The Slender Man: Ten Years Later

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“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.
paranormal works
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.

On June 10, 2009, Eric Knudsen, AKA Victor Surge, posted in the “Create Paranormal Images” thread on the Something Awful forums, offering up two images and some flavor text regarding a mysterious being known as “The Slender Man” (please note that for whatever reason, most images in that original thread are unfortunately broken). Upon receiving positive feedback, Knudson “found” more images and stories related to The Slender Man, at which point, the character began to completely overtake the thread. The Slender Man slowly began to expand to other places on the internet, until it became well-known enough that in 2018 the homegrown urban legend got its own (awful) theatrical film.

I was introduced to the Slender Man a little over a year after his creation, in October 2010. After a bit of reading, I was instantly captivated, throwing myself into the mythos with what was in retrospect an unhealthy obsession. Those who know me now may not know it, but I was actually a fairly influential figure within the community surrounding the Slender Man for a while. I ran a blog called Slenderbloggins, which began as one of the earlier resources for compiling all the disparate information in one place (until it began playing into the fiction of the mythos…until I pulled back from that and launched a new site dedicated solely to analysis and gathering information…until the hosting and domain didn’t get renewed and that entire site was lost). Almost the entirety of the fandom was concentrated in the Unfiction subforums or the Slender Nation forums, and at some point, many of the creators began communicating directly through group chats. Because the community was so tight-knit and I was engaged with so much of it I’m probably only two degrees of separation from most notable people in the community (at least before the game “Slender” came out), with the exception of creators who’ve never really engaged with the community like the Marble Hornets boys or the creator of Just Another Fool (the first known blog set in the mythos).

I’ve had conversations with the creators of TribeTwelve and EverymanHYBRID. I was close with the owner of the Slender Nation forums. I became very close with the creators of Seeking Truth and Dreams in Darkness, the two most well-known Slenderblogs, and I’ve collaborated with both at some point in my life. I was active in group chats. And I was quite possibly the foremost expert on the entire clusterfuck that was the blogosphere. I wasn’t exactly the most well-known person in the entire community, but I was well-connected, and most people had either read my work or brushed elbows with me. And while I eventually stepped away from the community because of how drama-filled and toxic it was, as well as stepping away from the entire mythos because I had become overinvested in and obsessed with it to the point it was negatively impacting my life, I still have some very close friends I know entirely because of the community. Hell, the first of my podcasts, The Digicast, is a Digimon podcast I host with three other people I met entirely because of the Slender Man mythos.

I tell you all this not to brag, since I was hardly the most influential figure in the community, and even if I was, it still probably wouldn’t mean that much. The Slender game single-handedly had more of an impact on the Slender Man than anything I did, and probably more than anything other than Marble Hornets did combined. I bring it up because this is a 10-year reflection on the Slender Man, and an overview of my history with the Slender Man is relevant. That, and establishing that I was relatively well-connected in the early days lets you know that I’m going to have a lot of insight that those who discovered the Slender Man a bit later wouldn’t have.

So let’s move on from my abbreviated experiences and talk more about the Slender Man itself, and how over the past decade it’s gone from a niche fad to an “internet Urban Legend” to something close to a household name.

The Appeal of The Slender Man

I think the biggest question surrounding the Slender Man is why exactly it caught on in the first place. And I think the answer to that big question is that the Slender Man is, well, a big question. Humans have this tendency to attempt to explain the world around them, and from its very conception, the Slender Man has been an enigma that actively defies explanation.

The best way I can think to describe this is in how the original Victor Surge posts treat it as not only an enigmatic figure, but one that’s inconsistent from one portrayal to the next. The text of the first image implies it’s chosen teens to do its bidding through some form of comforting (but also terrifying) mind control. The second again alludes to abduction of children in a sort of “pied piper” way, but it focuses on younger children and also links it to mysterious fires. Victor Surge would allude to these ideas again, but in slightly different ways. He would also introduce more elements that further confused how the Slender Man worked. One post told the story of hunters in the woods being frightened as fog rolled in, then finding bodies impaled by trees, cleanly eviscerated, their organs placed back in their bodies in clear plastic bags. He ended the post by saying that everything he was “discovering” was beginning to terrify him, and that he was done with it. Fortunately, his friend was coming over, which would help calm his nerves. The very next post was a picture, along with this accompanying text:

My friend is herejus camein barely made up staairs got pictur locked door but it s right there inthe hall dont look at its pictures it dosent want to be known about dont loo

So what does the Slender Man do? Does it eviscerate adults? Does it abduct children? Is it frightening, or welcoming? Is it active and aggressive, or is does it sit and stare passively? And perhaps most chillingly confusing, if that last image and text insist that it doesn’t want to be known about and implores you not to look, then why did Victor Surge (or at least the character he was playing in the thread) post them anyway, almost as if it was a compulsion? Everything almost lines up, but not quite, and the big question at the center of it all is a simple “why?” Why does it do the things it does? What does it want? What doesn’t it want?

