Imps, Dragons and Skeptical Art
I love monsters. I love magic. I love the idea that we’re living in a world in which such things might exist. Since all evidence seems to point in a much more mundane direction, I build my own. This is a bit about my art projects a story of one of my paths into skepticism.
A good long time ago, I posted about a dragon skeleton that I’d made. I’ve been listening to a lot of Monster Talk and I’ve been inspired to get back at it. This time, though, I filmed one of my builds so I could show it to you lovely people.
I also wanted to talk a bit about my relationship with monsters and how it interconnects and bolsters my skepticism. I rather like people’s stories about how they ended up thinking the way that they do, so this is the first of mine.
I think I already mentioned that I love monsters. Dragons, in particular, but I also like the idea of imps and fairies and brownies and chimera and about half of the other things in the Monster Manual. I grew up wishing that I could ride the dragons of Pern and looking under rocks and wandering through forests wishing that there was magic to be found there. I don’t think I ever grew out of this. Instead, it led to me learning a lot about science, natural history, and psychology.
To be clear, I don’t think I ever really believed in any of these things. I just wanted to believe in them. I wanted them to be real so I looked for them, tried to prove to myself that they were there. My curiosity led to taking out books from the library and watching documentaries on dinosaurs and animals from dark and distant shores, but also had me watching X-files and unsolved mysteries and soaking up any fantasy fiction I could ingest. Also, I did find monsters under rocks: centipedes and salimanders, snakes and snails. The wonder of the natural world around me was never ruined by not finding a pixie.
The reaction of people I knew to Mulder’s poster in X-Files was probably the first time I realized that not everyone thought the same way I did about these things. My thinking was that it meant “I want to believe, but I don’t,” whereas other people seemed to take it to mean “I want to believe, so I do.” I was looking for proof so I could start to believe myself, other people were looking for proof so that they could justify their beliefs to others.
The monster shows lost a bit of their flavor after that. I could see through the veneer. They never found anything, they never would, but the scientists did. David Attenborough had a new collection of monsters on every show he did: deep sea fish, giant cats, exotic birds… all of them as strange and unlikely as the dragons and imps of my imagination. Also, the prehistoric skeletons kept piling up showing a mad diversity of creatures that had once been.
But I never gave up on my imaginary creatures. Instead of letting them go, I asked why they didn’t, or couldn’t exist. Why aren’t there any hexapedal vertebrates? Can something breathe fire? How does animal flight work? Wondering these things taught me about genetics, chemistry, aerodynamics, energy consumption, and a massive collection of creatures that really did exist.
I began to design monsters inspired by life. I tried to work out the genetic heritage of dragons, what they might have evolved from, how they could have progressed through small stages of evolutionary advantage. I wrestled with the mechanics of musculature and skeletal structure that would support the creature.
Now I build the things that I wish existed. I know they don’t, but I’m constantly consuming more material on biology and paleontology so that I can make them more plausible. My love of the imaginary has encouraged me to learn more about the complexities of reality. I hold out hope that someday I will have a pet fire-lizard, but for now I will happily appreciate the wonder of whatever strange beasts actually roam the wild.