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My Creature From The Black Lagoon Essay

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Stephen King’s “My Creature from the Black Lagoon”

Author Stephen Edwin King was born on September 21, 1947, in Portland, Maine. Mr. King is recognized as one of the most famous and successful horror writers of all time (444). In 1981, Mr. King wrote the book The Danse Macabre, in which he penned the chapter “My Creature from the Black Lagoon” (444). In this individualized chapter, Mr. King compares and contrasts the responses of adults and children regarding horror films. In “My Creature from the Black Lagoon,” Mr. King consistently draws on emotion and memory as his mode of persuasion. He draws the reader in by retelling and reliving his first experience at a horror film at the young age or seven or eight. Being the king of horror fiction, the bait he uses to draw the reader in is his mastery of words, building a tapestry of memories and dread.

I must admit I chose a writing by Stephen King because it seemed interesting from the start. To delve into anything written by the master of horror just seemed fun. From the beginning of this text, it was clear to me he was attempting to reach several audiences. The first was an audience of people around his own age who could wax nostalgic with him. The second was perhaps an audience of parents with small children. Thirdly, I believe his audience is anyone who has ever enjoyed a moment of suspended belief in their life. The purpose of the text was to entertain and to inform. Mr. King spends a lot of time comparing and contrasting children’s movies, such as Disney classics, to horror films to find there is not much of a difference. He also paints such a picture with his words that I could see myself beside him in the car at the drive in.

The context of the text was social and cultural. Mr. King explains that parents today have no problem taking their children to a “G” rated Disney film with witches, dragons, poisons, and death, but object to allowing them to see a horror film with many of the same scenarios. It would appear to be the labeling of the film that drives the moral conscience on the part of the parents. To quote Mr. King from this chapter, “In this sense, children are the perfect audience for horror.” (446). He says this regarding the fact that children can lift the weight of unbelief (446) more easily than adults, thus it is easier for them to enter into the world of horror or fantasy still believing there is a monster in their closet later.

The message of Mr. King’s text was it is easier for children to believe the unbelievable than it is for adults. He also infers that when an adult is reintroduced to something they believed as a child, it’s much easier to slip into that realm of belief again. Mr. King relives the moment when he first saw the horror film “The Creature from the Black Lagoon”. The images were fresh in his mind, even when writing this chapter, twenty-two years after he saw the film. He carried the images with him throughout childhood into his adult years. He states that even today he can see the creature in his mind. He stated, “…I can see it peering over that growing wall of mud and sticks. Its eyes. Its ancient eyes” (450).

Mr. King’s only evidence in this text was anecdotal. There is little to no scientific evidence to back his claim. Aside from having been a child and now living as a horror writer, Mr. King’s claims rely mostly on compare/contrast and his opinion. Granted, I agree with a lot of what he said: I believe Disney to be just as scary as some horror films; I believe children believe easier than do adults. However, if he had statistics or research to back his claim, the chapter would have been most believable.

Mr. King’s “My Creature from the Black Lagoon” is an interesting read. He draws the reader in by retelling and reliving his first experience at a horror film at the young age or seven or eight. The bait he uses to draw the reader in is his mastery of words. I would not call this piece a classic lesson in the rhetorical triangle. Simply by retelling his experience and discussing his emotion, pathos is the driving mode of persuasion he uses. He delves into his memory and uses the most creative of words to describe how he was feeling when watching this film, and when re-watching it as an adult. “…but I surely knew it was some guy in a monster suit…Just as I knew that, later on that night he would visit me in the black lagoon of my dreams…” (445). Mr. King discusses the returning emotion when watching the movie as an adult. While he recognized the creature was fake, revisiting the scenes brought him back to the seven-year-old version of himself that was fascinated and terrified. The writing lacks a balance of ethos, pathos and logos. It is very heavy with pathos, with a slight nod to ethos, and no logos. In my opinion, the only use of ethos in this piece is the fact that the writer has the reputation of being the king of horror. His reputation is well deserved and lends credibility to his writing. The use of logos is non-existent in this piece, however. There are no facts cited, no quotes from reliable sources; the entire piece is based on Mr. King’s opinion and observations.

While his case is effective and convincing, he fails to use all of the traditional rhetorical triangle to make his argument. With that being the case, I would not suggest any changes or edits to Mr. King’s work. While Mr. King may not use the entire rhetorical triangle in this piece, his argument is solid: it is easier for a child to believe what they see on the movie screen than it is for an adult. Mr. King wrote, “The paradox is this: Children, who are physically quite weak, lift the weight of unbelief with ease…adults simply can’t lift the weight of fantasy. The muscles of the imagination have grown too weak” (446).




Works Cited

King, Stephen. “My Creature from the Black Lagoon”.  The McGraw/Hill Reader: Issues Across the Disciplines, Edited by Gilbert H. Muller.  Twelfth Edition. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2014. 444-450. Print.

