Some creatures are imaginary. I think of unicorns and heffelumps and vampires and zombies. Or orcs or elves or hobbits. Some of these beings have a basis in history. For instance dragons are mentioned in the Bible. At least one is. And they are definitely described in the book of Job. Ghosts also have a bit of tradition, and they are also mentioned in the gospels, though in the instance recorded, Jesus assured His disciples He was NOT a ghost.
Regardless of the origin of the various beasts that populate speculative stories, they generally have had a defined role—they side with evil or they side with good.
But more and more these creatures are changing sides. Or perhaps, more accurately, they are becoming a mixed bag—not all good or all evil as a trait of their species. Perhaps this shift is a result of our wider understanding of the world and a determination not to paint any people group as evil simply because of their ethnicity or their culture or their race.
Of course C. S. Lewis incorporated the monster-changing-sides in Narnia. He had dwarfs that were faithful to the High King, and dwarfs that were not. He also included the Calormene soldier Emeth who forsook Tash and became one of Aslan’s followers.
In other words, monsters changing sides, is not necessarily a recent phenomenon. But what does it mean?
Historically dragons have been evil. They burned and pillaged. They held towns and countrysides under the tyranny of they vicious exploits. They horded their ill-got gain for no apparent reason other than their own satisfaction.
But along with others, Donita Paul flipped the dragon myth in her DragonKeeper Chronicles. Dragons were sometimes cute and cuddly. Dragons were sometimes faithful companions that helped save the day. And dragons were sometimes still villainous, to be defeated.
As near as I can determine, not having read the series, Stephenie Meyer did the same in Twilight with vampires.
Of course, ghosts have been flipped for some time—think of Casper the Friendly Ghost or the ghosts in the very old TV program, Topper.
So monster flipping is not a new endeavor. Back in the 1960s there were two other TV programs that illustrated this point: The Addams Family and The Munsters.
I continue to think about this idea of changing sides. What’s behind it? Does the popularity lie simply in the surprise element such reversal offers? Or is there another reason people want to see or read stories about surviving the zombie apocalypse, as author Greg Garrett suggests in Living with the Living Dead (Oxford University Press).
Do people want to make friends with monsters, as in the movie Monsters Inc. as a way of reducing the terror in the world? After all, people are scary enough. We don’t need to also be afraid of the monster under the bed. Or the one who we might be sitting next to in geometry.
In other words, is the remake of monsters an attempt to cope with fear?
The thing I realize in all this is that flipping monsters is not actually dealing with them.
The people in Israel didn’t become less fearful of the giants in the promised land because they had a plan to turn them, to sway them, to flip them so they’d fight on the Israelite side. They also didn’t pretend they did not exist.
There really were giants in the land. The way God wanted His people to approach that reality was to turn to Him and rely on the fact that He could deal with the giants.
I wonder if monster-flipping is a way of side-stepping that kind of dependence on God.