Thursday, March 04, 2010

Monsters, Part 1: Good Monsters, Bad Monsters

Our life is filled with monsters. Good monsters, bad monsters, nice monsters, mean monsters. They're everywhere. At least, they are to Oliver. He sees monsters everywhere he turns.

Monsters are a presence in most American kids' lives. They're in hundreds of books - from Maurice Sendak's Wild Things, to the weird creatures who inhabited Dr. Seuss' work, to modern classics like the Gruffalo (pictured above). They're just a presence, and it's small wonder that so many kids are fearful of monsters under the bed. They hear about monsters all the time - at some point, they just begin believing in them for reals.

When it started, Oliver had a typical kid's relationship to monsters: they were bad, they hid under beds and behind closet doors, and they were scary. I had a can of "monster spray" (a relabeled can of air freshener) that I would dutifully spray around his room when he thought there were monsters in there.

Then, the pattern changed. He started announcing that there were bad monsters, but that the good monsters were keeping them out of the house. I don't remember suggesting that good monsters were out there - that was all him.

And then, so gradually we didn't even notice it, the description of the monsters started getting - I don't know the right word. It started getting creative. Eccentric. Weird.

Maybe it was when he started telling us that he couldn't sleep because bad monsters were playing their instruments too loud. That's the first time I remember him getting really weird with the monster talk.

Eventually, monsters became his primary topic of conversation. Bad monsters were outside of the car, trying to pull him out of his car seat, but the good monsters wouldn't let them. Good monsters were constantly fighting with the bad monsters. Bad monsters wouldn't let him eat his food. Good monsters were directing traffic. He would talk about bad monsters who sped and disobeyed traffic rules, and the good monster police who would arrest them and put them in jail.

On some level, they were his version of angels and devils. There was a war being fought between mischievous entities - the bad monsters - and the ones who maintained order and goodness - the good monsters. He would report the skirmishes, but he was merely an observer to the battle. He couldn't change the results. He was just like Uatu, a watcher, permitted to observe but never to interfere.

He would wake up in the morning and be sad because a bad monster killed a good monster's mother. How do you placate someone who's mourning an invisible battle casualty?

He would announce the size of the opposing armies. There were a thousand good monsters, ten million bad monsters. The next day, there were five million good monsters and only a hundred bad monsters. It changed every day. Some days, he would tell us that all the bad monsters all died. The next day, it would change.

He rewrote the rules every day because, after all, it was his war. He remade the conflict every day and adjusted the players as he saw fit, like any good writer would. He would add tension, draw battle lines, create a heartbreaking loss, a triumphant victory. The only constant was the monsters. Whatever the numbers were, whatever was happening, wherever the fight was being waged, there were always good monsters and bad monsters.

And then one day, he introduced us to Freddy.

(to be continued...)

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