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Slenderman

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Estimated reading time — 16 minutes

If only you hadn’t looked back. Though it was autumn the day had seemed long and the brief walk toward home short. As the sunlight began to fade you and your two friends left the playground behind and trudged reluctantly home, knowing that you would be forced to pick up the games and conversations the next day. The next day, that never came. If only you hadn’t looked back. But you had. 

Turning just for a moment, you had glanced back toward the treeline. Seen the fingers of their branches clawing up toward the sky and beside them, the figure. 

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At first you’d thought you must be mistaken, that your eyes in the hazy blur of twilight were playing tricks on you, but no. When you looked again ‘he’ was still there. Taller than any man could be, thinner even the willowy branches that extended ever upward from the trees. He loomed in the distance, like the shadow of some horrible dark truth and you knew instantly that you had to look away, that if you didn’t tear your eyes from that blank featureless face then soon the blank would wash over you, become you and you would walk slowly but surely, as if pulled by some magnetic force toward him, toward him though you feared him, though you were scared of his unnatural height, the aching  blank whiteness of his face, the arms that seemed to stretch towards you and the slithering tentacles behind. 

You turned. Screwing up your eyes, telling, willing yourself not to look, not to see, not to give in and go to him. You scream to the others telling them the same, telling them not to look. But as you open your eyes you realise, they had already looked. They were already gone. 

Possibly the most famous Creepypasta character of all time and certainly the one that has crossed most frequently into mainstream media, The Slender Man also known as Slenderman, is a character borne of a variety of earlier influences, but which itself represents an evolution in the uses and development of folklore. 

Violent real life events linked to the Slenderman character increased it’s infamy and even led to a ‘Moral panic’ based around the possible negative influences and danger that the fictional character posed to children. 

Slenderman Appearance 

Though adaptation and modification by various authors means that Slenderman’s appearance can vary somewhat depending upon the source, the most common features remain the same. 

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The character is usually depicted as an abnormally tall humanoid, usually wearing a dark suit and tie. Slenderman’s face is almost always completely featureless and often either white or a pale grey, though in some depictions this ‘blank’ face does feature an animalistic mouth. 

Slenderman is often said to be able to extend or stretch  his limbs, particularly his arms at will, and either has tentacles protruding, just visible from his back or has tentacle-like appendages in place of his arms. 

The character commonly inhabits liminal spaces, such as the entrance to woods and forest or areas of abandoned ground on the outskirts of more populated areas. 

Whilst there are a wide variety of Slenderman stories out there, much of the character’s effectiveness comes from the fact that there is no single definitive version, the initial posts that introduced the character being only fragmentary quotes linked to an image rather than an actual short story or complete narrative. 

Much like his appearance however, though the details alter some elements seem to remain as constants, such as the character appearing by woods or forests, enticing children away from their parents and friends never to be seen again. Another common trope that the Slenderman exerts an influence upon the victims making them the perpetrators of crimes or violent actions. The character has also been said to cause illness (particularly a cough know as ‘slender sickness) and to induce those who encouter him to suicide. These latter features, namely incitement to violence or suicide became more prevelant and commonly associated with the character in a case of art imitatinbg life after real life violent events or cases of attempted suicide were linked to the character 

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Origins

Despite some media outlets adding to the aura of the Slenderman mythos by claiming that the figure’s origins are unclear, in fact the character’s origin is easily traceable. 

Slenderman in his original form was created by Eric Knudson under the alias Victor Surge. Knudson was responding to a call on Something Awful, for posters to contribute digitally altered photographs that would then serve as the basis for new mythologies or stories.

 Knudson’s effort, posted on June 10 2009 showed groups of teenagers and children with the now familiar figure of Slenderman standing in the background. At first glance the images seem normal but the figure’s anomalous size and featureless face once noticed give the pictures an eerie and unsettling feeling. Alongside the images, Knudson provided small snippets of out of context  text purported to be witness accounts  that give hints about the scenes depicted and their relation to the anomalous figure of the Slender man. 

