For as long as humans have told stories, they have told stories of good and evil.
Stories of good and evil
For as long as humans have told stories, they have told stories of good and evil. These often manifest as confrontations between heroes and monsters. Heroes represent the best qualities that humans can strive for, while monsters embody fear and chaos.
These stories serve as powerful metaphors for life’s struggles; they remind us that no matter how dark things may seem we should never give up because there is always a chance to triumph over evil forces.
This message has been passed through generations, and still resonates with people today. Modern culture has embraced the theme, as superheroes like Batman or Spider-Man battle against villains like The Joker or Doctor Octopus.
Folklore’s archetypal heroes are often symbols of courage and strength. They represent humanity’s highest ideals and inspire us to strive for greatness. They are brave in the face of danger; they have an unwavering sense of morality; they use their skills to protect those who cannot defend themselves.
In European folklore, heroes such as Beowulf or King Arthur embody these qualities perfectly, demonstrating immense bravery against monstrous foes, including cat-monsters, dragons and divine boars. In Chinese folklore there is Sun Wukong, the Monkey King, who uses his wits to defeat his monstrous enemies. These characters show us that even when faced with overwhelming odds we can still find ways to succeed.
Folklore’s archetypal monsters are often symbols of fear and chaos. They represent humanity’s darkest impulses and challenge us to confront our deepest fears. They have immense strength or supernatural powers; they are driven by an insatiable hunger for destruction; they use their abilities to terrorize innocent people.
Examples of monsters can be found in cultures around the world, such as vampires in Eastern European folklore, werewolves in Germanic mythology, or dragons in Chinese culture. In Greek mythology there is Typhon – a monstrous giant with one hundred fire-breathing snake heads. Stories about monsters keep societies alert, and reminds us that danger could be lurking just around the corner.
In the 1940s, Joseph Campbell outlined the concept of monomyth: a theory that many traditional stories follow a similar narrative structure. This narrative structure is known as the Hero’s Journey.
The Hero’s Journey typically begins with a call to action, which leads the hero on an adventure where they must confront enemies or monsters along the way. During this quest, they may receive help from supernatural forces or mentors who provide guidance and wisdom. The hero then faces their ultimate challenge before returning home triumphant.
This narrative structure can be seen in many classic folktales. The writers did not follow the pattern on purpose, but their stories naturally fell into the rhythm. All across the world, this structure resonated with the people who heard it, and appeared again and again.
An example: Gilgamesh and Humbaba
The ancient Mesopotamian‘Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the oldest stories in human history, dating back to 2100 BCE. It features the character of Gilgamesh, a hero who battles against monsters.
In this tale, Gilgamesh traveled to the legendary Cedar Forest to confront its guardian: a monstrous giant named Humbaba the Terrible. When they started to fight, the ground split open, and the sky turned dark.
Gilgamesh was supported by Shamash, the sun god, who sent thirteen winds to blow against Humbaba’s face. As the giant struggled to break free from the winds, Gilgamesh forced him to surrender, then cut off the giant’s head.
An example: Theseus and the Minotaur
The story of Theseus and the Minotaur is one of Ancient Greece’s most famous myths, and it tells of a hero overcoming an evil monster.
According to the story, King Minos of Crete had been given a bull by the gods. In return, Minos was supposed to sacrifice the bull, but instead he kept it for himself. As punishment, the gods cursed Minos, and had his wife give birth to a monstrous creature called the Minotaur. This monster was half man and half bull, and Minos imprisoned it within an elaborate underground labyrinth.
In order to appease the Minotaur, Minos had to send seven young men and seven young women into its lair each year. A man named Theseus heard about this, and volunteered to go in place of one of these victims. Theseus succeeded in killing the Minotaur, before emerging from the labyrinth triumphant.
An example: Beowulf and Grendel
The story of Beowulf is the defining legend of Old English literature. It tells the tale of a brave warrior who defeats a monstrous giant named Grendel.
Grendel is described as a creature of darkness who feeds on humankind. After repeatedly attacking a mead hall in Denmark, a hero named Beowulf travels to intervene. Beowulf’s courage and strength are legendary; he faces off against Grendel with no weapons or armor, and manages to tear off the monster’s arm.
Grendel may symbolize the darker sides of human nature: violence, greed, jealousy. When Beowulf defeats him, it is not just a victory for heroes over monsters, but a reminder that people should strive for goodness over evil.
Monomyths in modern media
The monomyth structure is also used in modern stories, like J.R.R Tolkien’s ‘The Lord Of The Rings’ and George Lucas’ ‘Star Wars’ series. In both stories, a hero is called to action and embarks on a journey to save the world from an evil force.
Frodo Baggins must journey across Middle Earth to destroy the One Ring and defeat Sauron, while Luke Skywalker embarks on a quest to restore balance to the Force by confronting Darth Vader. Both heroes face numerous obstacles along their journeys, including powerful enemies and inner demons, and receive help from supernatural mentors in the form of Gandalf and Obi-Wan Kenobi.
These tales demonstrate how traditional folklore can be adapted for modern audiences, while still retaining its core themes. The monomyth structure is no less appealing to audiences today than it was thousands of years ago.
Monsters in the modern world
In the modern age, monsters have come to symbolize some of the contemporary issues which endanger our lives today. For example, the rise of artificial intelligence has been depicted as a monster in films like ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ and the ‘Terminator’ series – a reminder that technology can be both a blessing and a curse depending on how it is used.
Godzilla is another powerful example. This reptilian monster was conceived in the aftermath of the nuclear bombs used on Japan at the end of World War II. The creature is a metaphor for the destructive power of nuclear weapons – and possibly a metaphor for the USA, who used these fearsome new weapons.
Just like in stories of the past, such as the tale of Beowulf, these monsters provide insight into current issues, while reminding people of what needs to be done in order to protect our communities from harm.