For a few years now the so-called "Slender Man" has been haunting the internet, with a mythos that's been steadily picking up speed and crossing over from a digital sphere to the physical world. He isn't real by any means, but thanks in part to the lack of substantial information about him and his background, he's become part of digital folklore, allowing his followers to suspend belief in the hope that he might actually exist.
Made infamous in 2014 when two 12-year-old girls attempted to stab their friend to death in an attempt to become proxies for the Slender Man, there have since been other violent attacks carried out in his name. What started out as pure fiction has since become a much more sinister threat in the real world. HBO are releasing a documentary, Beware the Slenderman, detailing his story.
Ahead of it's release in January, here is everything you need to know about the modern boogeyman.
He was created in an online forum
Having started life on the Something Awful online forum in 2009, the Slender Man was created by Eric Knudsen, username Victor Surge, in response to a Photoshop contest. The competition outlined that users should edit photographs to appear paranormal. The two photos submitted by Victor Surge were old black-and-white images of children, with the presence of an unnaturally tall man in a black suit, with long limbs and a blank face. He gave the character the name "The Slender Man" (with fans dubbing him "Slendy") and included two "eye-witness reports" for each photo, which read:
1983, photographer unknown, presumed dead
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…
1986, photographer: Mary Thomas, missing since June 13th, 1986
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.
This helped to create an entire backstory to the mysterious character, which led to further fan fiction that eventually took on a life of its own. Knudsen explained that he simply wanted to "formulate something whose motivations can barely be comprehended, and [which caused] unease and terror in a general population."
But soon started haunting IRL
As with anything interesting these days (and let's be honest, even the banal stuff too), the internet multiplied the Slender Man's story by way of a ton of viral fan fiction which further built on his legacy. From a creature with no past, to a creature with no past but a heap of spooky "sightings," the Slender Man's popularity grew tenfold. From fan art, fan fiction, cosplay, videos and even video games, the mysterious boogeyman went from made up monster to urban legend. Once he became a part of the sphere of alternate reality games – real world games enacted through interactive storytelling to further a narrative – his influence also became too strong to ignore.
Although Slendy's origins are known, he is heralded as a piece of digital folklore, one that continues to blur the lines between reality and make believe. There have been a number of attacks in real life that are linked to him, with the most highly publicized the subject of upcoming HBO documentary, Beware the Slenderman, releasing next year. Part of his mythology suggests that the more one delves into the character, the more likely he will appear to you in real life, and when he does it likely won't be for doing good.
Slendy's actions have now far outgrown Knudsen's input, with the creator confirming he's stopped working on the character: “I don’t spend a lot of active time on the internet since I usually have a lot of real-life stuff going on.”
No one knows his real motives
The creepiest part of Slender Man's ouevre is that no one really knows what he really is or why he does what he does. It's this uncertainty about who or what Slendy actually is that is the secret to his success – be it through instilling fear in society, gaining control of those who obsessively seek him out, and letting those who are willing to further his legacy by creating their own stories about him.
This spread of interactive digital folklore is a fairly recent concept, which terror-mongering aside, is highly creative and pushes the envelope of storytelling in today's day and age. The fact that the character has taken on a life of his own, aided by the many who continue his narrative, speaks volumes about how interactive storytelling could well be the next frontier in entertainment.
He can change appearance
Like everything else about this new age boogeyman, the Slender Man's physical characteristics are equally as vague. He is usually described as very tall and thin, with tentacles/tentacle-like arms and fingers which can be extended to capture or frighten his prey. He wears a black suit with tie, while his face is mostly white and featureless, although sometimes his face appears differently to various people. He usually dwells in forests and abandoned locations, can teleport, and being near him can bring on "Slender sickness" – a rapid onset of paranoia, nightmares and delusions along with nosebleeds.
As his background isn't fixed, the Slender Man's appearance, mannerisms, abilities and motives aren't concrete and therefore can change depending on the storyteller. It's the mystique surrounding him that in the end make him even more terrifying; the less we know – be it his mythology or physical characteristics – the scarier he becomes. Slendy quite literally embodies the phrase "fear of the unknown."
He hangs with and kidnaps children
Finally, on to his victims. As with most boogeymen, Slendy has a soft spot for children. Whether it's because they're young, impressionable, easily manipulated, or have imaginations that run wild, therefore lending him an ounce of credibility, you have more to fear if you're a young one.
Highlighted in Beware the Slenderman, the scariest aspect of this predilection for children is that kids aren't able to comprehend certain disparities between reality and make believe, which in the most extreme case resulted in a near-fatal attack on a child. It's through children that the Slender Man's mythology remains most blurred and dangerous, allowing for a crossover between truth and fiction.
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