Sunday, April 19, 2015

Laffertian Muck-Monsters

The essay I hope to write for Feast of Laughter volume 3 (due to come out this autumn) is about monsters in Lafferty's fiction, one section of which will be on 'muck-monsters' specifically.  I want to drop a note or two about that here.

My family didn't have much money growing up, so I couldn't afford extensive comic book collections.  Thankfully, some family we knew had a son heading off to college who decided to bequeath to me two brown paper grocery sacks full of comics from the 60s to the early 80s.  Among these were a fairly random selection of Man-Thing and Swamp Thing issues, both of which series pleased me greatly.  I've recently reconnected to those series and discovered they are the flowering of an older type of creature known as the muck-monster, one of the origins of which is The Heap from the WWII era.  

One of the main things I connect with in these monsters is their sheer physiognomy.  I just love the green, goopy, swampy, leafy, muddy, mucky mess of their form.  Man-Thing, for me, trumps Swamp Thing in this regard, the former being of a much weirder bulk than the latter's rather elegantly anthropic bearing.  Nevertheless, Alan Moore's Saga of the Swamp Thing series is by far the greater literary achievement.  (But I've also been enjoying catching up with the whole multi-world nexus conceit of Steve Gerber's The Man-Thing, finding it fruitful for limning theoretical ideas of the muck-monstrous.)

L to R:  Swamp Thing, Man-Thing

I suppose muck-monsters emblematise the dream of humanity's visceral (and viscous) connection to and intermingling with the rankly copious flora that supports its carbon-based, oxygen-breathing biosphere.  Perhaps it reifies a longing for deep rootedness and earthiness, and reminds us of our ecological connection to slime.  And, of course, all this connects to my ongoing study of 'dark ecology' and my own developing theory of the 'ecomonstrous'.

Somewhat to my surprise, as soon as I gained renewed and newly informed interest in muck-monsters, I began to notice a muck-monstrous theme cropping up rather frequently in Lafferty's fiction.  Just off the cuff (rather than going and researching it all right now), I can name the following stories that seem to evince muck-monstrous resonances:  

'Boomer Flats' (bigfoot-type primordial peoples ritually bury themselves in muddy river banks for spiritual renewal)

'Happening at Chosky Bottoms' (same type of folks as in 'Boomer Flats', with some great descriptions of glowing muddy monster-men)

'Smoe and the Implicit Clay' (primordial people rising up out of the clay underfoot, inviting others to recede into said clay with them, again for purposes of renewal)

'Incased in Ancient Rind' (the whole earth becomes swampy and the people slow down and thicken, this time apparently to show the opposite of spiritual renewal)

'Entire and Perfect Chrysolite' (a deadly swamp dream, noting our need for a connection to swampy depths, but our present inability to make this connection without casualty)

'Dream' (also titled 'Dreamworld'; a very nasty version of swampy existence takes over our present world, this tale cautionary again of the dehumanising versions of muck-monstrousness)

'Scorner's Seat' (people working in sewers full of fungoid bioluminescence and which host a gigantic version of Beowulf's Grendel monster, this one explicitly called a 'sewer monster' - this story perhaps exemplifies the tensions between the humanising and dehumanising versions of the muck-monstrous)

As to Lafferty's novels, the 'feral strips' on the planet Astrobe in Past Master seem to connect to muck-monstrous themes.  Some of the anthropo-amphibious ontologies of certain characters in Fourth Mansions perhaps connect too.  There are probably Southern Gothic swampy connections in The Reefs of Earth and I wouldn't be surprised if re-reads show some relevant resonances in the rank ontic luxuriance of Annals of Klepsis and the theo-monstrous discourse of Aurelia. Tangentially connected are oceanic monster/people themes in Past Master, Fourth Mansions, Serpent's Egg, and East of Laughter.  No doubt more instances will arise.  Please, dear reader, let me know of any I missed.

It's really no surprise, I guess, that a writer as earthy as Lafferty would resonate with a study of slime and muck-monsters.  And Lafferty's all about recovering lost depths and roots and so on.  

So, Laffertian muck-monsters, here we come!

No comments:

'It was all strong talk with the horns and hooves still on it.'
(R. A. Lafferty, The Devil is Dead)