Dueling Monsters is an annual event hosted by Jill and Heather. They each choose a literary monster to go head to head, then participants pick sides and declare a winner. I read both books last year and had a blast. This year I figured I’d only be able to read one of the two, but when I found out their total page count barely surpassed 130, I decided to read both.
What were the books, you ask? Jill chose The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft, and Heather chose The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells. I’ll start with my thoughts on each, then move on to declare my winner.
Both Cthulhu and Moreau, as I’ll call them to save on typing, are brief. They’re also both written as though some first-person narrator has uncovered a relative’s bizarre and unbelievable manuscript or research which is, of course, included or summarized. In Cthulhu, a young artist’s dark and strange dreams lead back to a creepy cult. In Moreau, a shipwrecked gentleman finds refuge on an isolated island where, he suspects, hidden atrocities are being committed.
As stories, I preferred Moreau to Cthulhu. The former had more substance (being longer) but also included dialogue and was written in a more engaging style. The latter was brief but also told mostly through narration instead of conversation, reading more like a research paper to me than a short story. The horror of Moreau felt more immediate, the story being, as it was, experienced first-hand by the narrator, whereas Cthulhu‘s tale was pieced-together writings based on scraps of evidence and newspaper clippings based on shaky testimonies of witnesses who may or may not have told the whole truth.
Now. Who’s the better (or worse) monster? “Monster” can mean a lot of things, and Cthulhu and Moreau — though both clearly monsters in their own rights — are vastly different. For some guidelines, I’ll turn to dictionary.com, which defines “monster” thusly:
- a legendary animal combining features of animal and human form or having the forms of various animals in combination, as a centaur, griffin, or sphinx.
- any creature so ugly or monstrous as to frighten people.
- any animal or human grotesquely deviating from the normal shape, behavior, or character.
- a person who excites horror by wickedness, cruelty, etc.
- any animal or thing huge in size.
Definition 1: Mixed Form
By definition 1, Cthulhu wins. Moreau is a man, but Cthulhu is “a monster of vaguely anthropoid outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of feelers, a scaly, rubbery-looking body, prodigious claws on hind and fore feet, and long, narrow wings behind.” I’d say that’s a mixed form!
Definition 2: Frightening Ugliness
The definition includes monstrousness along with ugliness, but since “monster” is what we’re trying to examine here, and one should not use any form of the word being defined to define the word in question, I’ll just go with the latter. Both monsters in question are ugly, though it is Cthulhu’s physical form and character versus Moreau’s character that are so hideous. Since Cthulhu is double ugly, the point goes to him.
Definition 3: Grotesque Deviation from the Norm
Hmm. I suppose one could argue that Cthulhu is a typical specimen of his sort. Having never met another, I cannot say. I’m going to assume that, as far as Old Ones from the stars go, he’s rather run-of-the-mill, even if to us humans he seems a grotesque deviation from what we know. Moreau, on the other hand, appears to be a creature we recognize, yet inside he is twisted enough to horrify his fellow men. Point to Moreau.
Definition 4: Excites Horror
This definition is a little unfair to Cthulhu, since it explicitly states “person,” which Cthulhu certainly is not. He is wicked, surely, yet I think what initially excites horror is his rather hideous physical form (see Definition 1 explanation). Moreau, on the other hand, should appear next to this particular meaning of “monster” in the dictionary. His cruel and pointless island experiments leave the narrator as well as the reader disgusted and horrified and earn him a point here.
Definition 5: Size
Cthulhu is the clear winner when it comes to size. He is described as being “a gigantic thing ‘miles high’ which walked or lumbered about.” Moreau, in contrast, seems to have been man-sized.
The Final Score and Winner
Adding up the totals, Cthulhu ends up with 3 points, while Moreau has only 2. So, even though my personal preference is for Moreau as a story, it seems Cthulhu is this year’s winner, by a hair (or tentacle?)!
Have you read these? Which would you choose? What other monsters have you encountered in literature?