Review – Folklore, Horror Stories, and the Slender Man: The Development of an Internet Mythology

For a while now, I’ve been interested in the Slender Man mythology, for reasons I’m at a loss to explain.  For the rare reader who has not experienced this yet, the premise is that a mysterious monster known as the “Slender Man,” a faceless figure wearing a suit, stalks unsuspecting individuals, eventually leading to their corruption or doom.   This is a grassroots Internet phenomenon, with many manifestations based around creative use of Photoshop or drawn-out Youtube storylines using shaky cameras and repurposed mannequins.  Nonetheless, it’s been fascinating to see how much love and attention has been put into a new “artificial mythology” a la the Cthulhu Mythos, which is similar in its creation out of the work of many authors referring to each others’ works.  Such feelings are  nonetheless tinged with tragedy, as two girls in Waukesha, Wisconsin blamed the entity for their attempts to murder one of their classmates.

I initially approached Shira Chess and Eric Newsom’s Folklore, Horror Stories, and the Slender Man, from Palgrave with some skepticism.  The immediate impetus for the book seems to have been the crime in Waukesha, as it is mentioned quite early therein.  As such, the fact that it was in print hardly six months thereafter is quite troubling, as it raises questions as to how deep any potential analysis really could be.  That the work is a print-on-demand work instead of a regular release from the publisher was also a potential red flag.  Nonetheless, I wanted to let the book speak for itself.

What I ended up with was an intriguing work on an ongoing tradition of digital folklore or fakelore, depending upon your view, that has gained international attention.  Chess and Newsom begin with a discussion of the history of the Slender Man, beginning with the Something Awful forum thread where he was spawned and moving through its creative manifestations in online fiction and videos.  Subsequent chapters deal with the connections between the Slender Man and other folkloric entities, the creation of an open-source mythology, and the digital forums in which stories are told and transformed as the tellers and the audience interact.  A final chapter discusses parodies and the less accepted portions of the mythology.

I would not consider myself to be a Slender Man expert, by any means, but I have followed Marble Hornets and dipped into the other blog and Youtube materials on the topic.   I was hoping that the book would expand upon this knowledge and indulge in some deeper reading of the works dealing with the Slender Man.  I was to be disappointed in this regard; although I did not feel that there were any significant gaps in coverage, I was hoping for a greater engagement with the source material, and it troubles me that this did not occur.

This does not mean that the book does not include analyses, many of which are quite fascinating in the ties they draw to the literature of folklore and performance.  At times, this does fall short, however.  One example is the discussion of the reaction of the fan community, which is mostly male, to the non-horror works about the Slender Man written by female authors.  The writers claim that this neglect is due to the gender of the fan fiction authors, but given that this material extends outside the generally accepted bounds of the horror genre, the case needs to be made more strongly.  A more interesting and likely productive analysis would be directed at the implications of a genre in which the protagonists are often white males in their twenties, running from a monster whose appearance parallels those of his victims.

This is not to say that this book is without merit.  For those who wish for an overview of the Slender Man myth and its position in the study of folklore, it is a valuable work, if expensive.  It is to be hoped that future works deepen the examination of this fictional creation and the community that creates and re-creates its myth.

Published in: on May 16, 2015 at 10:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

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