Storytelling Matters

The Live Art and the Power of Words

Daily Ghost Post – S is for Slender Man

And now for something completely different… Monty Python.

Every culture has ghost stories, and some ghosts are similar from place to place. But there is one culture that people all over the world share in common – digital culture. And like off-screen cultures, this one has a ghost of its own.

According to internet folklore, there is a being – an entity – that suddenly appears in cyberspace, like a ghostly apparation. It shows up in pictures, on your computer screen, or makes its presence known by interrupting the operation of your device. And also, according to the legend, it kills.

The being is called Slender Man. There is no definitive agreement about its gender, but as the name is Slender Man, I will use the conventional “he” as a pronoun even if it is not exactly accurate.

Slender Man is an internet and gaming sensation with his own mythos and Wikis, Youtube series, an academic book, and more. He is a huge deal.

Slender Man represents a cross between the oldest kind of storytelling and the newest: His meteoric rise from a comment thread in 2009 to an internet sensation happened in the old fashioned way – with stories being retold and embellished, one storyteller to another – via a new fashioned medium – the speedy, mixed media internet.

Talk about cross platform word of mouth.

Details from stories, fan fiction, and photos have been gathered together and culled into a coherent mythology. And since Slender Man was the creation of “Victor Surge” (whose real name is Eric Knudsen), these tales must be fiction… or are they? There are websites devoted to tracing Slender Man characters back in time and space across many cultures. Is it possible that he is a modern manifestation of an older folk character? Or are his folkloric roots not true folklore but fakelore? The Slender Man mythos is so deep and complex it is hard to disentangle the fiction from the meta-fiction upon which his story might be based.

So who and what is he? Slender Man represents the unknown. A scary being of an unspecified type, one of his defining characteristics is his lack of defining characteristics – he has no facial features. He always wears a black suit and his arms hang down or extend outward (sometimes there are tentacles, but there is dispute about that). Silent and stealthy, Slender Man behaves like a predator, stalking his prey, watching his targets.

A couple of last crucial bits about Slendy. According to the mythos, he steals children. Journalists who report about the abductions also disappear. That information comes from the origin stories. But here is the kicker – Slender Man has proxies, living human beings who do his bidding.

The idea of that is frightening by itself. But it isn’t just an idea. Last year, two 12 year old girls viciously stabbed another girl in a forest. One said that she did it to impress Slender Man, the other because she thought it might prevent him from causing harm to her family and to herself.

This entity or spirit or fictional character may not be a ghost in the way we traditionally think about ghosts, but he certainly carries some of their characteristics. He is a mysterious entity that appears and disappears and scares people. Isn’t that what many ghosts do? If his presence can “cause” people to commit violence, Slender Man parlays a frightening power beyond his comment thread origins. That is what makes him not just a scary ghost story or urban legend – his long black legs give him firm standing in horror.

Is this a bizarre twist on art imitating life or life imitating art? What do you think? What have you heard about him? Thoughts?

— Jeri

Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

Jones, Abigail –
Wikipedia – Slender Man

Here’s an academic book I know about and can’t wait to get hold of:
Chess, Shira and Eric Newsome (2014). Folklore, Horror Stories, and the Slender Man: The Development of an Internet Mythology. Palgrave Pivot.

PHOTO CREDIT: By LuxAmber (Own work) / CC BY-SA 4.0 / Wikimedia Commons

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10 thoughts on “Daily Ghost Post – S is for Slender Man

  1. My teenage son had filled me in on the legend of slenderman. By the way, if you don’t have a post tomorrow – after reporting on him – I may never turn my computer on again… 🙂

    • Hahaha. Actually, a similar thought occurred to me as I pressed the “publish” button — yes my teenage son knows all about Slender Man. He was a tad amused that I was so interested by him.

  2. I’d heard of Slender Man, but I had no idea he was an internet phenomenon. I assumed he was folklore like most other urban legends. Most interesting to find out the real low down. Here’s hoping for a T post soon or we’re sending n the search parties 🙂
    Tasha’s Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

    • Yeah, I was amazed at all the stuff – heck he might be a feature film soon too I think. Amazing how fast things go – I mean 2009 is really yesterday when it comes to the spread of a mythology! I’m delighted that there are people out there ready to send out the troops if I disappear …:)

  3. My daughter showed me a video game that features this fellow. I’m not into games, so I wasn’t all that impressed, but that news story is truly horrifying. I suppose this guy may make it into the movies someday. Isn’t he already a Halloween costume?

  4. Well, this sure is a strange story…

  5. SO interesting! I didn’t know the origin about Slender Man. First time I heard about “him” was through a little videogame (or was it a video on youtube?) that went viral on the web. So, for me, it was the media introducing me to this creepy character. It is so interesting how technology makes its influence on mythology. Maybe one day in the future there will be a whole folklore originated through the media. There are actually new horror stories (and movies) completely media and social networking themed…

    • To the best of my knowledge, I think Slender Man is a completely internet generated folklore/mythology! It crossed out of the internet with the girls’ crime, of course. But the best that I can tell, all of his story happens on the web including on wikis like creepypasta and others. Yes, about the new stories you mention, have you ever seen the BBC series called The Black Mirror? Creepy and excellent writing about the dark/horror side of where the technology revolution can take us.

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