By attaching short snippets of text with his images Knudson transformed the lone image into the first Slenderman story, albeit in an nonlinear and fragmentary form. Following this initial appearance, the slenderman character was then picked up by other users, who either fit him into their own narratives or wrote short accounts of alleged encounters with the character, sculpting as they did some of the features recognised today.  

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With each new detail and new account, posters helped in building a mythos around the character that because of its viral scope and myriad of conflicting details and accounts did not retain a ‘canon’ version and this process happened fast. 

The day after Knudson’s post, a user named Leechcode five posted a photo with a backstory featuring slenderman, by 14th June a user name TrenchMaul had used Slenderman in his own story. A user known as Thoreau-Up posted a story about a figure in Germany who stalked children on the edge of the forest, providing an invented historical reference point for the character. 

On June 20th of the same year Slenderman became the subject of a youtube video series,based upon an earlier Something Awful post by user Troy Wagner. The series which alleged to detail interaction =s or discoveries about the slenderman made whilst working on a film project named Marble Hornets. This series of videos was support by a twitter feed and a second Youtube channel allowed the character to move from being a text, image and forum based phenomenon to being an ARG, with the character now being referred to, discussed and modified across a number of different platforms and modalities by an ever growing number of contributors. 

SlenderMan Creepypasta Story

After waking up with a jolt, the girl laid in bed a few seconds longer. Reaching over to switch on her bedside lamp, she tried to remember exactly what had stolen her sweet slumber away. When she couldn’t, the brunette swung her legs over the side of the bed and heaved herself up. Checking the time on her phone, she snorted when she saw it was midnight- the witching hour. Knowing that sleep would only evade her, she left her bedroom for the kitchen, a good cup of coffee on her mind. As she passed by her front door, a chill spread like liquid fire down her spine. It’s only winter, she told herself, focusing again on the coffee plan. Measuring out scoops, water, and preparing her cup kept her occupied, but as the dark liquid boiled, she had nothing left to keep her mind from wandering off. The chill returned and she couldn’t help but glance behind her to the front door. It stood there innocently enough, just like always. The dead bolt was still in place and she could see nothing amiss with it. Turning back to her coffee, she did her best to forget about the feeling. With her cup in hand, she started back towards her bedroom. As she walked by the front door, she decided that a quick glance out of the peep hole would help calm her restless mind. The chill worsened with each step she took towards the door and further away from the safety and warmth of her blankets. She pressed her empty hand against the cold, metal door and took a deep breath before leading her eye to the peep hole. At first, she could only see an inky blackness and somehow seemed to swirl in itself. When she blinked in surprise, the void melted away. She wished it hadn’t. In it’s place, there stood what she could only guess was once a man. The limbs were long and inhumanly awkward, with bulky joints branching off into several arms, not unlike the branches of a tree. The creature was draped in a black suit, somehow making the thing more nightmarish to her. The icing on the proverbial cake, however, was what passed as the hellish thing’s face. It was as though her mind blurred the ghastly visage to spare itself further shock and horror. She shoved herself away from the door with the hand still pressed against it. The scalding mug of coffee fell, the liquid burning her bare legs as she fell backwards and tried to crawl away from the door. She knew, somehow, that her mind hadn’t been playing tricks on her. As she crab walked away from the door, she watched as tendrils as black as the void she first saw snake around through the cracks. The girl was trapped between the instinct to flee and the gut feeling to not turn her back on the door. When the door jolted, the urge to flee overcame her and she slipped in the burning liquid as she tried to make it back to her room. She knew deep down that she was trapping herself in a corner, but she had to get away from the door. The girl was halfway down the hallway when she heard the previously locked door creak open. She screamed and slipped into a wall, cracking her chin on it and stunning her. After that, there was only blackness. * * * * * “Nicole?” a warm, male voice snapped the woman out of her trance. As she turned around, she was met by one of her sister’s doctor’s. She nodded, not sure if she should say anything, or even if she could find her voice if she did have something to say. That morning, she had gotten an urgent phone call from the hospital, saying that her sister, Lindsay, was there. Before they had even let her see her, the doctor’s had pulled her off to the side and insisted that they talk to her about what might have happened. Phrases like ‘self-inflected’ and ‘assault’ had been thrown around and Nicole felt her mind reel. She still hadn’t fully understood what they had been saying until she saw Lindsay with her own eyes. Her little sister had a bandage wrapped around her head, covering both of her ears as well as her eyes. They said it was to keep her now deadened eyes from drying out and to try to keep infection out of the wounds Lindsay had made to her ears. The doctors had guessed that either she or someone else had jammed a pencil into them to keep her off balance or to deafen herself against something. There was the mix of first and second degree burns on her hands, legs, and feet, from what was assumed to be the coffee her neighbors found slipped all over the entry to her apartment. As Nicole walked into her sister’s hospital room the first time, she thought she had spied the silhouette of a man in the window. That, she knew, was impossible. Her sister’s room was on the third story of the hospital. CREDIT: Anonymous the slenderman slender man at the park Slenderman with girl