The thing that adds to the mystery the most is that, visually speaking, every single image Knudsen posted of the Slender Man portrays it differently. Sometimes it has a very humanoid form, while other times it’s more alien or monstrous. Sometimes it appears to have multiple appendages, but it varies as to whether they resemble branches, tentacles, or spider legs. Sometimes it’s stiff and rigid, while other times it appears to move in a graceful, flowing way, as if it’s being carried by the breeze.

When it comes to the Slender Man, there are very few things set in stone: It’s slender. It’s tall. It wears a suit. And it has no face. Maybe it has the suggestion of a face, maybe it takes on a different face depending on who’s looking at it, or maybe it’s just a blank, white space. But it’s not a face. Not in the traditional sense.

There are a few other common trends. Its limbs will almost always be somehow off. Maybe it has branches or tentacles in addition to or in place of arms. Sometimes it has disproportionally long limbs. But there’s usually something wrong about the limbs in one way or another. It will often have some way of controlling people, whether forcibly controlling their body, hypnotizing them to make them suggestible, inflaming their emotions, or just flat-out driving them insane. But it’s rarely consistent, even within a story, making it almost impossible to answer the question “what is the Slender Man?”

I think this is the primary reason the Slender Man became so instantly captivating and why so many people began creating fiction surrounding it. It has enough elements that are instantly recognizable, and behaves in certain identifiable ways. However, the details of its appearance and its modus operandi are enigmatic and ambiguous enough (and at times flat-out contradictory) that two different people will interpret it completely differently. When writing the character, creators will fit it to whatever subconsciously resonates with them. It allows them to claim ownership of a character they like, much in the way fanfiction does, but in a way that’s freed from the idea of “canon.” While sometimes a creator gets too daring with the interpretation and gets blowback for straying too far from its “roots” (usually because they abandon the horror elements in the process), a very wide variety of stories can be told using the character, and certain elements of its interpretation can be chosen or discarded from what’s previously been added to the mythos at a creator’s discretion.

Here are a few of my favorite ways of portraying him, or of interpreting him as others have written him.

  • A dark reflection of the world tree Yggdrasil, a creature blending multiple realities with the intention of destroying all of them.
  • A vengeful dryad, bent on protecting its forested territory at any cost.
  • A mysterious faceless influence, a corporate figurehead representing “The Man.”
  • The object of worship of a cult
  • An otherworldy being that’s just curious, trying to understand a world as foreign to it as it is to us.
  • Something a character just wants to befriend, for whatever reason. They may not understand it, but it gives them such a warm, buzzing happy feeling, so how could it possibly be bad…?

And this one’s mainly just a visual concept I haven’t actually given form to, but

  • In a “wild west” setting, a faceless rider in a dark hat, dressed in a black vest and white shirt instead of a business suit, riding atop a pale horse.

As you can see, there’s a lot of room for interpretation, and the breadth of that interpretation can be incredibly varied.

The History of The Slender Man, Part 1: The Early Years

So now that I’ve explained the basic characteristics and appeal of the Slender Man, I should probably go into just how it ended up getting so big in the first place. I’ve already gone in-depth into the origin, but what happened next was just as important.

In the original Something Awful thread, one poster by the name of “Ce gars,” better known as Troy Wagner, began posting about how his (fictional) friend Alex Kralie had been working on a student film known as “Marble Hornets,” claiming that Alex had been acting increasingly strange as production on the film continued. He had asked Alex for the tapes because he had an urge to finish the project, but as he began combing through the tapes, he began noticing strange things, mostly revolving around video and audio glitches that occurred whenever a strange man showed up in the background of the tapes.

Marble Hornets was the first Slender Man video series and what first began catapulting the character into popularity. It created and codified so many things associated with the Slender Man that they outright had to separate their incarnation of the Slender Man from the mythos by stating that it was canonically known as “the Operator” instead. Video and audio glitching whenever it’s around and most notably the “Operator symbol,” a circle with an X drawn through it, are both things heavily associated with the Slender Man that originated entirely from Marble Hornets.

Marble Hornets proved to be so popular that the creators took a 7-month break after the first “season,” presumably because it was, as so much of the fiction surrounding the Slender Man, made up on the fly, and they needed time to plan and begin recording where the series would go. In this time (as well as during the first season’s run), many series would emerge.

The five most worth talking about are the video series EverymanHYBRID and TribeTwelve, as well as the blogs Dreams in Darkness, Seeking Truth, and Just Another Fool.

