After reading the last post by Wei, I was really interested in this "evolution" of monters and their "purpose" in fiction. This brought me back to a reading I had last semester about the origins and role of monsters in myth.
"Myths and monsters have been interspliced since the earliest extant poetry from Sumer: the one often features the other. The word 'myth', from the Greek, means a form of speech, while the word 'monster' is derived, in the opinion of one Latin grammarian, from monstrum, via moneo, and encloses the notions of advising, of reminding, above all of warning. But moneo, in the word monstrum has come under the influence of Latin monstrare, to show, and the combination neatly characterises the form of speech myth often takes: a myth shows something, it's a story spoken to a purpose, it issues a warning, it gives an account which advises and tells often by bringing into play showing of fantastical shape and invention - monsters. Myths define enemies and aliens and in conjuring them up they say who we are and what we want, they tell stories to impose structure and order. Like fiction, they can tell the truth even while they're making it all up." (Warner, Six Myths of Our Time 1995).
I really enjoy this type of analysis of monsters, and I think it's a shame that it is not applied as often to contemporary fantastic fiction. Why is it that while we place such importance and value to the myths and monsters of ancient cultures, we constantly undervalue the relevance of modern monsters and myth? As Warner also comments, "we're living in a new age of faith of sorts, of myth-making, of monsters, of chimaeras. And these chimaeras define human identity." Leaving aside the note about human identity for now, I think it is certainly evident that the popularity of monsters in pop-culture is unlike anything that we've seen before (at least in any of our lifetimes). And yet, modern myth-making is often abject, sentenced to live on the shelves of the "Young Adult" or "Romance" sections in bookstores. Why?
I think urban fantasy and other fantasy genres have much to show us, to advise us, and many things to warn us of. I do not necessarily believe that modern monters have lost the essence that has made them horrific. In the Twilight series, for example, though they do shine, I would say that James (I think that is his name), and his girlfriend (don't remember her name), were pretty scary. Why is it, despite the paranormal romance aspects of the series, so many readers (even those most cognizant of the lessons of fantasy and their monsters), do we dismiss books like these? Even now, I feel the need to share that none of the Twilight series books makes my top-anything favorites.
More relevant to the current reading, something I really appreciate about Dead Witch Walking is that it seems much more "mythological" than novels like Neverwhere, and allows the monsters to show and advise the reader of our modern mythological lessons.