What happen to monsters being terrifying in fantasy?

#1
Seriously, monsters are not really that big of a deal in fantasy anymore. It feels like authors use them as a strength gauge instead of a element of the story; when someone writes about a fantastical monster they should make you feel awestruck or have a fridge horror effect of how terrifying the monster is.

I personally think that many low-quality LitRPGs and/or Isekai contribute to this, exchanging the wow factor of the monster to nothing but orbs of experience. 

Re: What happen to monsters being terrifying in fantasy?

#2

T.K Wrote: Seriously, monsters are not really that big of a deal in fantasy anymore. It feels like authors use them as a strength gauge instead of a element of the story; when someone writes about a fantastical monster they should make you feel awestruck or have a fridge horror effect of how terrifying the monster is.

I personally think that many low-quality LitRPGs and/or Isekai contribute to this, exchanging the wow factor of the monster to nothing but orbs of experience.
I wonder the same, and really, just a few solutions I have come up with.


1. Market

—> Believe it or not, most people do not care about quality. They might say so, but in reality, it really isn’t. Demographics change, and over time, that sense is lost. Wherever it is profitable, that is where the market will shift.

2. New Writers

—> We have all started here, and most people who start off writing, they lack any sort of basic ability. Since, they are learning how to do so. More often than not, they see something, and try and copy what has been done. 

3. Unwillingness

—> This builds off of point two, some are stuck in a mindset that one way is the best way. As a result, they stop trying to be creative. They may say so, but in reality, it is easily identifiable.

4. Misunderstandings

—> A lot of writers, even more experienced ones. Not as many, but it exists. Does not understand specific genres and their division. Dark Fantasy for instance, is a sub genre of horror. It thrives on unsettling emotions, a grim setting. Horrific elements, these are more likely to have morals within it, etc. Many thinks Dark Fantasy is about edginess, gore, and so on. In reality, it is not. You can have those points within it, but Dark Fantasy is in direction towards emotions. Unsettling, grim world, and so on.

5. Monsters

—> There are numerous lores out there, but a lot who writes, they stick to a select few. More often than not, these are not done well. They tend to go away from the origin to the point of where it doesn’t maintain the ferocity they had. I am all for trying out new ideas, but there is a limit to disregarding the source. You can make it complex, but at least show awareness of the knowledge.

It goes on and on.

Re: What happen to monsters being terrifying in fantasy?

#3
I think this can be a problem, and Val does a good job covering why that could be the case. You might find stuff more to your taste in a dark fantasy / grimdark genre where stuff is going to be a lot grittier, people losing to the monsters more.

Otherwise yeah, the protagonists are generally going to beat the monster. How much suspense that process has depends on the skill of the writer (if that's the sort of conflict and tone that they are even going for in their story). There are definitely instances of good monsters in stories, you might just have to dig a little more. Here's some recs:

- Sea serpents and behemoths are the two big monster antagonists in Divine Blood. (Warning: self promo. I obviously enjoy my own story, and so have some readers as evidenced by comments and ratings!)
- I like the interesting take on seraphs and charybdis in Chimera, also time magic and so much more. I don't want to divulge too much because spoilers, but I highly recommend this for a cool take on monsters! (The story can be a tad hard to follow sometimes especially in the beginning, but this is a story where it actually does get better and is worth sticking with it, in my opinion.)
- Lastly, if you want vampires that are actually creepy and scary, The Aroma of Blood does that! (This one has a slow update schedule, but the first vampire encounter is complete and gives satisfaction even if you just read that.)
- I had one more rec for you but now I'm sad because I couldn't find it anywhere.... the fiction was deleted. :(

Re: What happen to monsters being terrifying in fantasy?

#4
I think this could be a symptom of fatigue as well as a symptom of modernity.

A 20-foot-tall reptilian beast with wings that breathes fire was probably a terrifying thought for people a long time ago. Now we've all seen that depicted so much in movies, games, and other books that when we read about them now, we're desensitized. The same can apply for other monster types. Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of new monsters (I guess other than modern zombies) that have gained popularity recently, and the ones that do are usually a frightening twist on something else.

On top of that, with our modern understandings, we can understand that none of these creatures really exist. Slasher or true crime stories can be much more terrifying than a story about something we know will never be a threat to us. Hell, I'd be more scared reading a story about a bear attack than a dragon attack.

All that aside, monsters are some of the coolest parts about fantasy, so maybe we just don't see these creatures as threats so much as cool features of the fantasy universe we're visiting by reading? It all depends on the framing, I suppose. With the right buildup and setting, any monster can be made scary for the characters as well as the reader. Sometimes it's just more fun to play around with monsters, though.

Re: What happen to monsters being terrifying in fantasy?

#7

T.K Wrote: Seriously, monsters are not really that big of a deal in fantasy anymore. It feels like authors use them as a strength gauge instead of a element of the story; when someone writes about a fantastical monster they should make you feel awestruck or have a fridge horror effect of how terrifying the monster is.

