B.J. Hollars’s “In Defense of Monsters”

B.J. Hollars's "In Defense of Monsters"The founders of Origami Zoo Press, publisher of B.J. Hollars’s latest collection of essays, state in no uncertain terms that they “want to exhibit absurdities of the world, whether it’s done by bending genres or simply illuminating the bizarre details of everyday life.” With the publication of In Defense of Monsters, a chapbook that mixes half-narrative-half-analytical essays with theses buoying the existence of Sasquatch and Nessie the Loch Ness Monster, Origami Zoo has found a way to exhibit every type of absurdity they could hope for. Hollars is unwavering in his convictions, and they’re not at all illegitimate ones. After all, he’s not arguing that the creatures of our modern folklore are necessarily right around the corner. Instead, his essays are each themselves a question: why not this? Why, if no definitive proof sways us to either side of the debate, do we opt for non-belief in lieu of what may very well be? In these 34 pages, we can defend what ultimately might be less impossible than we think.

Of the 10,000,000 plants and animals assumed to exist, we recognize fewer than two million, confirming a difficult fact — the unknown far outweighs the known.

Hollars knows that his audience is going to need cold, hard facts to turn their heads in the direction of his conceit. Such facts he provides in abundance, with a gusto that suggests every bit of research was an emphatic personal quest as much as anything else. The chronology of each legend is laid out in a way that sates any immediate suspicion: Sasquatch, for example, is a persistent and geographically variant folktale, with sightings all around the globe and across centuries, so at best we can call all these cultures honestly (and collectively) mistaken about what they saw, rather than hungry for a hoax. Similar implications are scattered throughout the collection, and Hollars’s approach is charming no matter what side of belief you find yourself on. Our speaker is careful and precise in the way he distills his monsters: the presentation of these facts is not converting us to the religion of Bigfoot, Nessie, and the Beast of Busco. The presentation of these facts chips away instead at our steadfast ability to declare any unseen thing untrue.

The three essays are respectful, in that they balance testimony with dissent and let the reader decide, never condescending to the staunch prophets or the small-town dedications.  However, there are moments where we do see the zipper in the back of the suit, as it were, like when an analogy is made between the elusive Bigfoot and a newfound lowland gorilla habitat in the Congo:

[their] population was believed to be somewhere around 50,000, though after researchers hiked just fifty miles off the nearest road, they were greeted by a gorilla-filled landscape…if 125,000 lowland gorillas can live just fifty miles from Africa’s nearest road, what might be hiding in rural America?

Passages like these carry a subtle desperation to them, a strain to ignite our more fantastic imaginations. The best part is, there’s no way to prove him wrong.

And, really, would we want to? Isn’t it fair to say that these monsters need an impartial — even inactive — defender? At best, they might just need someone who can concede quietly that they may in fact roam where we can’t find them, but who doesn’t then grab a camera or a pitchfork and start the pursuit. Hollars is that very advocate. And maybe we can be, too. Perhaps what we should all do before we decide anything is read this brief defense. With any luck, we’ll start to see how implausible impossibility really is.


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