8 February 2019

SLENDERMAN - LIVING THE LEGEND

Trevor J Blank and Lynne S McNeill (Editors). Slender Man is Coming: Creepypasta and Contemporary Legends on the Internet. University Press of Colorado, 2018.

Who by now who follows Fortean themes, especially the contemporary ones, has not heard of the Slender Man? For the handful of you who may have emerged from your survivalist compound in the woods in order to top up your hoard of jerky, he/it is an abnormally tall, thin humanoid, dressed in a black suit and tie. Faceless, he loiters in the shade in children's playgrounds in exactly the manner that one should not.
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Thereafter, terrible things happen to the aforementioned mites and the blame is to be firmly laid at the out-of-focus feet of the Slender Man.

His/Its origins are firmly documented. The creature was created by Victor Surge (real name Eric Knudsen) on the Something Awful forum in 2009. There was a competition to produce 'paranormal' images and this has become the most notorious entry. The notoriety came about as a result of several violent episodes associated, some more tenuously than others, to the Slender Man. The culmination was the stabbing of a 12 year-old girl by her classmates in Waukesha, Wisconsin as a form of sacrifice to the Slender Man. This is what really put this fictional entity in the spotlight. Although other violent incidents occurred, the others did not seize the public consciousness in quite such a way. Without this, we would not be looking at yet another book about him/it.

Trevor J. Blank, Ph.D., is a folklorist and associate professor of communication and interdisciplinary studies at the State University of New York at Potsdam. His research interests include digital expression, pop culture, humour, public health, and urban legends. Lynne McNeill is a folklorist at Utah State University where she teaches online folklore courses. Her research interests include legends, folk beliefs, and digital culture.

This volume consists of essays by folklorists who must still be grateful for the well-documented path that the Slender Man has travelled. Comparisons are made with HP Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos, which is also something whose creation has been recorded, although maybe not as assiduously as that of our protagonist. Paul Manning examines the impact of images, photographs in this case, can bleed over into life by bringing in the Cottingley fairies and the resultant fallout and how it affected Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in particular. In quite a few of the essays there is, unsurprisingly, an eye cast on how the Slender Man fits in with children and their culture. In general, what this work consists of is the professional folklorist examining this most recent and traceable of folklore. There are copious footnotes, a bibliography at the end of each essay and a main index at the back.

How does this work out? Well, the book is scholarly. So much so that some of the writing is verging on the impenetrable unless, presumably, the reader is also a scholar of folklore. Also, they really, really like the word 'ostention' which is, for the uninitiated, is 'the acting out of a legend'. It seems that, unsurprisingly, similar material is gone over time and again in different essays. The concept of the tulpa is covered, as it was in previous publications about the same subject. The Waukesha, Wisconsin, child stabbing is well and truly covered too. The crux, mind you, at the end of the day, is does this book bring anything particularly new to the dark being lurking in the shadows at the back of children's playgrounds? Maybe in the rarefied world of academia, but nothing of note jumps out for the rest of the world.

This is not a book to purchase for the casual enquirer into either the Slender Man phenomenon or folklore. For more approachable ones, some of those previously reviewed on this site will be worth a look. There are quite a few books on the subject of a fictional bogeyman than, quite honestly, one would think possible. It bears repeating that, if it were not for the appalling Waukesha issue where twelve year-olds behaved in such a potentially murderous fashion, it is safe to say that nobody would have heard of or be covering the Slender Man at all, let alone push out book after book on the subject. It may also be worth keeping in mind that the newer a medium of communication is then the more scrutiny it comes under. Still, if one is in the market for a much more in-depth look at the Slender Man and how he/it can be so malign that children are willing to commit such heinous acts in his/its name, then this does actually fulfil that criterion. – Trevor Pyne.

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