Just Another Fool is a weird series to talk about, as it is (as I mentioned earlier), the first Slender Man blog I’m aware of, beginning early into Marble Hornets’ run and consequently taking a different direction. In the blog, the main character Logan writes about his friend Matt and how he returned from a near-death experience fighting in Iraq with PTSD. However, when Logan receives Matt’s notebook after his death, there are things in the notebook that imply Matt’s mental distress may be more than just PTSD.

While Just Another Fool gets mostly forgotten, it, probably more than Marble Hornets, is the work that first suggests the “compulsion” associated with the Slender Man. Many video series and especially blog series would run with the idea that there’s something about the Slender Man that creates an urge to put the deranged thoughts and fears it prompts out into the world–even if that itself is self-defeating, since another common trait of the Slender Man is that it tries to destroy any evidence of its existence. It’s almost like a virus: it only comes after those who know about it to keep itself secret, but those who know about it are compelled to spread it, giving it more power to come after others.

The other four series I mentioned are probably more well-known and influential. EverymanHYBRID set itself apart by incorporating other creepypasta creations (most notably the Rake) and their own creations, as well as shifting the series into a full-on ARG, whereas Marble Hornets was more just a video series with ARG elements. TribeTwelve, meanwhile, started as a blatant Marble Hornets clone until it started to incorporate a few different elements found in the Something Awful thread, adding original content, and focusing on special effects and a unique visual style.

Meanwhile, Dreams in Darkness and Seeking Truth both had a massive influence in two big ways. The first is that both stepped away from having the Slender Man as the direct antagonist and instead used humans affected by its influence as antagonists for most of the story. This allowed for more compelling text narratives, as it’s difficult to drive long-form fiction with an antagonist that can’t be explained. The second is that they began acknowledging the mythos itself, leading to the establishment of a shared universe.

Early works in the Slender Man Mythos had a habit of aggressively ignoring the existence of other Slender Man media, and understandably so. It was niche enough that saying “oh, by the way, this mysterious being stalking me? I did some Googling and it turns out that there’s this Something Awful thread about it” completely kills immersion. Sure, EverymanHYBRID acknowledged the existence of the Slender Man as an idea, and the series begins as the attempts of the main characters to make their own series before things actually get real, but it was really the only series doing that. However, after the initial wave of Slender Man works, things began shifting. Seeking Truth and Dreams in Darkness would begin acknowledging other bigger (and smaller) works in the mythos as a way to start building up something larger. This was all aided largely by a blog known as “The Tutorial,” which was the first work to take a self-aware approach, giving advice on how to survive while being pursued by the Slender Man. In fact, rather than denying the forum-based origins of the Slender Man, it outright opens with the line “This is all because of Fucking Something Awful. Fuck Something Awful.”

With creators beginning to welcome the idea of a shared universe, many began jumping on it, primarily in blog form. It was much easier to create a character, throw together a blog, and be seen as legitimate in some form by interacting in-character in the comments of other blogs. With interaction steadily increasing, a creator I only know as “Chase” began tracking down as many creators as she could and bringing them together in Tinychat and later Skype and Facebook groups. This allowed creators of both blogs and vlogs to nerd out over each other’s works out of character and start collaborating more concretely. This also ended up splintering the vlog and blog “continuities,” as much as they could be called such, since many bloggers didn’t resemble their characters and didn’t have the equipment or ability to put out video content. As a result, the filmmakers began plotting for collaborations they could incorporate on the few occasions they could meet up (meaning collaboration remained fairly light), while bloggers began…well, it became an absolute game of Calvinball. While “gamejacking,” i.e., attempting to insert yourself into someone else’s story, was highly frowned upon, people had no problem willingly collaborating with someone whose interpretations of the mythos were wildly incompatible with their own. It was a snarled continuity of comic book proportions, where Sturgeon’s Law was in full effect. Fantastic works were usually roughly two or three degrees of separation from some of the dumbest shit you’d ever read.

I say this, of course, as someone who was heavily involved in the blogosphere and for some reason attempted to read as much of both the good and the bad as he possibly could. I say all that with a begrudging love.

That said, there was genuine love as well. I’ve seen some really great, inventive stuff. Writers were able to use a lot of elements of the medium, like real-time updates, interactivity, and creative formatting. One young writer in particular, who started out by writing a real stinker of a blog, ended up quickly adjusting and coming up with some of the most inventive stuff in the medium, with shorter, more gimmicky blogs that framed stories with poems, quizzes, or storybook structures. I think my favorite thing was seeing one writer actively edit the comments others left on her blog, distorting them with junk text, implying the Slender Man was preventing her from reading the warnings people were trying to send her.

