Dungeons and Dragons: A Peroration Upon Catoblepas



The monster manual has pictures of monsters but every picture of a monster is disappointing. Really? Goofy mind flayer with his squid face and dangling skull accessory? Lizard man with his phallic sword? Wight with glowing eyes and his dumb cape? And yet I can remember them all, call them up to mind’s eye – proof that goofy as they were I looked at them over and over again. I prefer the first monster manual because the pictures are drawn poorly, or crudely – a teenager’s fantasies of a beholder beast ready to slay his boring algebra teacher in the corner of his notebook. Cousins of pornographic images, they cannot capture the dread, any more than the primitive circle-with-a-dot breasts and pubic triangles can capture the desire. The monster manual you will remember was no stranger to pornography: remember the sylph?


And yet even from the point of view of the fantasy land in which the monster manual is a sober record of fact– the best was the sylph) how could you draw such monsters as say the catoblepas? You see the problem. To meet his gaze is to die. Isn’t that the sine qua non of the monster – that to encounter him is to risk death? I read somewhere that the detectives trying to solve the Jack the Ripper case thought that the eyes of Jack’s victims captured the last image they saw. But it’s not true. How can we capture an image of catoblepas?


An analogy will help. Maybe we can’t draw the desired object for the same reason. At the moment of sexual climax the self is erased and who is left to draw? The monster is the other as it presents itself to us as ultimate threat. The monster is the face of death. Who can see the face of death and return to draw it?


The hero. Until we’ve seen the face of death and returned to draw it, we are zero level characters. Not men. Not women, who see the face of death when they give birth, or allow themselves to be penetrated by the source of life and potential death – lovers who are also monsters. Maybe why women have a more intimate relationship with monsters – more easily find the romance of the vampire and the werewolf as we see in Twilight.


Freud said every man had three women in his life:his mother, his lover and his death. But the intimate relationship with death comes to all of us. Why is the monster goofy, as in Count Chocula and the kobold? Death is our playmate as well.


We pal around with the monster but he is a non-player character. He is our unimaginable death that we can never cease imagining.


The fetish, said some psychoanalyst or other, results when the child looking up at the mother’s vagina is struck with existential dread: this is the hole I came from, I could just as well never have emerged, and he looks away, and becomes fixated in fantasy on the very next thing he says: a garter belt, a stocking, a foot. When we confront our death and look away the very next thing we see is the monster – the shadow, the beast, the look of hatred. It is the glowing edge around the black hole.