Ahead of the new Slender Man film, catch up on the creature’s mythology, a product of our time.
Much of America learned about the “existence” of the Slender Man through the horrific crime in May of 2014 when two 12-year-old girls stabbed a classmate 19 times in a Wisconsin park. It’s a sad story made sadder by how young the victim and the assailants were, as well as the assailants’ tenuous mental health (one of the assailants was diagnosed with schizophrenia shortly after the crime). But what made it more troubling was that the girls who stabbed their friend were sure they were doing it in homage to an internet bogeyman, the Slender Man.
The Slender Man film, directed by Sylvian White, is set to release August 24, and for those of you still catching up on the mythology, we’re laying out the backstory of one of the internet age’s first urban legends.
On June 10, 2009, the Slender Man would make his first appearance. There was a contest on a forum at the website Something Awful to see who could create the creepiest picture. A user who went by the name of Victor Surge (later identified as a young man named Eric Knudsen) posted two pictures that seemed innocuous enough. Children in a playground. It had a seal in the upper right corner that read “City of Stirling Libraries/Local Studies Collection.” At first glance, the picture seems completely normal: a sunny day, children playing. It is only on closer viewing that one can see the tall, dark, pale-faced figure in the background who seems to have tentacles for arms. In the second picture, the same figure seems to be chasing children through a field. According to Know Your Meme’s entry on Slender Man, the original captions to the pictures read as follows
One of two recovered photographs from the Stirling City Library blaze. Notable for being taken the day which fourteen children vanished and for what is referred to as “The Slender Man”. Deformities cited as film defects by officials. Fire at library occurred one week later. Actual photograph confiscated as evidence. – 1986, photographer: Mary Thomas, missing since June 13th, 1986.
“We didn’t want to go, we didn’t want to kill them, but its persistent silence and outstretched arms horrified and comforted us at the same time…” – 1983, photographer unknown, presumed dead
Creator Eric Knudsen has said in an interview that he was inspired by writers such as Stephen King, H. P. Lovecraft and William S. Burroughs, and by video games like Resident Evil and Silent Hill. He created the character because he was bored, and he never intended for it to go viral.
Marble Hornets and TribeTwelve
Two YouTube videos went into production quite rapidly concerning the Slender Man. The first was a Blair Witch–type series of “found footage” called Marble Hornets. The introduction video, which has over 4.6 million views at the time of this writing, tells the story of a young film student who captures something so horrific that he intends to burn all the copies of it. However, after coercion, he passes them along to his friend, who is also interested in film, under the condition that he never speak of them again. The video follows the young man who received the tapes as he attempts to unravel the mystery of them and of “The Operator,” a Slender Man–like figure who haunts them. TribeTwelve is a similar video series, though heavier on the special effects. It deepens the Slender Man’s mythos. Both began within a few weeks of the original post.
‘Just Another Fool’ Blog
Just Another Fool presents itself as your average blog. A young man named Logan starts it up one sleepless night while his friend is preparing to go off to Iraq. Logan gives him a black Moleskine notebook. However, when his friend comes back with PTSD and a notebook full of terrors, the blog and the Slender Man myth, ramp up even more.
“You may be wondering why I’m just rambling about this to an audience of approximately no one on the internet,” the blog states early on. “I’m getting there.”
Meme Culture & the Internet Age
Before long, the Slender Man was picked up by a variety of other websites, including 4chan, Unfiction forums, Fangoria, Deviant Art and Mythical Creatures Guide. Because of how meme culture works — the idea occurs, is repurposed, changes as new users pick it up — the Slender Man developed a backstory and mythology. Each entry into the story, whether it was a blog, a vlog, a new picture or a “rediscovered” folk tale, added to the mythos. In a matter of days, the Slender Man had gone far beyond Eric Knudsen’s original creation.
The Slender Man is notable as a true creation of the internet in that he easily crosses boundaries normally associated with mythology because of the accessibility of the sites. While mythology often shares a common cultural, racial or religious context, the Slender Man mythology borrows from various places and times to create his. Users from all demographics have added to the stories and backstory. The Slender Man represents the anxieties of a society bound together, anxieties brought on by the internet and technology, and the ease with which these fears are spread. Like any good monster, the Slender Man could exist only in the time in which he was created and is a direct product of his time.
The horrific crime in 2014 spurred the new film, but it also propelled many scholars and thinkers to take on the mythos of this creature as a subject for serious study. Some scholarly works written recently about the Slender Man include Tina Marie Boyer’s “The Anatomy of a Monster: The Case of Slender Man” and Chess Shira and E. Newsom’s Folklore, Horror Stories, and the Slender Man.
Notably, the mythologies were picked up in Germany (Der Großmann) and in Romania. In an alleged Romanian myth, the Slender Man murders a family. In the end the mother, possessed by the Slender Man, tells her daughter, “There is no reward for goodness; there is no respite for faith; there is nothing but cold steel teeth and scourging fire for all of us. And it’s coming for you now.”