I personally think that many low-quality LitRPGs and/or Isekai contribute to this, exchanging the wow factor of the monster to nothing but orbs of experience.
We got used to it, just like we got used to nobility, elves, dwarves, magic and a bunch of stuff that was supposed to have intended effects, but we got so used to it it doesn't matter anymore, sure a scary dragon's still a dragon but the story next door already has one dead so I'm sure this one will die too eventually, a kind dragon is now more surprising

Re: What happen to monsters being terrifying in fantasy?

#8
Excuse me? I am The Hero, and would like to take exception to your line of questioning. What you call 'monsters' are in truth no more than obstacles, delaying my quest to save the world and rescue the princess. They are in no way to appear 'terrifying,' and distract the reader from identifying with my charming everyman persona as I prove the naysayers wrong and become everyone's hero. Please don't give them ideas.

More seriously, people are correct that the focus on the protagonist's journey and heroism has often meant that monsters feature as roadblocks rather than as terrifying creatures in their own right. As Apocryphal said, the horror genre might have more focus on terrifying monsters. When earlier authors, including in fantasy, wrote terrifying or larger-than-life monsters, they were drawing on the traditions of earlier literature like epic poetry where humans were often the plaything of the gods and cosmic forces. Hence, heroes could still be reprimanded for their hubris, and conflicts on earth often reflected tension between the gods. This meant that there was a focus on the larger context, creating more space for terrifying monsters who often represented a part of the cosmic system. 

Figures like Cerberus or Fenrir are not only fearsome, but also play an important part in the universe described by their respective mythologies. This kind of focus is partially echoed by Lovecraftian 'cosmicism,' with creatures such as Nyarlathotep and Cthulu being well-known horror archetypes, and fantasy based on Lovecraftian influence might be a reasonable way to conjure terrifying monsters in fantasy. Other people connected to Lovecraft did write fantasy on occasion, such as Clark Ashton Smith's Dunsany-influenced prose works. However, modern fantasy is often less anchored in this kind of schema, and also tend to focus on a moral conflict between protagonist and villain.

The moral struggle between good and evil was a theme even in ancient texts such as the Ramayana, where it is still celebrated by festivals such as Divali. However, there the attempt is still made to portray terrifying or large monsters and giants. This is partially because the action takes place against a cosmic schema with incarnated Gods, etc., and is also slightly complicated because the 'antagonist,' Ravana, is also known for his previous piety and uses this to gain supernatural powers. Many 'monstrous' combatants fighting for the 'enemy' are actually portrayed as sympathetic or pious figures in books like the Mahabharata, Illiad, or Ramayana. Modern fantasy doesn't tend to have the same kind of focus, and its morality generally doesn't leave place for the slightly ambiguous role of the monster, rather focusing on the protagonist, antagonists, and other humans or humanoids because there is more of an obvious moral conflict there. While the 'morality' of ancient stories was often bound to cosmic forces, and gods that controlled the elements, modern fantasy's morality tends to be more of a head-to-head fight between good and evil people.

In litRPG, there are also a few complicating factors, such as the genre often using monsters as cannon fodder for the players. Once you've done a few 'Kill 50 minotaurs' quests, it's not quite as fearsome as in the tale of Theseus, after all. Nonetheless, there is still the chance for fearsome beasts when it comes to raids or other bosses. Often, difficult raids have been considered a special experience by MMO players, and some 'impossible' bosses that weren't defeated for years have become parts of the lore. In games as different as FFXIV and AdventureQuest, major figures in game lore include bosses that begun as almost impossible fights. While it might not be rewarding to players, it nonetheless enriches the game's lore and worldbuilding, so players can still appreciate it. Early GameLit like 'Shadow of the Minotaur' and 'Vampyr Legion' is, despite the YA tropes, focused around fearsome monsters, in a way that could easily be rewritten into a horrific tale. While some creatures are overused in fantasy and authors should be cautious around them, a less steretypical take on them might still be possible. It probably requires making sure to 'show' the creature and any of its fearsome traits, rather than just 'telling' the audience that it is a dragon.

In summary, some of the earlier monsters were based on literary traditions that are less prominent in modern fantasy, but were important influences on the beginning of the modern genre. However, writing such as Lovecraftian horror offer a few examples of how more modern authors can still produce unsettling or influential monsters.

Re: What happen to monsters being terrifying in fantasy?

#9
Doesn't it simply depend on the genre? Lit-RPG monsters are intended to be simply obstacles. Grimdark and horror monsters are intended to be scary.
As for the ability of the author... this is partially true. But not all great authors in history that write monsters make them bone-chillingly horrifying. Take Tolkien for example. Is he the father of modern fantasy? Yes. Are his orks described in horrid details? And the monster from the lake? And Shelob? No. 

Re: What happen to monsters being terrifying in fantasy?

