Study Guide

The Monstrumologist Man and the Natural World

By Rick Yancey

Man and the Natural World

"We have a duty this night. We are students of nature as well as its products, all of us, including this creature. Born of the same divine mind, if you believe in such things, for how could it be otherwise? We are soldiers for science, and we will do our duty." (1.91)

The doc is just trying to get Will Henry to buck up, but the juxtaposition of science and faith that he sets up is pretty interesting. We are all a product of nature, and the same "divine mind" created us all. Does that mean God is nature?

"Will Henry, what is our enemy?"

His eyes were bright, the color in his cheeks high, symptoms of his peculiar mania that I had seen a dozen times before. On its face, the answer to his question—barked in a tone more reminiscent of a command—was obvious. I pointed a quivering finger at the suspended Anthropophagus.

"Nonsense!" he said with a laugh. "Enmity is not a natural phenomenon, Will Henry. Is the antelope the lion's enemy? Does the moose or elk swear undying animosity for the wolf? We are but one thing to the Anthropophagi: meat. We are prey, not enemies." (2.99-101)

Dr. Warthrop loves to point this out to everyone involved in the Anthropophagus affair: The creatures aren't out to eat people because of some malicious intent. This is merely a function of the food chain at work; just because we're the prey doesn't mean it's personal.

Which fluffy bit held your ambition, Erasmus Gray? Which speck your pride? Ah, how absurd the primping and preening of our race! Is it not the ultimate arrogance to believe we are more than is contained in our biology? What counterarguments may be put forth, what valid objections raised, to the claim of Ecclesiastes, "Vanity of vanities; all is vanity"? (4.1)

We are a species filled with hubris, are we not? Do you think penguins waddle around thinking they're the rulers of the free world? Or that the cows chewing their cud in the fields are thinking smug thoughts as they watch us drive by? What Will Henry is grappling with is the idea that ultimately we are just physical bodies animated by the same thing that animates the rest of nature around us—so why do we think we're so great?

Had I a mind of a more metaphysical bent, I would have assumed this house to be haunted, but, like the monstrumologist, I rejected the notion of hauntings and other supernatural phenomenona. There are indeed more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy, but those things were, like the Anthropophagi, quite physical, entirely natural, capable of fulfilling our curious and baffling need for a marauding horror of malicious intent, thank you very much. (6.7)

Will Henry has obviously spent enough time with Dr. Warthrop to know that the really scary stuff is all real—he doesn't need to think about haunted houses when nature provides some truly horrific monsters.

Even so, humanity's rise had benefited her, and not merely by providing her with an abundance of prey on which to feed: To survive in an ever-diminishing habitat, the Anthropophagi had become bigger, faster, stronger. When the pyramids first rose from the Egyptian sands, the average Anthropophagi male measured a little more than six feet from foot to shoulder; after a mere five thousand years, a blip in evolutionary time, he now towered more than seven feet. His claws were longer, as were his legs and his powerful arms. His eyes had grown to three times the size of ours, for we had driven him into the night, from his bower in the acacia tree to the cool forest floor or the dank caves of Kinshasa and the Atlas Mountains. Nature may have designed the beast beneath the bed, but the ascent of man had perfected her. (6.222)

Human beings are pretty rough on their environment—more so than any other creature on the planet. It's not surprising, then, that the reason the Anthropophagi are so terrifying is a result of their evolutionary path to combat the changes human beings enacted upon their environment.

"I saw the mouth of hell fly open and the spawn of Satan spew forth! That is what I saw!"

"Malachi, the creatures that killed your family are not of supernatural origin. They are predators belonging to this world, as mundane as the wolf or the lion, and we are, unfortunately, their prey." (8.107-108)

The only thing Dr. Warthrop is forgetting is that typically, unless we're doing something pretty bizarre, the wolf or the lion aren't going to enter our homes in the middle of the night and slaughter our families in a really gruesome manner. The Anthropophagi may be natural, but they're terrifying.