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Creature from the Black Lagoon

Encountering the Aurora Model

Turn back the clock 42 years, walk into my bedroom and look at the shelves over my bed.  There you’ll see my collection of monster kits.  There’s King Kong, Godzilla, the Frankenstein Monster, Dracula, the Mummy, the Wolf Man, and, of course, the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

models were assembled from molded plastic pieces that you glued together using rubber cement.  I heard that you could get brain damage from the smell of the cement so I always attempted to assemble them without breathing.  I took small gulps from time to time, trying not to inhale through the nose—in retrospect it was probably close to the gulping way the Gill Man appeared to breathe on land.  Even though I was clumsy with most assembly projects, the models must have been pretty simple because I don’t remember any serious errors.  My monster models looked really cool.

You were supposed to paint them but my few experiments with color were pathetic.  The Aurora Gill Man was a very respectable dark green and he stayed that way on my shelf.  Color photographs of the Gill Man makeup from the 1950s always look inappropriately gaudy with their bright red lips.  In my mind, a colorized Creature looks like an unpainted model.

Encountering Mermaids

My family often took vacations to and—for as long as I can remember—I associated the Creature with the tourist attractions at Marineland, Silver Springs, Homosassa Springs, and Weeki Wachee Springs.  These were the Gill Man’s natural habitats, where he could swim freely or run amok.  I was right, of course.  The Gill Man was never really from the Amazon.  He was a native Floridian.

Ginger Stanley's water ballet
in the Black Lagoon.
Weeki Wachee still operates as a weird and wacky tourist attraction today.  Over half a century ago, some creative visionaries built a below-water-level theater where audiences could enjoy a show of mermaids gracefully swimming their way through basic fairy tales.  Every now and then, the mermaids would discreetly steal a long breath of air from hoses hidden in the scenery and then swim back into the action.  They were exemplary swimmers and superb breath-holders. The underwater shots of Kay swimming in Creature from the Black Lagoon are of Weeki Wachee mermaid Ginger Stanley (later Hallowell), often doing trademark Weeki Wachee somersaults.
Ginger Stanley, circa 1951.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
At Weeki Wachee, the male divers (usually playing princes or comedy relief) often swim like the Gill Man.  That trick where the Gill Man swims upside down subtly mirroring the movements of Julia Addams—you see that all the time at Weeki Wachee.  I think it’s the legacy of Ricou Browning, who worked at Weeki Wachee in its early days prior to his association with Creature from the Black Lagoon.  Director Jack Arnold cast Browning as the underwater Gill Man when he saw how well his Weeki Wachee moves worked on film.

Much as I love the Marineland scene in Revenge of the Creature, I always wish they’d figured out a way to work Weeki Wachee into the series.  The Gill Man should have received at least one opportunity to swim with the mermaids.

Encountering Tom Weaver and Ricou Browning

Several years ago, I took my son to a monster convention in .  My friend Mark Clark, author of Smirk, Sneer and Scream and the recently published Star Trek FAQ, met me there and introduced me to some of his colleagues.  That’s where I met Tom Weaver.  I shook his hand.  Then I awkwardly stood there star struck, unable to find anything intelligent to say.  No one knows more about the Creature from the Black Lagoon than Tom Weaver.  He’s interviewed everyone involved, read all the surviving production material, and, most importantly, retained his initial monster kid enthusiasm.

I couldn’t have written these pieces without Tom Weaver’s research.  Where I’ve made errors, they’re because I neglected to proof them against Weaver’s commentaries and writings.

I met Ricou Browning at that convention, too.  I thanked him for his Gill Man, his work on Sea Hunt and Flipper, and his contributions to the James Bond movie Thunderball.

In my dreams, I swim like Ricou Browning and write like Tom Weaver.

Ricou Browning as the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Encountering Dave Edmunds in the Black Lagoon

On his 1979 album Repeat When Necessary, Dave Edmunds featured a song called “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” written by guitarist Billy Bremner.  I listened to it a lot in college.  It’s a great novelty song, perfect for Edmunds’ style (and benefiting from solid backup by his legendary Rockpile companions—Nick Lowe, Billy Bremner, and Terry Williams).  Here it is:

Reference Sources

Creature from the Black Lagoon (Universal Studios Classic Monster Collection) DVD commentary by film historian Tom Weaver

Various discussions on The Classic Horror Film Board (in my opinion, the greatest and most civilized of all film discussion boards.)

Back to the Black Lagoon documentary with film historian David Skal

When processing Creature information, it all boils down to this:  If Tom Weaver says it, I believe it.

Watch Creature from the Black Lagoon...

Purchase a Creature from the Black Lagoon DVD or Blu-Ray set at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Rent Creature from the Black Lagoon at Netflix or other rental service.

© 2013 Lee Price

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