#11

kieranpierce Wrote:
Ariana Wrote: But not all great authors in history that write monsters make them bone-chillingly horrifying. Take Tolkien for example. Is he the father of modern fantasy? Yes. Are his orks described in horrid details? And the monster from the lake? And Shelob? No.
I thought Shelob was great....


Actually, I would want to put her on my personal list of cool fantasy monsters....
Oh, she is great and serves her purpose in the story perfectly. But her description in the text is that of an overgrown spider. I know that it is subjective but I don't think that her description in-book is particularly scary when we are talking about "scary" monsters:


Quote:But still, she was there, who was there before Sauron, and before the first stone of Barad-dûr; and she served none but herself, drinking the blood of Elves and Men, bloated and grown fat with endless brooding on her feasts, weaving webs of shadow; for all living things were her food, and her vomit darkness.

Re: What happen to monsters being terrifying in fantasy?

#12

Ariana Wrote: Oh, she is great and serves her purpose in the story perfectly. But her description in the text is that of an overgrown spider. I know that it is subjective but I don't think that her description in-book is particularly scary when we are talking about "scary" monsters

Yeah, she was pretty much just a spider, but the atmosphere around her was a lot more than that. I don't want to search for quotes, but it was very different than the usual romanticism descriptions that Tolkien employs on literally every natural scenery. (That's the big thing I rant about with LotR haha)

There are a few things that I really, really like about reading it though: the hobbit wikipedia entry for a prologue bored me out of my mind in the best of ways, Sam making a stew was so wholesome and funny, Shelob was a very intense moment, Smeagol vs. Gollum is intriguing and one of my fav characters... (I'm sure there will be more--I still haven't finished the books I read them SO slowly.)

Also fuck, when the black riders sniff and crawl on the ground. It was like a single sentence but that gives me nightmares like the movies never could. I actually found that scary. Find the terror in the little things!

Re: What happen to monsters being terrifying in fantasy?

#13

kieranpierce Wrote: Find the terror in the little things!
Indeed. For example, the book that scared me senseless at night was The Screaming Staircase: Lockwood & Co., Book 1. It is for readers age 11+ and I read it as a ripe 25+ woman... that night I couldn't even go to the bathroom without literally running back to bed (well, maybe the fact that I had a high fever at that point contributed to this, but still) peolaughing peodead

Re: What happen to monsters being terrifying in fantasy?

#14

T.K Wrote: Seriously, monsters are not really that big of a deal in fantasy anymore. It feels like authors use them as a strength gauge instead of a element of the story; when someone writes about a fantastical monster they should make you feel awestruck or have a fridge horror effect of how terrifying the monster is.

I personally think that many low-quality LitRPGs and/or Isekai contribute to this, exchanging the wow factor of the monster to nothing but orbs of experience.


Think it speaks to our culture nowadays. Like a long time ago the world was a much more vast and unknown place and so the things that scared us then had more weight. nowadays it's more about being a nobody in the modern sea that is life that scares people and so they use the monsters as part of the escapism. 

Re: What happen to monsters being terrifying in fantasy?

#16
I would argue that the monsters in Tolkien's works are frightening because of the lack of details. Some of the best horror movies, books, and television shows I've seen tend to leave out direct appearances or too much information about their monsters/scary creatures. The human brain can generate enough "scary" material on its own, and all an author needs to do is point it in the right direction with setting, tension, and little hints and pushes here and there. Back when Tolkien first published his works, I imagine the response to his monsters was different from a modern reader's, because the perceptions of that reader back then was very different.

This is why a lot of mainstream "monsters" like dragons and goblins etc. aren't all that scary anymore because they've been explored so much in modern medias that most readers likely know enough about them not to actually be scared of them.

Meanwhile, things like obscure monsters from local folklores across the world remain terrifying in their own ways, because less people know and have explored the idea of them in media. Ghosts, demons, and poltergeists are, while defined in some ways, still very vague to modern societies. That makes them scary to a lot of people.

Real danger from real "monsters" like angry bears or murderers are understandable as well. Most people try to avoid personal danger to themselves at all costs, and if written correctly, it's very easy to sympathize with characters being put into situations the readers themselves would never want to be in. Real dangers are always capable of being scary.

A lot of fantasies aren't written with the intention of being scary though. They're written to casually entertain, but still, a dash of well placed "horror" in a story can generate a connection between a reader and a character. Fear is an emotion most people (with some exceptions) can empathize with.

Re: What happen to monsters being terrifying in fantasy?

#18

Derin_Edala Wrote: You're probably reading the wrong types of fantasy. If you're reading stories where the focus is on the main character Becoming Strong and Beating Everything Up, then the monsters are going to be in the story for the purpose of getting strong and beating them up. If you want them scary, look to the sorts of stories that aren't written like computer games.
I actually don't read much LitRPG I feel that people as a crutch more often than not.