What makes a monster?

Robert de Niro in Frankenstein

Robert de Niro in Frankenstein

Friedrich Nietzsche said ‘He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.’

As writers we are tasked with telling stories and creating an emotional response in the reader to a situation and character, but what happens when we need to write about something disturbing?

Today we had the death of great train robber Ronnie Biggs and the sentencing of Ian Watkins for sexual crimes against children.  Both convicted criminals who took part in acts that most normal people would never consider.

So what makes a person do something like Ronnie and Ian? Is it nature, nurture or are they ‘victims’ as well, of circumstance? The term ‘victim’ might offend some people and I can understand why. In court Mr Justice Royce told Watkins ‘You had many fawning fans. That gave you power. You knew you could use that power to induce young female fans to help satisfy your insatiable lust.’ The point I am making is that I do not believe in Ian Watkins case that he woke up one day and thought he had the ‘power’ to influence and control. Any development of the darker side of his character would have developed over years. He may be narcissistic but I am sure that knowing the consequences of his actions a compulsive instinct took over fuelled by perhaps personal experience or, as the defence said in the trial, drug abuse.

I am the father of a 17 month old child and all rational thought would leave my head if he had made an attempt on a member of my family. Think, for a moment, on the use of the term ‘rational’. Does that mean that all of us given the right set of circumstances could do something we would never otherwise consider? This is why I think it goes beyond people’s use of the word ‘evil’ to describe people like this. I think it is perhaps genetic, nature and nurture but above all psychological. Do we make rational choices to be heterosexual, homosexual, transgender? No, it is the way we are and certainly people who are transgender would not choose to be that way given the psychological and physical pain they go through.

Cases such as Watkins, Fred and Rosemary West etc. all illicit highly charged emotional responses from the public fired by the all forms of media and certainly in 2013 social media. I read an interesting blog by Delusions of Candour where the idea of retribution by proxy is discussed. In other words those on social media who would love to see people such as Ian Watkins suffer, like his victims, but are unable to do it hope he will be targeted in prison for abuse. The blogger quite rightly says; ‘So if you’re one of those who think that Watkins and his ilk deserve to be raped, stop and think for a moment. You may be part of the problem, not the solution.’

What I am getting at here is that as writers we need to delve into the psychology of how humans think and act. To be believable our ‘evil’ or bad characters need to be as fully rounded as the main protagonist; perhaps more so if they are committing particularly heinous crimes, and we need to understand why they take the path they choose. We and our readers may not like what they do but we understand why. In the Cry of the Loon I tried to give the reader an insight into the background of all the characters.

In this extract one of the villains describes his upbringing.

Lanet was going a little sir crazy he had not left the cabin and yard for three days while Du Bois ran around sorting things out but he longed for a change of scenery. The girl was no company she just cried, slept or maybe browsed through one of the magazines that Du Bois had found in a cupboard.

 It had always been like this. As a child he had been ignored by his brothers who just told him he was ‘plain stupid.’ He had grown too fast due to a Pituitary gland imbalance but fortunately it was diagnosed early enough; although it did mean that he was nearly a foot taller than his siblings. His father was not much help, drinking too much and always angry. Daniel had no doubt that he had inherited his father’s love of drink and occasional violence.

 Daniel remembered one occasion when he was about 12 his father came home drunk from the bar where he had been since finishing work at the local timber yard. His mother was at a neighbours finishing up some preserves that she had made using fruits they had picked that summer. It was a hot stifling night and he had just spent the evening sitting on the porch while his brothers watched a baseball game. There was nothing out of the ordinary about the day. That was until his father was dropped off at the house by a friend.

 He remembered the pick-up arriving and creaking to a halt at the end of the driveway. It was about 100 metres to the house and pitch black. He could see the headlights and just made out the shape of his father walking towards him swaying uncertainly in his steps.

 “Hey boy!  Daniel give me a hand.” His father called out to him and reluctantly he stood up and walked towards him.

 He felt a shiver as his father placed a strong hand on his shoulder and they turned towards the house. His breath smelt of tobacco, whiskey and beer this mixed with the smell of timber and sawdust was an overpowering aroma. It made Daniel feel sick and he began to cough just as they were reaching the steps up to the porch. His father reacted to the coughing and stepped sideways in surprise only to fall back on the steps and hit his head on the ground.

 All that Daniel could remember of what followed was the verbal tirade that was heaped on him along with a copious beating. Not only that but his father locked him in a store cupboard over night where he nearly suffocated and had to be taken to the doctors in the morning suffering from dehydration. No police investigation followed it was just said that he must have got stuck in there and his brother’s were convinced he was staying with a friend.

 Now he felt trapped again and just wanted to get out. Du Bois was OK he trusted him but this would definitely be the end for him. Lanet reached for the whiskey bottle, it was nearly empty, but there was enough to pass the time until he got back.


3 responses to “What makes a monster?

  1. There are so many factors (some of them i find difficult to understand) that make someone a monster.
    We live in a community, where we influence each other. Sometimes directly (family and friends), sometimes in a more distant way (masses, media, other factors). We all have a sleeping monster inside.

    • Having been a teacher and head of year in school I have been to some child protection meetings and heard things I would rather have not known. I am still amazed at what human beings can do to others and indeed animals. Even the ‘monsters’ were little children once and the tragedy of all this is that everyone is a loser; victim, perpetrator and both familys.

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