GIANT CANNIBALS
Love, lies, mythology and murder on the seas of ancient Greece.
MONSTROUS MEANINGS   by Mike Warren

Mike asks what a monster really is, and what fictional monsters can tell us about ourselves.

The word Monster is derived from Latin, and shares a root with the word "demonstrate". Monere means "to warn or instruct", and the peculiar uniqueness of the monster is that by its very aberrance, we are able to infer what is "normal" or "proper".

Monsters are provably fictitious. Even the monsters with their roots in real life - be they giant squid, white whale, great white shark, Tyrannosaurus Rex, or tropical spider - are only "monstrous" because of our reaction to them. Monstrosity is a human construct. It is an overlay, superimposed artificially onto its subject to reflect our own fears and vulnerabilities.

Monsters do not choose to be monstrous. Whether born, made or imagined, they are hideous from conception, and live out their fate without choice. They are incapable of making moral decisions - a good monster's description includes not only its appearance but its behaviour. Monsters who escape their own monstrosity by making decisions (think Shrek, The Beast and the Iron Man) are no longer monstrous - they are characters. The true monster can therefore be properly understood as a narrative device, bound to its author's script, and without agency or personality of its own.

If monsters can't make choices or influence their own fate, then what on Earth are they doing in a narrative? In fact, it is their very lack of agency that imbues them with their greatest value.

They can be made as strong, as fast or as hideous as the author's imagination allows. What better way to force a hero to face the inevitable? They are shielded from reason, and cannot be negotiated with. What better way to push a clever coward into a transformative conflict? But most of all, in their hideousness, monsters are living violations of our moral and aesthetic sensibilities. They are built out of broken rules and jarring statements of offence. How else can we reassert our own justifications for our loathing of ugliness, violence or sacrilege? Monsters provide more than obstacles for a story's characters. They allow us to calibrate our moral compass within the context of the story, and so bind our empathy to the events of its narrative. More powerfully still, they have an outward effect; through them, we can use stories to justify our real-life morality.

After all, were we to lose sight of our taboos, monstrous things would seem normal to us - and the thought of that is hard to bear. In this context, the power of disgust is what links our emotive responses to our sense of cold reason. Monsters allow us to rationalise and explain these feelings. They are a conjecture, like the virtual image we "see" in a mirror: inferred from the suppositions that surround it, crystal-clear, perfectly informative, but not even slightly real.

So how do Homer's monsters warn or instruct us? Several examples spring to mind. It is the presence of the monstrous Cyclops that first tells us that we have moved from an heroic narrative to a mythical one, where unfathomable forces loom larger and closer than ever before. The Sirens make a strong analogy for the power of reason over temptation, and shortly afterwards, Scylla and Charybdis can be cogently read as symbolic of a leader's burden to choose in the face of unavoidable loss.

And the Laestrygonians? Being the first manifestation of Poseidon's curse, do they represent man's powerlessness against the divine? As a direct consequence of the mutiny, might their depravity illustrate the ruin that follows from the breakdown of social hierarchies? Or is there something more going on? Perhaps all three. Three thousand years later, we're still trying to work it out.



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RE-INTERPRETED, PART I   by Dylan Spicer

Across a series of articles, Dylan charts other efforts to re-write Homer's great epic. This week, he looks at two kinds of Ulysses.

SIGNAL TO NOISE   by Mike Warren

How does one tell a whole story using only the human voice? Mike takes a famous tall tale and finds meaning in the medium.

WHAT I LEARNED   by Mike Warren

In what he hopes is an affably informal article and not a scruffy, unqualified and overly-personalised rant, Mike shares a first-timer's perspective on recording an audio drama.

MEET THE CAST   by Mike Warren

We've just finished recording Giant Cannibals. After three exhausting days in-studio, I'm delighted to introduce you to our talented and hard-working cast. Expect plenty more to come; in the meantime, you can view their profiles by by following the links. The full list of contributors can also be found in our People section.

DIVINE WINDS   by Dylan Spicer

Dylan explores the balance of coincidence and plausibility in The Odyssey.

THE SOURCE, PART VI   by Mike Warren

A disguised Odysseus finds Ithaca to be very different from how he left it.

CANNIBAL MYTHS   by Dylan Spicer

Dylan charts the significance of the cannibal taboo in storytelling, and asks how this changes the way we see the Laestrygonians.

SOMETHING TO HIDE   by Mike Warren

So we don't trust Odysseus. But what ugly truth might convince him to spin his stories?

THE SOURCE, PART V   by Mike Warren

After ten years at sea, Odysseus returns to Ithaca.

TELLING THE TRUTH   by Mike Warren

Is our hero's own account reliably narrated, or are we right to lose the plot?

THE SOURCE, PART IV   by Mike Warren

Odysseus' story comes to an end, as he explains his time with witches, monsters and the dead.

THE OLD AND THE NEW   by Mike Warren

Can one of our culture's most venerated texts tolerate being re-imagined so liberally? We think so, and here's why.

THE SOURCE, PART III   by Mike Warren

Odysseus continues to tell his story. After a brush with the Cyclops, Odysseus' homeward journey is thrown violently off course. Giant Cannibals focuses on this section, because we don't think our hero is telling the truth.

THE SOURCE, PART II   by Mike Warren

Shipwrecked on Scheria and exposed for who he really is, Odysseus begins to tell his story. This is the Cyclops bit, by the way.

THE SOURCE, PART I   by Mike Warren

The Odyssey is the second-oldest surviving text in Western literature. Here's a ham-fisted attempt to summarise it in eight easy chunks.