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,
– 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.
Milton, John. Paradise Lost, 1667.