I recently read Book of the Dead by Australian action/thriller author Greig Beck. Most of Beck’s books involve monstrous creatures of some sort, and Book of the Dead went straight to the top: the almighty Cthulhu seeks to destroy the world and it’s up to a motley crew of scientists, linguists, and assassins to take the bad boy down. Beck’s books and those from similar authors, along with the ever-present city-flattening monster du jour on the big screen, got me to thinking about super-sized chaos and destruction.
What is it about enormous, angry creatures with varying degrees of intelligence that appeals to such a wide range of people? Shouldn’t we grow out of this once we ourselves become bigger? The answer to the first question is a bit elusive but the second one is easy. Growing bigger doesn’t mean that we are “big.” Our modern world constantly reminds us of how physically small we are, despite how big we may feel compared to those around us. The largest human is a mere flea on the backs of the world’s largest animals, and a speck of dust compared to the skyscrapers and cargo ships that surround us. Increasing one’s height by a few feet does not make one “big.” In fact, I would say that the average adult encounters more structures and machines that make them feel small on a daily basis than the average child.
One thing that separates the monsters of our childhood with the monsters we are entertained by as adults is the degree of aggression. Kids, particularly young boys, enjoy watching Godzilla clones get walloped by equally-large Power Rangers Megazords but you’ll also find stories of gentle giants. Fantasy tales abound with benevolent dragons, unicorns, whales, robots, and other large creatures that could be destructive if they wanted to be, but instead are kind and helpful (Clifford the Big Red Dog is an obvious example).
So what happens when we “grow up?” In the adult world of monsters, you’ll find the Kraken, Moby Dick, Cthulhu, kaiju, and the ultra-violent and ultra-schlocky SyFy movie mishmashes (Cybertyrannomegalosharktopus is in production, I think). I once read a book by Brian Keene called The Conqueror Worms in which train-sized worms burrow to the surface after torrential rains, like what happens in real life after a rain, just on a much larger scale. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu actually has real cult followings, and this serves to illustrate my next point.
Human nature wants to worship something big. King Kong was worshiped by the island natives, volcanoes and mountains have become gods, and dragons rule the realms of fantasy. The gods that are worshiped by the various religions of the world are massive and powerful.
As Christians, we worship a God who is beyond our ability to comprehend, both in size and power. His might is glimpsed through His creation, from galaxy-annihilating supernovas to less destructive but equally terrifying earthly cataclysms such as volcanic eruptions. In the book of Job, mankind is awed by the behemoth (chapter 40) and leviathan (chapter 41), creatures who speak of their Creator’s power by their own strength.
Awe and reverence are emotions that we as human beings seem to crave, and the terror we experience in our entertainment reflects how small we feel as a part of creation. Many fictional monsters are pure wrath and destruction, while others are peaceful and good. The God who has created real-life monsters encompasses all of these characteristics – unspeakable wrath, but also incredible gentleness. When I read books of the Bible such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and others, I feel greater awe than anything I could ever experience from watching a CGI monster on IMAX.