Trope Talk: Reluctant Monster

Imagine you’re a monster— vampire, witch, werewolf, it doesn’t matter what. Imagine this is your life, either the only one you’ve ever known or one you’ve lived long enough that’s it’s all you really remember. Imagine the way you’d look at the world, the morals you’d have. They’d probably be a very different set than a human’s. After all, you’re only doing what you have to do to survive.

This is what makes the Edward Cullens and Stefan Salvatores of the world so confusing. It’s why the morality scales of characters like August Flynn from Monsters of Verity by Victoria Schwab don’t make sense. They’re monsters, but everything they do is based upon a human’s moral compass.

These characters embody what I like to call the reluctant monster trope. It’s a trope I’ve begun to hate more and more as I’ve gotten older, mainly because it doesn’t hold up. The reluctant monster trope depends on human morals and functions only on the basis that humans are morally superior to other beings. This, I believe, is a fallacy. Monsters, especially born monsters, would not have the same beliefs as humans. Thus, they would not feel the need to behave as human in order to be “good.”

This trope hinges solely on the idea that humans are good and pure and monsters are bad and evil. There can be no shades of gray, otherwise the thesis falls completely apart. Even when there are mean humans or a monster tries to be “good,” the overall assumption is that humans have the moral high ground because they don’t kill to survive.

Except, as anyone with even a very basic knowledge of human history will tell you, humans have killed to survive and killed for a variety of other reasons. It fact, 100% of all the world’s great atrocities were committed by humans. But sure, in a general sense, people often don’t kill other people to survive. However, we do kill animals. In fact, that’s where the bulk of our sustenance comes from. So, why are we morally superior even though we kill and eat our prey while monsters are not?

A lot of it is likely born of the fact that we are human, and so we have a bias toward our species. We want to see what we do as different because we have consciences and critical thinking, while animals don’t. Meanwhile, monsters (according to these stories) have both and still hurt or kill humans in order to eat. Therefore, it’s not a total apples to apples comparison.

Which brings me back to my main point. I don’t think monsters would have the same set of values as humans that would label what they do as wrong. Their way of life is a necessity— it’s what keeps them alive. They may put some restrictions on each other, but holding humans up as the paragon of society? I don’t think so.

Mostly, I’m just tired of seeing monsters who don’t want to be monsters. Give me unapologetic monsters that I can still root for. That’s what I liked so much about Manon Blackbeak and the Ironteeth witches from Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas. Her species is vicious and brutal, and they thrive on it. But, even though you know she’s a killer, you still root for Manon to succeed. In essence, let monsters be monsters. We’ll still love them.

Of course, the thing that really throws all of this for a loop is the human/monster love story. Often, this is the reason why writers make their monsters look for monster-y loopholes and long to be human. Otherwise, the love interest would be more likely to scream than swoon. But then we get the same tired, recycled story of the monster trying to fight their true nature so they don’t hurt their human lover (the monster almost always the guy and the human the girl, which speaks a lot to the bad boy/pure virgin trope but that’s another post for another day). Perhaps the solution is to stop writing these love stories at all.

All this is to say, I’m tired of reading about and watching monsters who wish they were human or would do anything to change their nature. It places too much value on morals that our species shouldn’t share and takes for granted that humans are always morally superior. Instead, let’s consider other points of view and, more importantly, let monsters unapologetically be the badass characters they are.

2 thoughts on “Trope Talk: Reluctant Monster

  1. Great post! I always thought monsters such as August Flynn and Edward Cullan were born and raised around humans whereas Maas’ monsters are surrounded by their own. It more of being the outside in a world of mortals, which is probably why it didn’t bother me as much 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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