Last modified: February 24th, 2021
The Halloween season is officially upon us, and I am just rip-roaring excited to collect this year’s completely unnecessary spooky merchandise.
In honor of this, the most fantastic holiday season, let’s talk about monsters a little more in-depth. I’ve already talked about what defines a monster, but how about categorizing monsters? In the great monster kingdom, what are the phyla, classes and clades?
I’ve broken monster categorization into two distinct aspects: origins and form. Sure, you can have a blob monster, but where that blob monster came from is just as important – is it an alien, a scientific concoction, a spiritual manifestation of pollution? Alternatively, a creature that is described as a demon could look any number of ways: a handsome devil-man, a dapper well-dressed goat, a ball of eldritch tentacles and eyes, or maybe a barely-tangible shadow being. There is lots of variety in both directions!
There is definitely crossover and mushyness within these categories. I know that many monsters will have multiple Form categories, and unfortunately, we don’t always know about a monster’s Origin category. “Monster” is such a frustratingly broad term that there is just no way to fully encapsulate the full scope of all of them!
Monsters originating as an extraterrestrial species or from an extra-dimensional source – either way, they’re not from around here, and our world or reality probably doesn’t jive well with them.
Examples: Xenomorphs, greys, Pacific Rim’s Kaiju, Cthulhu and other Lovecraftian horrors, Hellboy’s Ogdru-Jahad
Monsters created through curses or corruption induced by a supernatural gift, rule, ability, or presence, including infernal/demonic. This can include curses that can passively affect people simply by entering a “forbidden place”, picking up a cursed object, etc.
Examples: many classic versions of monsters like werewolves, the Jersey Devil
Monsters created by scientific or or at least not-completely-supernatural genetic alteration, toxic waste/chemical influence, or weird evolution.
Examples: Godzilla, that god-awful bear and other Area X creatures from Annihilation, Jurassic Park’s dinosaurs, Fallout’s Deathclaws, the radiation monsters from S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
Monsters created by a foreign entity, usually something without its own physical form, that enters, controls, takes over, or directly influences another being.
Examples: some interpretations of werewolves, the girl from The Exorcist, the Nun, beings animated in Stephen King’s Pet Semetary, Ghostbusters’ Zuul
Monsters created by an inorganic, dead, or otherwise lifeless object or body that is given life in some fashion, usually scientific or pseudo-scientific. Sometimes this can have weird overlap with possession, if an object or corpse is possessed by a supernatural entity.
Examples: most robots & zombies
Monsters that are normal animals, just not in the average person’s bestiary – often part of a connected but hidden ecosystem on Earth.
Examples: all the magical beasts in the Harry Potter series, fae folk, gnomes and other “little people” myths, some versions of Bigfoot, most classic medieval fantasy animals like unicorns and dragons
Monsters that exist as deities and similar beings that are brought to existence due to belief in them – or, a non-living thing that takes on a life of its own due to others’ feelings towards it.
Examples: deities, genius loci, nature spirits, Japanese tsukumogami
The Other Side
Monsters that exist as trans-dimensional or ghostlike entities that aren’t quite within the same reality, timeline, or state of aliveness as us.
Examples: spirits, ghosts, shadow people
Monsters that are human-like in general appearance, shape, and size but are distorted, demented, elongated, or otherwise twisted. Usually hit the “uncanny valley” description quite well.
Monsters that normally appear human but transform into an alternate personality (with or without an alternate physical form) that is more id-centric – driven by the desires to eat, hunt, and often kill.
Monsters that are formed from an individual component of a normally-complete natural being that is operating on its own.
Monsters that are vaporous, liquid, gelantinous blobs, slimes, or shapeshifters with a blob-like neutral form.
Monsters that are based primarily on a real Earth animal.
Examples: the “Wild Things” from Where the Wild Things Are, any enhanced or anomalous animals like the super-smart sharks in Deep Blue Sea, pretty much any B-movie “giant animal” like giant spiders, giant insects, giant alligators
Monsters that appear as a fusion, patching/stapling together, or not-so-natural combination of multiple parts, including human/non-human animal, animal/machinery, or stitched-together dead parts. Often asymmetrical.
Monsters whose forms are a normally non-living/non-animate object, force or substance.
Examples: Hexxus from Fern Gully, classical elementals, golems, automatons/robots, Japanese tsukumogami
What do you think? Can your favorite monsters fit into these categories? What monsters can you think of that don’t remotely fit?