Saturday, July 9, 2011

Monsters and the Imagination

I've just finished reading the book River Monsters which is a companion to the Animal Planet TV series of the same name. Most of these “monsters” are large catfish which have bit people on occasion. None of these are creatures which actually feed upon people, but most have taken a chomp from time to time.

One of the thing's that struck me about this book and its subject is how easily the human psyche allows itself to believe in the danger of nature. It's as if we as people are able to create tales of monsters from fragmentary sightings of beasts and an occasional bite. It doesn't help either that rivers are usually murky, and any glimpse of a large fish is likely to be incomplete. The author, Jeremy Wade, makes a fairly convincing case that these large fish are basically just that, large fish that happen to be somewhat hazardous because of their size.

There are, of course, animals that are somewhat dangerous. I personally find the idea of salt water crocodiles pretty chilling, a beast that can attack you in the water or crawl up on land and get you. They do attack people and, I believe, kill a few people a year. Then, of course, there are sharks, our great bugbear of the water. Interestingly the most deadly animal by far is the mosquito, a creature that hardly makes a grown man flee in terror. Next up are bees, and I know I have a couple of nests of them on my small bit of property. My children still play outside without hazmat suits.

While I don't want to minimize that harm that some of these creatures have done, it's amazing how outsized our terror towards these creatures has become. We kill so many more of these beasts than they hurt us the fear does seem a bit weird. On the other hand, without this fear, what would the SyFy channel do for original programming?