Livia Llewellyn’s Favorite Monster

As part of our Favorite Monsters feature that we ran for our “12 Days of Monsters,” we polled various writers to see who their favorite monsters were and why. One of those writers is Livia Llewellyn. She has had her stories published in Subterranean, Sybil’s Garage, Apex Magazine, The Magazine of Bizarro Fiction, Postscripts, and Chiaroscuro Magazine. Her novelette “Omphalos” will be reprinted later in the year in Best Horror of the Year 4. Her collection Engines of Desire: Tales of Love & Other Horrors was published in 2011 by Lethe Press. For her choice of her favorite monster, Llewellyn delves into a being that led her to regard angels in a totally different, monstrous way. – The Editors

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I don’t remember when I started reading horror. I remember growing up surrounded by my parent’s archaeology and history books – I cut my teeth on mummies and lost cities and dead civilizations, and as I grew older my taste in fiction gravitated swiftly and surely to the dark. From Poe, Stoker, and Lovecraft, I moved on to Stephen King, Anne Rice, Peter Straub – the usual suspects. I remember most of their stories and novels. I remember the monsters in them only vaguely. Creatures with fangs and claws and horns, all ultimately indistinguishable in their creation and intentions and fates, all fading into the background of my childhood. The novels, the monsters, scared me. They didn’t change me.

Every Sunday my mother dutifully dragged us to a sprawling Lutheran church in a quiet suburb of Tacoma. There, school books depicted Jesus as a serene man with blue eyes, and everywhere angels stared down at us from posters and paintings: white skinned men (or round, rosy children) with golden hair and pillowy white wings, unfurling crimson banners and slender trumpets declaring God’s eternal power and love. Those images, those angels, were understandable – beautiful and powerful in a classifiably human way. And they were never, in image or word, confused for demons. There were demons and there were angels, just as there was good and evil, monstrosity and beauty; and in the church’s – and my – inexperienced imagination, never the twain could meet.

And then I read Clive Barker’s Weaveworld.

Uriel of the principalities, also known as the Scourge. Mouthless and multi-eyed, a body of wheels and wings, geometries and fire, “tall as the canopy; twenty-five feet or more, its long, bone-white head brushing the branches, sand-petals spiraling down.” A monster beyond comprehension in both conception and intent, beyond my comprehension – I was hooked. And I read those pages of the novel a hundred times in frustration and fascination, pouring over every scene Uriel appeared in, trying to decipher exactly what it was. Angel or demon? None of the characters knew, and more madding, the creature itself had long forgotten its origins and purpose – the mythology of the angel Uriel, guardian of the gates of Eden, was a story the being had taken from the minds of the humans who had roused it from millennia of sleep. Uriel was as great and luscious a mystery to me as the sepia photos of ruined Babylon and Ur in my parent’s dusty books.

During that unsettling summer when I threw myself into Weaveworld again and again, everything I had ever understood monsters to be and not to be was thrown out the window, and with it, my rigid construct of how much of the universe and the creatures moving within it humans might truly understand. We understood nothing. We were specks of ignorance, and our one-sided definitions of good and evil were meaningless in a world of infinite views and infinite wonders. In a few short, sharply-written scenes, Barker’s Uriel upended all of my rigid paradigms about horror, and taught me more about cosmic vastness more than all those previous years of reading Lovecraft had ever done.  Even to this day, I pour over the pages of Weaveworld, looking for that one sentence I missed, the one word or phrase that will tell me, definitively, whether Uriel is angel or demon or something more. But there is no such sentence, no such word, no illumination. There is only infinite mystery, and the horror that I love Uriel of the principalities above all other monsters, because I suspect that I am a greater monstrous aberration of this universe than it is, but I will never truly know.