Monsters & Legends


Join Active Minds for a journey into the world of monsters and legends.  From the vampires of Eastern Europe, to the stories of the Loch Ness monster, Big Foot, and more, we will explore the origins and history of familiar (and not so familiar) tales and how they have evolved and grown over time.

Key Lecture Points

  • Every culture has its monsters.  Vampires and werewolves are some of the oldest and most prevalent creatures of world mythology and have scared and fascinated mankind for centuries.  More recent monsters to capture our interest are zombies, made famous by the 1968 film, “Night of the Living Dead,” and more localized traditions like the yeti and the Loch Ness monster.
  • In the ancient tales, vampires were creatures of horror, feasting on the blood of innocent humans, vulnerable only to sunlight, garlic and the cross.  As early as the 1800s, vampires started to become more sensual and seductive, the living embodiment of forbidden lusts—ex. Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  Recently vampires have been portrayed less as evil creatures and more as objects of desire—as seen in the Twilight series.  Today it seems we prefer to flirt with the danger posed by the vampire rather than destroy it.  The prevalence of the vampire legend has been attributed to the need to explain why bad things happen to innocent people and man’s fascination with the life force of blood.
  • The werewolf myth, a human cursed to be transformed into a wolf with great strength and rage when the moon is full, also crosses cultures.  This legend symbolizes the beast within all men and our struggle to keep it contained.
  • Vampires and werewolves were often the subject of the Gothic literature of the Victorian age, including the Penny Dreadfuls that were popular with the young and less educated lower class.
  • We continue to be fascinated by monsters because they help us understand and cope with the primal fears we most dread.  Monster stories allow us to encounter the hidden darkness of our own nature and this both terrifies and intrigues us.  Monster stories also help us understand a culture by giving expression to what is most feared.

Exploration Questions

  • Why do monsters fascinate us?
  • Describe a few examples of how monsters are a key part of our literature and culture?

Reflective Questions

  • Who is your favorite movie monster?  Why does this character appeal to you?
  • What are a few other monster legends that weren’t discussed in this presentation that interest you?

More to Explore

Books for Further Reading

  • Beresford, Matthew.  From Demons to Dracula:  The Creation of the Modern Vampire Myth. Reaktion Books, 2008. 240 pages.  This book explores how the vampire myth is portrayed in history, literature and art.
    Click here to order
  • Stoker, Bram, Mary Shelley, Oscar Wilde. The Penny Dreadfuls: Tales of Horror: Dracula, Frankenstein and The Picture of Dorian Gray. Skyhorse Publishing, 2015. 912 pages. This collection includes the great Gothic classics by Stoker, Shelley and Wilde.
    Click here to order
  • Godfrey, Linda S.  American Monsters: A History of Monster Lore, Legend and Sightings in America. Tarcher, 2014. 367 pages. The author describes the monsters found in the US through legend, history and eye witness accounts, from thunderbirds and giant bats to Big Foot.
    Click here to order