Slenderman and Dawkins’ Way With the Fairies

by Graham Veale

 

A few weeks ago, Richard Dawkins asked parents: “Is it a good thing to go along with the fantasies of  childhood, magical as they are?” Dawkins’ genius for publicity rivals Katie Hopkins’ and Miley Cyrus’s. When Richard wants a headline he shall have a headline: he uses preposterous statements and ludicrous questions to generate absurd amounts of free-advertising on Twitter and in newspaper columns. Usually, a sensible person would roll his eyes and move on to consider a story with a little more substance. But that same week Dawkins’ sound-bite should have touched a few of more nerves than usual.

In Waukesha, Wisconsin, two 12-year-old girls attempted to murder a classmate so that they could earn the approval of the Slender-man. Many teachers will have heard of this “Slender”; who wears a suit but has no face; who has tentacles where his arms should be. You might catch him following you out of the corner of your eye; but when you try to fix your gaze on him he vanishes. Slender is too terrifying to be seen, and if you meet him face to face, you will die.  He is the “bogey man” of the internet age. But the bogey man does not live under the bed or in the cupboard: he is everywhere and nowhere.

We know who invented the story of Slender and can trace the precise date of his online origins. Insofar as the story goes, its clever enough. Slender just ridiculous enough for most children to know he isn’t really real; and he is just frightening enough to pleasantly chill their bones. If he was just a camp-fire story, little harm would follow. It is true that children can escape into fictional worlds, and the boundaries between reality and imagination can become blurred in their games. But the results are usually harmless; good parenting will normally stop the games from going too far.

But teens (and adults who should seek a more meaningful use of their leisure time) have adopted Slender. They have produced short-films, video games and web-sites, all dedicated to tales of child abduction, madness and death. In many ways, the fantasy world they have created is worse than Dante’s hell; Slender does not even pretend to recognise rational or moral laws. The undeserving souls hunted by the Slender-Man are doomed to madness and death. The tragedy in Waukesha is that two daughters were captivated by a world that was not made for them. That two girls will knife a third is an axiom for those children who have never heard of better worlds; whose only fairy-world is ruled by a pitiless and irrational nightmare.

My only point here is merely that fantastic tales are powerful things; so powerful, in fact, that adults are reluctant to leave them behind…

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