Fiction exploring what happens when humans come into contact with non-human creatures has been popular since there have been people. Modern versions of these stories come from many genres, including horror, fantasy, and paranormal romance. The types of creatures we focus our storytelling efforts on fluctuate over time. The early 2000s were all about vampires and werewolves, while current paranormal fiction is full of mermaids and the fae.
Of course, these creatures and the stories about them are thousands of years old, and new iterations of them often speak to current societal struggles and cultural trends. Some scholars have suggested that the rise of certain mythological figures in pop culture is linked to current events and can even be predictive of big societal shake-ups like recessions. If this is so, then the coming years should be a fertile breeding ground for paranormal storytelling. What sorts of monsters will we see reflecting our society back at us in the years to come? Here are three predictions:
You knew this one was going to make the list. Vampire stories seem to pop up whenever real life gets especially dark and gritty. Economic downturns and times of war and disease throughout history have often generated vampire stories, and even real vampire panics hundreds of years ago.
The vampire seems to morph more often than most monsters. Sometimes he’s a sociopathic fiend, sometimes a tortured romantic. Recently he’s often been the victim of a zombie-like virus. Nick Groom, author of “Vampires: a New History,” explains the vamp’s recurring appeal. “Vampires are good to think with,” he says. Groom and other scholars have suggested that vampires can be made into a metaphor for such a wide variety of human anxieties, everything from death to poverty, to despotic governments, that people can always find a use for him (or her) in fiction.
The sparkly Edward Cullen of Twilight fame had his moment in the sun (sorry) but seems to have contributed to the decline of vampires in fiction during the late 2010s. Recently, vampires have been sneaking out of the shadows, and they’ve mutated once again.
Over the past three decades, we’ve seen sporadic examples of vampires representing marginalized groups. Most recently, the drama True Blood made direct connections between vampires as a group on the fringes of society and issues of racism and homophobia. Now it seems clear that diversity and issues of social inclusion will dominate the new wave of vampire storytelling.
The new vampire, seen in works like the 2020 Anthology “Vampires Never Get Old,” looks different from the straight white guy you’ve come to expect. More vampire fiction is on its way, including a remake of the Dracula movie that promises to give a modern spin and a female director’s perspective to the classic tale. It’s time for the next generation to get their shot at the vampire and see what he morphs into next.
Ghost stories are another perennial favorite, but they also rise and fall in popularity. The 2010s have seen a proliferation of ghost stories, and the trend is still going strong. Like vampires, ghosts often represent societal fears and hopes. And also, like vampires, they have morphed over time.
Scholars say that ghost stories are often one way that societies wrestle with their past. This certainly seems true of the modern ghost story, which often explores themes of racism, slavery, sexism, and colonialism. Authors like Jesmyn Ward, Hari Kunzru, and Brit Bennett have explored these themes in their recent novels. In many older stories, such as Dicken’s Christmas Carol or Shakespeare’s Hamlet, ghosts were social conservatives, calling contemporary backsliders to return to traditional values and social mores. Now ghosts are more likely to challenge modern narratives about the past and remind people of uncomfortable truths.
In addition to tackling these big-picture topics, modern ghost stories, especially those currently on TV, take the ever-popular “inner demons” tack and use ghosts to explore strained family relationships, abuse, and mental illness. Hopefully, we’ll see more nuanced takes on these subjects over the next few years.
Interestingly, even when ghosts are on the side of social justice, they aren’t necessarily benevolent. Many modern ghosts, like their predecessors, are out for revenge. Unlike vampire stories, which have become less frightening over time, modern ghost stories can still make you scared to turn your lights out. Recent events will probably throw fuel on the fire of the ghost story trend. We can expect to see them haunting our fiction for years to come.
Monsters You’ve Never Heard Of
While vampires, demons, ghosts, werewolves, and zombies have been standard pop-culture fare for decades, other monsters and magical creatures have been sorely neglected. Perhaps because of the general trend toward inclusiveness and diversity in fiction, these monsters on the fringes are being brought into the spotlight.
Today, many Western readers and viewers are looking for a more global, more nuanced experience in their fiction. The same ol’ western European stereotypes just won’t cut it anymore. Even when familiar monsters appear, they are often shown from other perspectives, such as in the brilliant South Korean zombie show “Kingdom,” which uses zombies to explore the plight of South Korean peasants during the Joseon Era, when starvation was rampant.
It’s safe to say that monsters from non-western cultures will start showing up more in American fiction over the coming years. You may have noticed that streaming services like Netflix are now hosting more Asian films and shows than ever before. Asian horror has been growing in popularity in the US for some time, and more Asian creators on American streaming services should accelerate this trend. Hopefully, we’ll see some awesome monsters from Asian mythologies that most westerners aren’t familiar with. We predict that creatures from Latin American and Indigenous mythologies will become more common as creatives from these backgrounds continue to make inroads into film making, television, and publishing.
The Celtic Kelpie, the Slavic Rusalka, and other overlooked European monsters might also find their way into more novels and films. Modern viewers are looking for something new and different. A few years from now, American horror and fantasy might be more varied and interesting than they’ve ever been.