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The Hobgoblin Of Little Minds Main

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Written by Mark Matthews

“It is the second job of literature to create myth. But its first job is to destroy it.”
— Kenzaburō Ōe

Tropes are the flesh and blood for so many tales of horror, but if they are not presented with a unique take, that flesh and blood becomes lifeless, boring, predictable. Tropes are the cement where the story firmly sits, but they need wings to fly, creating new tropes while destroying the old.

Imagine if zombies ran with incredible speed rather than lumbered with a slow, drunken gait. Think 28 Days Later. Imagine if they speak, and tell us how they crave a certain body part (brains). Think Return of the Living Dead.

The audience says, Wait? This isn’t the trope I know, and interest piques, and so does the terror of possibility, when what was once familiar now is uncanny.

The juxtaposition of the familiar versus the startling and shocking is what makes horror thrive, as Joe Hill describes “...the way good horror operates is it ruthlessly hunts out all the stuff that we love and trust and which we find reassuring, and then it rips the carpet out from under it.” The example he gives is, "There's nothing funny about a clown at midnight."

Horror has come so far as to self-reflect on its reliance of tropes, which are deconstructed in the film Cabin in the Woods. The story asks the audience to examine what they love, before unleashing a treasure trove of tropes. The final girl trope is examined by inference in in Hereditary, the difference is, in Hereditary it is a ‘final boy’ who survives the onslaught. Unlike a bloody, carved-up, resilient fighting girl fighting to survive, the final boy in Hereditary survives just because he is male and worshipped by a cult. An ironic take on a trope highlighting male privilege: A final girl has to fight for her survival, but final boy is worshipped for doing nothing.

Foolish trope consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, to paraphrase the Emerson quote my novel is based on. That hobgoblin is lack of creativity and mindlessly repeating the trope rules. In my novel, I’ve taken a handful of tropes and stuck them in a blender to create something with a unique flavor.

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Werewolf tropes have been played with in multiple ways, from Teen Wolf to Ginger Snaps to Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones. In The Hobgoblin of Little Minds, I present lycanthropy as not derived from the supernatural, but rather the science of psychiatry. The novel never uses the “W” word, because there’s no such thing as werewolves, but there is such thing as mental illness, and in particular, bipolar disorder.

In the novel, those who transform are not triggered by the supernatural, but by a psychiatrist who manipulates psychotropic medications of those who suffer from bipolar disorder. The novel uses the lenses of lycanthropy to present the real world challenges of living with a mental illness. There is even a ‘silver bullet’ called Luminex—a mix of Lithium, Benzos, Haldol, and other psychotropics.

Werewolves are the Jungian self-gone-wild, the savage part of us. My version of werewolves are not necessarily monsters, but they are definitely beasts, but retain human qualities. They love. They have hopes and dreams. They speak as much as howl. They visit their churches and their childhood homes. They do not grow hair, but they do grow stronger with explosive rage when the moon is full. They are propelled by boundless energy and amazing powers of perception.

All of this is not dissimilar to what happens in a manic state. (“What you mistake for madness is but over-acuteness of the senses,” Edgar Allan Poe). I am not the first to present werewolves as a metaphor for Bipolar Mania, there are numerous scholarly articles on the topic, as well as first person accounts. I took great care to rely on both beta readers and my 20-plus years working in behavioral health to write a story with understanding and empathy.

The mastermind behind this werewolf creation is my version of the ‘mad scientist’ trope, a psychiatrist who grew up as a caretaker for her mom who struggled with mental illness. After one her mom’s many suicide attempts, her dad abandons the family, saying, “You fix her,” as he leaves out the door. This becomes the doctor’s driving principle and obsession—to ‘fix’ bipolar disorder—and not repeat the foolish mistakes of ineffective mental health treatment of the past.

According to the doctor, Bipolar does not need to be blunted, but magnified. Not diminished, but harnessed. The boundless energy of mania, the primal passions, acute senses, and savage strength are what helped humans persist. Natural selection has ensured that bipolar survives, and these strengths come out when the moon was full, since “Humans were meant to hunt by the light of the moon.”

All mad scientists as a trope are heroes of their own story, and this holds true for mine, though she is certainly more sympathetic. She is an antagonist who understands the protagonist in a way nobody else does. The hero, of sorts, is a young adult who trespasses inside an abandoned psychiatric facility, the last place her dad was treated but never heard from again.

Asylums themselves as a setting are a trope. (For a deep-dive into this, check out Nightmare Factories: The Asylum in American Imagination). Not only the setting, but even specific parts of the ‘asylum’ are tropey—the sterile hallways, the day room where the patients gather, the drippy tunnels, the sterile hallways.

My version is based on Northville Psychiatric hospital, an actual abandoned facility near my home. The place is a huge compound legendary for trespassers, and I wanted it to read as historical horror. I avoid misnomers like ‘asylum’ or “madhouse for the criminally insane’ and perhaps above all, used my own experience working in such mental health settings I traced actual events of the hospital’s history and wrote the climax to occur during the dates of the demolition. I parked in the spot the protagonist parks before she trespasses inside. I watched videos of the dark tunnels and hallways and interviewed those who’ve been inside.

Tropes are given their power because they are familiar, but it’s how they differ that makes them explode. We love seeing new takes, but each creator is standing on the shoulders of giants, and, when successful, adding to the mythos and lore.

Horror DNA would like to thank Mark for this inside look at his novel, The Hobgoblin of Little Minds. Be sure to pick up your own copy from one of the links below, give him a follow on Twitter, and check out his website.

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