December 13, 2017 6:26 am

Monsters under the bed are a consistent theme in popular culture. They feature in scary films and stories of all kinds, but it’s not quite clear why. We take it for granted that the classic scenario is a scary one, but where does this fear actually come from? Inspired by the new John Lewis Christmas ad, we decided to put our thinking caps on and try to figure this one out….

First to the movies, as there are so many films out there that play on this fear of monsters under the bed and they all treat it slightly differently. You’ve got something like the extremely goofy offering from the end of the 80s Little Monsters, which makes great use of the comedic potential of a creature from another world coming into the human realm and causing mischief.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are films such as Under the Bed. This 2012 release went for the full fear factor and told the story of a truly hideous and malevolent creature that claws its way out from, you’ve guessed it, under the bed, to bring terror to its victims.

Finally there’s the sentimental angle. Monsters Inc. for instance tells a typically schmaltzy story of the kind everyone expects from Disney and Pixar. This one followed roughly the mould and style of their earlier cinematic hit Toy Story, which if you think about it for a moment you’ll realise also involved a secret realm with beings that lived out their lives just under the surface of human perception (albeit these ones were toys not monsters). Strangely enough, one thing that doesn’t turn up that often in these stories is children’s white bunk beds, perhaps because two can fight off monsters better than one!

And then of course there’s the new John Lewis Christmas ad, the initial inspiration for our little investigation. Everyone seems to go mad for the release of this advert every Christmas, and without wanting to be too much like Scrooge, it has to be said that this year’s is extremely saccharine. Heavy on the sweet and sickly touch, the exceedingly friendly monster in question even gives its child playmate a Christmas present as an expression of its love. Incidentally, that Scrooge reference is highly apt as Ebenezer himself was haunted by ghosts that came at night and though they may not have crept out from beneath the bed they certainly parted the curtains of his Victorian four-poster.

So why does this particular fear crop up so often? Well you could think of it as a Jungian archetype– a universal psychological form that is connected to the collective unconscious. Alternatively you could take a more down-to-earth, materialist approach and think about it in Darwinian terms: a matter of survival. After all, when we are asleep or dropping off to sleep, whether that’s in a bed or curled around a fire wrapped in a fur, we are at our most vulnerable. Our vision, the primary sense, is cut down to pretty much nothing at night and this is when we become vulnerable to predators. Atavistic instincts might have a lot to answer for!


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This post was written by Nadia Vella