Uncanniness. Chaos gods. Aesthetics. Pan-Asian mythologies. Professor Federico Marcon told us stories about the old days — a time of lore when stories of monsters were swapped by the light of 100 candles, the mythical were mapped onto the edge of the unknown, and the mystical were found even in our own unconscious minds. Only a master of the theory and study of monsters could use the monstrous as a tool to uncover deep truths about human culture and experience. But when the world needed accessible academia most, it vanished … yet we have not lost hope.
Hello! Welcome. You may be wondering who we are, or what the purpose of this website is, or what the academic study of monsters has to do with an anime-style children’s TV show. Well, let us break it down for you.
Who we are: The five of us — Hannah, Alex, Paige, Jessie, and Livia — are students in HUM335, Professor Federico Marcon’s class on A Global History of Monsters. Beyond us all being thrown into this class together, we do not have a lot in common: we all have different mixes of academic fields, different backgrounds, and different key interests in the field of monster study itself. What we do have in common is the belief that (1) the study of monsters is an important endeavor and (2) there is no better case study for the study of monsters than the universe of Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra (ATLA and LOK, for short).
Our purpose behind this quest: Throughout this semester, we have loved digging through readings, fighting through Freudian analyses, and trying our hand at formulating some of our own controversial takes concerning the monstrous around us. But we have had some great help along the way, mostly from our passionate peers and preceptors. Quite frankly, it would be pretty daunting to face these demons alone (it took two priests to get through the 1973 horror film, The Exorcist, and even they did not make it out alive). There are a lot of big words, a lot of background that is helpful to know along the way, and a whole lot of ground to cover. So, consider this your crash course in the wide world of monster theory, a way to wet your toes without being inundated (or: flooded) with too much at once. We will stick to a script you probably know a bit about (if you have not watched ATLA or its sequel, LOK, worry not, but be prepared for spoilers), but we will supplement it with the analytical tools that we have been developing throughout this past semester.
Just like any good master of the elements in ATLA, we will take you step by step through the tricky maneuvers of the monstrous, explaining any concepts we are using or vocabulary that needs unpacking along the way. With any luck, if you choose to come with us on this quest, you will have the foundations underneath you to go on and do some monster studying on your own, even if that’s just analyzing another one of your favorite childhood TV shows. And hey, we think that there is a lot to be learned from analyzing ATLA and LOK. You come across chaos gods, a Spirit World that can be both horrifying and wondrous, monsters inside the human psyche … you get the picture.
If any of this still sounds intimidating, remember one of Avatar Aang’s wisest sayings in the show: “If you want to be a bender, you have to let go of fear.” But…it is also okay to be a little bit afraid. We are studying monsters, after all. So maybe another one of Aang’s sayings would apply here better: “If I try, I fail. If I don’t try, I’m never going to get it.” You can always close out of this page and come back to it. And if you have any questions, feel free to email our group at email@example.com. We will try to check our inbox every once in a while to get back to you.
Finally, a note on the format of our quest: This website is designed as a partially guided, partially choose-your-own adventure experience, and you are encouraged to follow through it by navigating to each next page or page option as is indicated. However, if you want to revisit any key points of work, feel free to use the menu at the top to move there directly. We begin with an introduction to the Spirit World, then dive into a bestiary, pull you through some Monster Theory, and whisk you through some ancient roots. You’re then free to forge your way through the next three monstrous pathways: a film and media analysis, a look at monster psyche, and a chance to get into the details with some episode analyses.
Are you ready now? You got this! Go on! There is no time like the present. Or, as Aang might say…