstandings. Some prominent examples include King Kong, Frankenstein's Monster, and the Horta in the Star Trek episode, "The Devil in the Dark".
Monsters of ancient mythology tend to be ruthless menaces that kill indiscriminately, only to be eventually slain by a legendary hero, as in Beowulf, and Saint George and the Dragon.

Monsters in literature

The relationship between art and monstrousness was a pervasive theme in Victorian-era horror literature, where science was often depicted as not only studying monsters, but producing them as well. Notable examples include Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Frankenstein.

Monsters in philosophy

Contemporary philosophers such as Lorraine Daston have mused about the relationship between monster depictions and the role of science in a given society. Monsters also appear in a variety of philosophical works (including those of Aristotle, Augustine, Montaigne, Locke, Leibniz, Diderot, and so on). . A monster is defined as an imaginary creature usually having various human and animal parts.

Monsters in film and television

Pre-World War II

During the age of silent movies, monsters tended to be human-sized, e.g., Frankenstein's monster, the Golem, and vampires. The film Siegfried featured a dragon that was actually a giant puppet on tracks. A few movie dinosaurs were created with the use of stop-motion animated models, as in RKO's King Kong, the first giant monster film of the sound era.
Universal Studios specialized in monsters, with Bela Lugosi's reprising his stage role, Dracula, and Boris Karloff playing Frankenstein's monster. The studio also made several lesser films, such as Man-Made Monster, starring Lon Chaney, Jr. as an electrically reanimated zombie.
There was also a variant of Dr. Frankenstein, the mad surgeon Dr. Gogol (played by Peter Lorre), who transplanted hands that were reanimated with malevolent temperaments, in the film Mad Love.
Werewolves were introduced in films during this period, and similar creatures were presented in Cat People. Mummies were cinematically depicted as fearsome monsters as well. As for giant creatures, the Flash Gordon serial used a costumed actor (with crude special effects) to depict a large dragon. The cinematic monster cycle eventually wore thin, having a comedic turn in Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).

Post World War II

After World War II, however, giant monsters returned to the screen with a vigor that has been causally linked to the development of nuclear weapons. One early example occurred in the American film The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, which was about a dinosaur that attacked a lighthouse. Subsequently, there were Japanese film depictions, (Godzilla, Gamera), British depictions (Gorgo), and even Scandinavian depictions (Reptilicus), of giant monsters attacking cities. The most recent depiction of a giant monster is the monster in J. J. Abrams's Cloverfield, which was released in theaters January 18, 2008. The intriguing proximity of other planets brought the notion of extraterrestrial monsters to the big screen, some of which were huge in size, (such as King Ghidorah and Gigan), while others were of a more human scale. During this period, the fish-man monster was developed in the film series Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Britain's Hammer Film Productions brought colour to the monster movies in the late 1950s. Around this time, the earlier Universal films were usually shown on American television by independent stations (rather than network stations) by using announcers with strange personae, who gained legions of young fans. Although they have since changed considerably, movie monsters did not entirely disappear from the big screen as they did in the late 1940s.
Occasionally, monsters are depicted as friendly or misunderstood creatures. The creatures of Monsters Inc. scare children in order to create energy for running machinery, while the furry monsters of The Muppets and Sesame Street live in harmony with animals and humans alike. Frankenstein's Monster is frequently depicted in this manner, in films such as Monster Squad and Van Helsing.

Other usages

Monsters are a frequent mainstay of role-playing and video games, in which the creatures are often (but not always) large, powerful, evil and menacing. (An example of a monster par excellence would be the dragon).
During Halloween, monster images are used in costumes for children, who will often dress like popular monsters from films and television shows.
Monsters have appeared in the "news" stories of popular tabloids such as the Weekly World News and The National Enquirer.
In heavy metal and Gothic rock, frequent references are made to monsters. The Finnish band Lordi, who rose to international fame in 2006 after winning the Eurovision Song Festival Contest, wear monster costumes with hideous masks.
Also the band GWAR wears the outfits in the heavy metal "shock rock" era.


monsters in Catalan: Monstre
monsters in Danish: Uhyre
monsters in German: Monster
monsters in Spanish: Monstruo
monsters in Esperanto: Monstro
monsters in French: Monstre
monsters in Scottish Gaelic: Uilebheist
monsters in Korean: 괴물
monsters in Indonesian: Monster
monsters in Italian: Mostro
monsters in Hebrew: מפלצות וחיות אגדיות
monsters in Latin: Monstrum
monsters in Dutch: Monster (wezen)
monsters in Japanese: 怪物
monsters in Norwegian: Monster
monsters in Polish: Potwór
monsters in Portuguese: Monstro
monsters in Russian: Монстр
monsters in Finnish: Hirviö
monsters in Swedish: Monster
monsters in Turkish: Canavar
monsters in Ukrainian: Монстр
monsters in Chinese: 怪物
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