Monday, February 29, 2016

The Monster Hunting Genre, and Why I'm Smitten With It

In recent years, I've found myself gravitating more and more towards the specific sub-genre of urban fantasy that you could call "monster hunting." I'm not sure what really sunk it's hooks into me. If I look far enough back, I watched Buffy and Angel for a while. I always loved Army of Darkness. If I'm really honest, the fact that Ghostbusters is one of my favorite movies of all time, and one of the formative bits of media in my youth probably says a lot about all of this.

Don't tell anyone, because I may loose from geek cred, but as much as I love Star Wars, my first non-TSR RPG was Ghostbusters. The World of Darkness game that most tempted me was Hunter. So this isn't a new thing. It just subsides a bit from time to time.


I started reading the Dresden Files books in recent years, which may have been the beginning of the most recent era of monster hunting obsession for me.

I know a lot of human beings like horror stories. We start talking about the unknown and getting our adrenaline pumping. It's the psychological equivalent of going on a roller coaster or driving too fast. But monster hunting is something different. At least for me.

I've always liked horror stories where rules develop. Vampires don't like sunlight. Werewolves show up under a full moon. Ghosts only haunt places that were important to them when they were alive. It's great for the story to start scary and mysterious, but I don't really want to adrenaline rush most of the time. I don't want the fear. I know the fear. I know what it's like to think there is something undefined out there, looming, ready to jump on you and rend what you know and love, ready to prove to you that your life isn't what you thought it was and that it will never be the same again.

That's where the rules come in. When you name something, you define it. It gives you power over that thing. It's okay if there turns out to be multiple kinds of vampires that have different weaknesses or different kinds of werewolves that have different rules for when they turn, because at least if they are things that can be known and defined, they are things that can be understood. Worked against. Defeated or contained.

What I like about most of the monster hunting genre isn't that there are heroes that can defeat the monsters. I mean, I'm not a jerk that doesn't want good to win, but I want an entertaining story. What I enjoy about it is that it almost always research, knowledge, and hard work. Even when Buffy was running around as the Chosen One, she doesn't get to touch the bad things and make them go poof. She needs a Watcher around helping her do research on how and when to hit the icky things to make them go away.

In a lot of monster hunting fiction, there are bad things that can be defined, but there are a lot of bad things. You need to know for sure what the bad thing is, and make sure that it isn't something that looks a whole lot like that bad thing. Killing or dispelling or banishing the monster isn't impossible, but it's usually really, really hard. There are lots of people that are just trying to live their lives that get caught up in the path of destruction, and that defines who the hunters are. Do they care about everybody in the way, or are they just worried about the big picture?

So in the monster hunting genre, life is hard. You need to pay attention to find out what you are really up against. Knowledge and learning is important, and so is knowing people that you can count on. How you treat the people that don't know everything that you do but still  have to deal with the same things that you do helps define who you are.

In the end, I think I enjoy the monster hunting genre because of what a huge metaphor it is of day to day life. Life can be really hard. Knowing things makes you better at dealing with the stuff that comes your direction, but it also makes you feel a little more responsible for dealing with the things you can handle that other people can't. You may not look like a hero, because the things you are fighting hide in the shadows, or they hide in plain sight. If you know the right people, they will know what you did to survive. What you did to help others. And if you are smart, you will realize how much you need them to get by when you have seen the things you have seen.

Humans have always liked to personify their ills as things that lurk just beyond their sight. Monster hunting is just that way of us reminding ourselves that we can cope with those things, once we take a breath and really look at what we need to do to cope with the problem. And most of the time in monster hunting fiction, there isn't a long happily ever after. There is always another monster. And that's fine, because we need to learn to celebrate when we take care of the one right in front of us, and enjoy the time we spend with the people that help us plan and prepare for the next one coming down the road.