It could not have been pleasant, for a man of the constable's limited experience and sensitive temperament, to be confronted with the Anthropophagi's savage mockery of our human aspirations, our absurd grandiosities and ambitions, our ever-preening pride. (8.83)

Once again, we are grappling with the idea that human beings aren't the all-powerful rulers of the world that we like to think we are. When we are brought low by a superior predator it can be a tough pill to swallow, especially for someone like Constable Morgan who wasn't gifted with the most impressive intellectual capacity.

"I assure you, Constable Morgan, I am quite sane, as I understand the word, perhaps the sanest person in this room, for I suffer from no illusions. I have freed myself, you see, from the pretense that burdens most men. Much like our prey, I do not impose order where there is none; I do not pretend there is any more than what there is, or that you and I are anything more than what we are. That is the essence of their beauty, Morgan, the aboriginal purity of their being, and why I admire them." (10.156)

If we can put aside for a minute that Dr. Kearns is a criminal sociopath (therefore negating his claims of sanity), he does have a point. Perhaps by accepting the Anthropophagi for what they are he is able to deal with them more rationally, without the fear that seems to absorb everyone else who encounters them.

"I met him once, in Amazonia. Pellinore was off on another one of his quixotic quests, I believe for a specimen of that elusive—mythical, in my opinion—parasitic organism known as Biminius arawakus. Your father was quite ill, as I recall—malaria, I think, or some other bloody tropical disease. We do work ourselves into a tizzy about creatures like the Anthropophagi, but the world is chock-full of things that want to eat us. Have you ever heard of the candiru? It's also a native of the Amazon and, unlike the Biminius arawakus, not too difficult to find, particularly if you are unfortunate or stupid enough to relieve yourself anywhere near where one is hiding. It's a tiny eel-like fish, with backward-pointing razor-sharp spines along its gills that it unfurls like an umbrella once inside its host. Usually it follows the scent of urine into the urethra, wherein it lodges itself to feed upon your innards, but there have been cases where it enters the anus instead and commences to eat its way through your large intestine. It grows larger and larger as it feeds, of course, and I hear the pain is beyond the power of words to describe. So excruciating, in fact, that the common native remedy is to simply chop off the penis. What do you think of that?" he concluded with a wide smile.

"What do I think, sir?" I quavered.

"Yes, what do you think? What do you make of it? Or of the Spirometra mansoni, commonly called a flatworm, which can grow up to fourteen inches long and take up residence in your brain, where it feeds upon your cerebral matter until you are reduced to a vegetative state? Or Wuchereria bancrofti, a parasite that invades the lymph nodes, often causing their male hosts to develop testicles the size of cannonballs. What are we to make of them, Will Henry, and the multitudinous others? What lesson is to be gained?"

"I—I . . . I really don't know, sir."

"Humility, Will Henry! We are a mere part of a grand whole, in no way superior, not at all the angels in mortal attire we pretend to be. I do not think that the candiru gives a tinker's damn that we produced a Shakespeare or built the pyramids. I think we just taste good." (10.221-225)

Here we have the lesson Yancey is trying to impart on us, the horrified readers, point blank: We need to gain humility from our role in the natural cycle and stop believing that everything revolves around us. Like cancer, these parasites aren't killing us out of some evil design; we are just its food source. It's not a pleasant lesson to learn, but one we could all benefit from in the long run.

"And we, gentlemen, like the eucalyptus leaves of the gentle koala, make up the entirety of their diet. They are, quite literally, born to eat us. Naturally that fact has created some tension between our species. They need to feed; we would prefer that they not. The advent of civilization and its fruits—the spear and the gun, for example—tipped the scales in our favor, forcing them into hiding and forcing upon them another adaptation of which the brutal assault yesterday is a prime example: The Anthropophagi are fiercely territorial and will defend their homestead down to the last little snappy-toothed toddler. In other words, gentlemen, the ruthlessness with which they hunt is exceeded only by the sheer savagery with which they protect their territory. (11.91)

We like the way Kearns expresses the nature of our relationship with the Anthropophagi. Some "tension," indeed.

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