This continued until around 2012, at which point, well….

Let’s move on to the next point, shall we?

The History of the Slender Man, Part 2: PewDiePie Ruins The Slender Man

2009-2012 was the era in which I feel like I can say the Slender Man belonged purely to the fandom. And then, well…video games and memes happened.

Get ready. This is the part where I become an angry “back in my day” pretentious gatekeeping snob. Deal with it.

In late 2010, several prominent content creators discovered and created parodies based on the Slender Man: Neil Cicierega (of Potter Puppet Pals, Brodyquest, Lemon Demon, and Mouth Sounds/Silence/Moods fame, among other things) created “Splendorman” in November 2010, and Little Kuriboh (of Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Abridged Series fame) created “Concrete Giraffes” in early December. This began introducing more people to the mythos, but it was from a comedic slant rather than the horror one, and the Slender Man started becoming more of an internet in-joke than an internet-born horror urban legend. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this, of course, and many people in the fandom actually loved it getting more attention. But then, in 2012, the game “Slender,” later retitled “Slender: The Eight Pages” dropped.

Don’t get me wrong: Slender was a good game. But Slender was also a very popular game. And popular things, especially games, tend to find their way to a demographic that isn’t prepared for them.

Enter Notch and PewDiePie. Yes, those two. The two a good portion of the internet hates for certain ideas or behaviors. But I’m not here to go into that. I’m here to go into how they ended up ruining the Slender Man.

At some point in 2011, Notch, creator of Minecraft, put an enemy called an “Enderman,” a dark, humanoid figure with disproportionately long limbs, into the game. The enemies were obviously inspired by the Slender Man to an extent. And in 2012, after Slender: The Eight Pages dropped, rising YouTuber Felix Kjellberg, also known as PewDiePie, posted a playthrough of the game. Thanks to how YouTube’s algorithms promoted content at the time, PewDiePie would soon become the highest-subscribed YouTuber. YouTube also, incidentally, became a popular platform for distributing Minecraft content.

There are a lot of things colliding here that are, on paper, not really a problem. A popular game includes a wink-wink-nudge-nudge Slender Man reference. A popular YouTuber and a slew of imitators post footage of a game starring the character. Interest in the Slender Man skyrockets, and it’s never been more popular. We all get a bump in popularity, and suddenly the Slender Man starts becoming something well-known around the internet. There’s a wider community developing! There’s more potential for more content!

So what’s the issue?

The issue, unfortunately, is that it began skewing the demographic for the Slender Man much, much younger. A large portion of the audience for Minecraft and PewDiePie were made of young teens. And with all due respect to young teens, they are, to be frank, fucking idiots. I say this as someone who was once a young teen. I remember how I was. I’ve read the stories I wrote. I’ve remembered what I said and how I acted on the internet. I was a dumb fucking kid who thought he was way smarter and more talented than he actually was.

The creative impetus for the fandom was already becoming more diluted as more and more creators entered, with the community beginning to fracture. Instead of a few big early pillars,  you had more and more smaller communities and cliques forming, with too much content for anyone to reasonably be able to consume all of it. The mythos was already in the hands of late teen to early 20-somethings who were a hot disastrous pile, constantly getting into community drama, putting out content that’s slightly above mediocre while sorting out their general queerness (because many of the creators were queer in some form or another and in many cases going through the early stages of coming to grips with that), trying to figure out who the hell they are as people in the transition into adulthood.

Now, take something that’s already a mess like that, and start putting it into the hands of thirteen-year-olds inspired by Minecraft and a screaming European. The entire community shifts. The big pillars are no longer these early stories, the history that most creators stumbled upon the larger community through. Instead, they’re video games and YouTubers. And sure, while the Slender game and the slew of imitators who followed were able to accurately capture the feel and fear of the Slender Man, they weren’t able to translate that into anything with meaning. The Slender Man went from being this mysterious, shifting myth to an idea. A generic horror villain that did…something? Also there are creepy drawings, ooooooooooooh!

There had been a joke in the fandom that described the Slender Man with a line from Spongebob Squarepants: “He’s just standing there…menacingly!” It was a tongue-in-cheek reference to the fact that the Slender Man wouldn’t often do anything itself. The horror often wasn’t in what it would do to you, it was in what it would cause you to do to yourself. A core element of the mythos was the blurring of the line between the real and the imagined. Is the Slender Man actually doing something to the protagonist? Or is this the result of the protagonist’s own paranoia as they anticipate what the Slender Man might do to them?

The removal of these initial pillars and people’s introduction to the Slender Man as a more abstract concept instead of a myth took that Spongebob quote and made it, well…accurate. What does the Slender Man do? Does it lead children astray like the Pied Piper? Does it put people under its spell, reduce them to husks of people? Cause them to drive themselves crazy? Eviscerate them and hang them from trees?

