Horror Lit: Paradise Lost

My favourite literary monster is Sin in Book II of John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost. Satan meets her at the gates of Hell, where she sits with their son Death. She mediates a fight between the father and son, and then sends Satan off to Chaos, where he will find Paradise on the other side.

When I first read Milton’s description of Sin, it felt illicit. I couldn’t believe something so grotesque was sitting in an old English literature textbook:

The one seemed woman to the waist, and fair,
But ended foul in many a scaly fold
Voluminous and vast, a serpent armed

With mortal sting: about her middle round
A cry of hell-hounds never ceasing barked
With wide Cerberean mouths full loud, and rung
A hideous peal: yet, when they list, would creep,
If aught disturbed their noise, into her womb,
And kennel there, yet there still barked and howled,
Within unseen.

– Book II, lines 650-659

Hell-hounds nesting in her womb? Nowhere else in my life had I ever been given such a horrific visual.

SparkNotes summarizes the creation story she tells Satan:

She explains to Satan who she and her companion are and how they came to be, claiming that they are in fact Satan’s own offspring. While Satan was still an angel, she sprang forth from his head, and was named Sin. Satan then incestuously impregnated her, and she gave birth to a ghostly son named Death. Death in turn raped his mother Sin, begetting the dogs that now torment her. Sin and Death were then assigned to guard the gate of Hell and hold its keys.

Gag me with a spoon! I remember first reading this section of Book II and reading faster because I couldn’t believe how gross it was getting, and it kept getting grosser. My kind of horror story.

In addition to gore, I’m a fan of the Unholy Trinity, as you might tell from my Rosemary’s Baby post. I love that Milton made Mary’s demonic form an allegory for sin, and then dreamt up this nauseating background story of how she came to be and would suffer, in a perverted mirror-opposite of Mary, as the bride of the child made by her creator — yeah, I know, Christianity is twisted.

satan sin and death - milton

Milton, John. Paradise Lost, 1667.

Love and Murder

Valentine’s Day is coming up and what better way to celebrate than to Google “love triangle ghost stories”?

I found these 5 Gruesome Real-Life Murders That Inspired Spooky Ghost Stories that include some real heartbreaks! To hell with love! haha

19th century
Jakub Schikaneder (1855-1924), Study of a recumbent woman for the painting Murder in the House, (1890), National Gallery in Prague

Famous Witch: Baba Yaga

One of my favourite legendary witches is Baba Yaga. To me, she’s an old lady who wanders the forest looking for children to eat. Growing up, I used to hang out a lot in forests, so it creeps me out to imagine coming across an old lady amongst the trees appearing wise but ready to eat me.

Visit OldRussia.net to learn a more accurate picture of Russia’s legendary Baba Yaga.

baba yaga 1

Bakeneko: Cat Spirits of Japanese Lore

Searching for scary Japanese ghosts, I came across the legend of bakeneko, cats that shape-shift into humans, or near humans. They are tormentors and tricksters.

They appear as a popular monster in kabuki productions, like the one pictured here.
kabuki-bakeneko
Visit Bakeneko — The Changing Cat on the Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai blog to learn all about this spirit’s origins and some of its stories.