Sunday, March 31, 2013

Fear of Monsters

There is another book out about our fear of monsters, and our penchant for inventing riotous forms of them.

I find this completely un-mysterious. We evolved to worry about what might be lurking out there in the dark; we have powerful imaginations; we like to tell stories. That seems to me to be explanation enough.

We may, like some monkeys, have a built-in fear of snakes and big birds, and we certainly fear fire. So that may have something to do with western fear dragons, although Chinese people feel completely differently about their version.

I have, in the course of parenting five children, read out loud a good dozen short books about wolves. Every single one includes some version of "people used to hate and fear wolves for no good reason, but now that we know more about them we know they are fascinating creatures we should be happy to share the planet with." None of them ever say that we used to fear predators because they really did carry off our children in the night, and we hated wolves because they ate our sheep. Now that excessive safety and wealth are bigger problems for us than the reverse, of course we no longer fear wolves. This same basic change explains the shift in attitudes toward other monsters, from "I hope it isn't true" to "if only it were."

No comments: