Horror Double Feature

Our delightful horror twinset The Judgement Call by Simon Bestwick, a tale to absorb in the run up to Christmas, and Along the Long Road by Penny Jones, are available now for your Halloween delight. No tricks, just dark treats from the British Horror scene.

Penny Jones takes us on a journey of peer pressure and madness on dark country lanes, while Simon Bestwick sees sins answered for. 

Available now on Amazon.

Cover by Neil Williams

 

American Monsters Pt 1 : TOC

TABLE OF CONTENTS – AMERICAN MONSTERS PART ONE
 
Pacific Monsters is presently on the short list for the British Fantasy Society award for Best Anthology. This book has made it to several award shortlists, including the awards Australian Shadows, Sir Julius Vogel, and Aurealis. The lovely people at Sheffield Fantasy and Science Fiction Social also awarded the book Best Anthology and Margrét Helgadóttir was awarded Starburst Magazine’s Brave New Words Award for her editor work on the book. It’s been a good year for monsters.
 
We are pleased to announce that American Monsters volume one is due out this December. American Monsters volume one is the fifth book in our grand world tour exploring monsters tales continent by continent, told by local authors. Margrét is once more the editor. We have split up America in two volumes. In this collection we explore the old myths and monsters in South and Central America, with short stories, graphic stories and art from Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Equador, Uruguay and Guatamala. This book will have five translated stories, something we are very proud of.
 
Our gorgeous cover series by Daniele Serra will continue for this fifth volume. The cover will be released later.
 
Stories from North America (including Mexico and Caribbean) will be out next year before the series end in 2020 with Eurasian monster tales.
 
 
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
  1. Liliana Colanzi: «The Wave»
  2. Santiago Santos: «A Carpet Sewn With Skeletons»
  3. Sabrina Vourvoulias: «Time’s Up, Cerotes»
  4. Ramiro Sanchiz: «The Pearl»
  5. Paula Andrade: «Almamula»
  6. Cesar Alcázar and Eduardo Monteiro (art): «Cerro Bravo» (graphic story)
  7. Christopher Kastensmidt: «A Parlous Battle»
  8. Mariela Pappas: «The Eyes of a Wolf»
  9. Solange Rodriguez Pappe: «The Entangler»
  10. Daniel Salvo: «Jaar, Jaar, Jaar»
  11. Flavia Rizental: «My Name is Iara»
  12. Gustavo Bondoni: «Vulnerable Populations»
  13. Fabio Fernandes: «The Emptiness in the Heart of All Things»
  14. Paula Andrade: «La Perla del Plata» (graphic story)
  15. Teresa Mira de Echeverria: «Lakuma»
 
The book will have illustrations by Paula Andrade, Lynda Bruce, and Kieran Walsh.
 
***
 
The Fox Spirit Books of Monsters is a coffee table book series from Fox Spirit Books, edited by Margrét Helgadóttir. The series has dark fiction from around the world, written by local authors, short stories and graphic stories based on local folklore, legends and myths. Illustrated by local artists.
 
The series has 7 books published between 2014 and 2020, starting with Europe (2014), continuing with Africa (2015), Asia (2016) and Pacific region in 2017. Volume five (2018) and six (2019) will cover South, Central and North America before the series end with Eurasia (including Russia, Eastern Europe and the Balkan) in the end of 2020.

Women in Horror : The Weird in the Normal

The Weird in the Normal.

by Su Haddrell

I’ve never really had a fear of anything. No real phobias. I grew up clambering around rocks and hanging out with six foot tall lads, so by that point nothing really scares you because you can’t fear anything if you want to join in the fun. I was pretty desensitised by horror from a fairly young age. I blame Monty Pythons Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog, who forever made viseral blood and guts scenes seem obscenely funny to me. But I LOVE things that weird me out. Things that stay in my head, nudging me and prodding me to savour them even though they’re strange or grotesque.

I don’t get scared by horror stories or films – they don’t make me want to keep the light on at night. But sometimes things freak me out because I keep thinking about them and that’s when I know I can use it in a story. My favourite female horror writer is Poppy Z Brite. I loved the wistful dreaminess of Lost Souls but it was Exquisite Corpse that captured me. Somehow Brite had managed to make the grotesque into something beautiful. The detail in the level of description drew me in and I found I couldn’t look away – I was swept along into the horror of it as much as her characters. She takes the normal bright lights of New Orleans and turns them into something dark – hot, slick nights that mask the stink of blood and rot beneath crowded streets and forbidden debauchery. By reading Brite, I learned that when writing horror; the devil is in the detail. The texture, the smell, the colour, the sound. The way a moment plays with your senses is what allows it to hang in your memory.

When I started writing horror, I found that I didn’t write messy bloody horror. I wrote weird, creepy horror. I wrote horror that savoured the strange. I like writing about normal people doing normal things when something odd happens. And then escalates. The squirming of a creature out of the corner of your eye. The unusual habits of the stranger sitting opposite you. All these ideas touch on that fear of the unknown. That ‘WTF’ sensation of not knowing what’s going on, but knowing that it’s not normal and being desperate to know more regardless of where the path takes you. I think that even if you don’t think you’re scared of anything, good horror will mirror a deep unknown fear. When you read it, you’ll blink and take a breath. Suddenly you’ll realise that your still mulling over that weird creepy moment a few days later. It twists and circles in your subconscious whilst you’re daydreaming on your lunch break or about to drop off to sleep. Good horror will crawl beneath your skin and settle there just long enough to remind you what fear is.

Sleep Tight.

Women in Horror : A Monstrous Love

‘A MONSTRUOUS LOVE’: CRIMSON PEAK AND THE WRITER

By C.A. Yates

Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak gets a rough deal. Routinely (and boringly) dismissed as not being “horror” enough because it’s not chock-a-block with scares and icksome carnage and because it has the temerity to feature what appears to be a bosom-heaving love story, it seems to have been largely overlooked. Del Toro’s work is always beautiful to watch and Crimson Peak is no exception, but I have a soft spot for it because it takes the usual outcome of such stories and, well, smacks it on the backside.

Most gothic romances are not the love stories the Cyril Sneers of this world so enjoy denigrating. Almost none of them end with a clichéd guy-saves-the-day-and-gets-the-girl denouement. Take Maud Ruthyn from Le Fanu’s Uncle Silas, a heavy influence on Crimson Peak. She is married at the end of the novel but no one comes to save her at the end of her story. She escapes her wicked uncle and his machinations by herself. Gothic romances are, in essence, about the journey to adulthood. Heroines are almost invariably very young women, of marriageable age but only just, thrown into circumstances beyond their control that test them to the extreme. After her ordeal, the gothic heroine more often than not gives up her childish dreams of adventure and accepts her prescribed role in society, usually as a wife and mother. The genre is not admiring the strength these women show so much as it is punishing them for their desires and admonishing them into accepting their proper place. These are cautionary tales. Edith Cushing, our heroine in Crimson Peak, however, rips up the rulebook and eats it for breakfast. Hers is not simply a journey of self-discovery that’s going to put her back at hearth and home; Edith sets out to make sure she is who she thinks she is or, perhaps moreover, become what she wants to become. What is that?

A writer.

Edith Cushing is an iconoclast, determined to set her own course, to write her own narrative. Of course she is limited by the time and circumstances she is living in but when she is given the opportunity to step outside of that, she embraces it. Right from the first frame, Edith is literally telling her story. Everything is a flashback because we start at the end of the story. She crowds the camera with her close up, face slashed and bleeding, but that half smile… man, has she got what she wanted or what? Against all the generic odds, Edith has created her narrative largely under her own agency. Of course there are times when others are directing proceedings and she is uncertain, afraid even. This is still a tale of self-discovery, of self-affirmation. There are lessons to be learned, a story to be written, and the movie is peppered moments of significance that have a direct connection to writing – the act of writing and the creation of story itself, illustrating and strengthening Edith’s goal while foreshadowing the fulfilment of her chosen fate.

Near the beginning of the movie, Edith’s father presents her with a pen with which to write her manuscript. It is obvious he encourages her passion even though he does not fully understand it, being a man of a more practical nature. As he says himself when he gives her the gift, ‘I’m a builder, dear. If there’s one thing I know the importance of it’s the right tool for the job.’ Although Edith eschews it, declaring that she wishes to type her work because her handwriting gives her away, she keeps it with her and it saves her life later on (proving the pen is mightier than the sword, but perhaps not the cleaver). 

Upon meeting Thomas for the first time, Edith doesn’t seem particularly impressed by him, and echoes her previously scathing tone when she makes fun of him about his meeting with her father. Not the behaviour one might expect from a gothic heroine on encountering her love interest. It is not until he picks up her manuscript and voices his approval that Edith is prompted to give him a more favourable second look.  Likewise, her awkwardness around her returned friend/admirer, Alan McMichael, is somewhat mitigated when she discovers his interest in and commonality with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – they are both ophthalmologists and share an interest in spirit photography.

When, ordered by Edith’s father who knows some of the truth, Thomas rejects Edith, he goes to town on her writing because he knows it will hurt her most, trashing it as ‘absurdly sentimental’ and naïve. He faults her lack of experience and advises her to ‘return to her ghosts and fancies’. Her deficiencies are made clear as well as public and, perhaps for the first time, having been moved by his previous endorsement of her work, Edith is truly tested. She is not going to get everything she wants simply because she is determined. Writing is work and she must experience life rather than have it handed to her if she is to succeed. Her nose is bloodied but not broken because the passion of Thomas’s speech, the anger with which he delivers these blows, build the foundation of what is to come next. When he returns the manuscript to her the following day and encloses a letter explaining the reasons for his outburst, she is given a second chance at the story and, taking his “notes” on board, Edith seizes the opportunity, running to him even as her father, who both tethers her to her mundane existence and was responsible for Thomas’s admonishments, is being brutally murdered.

Once at Allerdale Hall, the reminders that there is a story at stake continue apace. For example, upon stepping into the Hall for the very first time, Thomas asks his new wife if the place looks ‘the part’. With its sinking floor, tattered roof, and creaking skeleton, how can it not? Soon after, in an attempt to discover what has transpired sexually between her brother and Edith, Lucille attempts to shock by showing her an erotic fore-edge illustration on a book in the library. They sit surrounded by piles of books as the new bride confirms her husband has been ‘very respectful of her mourning’. It is also not for nothing that Edith makes real contact with a ghost in the house for the first time after her first physically passionate encounter with Thomas – a moment that is played out, and abruptly ended, on a writing desk. As her naivety diminishes, she truly begins to make progress with her story.

My favourite moment, however, comes when Lucille, having been discovered in flagrante with her brother and having literally forced matters to a head, stands calmly in front of the fire reading Edith’s manuscript. ‘You thought you were a writer’, Lucille observes disparagingly. ‘You have nothing to live for now,’ she says, as Edith prevaricates over signing the papers that are essentially her death warrant, and then throws the entire manuscript into the fire. It is in that moment that Edith fully realises her power as a writer and takes control of the situation. Her story is internalised, it is powerful, and it is hers. As Lucille herself is finally able to speak her truth, to assert her narrative, explaining about her baby and the ‘monstrous love’ she bears her brother, Edith formulates a plan; she has already palmed the pen, the very tool of writing, and sees what must be done. And do it she does. Right in Lucille’s chest.

All along, Lucille’s has been the main rival to Edith’s narrative. In the end, however, Edith has the better story and, moreover, she has imagination whereas Lucille, worn down by abuse as a child and desperation as an adult, is simply mad (the madwoman in the attic is a very gothic trope indeed). Make no mistake, our heroine wants romance but in an older sense of the word; in the sense of tall tales and faraway lands, and of tales in her own language and not that of the society that has never taken her seriously. She is dismissed by Mrs McMichaels as being set for spinsterhood and Ogilvy, the editor she shows her work to, focuses on its presentation rather than the story itself. She has yearned for opportunities to shape her work and when she crosses the path of a woman who has lived a life full of such opportunities, with Lucille, finally she can really get her teeth into it. Opportunity plus Imagination equals Victory, and so her narrative prevails.

The movie pretty much begins and ends with the close up of our heroine’s wounded, tearful, exhausted face. If you pay attention, you can see she begins to smile. As we listen to Edith’s monologue, which is, not incidentally, suggestive of someone composing the opening paragraph of a novel, we know she finally has what she has always wanted She has her story.

Snippet Sunday : Winter Tales

It’s Women in Horror Month, so throughout February we are going to be doing snippets from horror books in our collection. This week Winter Tales edited by Margret Helgadottir.

Cover by S.L. Johnson

 
The Wolf Moon
Sharon Kernow

‘You shouldn’t come here. I deliver so you don’t have to come here.’ 
Despite the hate shining out from the storekeeper’s eyes, Diana remained calm as she replied. ‘If you didn’t miss items from my list, especially when I’ve paid for them, I wouldn’t have to.’ Her tone was mild, gentle. If something a little snide sneaked in, she could hardly be held accountable.
Old Man Carver gazed at her as if he would like to snatch up one of the sharp gardening implements that happened to be a turn and a pace within reach, use it to split her down
the middle. Instead, he seized the list she had placed on the counter, his teeth clamping together, his fingers bunching into fists. His tight grasp threatened to tear the paper as he scanned for the items she had underlined that he had failed to deliver. His boots booming on the boards as he hurried to get the missing components were the only sound in the store. All else had fallen silent.
As one of the products turned out to be on a top shelf, soft curses followed, uttered under the man’s breath but carried in the stillness. During this time, Diana kept her gaze forward though she was aware that her back was unprotected and vulnerable. Not that she believed the other women of the village had the courage to stab her, and the men… They would do other things before slicing her open. Those capable of murder did not regard any part of the flesh as sacred, even the hidden, secret parts of a woman.
She hated their stares more than the thought of an attack. An assault she could react to; she had no protection from the blaze of their glares. She shouldn’t have come here, had come
in part to torment these people with her presence. She survived almost entirely self-sufficient, but winter months were hard, and some would exchange her preserves for coin so she could bolster her other provisions.

Women in Horror: The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House - Shirley Jackson

The Haunting of Hill House - Shirley JacksonI would probably vote Shirley Jackson’s novel The Haunting of Hill House the finest American novel if I were the kind of person who believed those sort of hierarchies mattered. All that matters is that this book is enormously good. Jackson was a stunningly skilfull writer who wove a kind of magic that retains all its astonishing power half a century later. There are ghost stories long before it, and of course many after, but there aren’t many I’d mention in the same breath. Jackson would be remembered forever just for writing ‘The Lottery’, a short story that still packs a wallop, but she didn’t stop there.

She wrote several novels that shine with a rare genius for dislocating reality just enough to make you trip over your assumptions. Sometimes I think We Have Always Lived in the Castle is just as brilliant as THHH but then I think who cares? They’re both brilliant. And then there’s Hangsaman and The Bird Nest — and all the humour, too. Horror and humour both require impeccable timing.

There’s something indelible about the experience of wandering through Hill House. I’ve taught it before and each time I have had students become firm fans of Jackson. I can’t read the opening lines without shivering:

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

The book wraps you in that same mantel of unease. You can’t trust what you’re told and you’re right not to trust it, but Jackson is so meticulously precise like those firm floors and neat bricks that you start to believe and then just as suddenly you’re lost. And alone. Most of the story is filtered through the hapless Nell — Eleanor Vance. Freed from the shackles of her late mother’s sick room, and her sister and brother-in-law’s suffocating paternalism, she’s at first elated by the opportunity to be on her own with no one to tell her what to do. She’s thirty-two but finds herself on the side of the little girl who refuses to drink her milk in a roadside cafe because she doesn’t have her ‘cup of stars’:

…insist on your cup of stars; once they have trapped you into being like everyone else you will never see your cup of stars again; don’t do it.

It’s impossible not to sympathise with Eleanor and her fragile newfound freedom as she joins Doctor Montague’s psychic experiment crew which he hopes will prove the reality of spectral phenomena in the legendary house. The bohemian artist Theo offers a sharp contrast with her confidence and sophistication, alternately befriending Nell then growing impatient with her neediness. My students are always dead certain that Jackson tells us Theo is a lesbian, but being asked to prove how they know that brings them up against Jackson’s primary skill: leading the reader where she wants them to go without their realising how they got there.

Even now I find myself re-reading passages to figure out how she does what she does and the magic is often elusive.

It’s somewhat puzzling that Netflix has greenlit a series based on the book. Perhaps they will eschew the novel and invent a backstory. It’s hard to imagine a visual adaptation better than the 1963 film directed by Robert Wise with Julie Harris and Claire Bloom along with the irrepressible Russ Tamblyn. When I’ve taught it in my horror film course, students who sniff at B&W films end up breathlessly rapt during the ‘knocking’ scene. There’s nothing much in the way of special effects: the knocking on the walls, Harris and Bloom terrified, and a door that almost seems to breathe. But when Nell whispers, ‘Whose hand was I holding…?’

Shivers.

Snippet Sunday : Always a Dancer

The Mermaid’s Tears by Steven Lockley
Published in Always a Dancer and Other Stories

Claire had seen the box before; only once but it had left her with such a strong impression that she would never forget it. In an instant she had taken in every sway of its grain, and the details of the small brass clasp held tight by the tiny padlock. She remembered it mainly because the last time she had touched it her father had hit her; slapping her so hard on the face that finger marks could still be seen hours later. It was the only time that he had laid a finger on her in her twenty years.
That had been five years ago but now he was urging her to open it as he lowered it gently onto the small table and placed the tiny key on its polished surface. She looked up at him, questioning, but he turned away.
Leah just sat her wheelchair, never blinking while Claire stroked the wood and felt its warmth. Leah did what she always did, nothing, just watched in silence, unable to walk and unable to speak. Claire had never understood why her father had taken her in and devoted the last years of his life to a stranger who had come to rely on him totally. Tonight Leah looked old and frail, as though the bones beneath the skin were dry twigs ready to snap under the slightest pressure.
‘Open it, for God’s sake’, her father pleaded, his voice cracking as if he was desperately holding his emotions in check.
Claire slid the key into the tiny lock and heard the slightest of clicks as the mechanism released and fell open. A grain of white dust fell from behind the clasp and Claire found herself distracted. She raised it with the tip of her finger and raised it to her lips, half guessing what it was. Not dust, but salt.
 

Snippet Sunday : African Monsters

New thing for 2018, now that it is properly underway. Sunday’s we are going to give you just a few paragraphs from a story to enjoy. There is no particular order to these, but we hope you enjoy them during the year. 

From ‘That Woman’ By S. Lotz
Published in African Monsters

It took me almost eight hours to drive from Accra to the Northern District, and by the time I pulled up outside the police station, back aching from the punishment doled out by the potholes that plagued the roads, all I wanted was a cold drink and a soft bed. No chance of that—I only had two days to conclude my business here. A month earlier, my superior had received a flurry of furious letters from a Gushengu resident complaining that the local police were refusing to look into the suspicious deaths of several men from the district, and that he and his son were now “under attack”. The letters were garbled and borderline illiterate, but they were persistent. Considering the other priorities we had at the time, it was an unusual errand, but my boss was newly appointed, and was wary of giving his detractors any cause to accuse him of incompetence. I was instructed to investigate the man’s claims.
The police station was understaffed, but eventually a constable in a crushed shirt showed me into the district police commander’s office. The commander, a large middle-aged woman with a flat face, greeted me politely and waved me into the seat in front of her desk. I knew little about her; just that she’d been there for many years, working her way up the ladder despite the many difficulties she must have faced as a woman in a male-dominated profession. I don’t consider myself an unconfident man, but I found myself sweating under her gaze: she had unusual, light-coloured eyes that were hard to read and gave her a predatory air. Shrugging off my discomfort, I explained that I was an investigator from the Deputy Inspector’s office in Accra and outlined the reason behind my errand.
She listened without showing any emotion. ‘And who is the man who sent these letters?’
‘A Mr Kwame Nfani.’
‘I know of him. He has been here many times.’ She gave me a bland smile, no hint of guilt that she’d been neglecting her duties. ‘And he says that a great injustice has been done, eh?’
‘He says that a man from his village and four others in neighbouring villages have died in suspicious circumstances, and he believes his son will be next to die.’
‘And how did he say these men died?’
‘He did not.’
‘So on this basis—hearsay—you are conducting an investigation?’
What to say to that? She was correct. She let me squirm for a while, then leaned back in her chair. ‘Ask your questions.’
‘Was there an investigation into the deaths?’
‘No. There was no need. There have been no suspicious deaths in the region recently. But I know of what you speak. In the cases of the men Mr Nfani is referring to, the doctor said three of them were due to malaria, and two succumbed to meningitis. As you know, there was an outbreak of meningitis in the region at the time.’

Monster Tales : Margrét Helgadóttir

Links to the Pacific Monsters blog posts are available on the book’s page.

Pacific Monsters

by Margrét Helgadóttir

Pacific Monsters is out and one year of work is completed.

Pacific Monsters is the fourth volume of Fox Spirit Books of Monsters, a seven-volume series with titles published annually from 2014 to 2020. As editor it is a fun challenge to work on a book series stretching over so many years. At the same time as I have to concentrate on each book production – it takes about a year from when I start to research and plan the book until it is published – I need to bring out the word about the other volumes and work on the series as a whole. The to-do-list never seems to become shorter.

I love it!

It feels like I am on an adventurous journey around the world. I am so grateful to Adele Wearing and Fox Spirit Books for wanting to publish this series. The books is a world tour exploring old myths, folklore and monsters tales continent by continent. One of the greatest blessings with working on this series is the opportunity to meet authors and the artists from around the world, and to have glimpses of the multitude of cultures and monster folklore within and between all the continents.

For those not familiar with the book series, one of the goals is to show all the talented artists and authors from around the world, probably many you haven’t heard about. I spend much time researching each book. I strive to have diversity in the series and the voices and topics represented. I want to have a wide-stretched geographical representation, and I encourage the authors to tell their monster tales using many genres, like horror, fantasy, science fiction, post-apocalyptic, YA, crime, and the more literary. It is amazing to see how many of the authors challenge themselves and use genres new to them, and how many of them manage to put old myths and legends about ancient monsters into a contemporary setting.

This tells me that not all of the monsters have lost their meaning and place in this world.

I am fascinated by how humans of all times, regardless of geography, culture or demography, have created monsters. No matter where you are in the world, monsters have been something to blame when bad things happen or a way to explain things like thunder and lightning. Many monsters also challenge our thoughts and fears of what will happen when we die, or the relationship between humans and animals in the wilderness.

One mission with the book series is to give the monsters a renaissance as real and scary monsters, a comeback so to speak. I have started to think that despite all the monsters crawling around our world, all the important roles they fulfil, can’t they be allowed to be just scary monsters? Can’t we just allow them to put terror in our hearts?  Do we have to categorize them all and try to make meaning of them all? These are questions I will ponder further.

It might seem that the monsters today are either forgotten or watered down and overused in the popular media. Also, only a few of them dominate the scene—vampires, werewolves, ghouls, demons, zombies—and they are almost all from Western popular culture.  Another mission with the book series is to bring all of the world’s glorious and terrifying creatures out in the open.

Some monsters are universal. You will always find the shape-shifters, the flesh-eating walking dead and the great monsters of the lakes and sea. But what is important to one culture might not be so vital to another. A signifier in the third volume, Asian Monsters, is the close link between spirits and ghosts and Asian folklore. This is very different from the second volume, African Monsters, where the stories were more about place and origin, about immigration and going home—maybe a strong witness of how much soil means to the African authors.

In Pacific Monsters we present you 14 tales of beasties from Australia, New Zealand, Antarctica, and Pacific islands like Hawaii and Guam, told by authors who are either from, have lived in, or have another strong connection to this wide stretching region. I had been warned and sadly it turned out they were right; the search for authors able and willing to contribute from the Pacific islands have been extremely difficult. It is thus with regret that we can’t give you more stories from authors on the islands. I feel however that we are still bringing you enough stories to give you a small hint about the immense folklore and diversity of monster tales in the Pacific region.

When I edited Pacific Monsters, I was struck by the strangest feeling of being at the end of the world, isolated, where the sun arrives first and you are surrounded by the vast ocean, the stars and the weirdest and breathtaking wildlife and fauna.

A large amount of the monsters the authors chose to write about, reside in water. One reason is of course the endless Pacific Ocean, being both a threat and a blessing from ancient times, and the Antarctic Ocean, a world of extremities. But, even a few of the stories from Australia, even though they take place in the bush, the monsters still dwell in fluid environments—billabongs, lakes, rivers, swamps. There are some monsters here I have truly fallen in love with, they are so hideous and horrible, they don’t sparkle or want to be our friend. They are the truest monsters.

I hope you will like this volume as much as I have while working on it.

Monster Tales : Michael Lujan Bevacqua

The Taotaomo’na of Guam

by Michael Lujan Bevacqua

The Chamorro people of Guam have an interesting saying about our ancestral spirits. We say that they came before us, but they also wait ahead of us. It might seem contradictory in a way, but it makes sense in Chamorro cosmology, as exemplified by the most commonly used term that we use for the spirits of our ancestors, taotaomo’na.

The word taotaomo’na can refer to anything from malevolent spirits, to watchful ghosts, to demons, to magical animals and shape-changers. These spirits will haunt or frequent certain areas, usually the jungle, abandoned areas, cemeteries or even family homes. They are closely associated with the nunu or the banyan tree, which can look particularly menacing in the twilight. They can play tricks on hunters and fishermen and also steal children away from inattentive parents.

Despite the various forms that a taotaomo’na may take in the beliefs of Chamorros and others in contemporary Guam, what unites these variations is the notion that they are ultimately the spirits of the ancestors of the Chamorro people of before, and therefore they represent a force for balance, a memory for the land. There are stories of taotaomo’na tricking and cursing those who behave in loud or destructive ways in the jungle. They can also act as harbingers, warning omens of some tragedy that may soon befall a family. Because of this, even though there is a great deal of fear with regards to the taotaomo’na, there is also respect.

For example it is common in Guam today, that prior to entering the jungle you ask these spirits permission. A common version of this is “Guella yan Guello, kao siña yu’ maloffan gi tano’-miyu? Anggen måtto hamyo gi tano’-måmi siña maloffan ha’ sin mamaisen.” This translates to: “Grandmother and Grandfather, can I pass through your land? When you visit our land you can pass without asking.”

Guam jungle image from shutterstock.

The contradiction that contemporary people in Guam experience around the taotaomo’na can be tied the island’s history of colonialism. In the 17th century, Spanish missionaries came to Guam with the intent of forcing Catholicism on the Chamorro people. There was sporadic resistance for three decades, with tens of thousands of Chamorros dying from fighting and disease.

Chamorros at the time of Western contact, had a religion focused around ancestor veneration. In life each person carried an ånte or soul, but upon passing into death the soul transformed into an aniti, the term used for the spirit of an ancestor. The plural term for them was manganiti, and Chamorros believed the unseen world around was filled with the manganiti, who would protect them or punish them.

Chamorros would keep the skulls of revered relatives in their homes and the leg bones of great warriors would be carved into bones and daggers. The thinking being that when you went into battle, the spirit of your father would fight with you. The skulls were known, according to one account, as maranan uchan, which translates to “a miracle of rain.” It is because the skull acted as a spiritual anchor, and with it you could request of your ancestors that they protect the family, provide a good harvest or drive fish towards your nets.

Living a good life, acting honorably with your family, taking care of them, respecting your elders and being courageous in battle were all things that made the manganiti happy and encouraged them to bless a clan with protection and success. Behaving in cowardly, selfish and disrespectful ways would likely lead the manganiti to withhold their aid and letting tragedy upon tragedy befall the family.

The Spanish, after silencing all active resistance, sought to cement their political control, with ideological control as well. They sought for generations to break the connection that Chamorros had with their ancestral spirits. They tried to replace them, giving Chamorros a pantheon of saints, who could provide the same favors and protection as their ancestors. They tried to replace the strong matrilineal symbols of Chamorro culture, with an array of Mary figures. Over a century they slowly pushed the beliefs of Chamorros to the point where they began to see these ancestral spirits as malicious and malevolent beings, that would haunt, trick and curse.

If you turn to Chamorro dictionaries today, you’ll find the effect of the Catholic Church’s ideological onslaught in the entries for aniti, in the following terms: devil, Satan, hellish fiend, demon, evil spirit. The term has become heavily stigmatized, and so many Chamorros today refuse to use it because of the heavy negative connotations. But this does not mean that Chamorros lose their connection to their ancestral spirits, but there is a change in terminology. After more than a century of Spanish colonization, in the 19th century Chamorros start using the term taotaomo’na.

While Chamorros as a people eventually accepted Catholicism, the connection to their ancestors was not cut, but modified. Although Chamorros did begin to feel a greater distance from the taotaomo’na, they nonetheless retained a respect. They did not develop a zealous hatred for the spirits as the Catholic priests had wanted, but rather respected their place on the island, which was now largely relegated to the jungle and natural settings. This is why people on Guam continue to ask permission prior to entering the jungle, because so long as you act with appropriate decorum, not only will the taotaomo’na not trick or menace you, but you may receive their protection as well.

Returning to the opening thought for this article, the idea that Chamorro ancestors are both in front of us and behind us, we find this in the term taotaomo’na but also in this history of both colonization and resilience. The term first emerges to represent the epistemological and cultural break between Chamorros and their ancestors that the Spanish had in some ways accomplished. Chamorros began to refer to their ancestors as taotaomo’na or “the people of before,” meaning the people of before colonization and the civilizing of the Spanish. But in the contemporary moment, where Chamorros have been carrying out a decades-long cultural renaissance, where they are seeking to reconnect to their ancient ancestors, the other meaning of the term is becoming ascendant. This has manifested today in terms of dance and chant groups that are meant to reflect ancient motifs and be homages to Chamorro ancestors. It has also lead to efforts to preserve the Chamorro language, which has endured despite hundreds of years of colonization and attempts to eradicate it. You can also find it in how colonial heroes, explorers and missionaries celebrated during the Spanish era, are now being replaced by Chamorro resistance figures who fought Chamorro subjugation. In so many ways, the things that colonizers have sought to silence or erase from the island, are being embraced and celebrated again.

And it is because of this element that we can see the other meaning of the word taotaomo’na, namely “those who wait ahead of us. “ In this way my comic in the Pacific Monsters anthology represents another way in which Chamorros today are seeking to reconnect and establish a healthy and respectful relationship to the spirits of our ancestors. Centuries of colonization drove our people to see the spirits of our ancestors as agents of the Catholic devil, and in many ways disconnected us from the very land of our homeland. But with changes in our consciousness, they are no longer distantly behind us, but rather wait before us. They are no longer chained in negativity by Catholicism, but once again important guides who travel with us on life’s journey.