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Everything You Never Knew

There is a monster living in France who has five pet butterflies and a friendly turtle named Pierre, and good for him, and great googamoogas for his creator, the sneakily brilliant Charise Mericle Harper.

Because I think we’ve met enough monsters already who are living under beds and roaring their terrible roars and all that. What are we so worried about? That if we cannot immediately trace their lineage to Sendak’s upholstered Wild Things, then we will fail to recognize the species? Either way, it’s discouraging how little they’ve evolved. (Aliens also, but that’s a battle for another space.) Hard to know where to start with this collective failure of imagination unless you can anywhere picture executives red-lighting mutants without merchandising potential. Which I do, and throwing staplers at the interns.

But monsters are like opinions: anyone can make them. Not being much of an artist, and entertaining a child who is, I have invested a pretty significant fraction of my adulthood drawing fish and dogs and birds and cars and houses, or anyway that was the plan. A stray stroke of the pencil proves finally diverting, however: is that a wing, an extra foot, a triple-barreled, fire–blasting proboscis? Monsters happen, whether I set out to create them or not.

Now, I get why you would want to spend hours talking and reading and trading cards and watching television shows about dinosaurs, because they were as big as your house, and went around eating trees and horses and other dinosaurs with a single swallow, and they left bones and banana-size teeth and some fairly freakish relatives (crocodiles, ostriches, the Loch Ness monster) in their historical wake, but except in a couple of dubious cases (werewolves, Bigfoot, Chupa Cabra), we are nowhere similarly restricted by the fossil evidence of monsters to do anything other than dream them up for ourselves.

Harper’s The Monster Show (slyly subtitled Everything You Never Knew About Monsters) remains, I think, heroically faithful to those amateur origins by introducing its actors in a traveling theatrical production, though the set designs change with each monster till we pretty much forget there’s a stage. The monsters themselves are unapologetically low-tech, all spots and waves and brightly colored patterns; you will not mistake these for the marvels of engineering that came slithering out of the IMAX the other day, or the demons you conquered on your X Box. Really, I sometimes wonder, what’s the point of even populating our own nightmares anymore, when there are people who imagine them better?

So meet your alternative bugaboos (and now that you know them a little better, maybe you can even reason with them): roller-skating, bicycle-riding, underpants-wearing, birthday-celebrating (with singing snakes instead of birthday candles), plus some who even dream of traveling to other planets (and encounter some spectacular looking aliens) when they sleep. This is during daylight hours usually, although there are some monsters on duty even then – they just have to work harder. Times are tough. But have we ever needed their services more?

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