Nope. All most people who learned about the Slender Man during this wave knew about them was that he would just stand there.

Menacingly.

Forgive me if I sound like I’m gatekeeping for this opinion, but I think there were some major problems with oversaturation and with an influx of young fandom members. And there’s a reason I keep harping on youth. It’ll all become clear soon.

It’s time to talk about the end of the Slender Man as it once was.

The History of the Slender Man, Part 3: The Death of a Slenderman

The height of the Slender Man fandom was probably about 2011-2012. That’s when the fandom had a few key places to interact frequently and had grown to the point where there was a lot of content, but enough that you could still follow most of it. None of it was as big as those first series, of course, and nothing reached the height of the “Big Three:” Marble Hornets, EverymanHYBRID, and TribeTwelve. Around 2012 to 2013, the meme culture around the Slender Man began to pick up, but a lot of the big series, both blogs and vlogs, began either ending or petering out, with updates becoming less sporadic or just stopping altogether. Bloggers would often pick up new projects, but experience burnout or just not see the same sort of response they once had, because all the other bloggers were dealing with the same issues. Vloggers, since they had their faces on camera, were stuck in a situation where if they were dissatisfied or burnt out, couldn’t just start a new Slender Man series because their faces were recognizable. It was frustrating to see the Slender Man gaining more popularity than ever but the people responsible for popularizing it getting completely ignored. I can’t speak to everyone, but in my case, it kind of felt like I’d done someone else’s homework and seen them reap the rewards. The once fervent enthusiasm began waning.

And then, in 2014, tragedy struck.

On May 31st, 2014, two Wisconsin 12-year-old girls lured their friends into the woods during a game of hide-and-seek, and in an attempt to impress or appease the Slender Man, stabbed her nineteen times.

The girl survived, thankfully. But all the creators were shaken by the event. How could this happen? How should we react? Were we somehow culpable? Was it ethical to be creating stories like this when they’d incited people to violence? Again, I can only speak for myself, but I remembered that obsession I’d had when I first discovered the Slender Man. That blurring of truth and fiction where my mind could rationally say “yeah, obviously this is fake, hahaha,” but could irrationally also think “but what if…?” I could see the mindset that could drive someone to do something like that. I’d gone through it myself. It gave me, and I imagine others, a lot of pause.

After some pause, things started to continue, but seemingly with less enthusiasm. The fandom was already on the decline, and by the end of 2014 it was, in my mind, effectively dead. Even without the stabbing hanging over my head, I was starting to become burned out, the constant drama among the creators became too much for me, and I’d poured way too much effort into the fandom and only hurt my social and academic life in the process. I walked away, joining the anime fandom instead, a place where I was infinitely happier. I imagine a lot of people had a similar experience around that time.

It wasn’t completely dead. I kept up with Marble Hornets until it ended in 2014 and have rewatched it a few times since. EverymanHYBRID and TribeTwelve have trucked on with increasingly infrequent releases, with EverymanHYBRID ending on January 1st, 2019 and TribeTwelve still running as of this post. But the fandom as a whole? It wasn’t what it once was.

But with the stabbings came awareness and publicity, and around this time, bigger projects that had been in the works for a while began to release as well. 2015 saw the release of a film set in the universe of Marble Hornets, starring Doug Jones as the Operator. Various shows began including characters that either had similarities to the Slender Man or alluded to the stabbings. And of course, it wouldn’t be a weird, scary internet things pre-Millenials didn’t understand without an exploitative episode of Law and Order based on the stabbings. Because of course there was an exploitative Law and Order episode. In addition, an HBO documentary called “Beware the Slenderman” was broadcast in 2017, which showed a very lacking understanding of the mythos and treated the character as a reason to fear the internet and what it’s doing to our youth.

Another reason the fandom began declining was that it started to become common knowledge that, despite multiple creators doing the bulk of work in creating the mythos, Knudson was technically the original creator and copyright owner, with media rights having been sold to Mythology Entertainment. This made it difficult to do anything substantial with the character or monetize it in any way, and also encouraged a lot of creators to move on instead of continuing to work on what will only ever be considered fan works.

And then came the movie.

A Slender Man movie coming out nearly a decade after the creation of the character and about half a decade after it had ceased to be relevant seemed like a questionable decision in the first place. Though the fact that it was delayed so long likely has something to do with the stabbing. The trailer for the film actually showed a lot of promise and seemed like it understood the mythos, but when the film actually debuted, that promise was, well…not delivered on.

