Friday, February 25, 2011

We are all monsters (or, Sesame Street and the human condition)

I never watched Sesame Street as a child.  I never had the books read to me either (more or less).  So I always feel a bit dis-attached from the franchise.  So, what's up with the book The Monster at the End of This Book?  Is it just me, or is this really a book looking at the very base-ness of the human condition, with a horrible, chilling reveal at the end?
To sum up, in case anybody else in the world besides me didn't grow up on Sesame Street stuff (anybody? *echo echo echo*), Grover spends the whole book pleading with the reader not to turn any pages because there's a monster at the end of the book, and every turned page brings us close and closer to that horror.  We should be terrified, why are we continuing to turn the pages, how could we, STOOOOOOP.  

And yet when we reach the very end, where the MONSTER is, we learn that it's just....Grover.  And that there was really nothing to be afraid of at all!  What we were so scared of, what we feared, wasn't that bad at all!  

BUT...what if we were to take the basic premise of this book and look at it a different way?

We have a storybook that is a monster trying desperately to get someone not to turn pages to come to the final horrifying conclusion of the realization of the self.  The monster in the end finds himself lovable, but ultimately, he IS the monster.  And the fact that this realization comes at the END of the book (it's even in the title -- The Monster at the End [...]) could be views as a metaphor for death.  End = death.  

So here we have a monster who doesn't think of himself as a scary monster, railing against the inevitable realization, and finally at the very end comes to that realization of the self.  In other words, perhaps at our very core, we are all metaphorical monsters on the inside, selfish, unkind, bad self-serving people, and while we may be in denial about this, at the end of life, we will come to the surprising realization that we are truly monstrous.  Okay, so Grover is happy at the end, all 'teehee!' but still, strip the story of its frills and pomp and what we have is a character who, in the end, is a monster, and simply didn't realize it.  And following Grover's example, am I then expected to be accepting of this realization?  Should I accept the fact that I am a metaphorical monster?  Am I being told that to be horrible and horrifying is in fact okay?  (I realize this could flow over into a religious/philosophical discussion from there -- people argue that yes, we ARE all monsters, and that there is only one way out of that: faith, etc.)

CHILLING, YO.  Deep insights into the base human condition, Grover.  Deep and horrifying.  It's like, what if at the end of my book (hardback little golden book life) I have the horrifying realization that my base, my very core, is really...


  1. The industrial era really transformed our world in 2 ways: 1) we now feel we can master nature (we have no predators) and 2) Science!

    While expanding our knowledge horizons is great, it has regrettably created a world where we no longer feel there are any monsters. As a result, we have taken the Mary Shelley approach a bit too far, and turned every monster into the 'noble savage' in one way or another.

    I long to see some truly monstrous monsters.

    This is one of the reasons I really like Gaiman's writing. He gives that human understanding of the motivations of monsters without actually making them human. Just because we understand them doesn't make them any less dangerous.

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