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Behavior

Much of the fascination with Slender Man is rooted in the overall aura of mystery that he is wrapped in. Despite the fact that it is rumored he kills children almost exclusively, it is difficult to say whether or not his only objective is slaughter. Often times it is either reported or recorded that he can be found in sections of woods, and these generally tend to be suburban. He also has been reported seen with large groups of children, as many photographs portray. It is commonly thought that he resides in woods and forests and preys on children. He seems unconcerned with being exposed in the daylight or captured in photos. It is often thought as well that he enjoys stalking people who become overly paranoid about his existence, purposefully giving them glimpses of himself in order to further frighten them. For this reason, it seems like Slenderman very much enjoys psychologically torturing his victims. He also often appears to float or drift around rather than walk, which suggest the possibility of him being an ethereal being rather than a creature or a man. This would also explain why he is able to remain mobile in spite of his poorly proportioned body.

Even though Slender Man was fabricated on SomethingAwful forums (or was he?), some people have already claimed sightings. He is seen mostly at night peering into open windows and walks out in front of lone motorists on secluded roads. His main intentions appear to be kidnapping children, as when he is seen near them in photographs, they usually disappear shortly afterward. The Slender Man has also inspired many stories such as those of Marble Hornets. In the end, though, his purpose remains unknown. An interesting take on Slender Man by a pasta member who is relying on the Marble Hornets series for evidence/facts:

“There has been a big misconception about my pal the Slender Man due to the appearance of this article. He does not have hair or a face. Everything else is correct. There is also some questioning as to whether or not there is more than one. I find that unlikely. It’s most likely Slendy fucking with your head in order to make you think that there is more than one, which he has been known to do. As of now, Slendy has 3 or 4 known accomplices.
These are Hoodie, Maskie, The Rake and possibly The Observer. Not much is known yet because the next episode of the Noah Maxwell ARG has not yet been released. In the Marble Hornets ARG, Hoodie and Maskie are possibly his followers. In the Everyman Hybrids ARG, the Rake seems to be working with him, but we aren’t really sure if that is true or not.”

Slenderman Historical References

Brazilian Cave Paintings

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The earliest argued reference to the legend is within the cave paintings found in the Serr da Capivara National Park in the Northeast of Brazil, which are believed to date from as far back as 9000 BC. These paintings show a strangely elongated character leading a child by the hand, but make no reference to the extra appendages.

Egyptian Hieroglyphs

The next known possible reference to the Slender Man comes from around 3100 BC in lower Egypt, with references to the “Thief of the Gods” or the “Thief of Kuk” becoming commonplace during the reign of Pharaoh Wazner. Hieroglyphic carvings representing the Thief were found in the pharaoh’s tomb, who was rumored to have had some kind of encounter with the entity. The carvings resemble a strange figure with multiple upper limbs, one that has never been found in any other hieroglyph language.