With a little reflection, it’s actually pretty easy to see why: the film was not yet rated at the time of the trailer, but when it came out, it was rated PG-13. It was easy to see that the film had been heavily edited from the initial cut, considering there were a number of key clips (and characters) from the trailer that were completely absent from the movie. There was maybe a good Slender Man movie in what had been recorded. But that movie had been left on the cutting room floor.

General consensus is that there are two reasons this might be the case. The first is that it’s possible the film’s plot resembled the stabbing a little too much for the creators to feel comfortable with releasing that version of the movie. The second was, as is often the case, it was edited down from an R rating to make it a more profitable PG-13. And because, of course, as I’ve already harped on, a sizable portion of the fanbase for the Slender Man is now younger teens, it’s easily the smarter financial move.

Ironic, huh? That it’s possible the film may have been edited because of tweens who stabbed their friends, but also because they wanted more tweens to see a movie about the character that prompted that incident in the first place.

Anyway, it worked, for a certain definition of the term “worked.” In my mostly empty theater, I saw two or three younger kids accompanied by a parent, along with a few couples, since horror movies are a couple thing. I was the only dumb sap sitting there alone, having paid to watch a company defile something I’d help contribute to, with nothing even resembling a credit or special thanks to show for it, cycling through the five stages of grief as I dumped more rum from the flask I’d smuggled into the theater into my Coke.

I wish there was a happy ending to this, but there’s really not. This is how the story of the Slender Man ends: with creator burnout, vague outraged based on something the masses didn’t understand, and an absolute flop of a film that no one will remember.

A New Myth

I really don’t want to end this post in a depressing way. So let me try to bring this back to why the Slender Man became so popular in the first place, and why it matters.

The Slender Man felt, for a while, like a truly new and original myth: a creature that’s defined enough to be recognizable, but undefined enough to be flexible. We all know plenty of horror creatures like this: vampires, werewolves, zombies…even cryptids like Bigfoot and its many regional variants. Zombies are slow, shambling, corpses brought back from the dead, hungry for brains. Except sometimes, they’re not slow and shambling at all. And while, sure, resurrected corpses can count as zombies, it’s more common that they’re infected with a virus spread by a bite. And really, when was the last time you saw a zombie hungry for brains? It’s human flesh in general they usually crave. Just like all these classic monsters, the Slender Man has so many varied interpretations that you can only really boil it down to those few key traits–and even then, they may vary.

This sort of incongruity is ironically what makes the Slender Man feel so real. It’s as if it’s a scary story a friend is telling you at the campfire, which he heard from his older brother, who heard it from his friend, and so on. Some details maybe get forgotten, mistaken, or changed depending on who’s telling the story, but there are still enough key details that there’s a sense of reality to it, of concreteness. You can write it off as just a spooky story and have a good laugh about it, but there’s still that little nagging voice in the back of your mind that goes “yeah, but what if…?”

That’s what I mean when I say that the Slender Man feels like a myth. We may all know where it came from. We can pinpoint its actual creation, as well as many of the early retellings. But it still has that feel of a campfire story. And there’s really something special about being on that camping trip where the story is first getting told. It’s a captivating story you can’t help but want to tell yourself. And as more and more people start telling the story, you see it grow around you, until you can ask “do you know about the Slender Man?” and have the question met with enthusiastic excitement instead of just a blank stare.  And while the character isn’t exactly in a place where it’s beloved right now, it’s at least managed to capture the attention and the awareness of the general populace. It’s gone about as far as it can go. It’s a full-on internet-born myth now. And you know what? I really think that great things can be done with it in the future.

Additional Reading

Well, the retrospective is technically over now, but I figured I’d throw some additional reading at the end. I’ve mentioned or alluded to a few works throughout this post, and I’d like to link to them, some of my own work, and other works I think are worthwhile. Video series will have a playlist linked, as videos are sometimes spread over multiple channels, while blogs will link the first post. Note that these series will often have some additional accounts, but linking every little thing would clutter this a little too much, so I’ve left off things like in-universe Twitter accounts.  Also, I recommend reading the comments, or at least trying to, for the blogs. While there are a fair amount of trolls or gamejackers, they sometimes provide additional information.

I’ve attempted to credit everyone I can, but some works will unfortunately remain uncredited, as there are some creators who have remained anonymous and some I have lost contact with and don’t how to properly credit. I hope you understand this decision over my using a name or webhandle they would prefer I not use. Apart from the creators of Marble Hornets, EverymanHYBRID, and TribeTwelve (whose creators are openly known), everyone will be uncredited or will be credited under the name they requested.

