Menacing Monster Guide

Updated August 5, 2020 | Infoplease Staff
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by David Johnson

Monster Mania!


Although he is one of literature's most enduring monsters, Frankenstein was not his original name.

In Mary Shelley's 1818 horror story, Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus, Frankenstein was a Swiss student who discovered a way to create a living man. His "monster" was actually timid and gentle, only turning to murder when people, repulsed by its ugly appearance, attacked it.

One of history's most successful thrillers, Frankenstein was written because of a contest between Mary Shelley; her husband, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley; and their friend, writer Lord George Byron, to see who could create the best ghost story.


While they can be beneficial, negative, or neutral, ghosts—the spirits of dead people—are often tragic. Ghosts often haunt a location or someone living, and they sometimes appear as a warning. Ghosts can also be invoked to help the living, sometimes with mixed results.

In the late 19th century, the Paiute Indians of North America practiced a ghost dance, including trances, lasting five days. Believing it would stop the westward expansion of white settlers other tribes adopted the ghost dance. Just before their tragic 1890 battle with the U.S. cavalry at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, Sioux warriors performed the ceremony, and entered battle wearing ghost shirts to protect them against bullets. Nonetheless, they died by the score.

Other western ghosts populate "ghost towns," once-thriving communities that have been abandoned by the living. Virginia City, Nevada; Silver City, Idaho; and St. Elmo, Colorado are famous towns where the inhabitants are all ghosts busily maintaining the traditions of a happier time.


According to Middle Eastern mythology, ghouls are evil female spirits of the desert.

Able to assume the shape of an animal, ghouls are grave robbers, living off the flesh of the dead.

Travelers planning to cross any of the vast deserts or savannahs of North Africa, the Middle East, or Central Asia should be aware that ghouls often entice men off the road and confuse them. Once the men are disoriented, the ghouls proceed to feast on their flesh!

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