Major Works

Marble Hornets (Troy Wagner, Joseph DeLage, Tim Sutton) – Video series

Marble Hornets is probably the seminal Slender Man work that defined the most of what followed. If you only watch one Slender Man work, make it this one. It follows former film student Jay as he attempts to pick up the student film his classmate Alex Kralie was working on, but quickly notices something unusual with the footage, pulling him back into the events that stopped production in the first place.

Slender: The Eight Pages and Slender: The Arrival (Parsec Productions and Blue Isle Studio) – Games

The games that really started everything. Slender (later subtitled “The Eight Pages”) by Mark Hadley/Parsec Productions was what really launched the popularity of the Slender Man, while Slender: The Arrival took the base game and expanded it into a full game, with the help of Hadley and the trio of creators behind Marble Hornets.

EverymanHYBRID (Jeffery Koval, Vincent Caffarello, Evan Jennings) – Video series

The Slender Man work with the most interactive ARG-style elements. Begins as a fitness web show with background cameos by the Slender Man, until the characters reveal that it was all a fun hoax…or had been a fun hoax, until some seriously weird stuff actually started happening. Mixes in additional elements and antagonists from other creepypastas (such as Candle Cove or the Rake), as well as original antagonists.

TribeTwelve (Adam Rosner) – Video series

Begins as a very blatant Marble Hornets clone, with Noah Maxwell finding something unusual in the footage of him and his cousin after the latter’s sudden death. It soon begins to branch into its own storyline. Regarded to have the best visuals and special effects in the mythos.

Just Another Fool – Blog

One of the first, if not the first, Slender Man blogs. It follows a man named Logan, who had given his friend Matt a notebook before Matt left for the Iraq war. Matt returns with severe PTSD, and dies shortly after. When Logan receives Matt’s notebook and sees what’s inside, he begins to realize that the war wasn’t the only thing haunting Matt.

Seeking Truth (Tom Horan) – Blog

When detective Zeke Strahm and his partner Lizzie are put on a missing child case, Zeke slowly begins to realize that there’s something weirder about this case than he initially thought. Has a sequel called The Mystic.

Dreams in Darkness (Evelyn V.) – Blog

Damien O’Connor is an unabashed nerd enjoying his summer vacation from college, until his friend and roommate Ted starts to get really into a certain internet meme. But as it causes his life to begin unraveling, Damien realizes this “Slender Man” thing is uncovering memories long forgotten. Has a pseudo-sequel at Deja Vu Dreamer.

The Tutorial – Blog

Get up high. Keep moving. Keep your eyes open. Your guide on how to survive being stalked by the Slender Man, courtesy of “M.”

My Writing

Of course, I’ve gotta plug all my own work. Honestly, I’m not necessarily proud of all this. The shared universe, serialized, on-the-fly nature of writing for the mythos takes its toll on most of the best series, and everyone always tends to hate their old work. But hey, here it is. Check it out if you want, but know that parts of it will likely be very, very bad.

Slenderbloggins

A blog that started as a series of articles explaining and analyzing the Slender Man and the larger mythos. It began shifting into an in-game blog before I eventually decided to abandon that and pull back. Eventually moved to Slenderbloggins.net, which was focused on community-based topics, interviews, and analyses of various series. While now defunct, it can still be glimpsed on the Internet Archive Wayback Machine if you’re interested in hunting it down.

Now I Shall Know You Again

Jekyll knows how you really survive being stalked by the Slender Man. Trust him. He knows what he’s doing Has a…sequel? Remake?

My take on a “The Tutorial” type blog. The first one that was designed to be a fiction blog from the start, and while there’s some okay stuff in here, it’s also pretty rough. The remaquel used to take advantage of Google Reader putting posts in an RSS feed even if they’d been deleted. So now that Google Reader is dead, that’s all gone. I think I reverted them to drafts so honestly I could maybe find the login and try to restore them.

Don’t Shoot The Messenger
with Ravens and Writing Desks (AJ)
and Neverending Marathon (Evelyn V.)

Pretty much all the Slender Man fiction I wrote started as an attempt to dunk on something I saw as stupid. Now I Shall Know You Again was to dunk on the idea that you could come up with reliable rules to help you hold off the Slender Man. Don’t Shoot The Messenger was my take on the ideas of “proxies” and how many Slenderbloggers would use them as just this endless, mindless horde of enemies that could be easily dispatched (or killed) with no repercussions. The character of The Messenger was also designed to provide people with a sort of “yep, they’re dead” capper post, since many blogs had trouble finding a conclusive way to end things without just a sudden stop in updates to imply the character was dead.

DSTM follows The Messenger, a normal guy who’s found himself inducted into the ranks of an organization dedicated to serving the Slender Man. This is the story of his daily life as he’s surrounded by a bunch of wacky villains…though he doesn’t think the “heroes” of this story are much better.

There’s a lot about this one that kinda sucks, but I think that once it finds its footing, there’s also a lot about it that really works, and it’s the one I recommend most highly. I’m hoping to rewrite it in more of a novel form some day. Special thanks to my cowriters AJ and Evelyn, who helped me with a lot of the brainstorming and fleshing scenes out, as well as writing the characters of Poe and Donovan, respectively. The story for this one jumps between 3 blogs a bit, so please note the dates on posts when reading all three.

Unplugged 161

My attempt at a short little blog with a style that feels more like a blog than a narrative like a lot of Slenderblogs used. Don’t know how well it turned out, but it’s a thing I wrote, so hey, here it is.

Wandering from Death

This one started as my attempt to troll the blogosphere and its penchant for incestuous crossovers. I was initially going to be in-character as a new creator in Skype groups and everything, cross over in a way that destroyed everything, and then have a tumblr in-character as the creator where the REAL story was going on. That ended up being too much effort, as well as poorly timed (as most big blogs at the time that did a lot of crossovers were starting to wrap up), so I came clean and just tweaked it into a dumb, shonen anime-inspired multiversal epic about killing the Slender Man and an expanded cast of creatures. This one requires some knowledge of Core Theory and the Fear Mythos to fully understand, which I haven’t even touched on. Whoops.

Anyway, I never ended up finishing it, but it was a fun project that I tried to at least put a button on by explaining where I was hoping to go with it when I fully committed to abandoning it. It’d be a fun story to come back to, but I don’t know how I could possibly make it work without interactivity. Is split into a direct continuation called Facing my Fears, linked at the end of the blog.

Other Recommendations

These are a few other works, ranging from only slightly less popular to flat-out obscure, but they’re all ones I’d highly recommend. Yes, these are almost all blogs. I did far more reading than I did watching.

Encyclopedia Slenderia (Sean O’Neil) – Blog, non-fiction

Encyclopedia Slenderia is in the same vein as Slenderbloggins (and actually predates it), but unlike Slenderbloggins it never attempted becoming an in-character thing. A lot of really good information and reviews, as well as a really strong voice. Written by Sean O’Neil, AKA Omega, who I had a shonen-esque rivalry with throughout our time in the mythos.

A Really Bad Joke (Maduin) – Blog

People sometimes take weird chances with the Slender Man, but it rarely works. Maduin writes a story about attempting to prank the Slender Man, but it actually ends up landing, largely because the story is able to walk the line between horror and humor really well. There’s a scene were the Slender Man’s proxies break into a song and dance routine, and it’s as creepy as it is amusing.

Observe and Terminate – Blog

A blog chronicling the actions of a strike team that takes it upon themselves to take down the Slender Man. Horror and Shenanigans ensue.

Strike the Set (Chris Kimball) – Blog

The ramblings of a performer, focusing on the lives of people broken by the Slender Man. Very good voice to the writing. Similar in tone to Don’t Shoot the Messenger, so I’ve got a soft spot for it for that reason.

23 Seconds – Blog

A group of college students take a wilderness trip for extra biology credit. Take a wild guess as to how well it goes. This one stands on its own really well and makes great use of a large cast. It also does a good job of distinguishing between the first-person voices of all the characters. This is one that I’m most bummed about not being able to properly credit, since I liked the work the two writers did. There’s a completely unrelated blog called Return to Slender that’s I haven’t read and is more connected to the larger mythos, but it’s a multi-author blog where I think the same writers were heavily involved, so if you like 23 Seconds maybe check that one out as well.

Fabulous (Broeckchen) – Blog

The blog of a popular high school girl. Soon a mysterious man appears, who gives her such a strange, happy feeling, much to the chagrin and horror of the readers she’s picked up. A very unique story in terms of Slender Man works, and also the only blog I’ve seen audacious enough to edit reader comments for narrative effect.

Floccinaucinihilipilification (Jonas Tintenseher) – Blog

Jonas had an unfortunate entry to the mythos with a blog that was highly reviled, but he quickly grew into perhaps the most prolific and experimental writer in the mythos, churning out multiple blogs that took advantage of the medium to frame the stories in new and interesting ways. Floccinaucinihilipilification (yes, that’s the actual name) is probably the most whimsical, poetic, and best of his work, and the one I’d recommend most highly. There’s also Three Chances, a blog focused on asking the readers riddles and Upload Commencing, where the protagonist is a supercomputer. There are a lot out there, though. A lot that are really hard to track down at this point.

Once – Blog

This one’s written in a storybook fashion, with someone called “The Critic” commenting on each post. Much like Jonas’s work, some clever framing and experimentation with the form.

MLAnderson0 – Vlog

Not much to say about this one, other than I always loved how it portrayed the Slender Man.

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