German Woodcuts

Renowned German woodcutter Hans Freckenberg created at least two woodcuts featuring a character he described as Der Ritter (The Knight) during the mid-sixteenth century that were discovered in Halstberg Castle in 1883. Whilst Freckenberg was well-known for his realistic depiction of human anatomy – something that was unusual among woodcuts of the time – these pictures featured a skeletal, multi-limbed character. Historians are unsure of the exact symbolic nature of the character, with some claiming that it is a personification of the religious wars that raged in Europe at the time, while others say it represents the mysterious plagues that have been believed to be the reason for the mysterious abandoning of the Hastlberg Castle and the nearby village in 1543. However, many insist that Freckenberg was attempting to represent “Der Großmann” (the Tall Man). According to legend, he was a fairy who lived in the Black Forest. Bad children who crept into the woods at night would be relentlessly chased by Der Großmann, who wouldn’t leave them be until he either caught them or they were forced to tell their parents of their wrongdoing. Even then, there is a chilling account from an old journal, dating from about 1702:

My child, my Lars… he is gone. Taken, from his bed. The only thing that we found was a scrap of black clothing. It feels like cotton, but it is softer… thicker. Lars came into my bedroom yesterday, screaming at the top of his lungs that “The angel is outside!” I asked him what he was talking about, and he told me some nonsense fairy story about Der Großmann.
He said he went into the groves by our village and found one of my cows dead, hanging from a tree. I thought nothing of it at first… but now, he is gone. We must find Lars, and my family must leave before we are killed. I am sorry, my son… I should have listened. May God forgive me.

Romanian Mythology

There is also a Romanian fairytale which tells the legend of the Tall Man, featuring this description which may have taken to refer to the Slender Man “The tall man stood in a clearing, dressed as a nobleman, all in black. Shadows lay over him, dark as a cloudy midnight. He had many arms, all long and boneless as snakes, all sharp as swords, and they writhed like worms on nails. He did not speak, but made his intentions known,” In the fairytale, the Tall Man causes a mother to kill her husband and child before he slid from a fireplace and “clenched her in his burning embrace.”

English Mythology

There is also an English myth referring to the “Tree Man,” who is said to have a slim body with appendages that looks like tree branches. He is only known to be seen in the woods and was used as a story that parents told their children to thwart bad behavior. There have been quite a few disappearances of children that have been said to be linked to the “Tree Man.”

The Slender Man Movie

Folklore and Faceless Fiends

Far from being simply a flash in the pan internet meme, Slenderman and particularly the way in which the character grew within the public consciousness has been the subject of serious academic investigation within the world of folklore studies. With scholars pointing out that the aspects of collectivity, variability and performance in the development and spread of the slenderman story identify it as a true piece of ‘folklore.’ 

The egalitarian way in which the character was  constructed, his attributes, characteristics and intentions being argued about and discussed by a range of different contributors and the fact that the details might change depending upon who is telling the tale and to whom is fascinating to folklorists,  some of whom have argued that the development of Slenderman in this way demonstrates a new stage in the evolution of folklore as a whole. 

The argument basically goes that prior to the invention of the printed word, folklore was spread by word of mouth. The basic outline of a story remained the same but since the story was being retold on different occasions with attention given to the audience’s preferences, details and some aspects of the story would change. 

Once everything was printed, ‘accepted versions’ came into being because the story could be codified. With the freedom, anonymity and multiplicity afforded by the internet, that rigid structure is now breaking down and the original features of folklore, where things can be changed, details vary and specifics become blurry are returning. The Slenderman and the way in which the character developed are a prime example of this. 

Interestingly, this collaborative development also contributes to the effectiveness of the character and fits perfectly with the fact that he is depicted as ‘faceless’. By not having definable or recognisable features Slenderman remains formless and also entirely malleable, in the same way the universal bogeyman does. A creature known to be a threat by all but upon which anyone can project their own fears. 

Some scholars have also pointed out how the features that did develop to define the Slenderman’s characteristics have their roots in much older folklore, for example, the character’s status as a malevolent force dwelling in the forest or woods and threatening harm to children has massive echoes of the traditional big bad wolf narratives, or tales of the Headless Horseman, whilst the vagueness of his appearance and intentions and proclivity for kidnapping children links him to fairies and fae folk,a link that has been explored by noted scholars inn folklore. The kidnapping element also ties the Slenderman character to other mythic bagmen known to ‘carry off’ children such as  the european tradition of the ‘bag man’ who would take children away. The stories surrounding the Slenderman and his ability to seemingly entice children to come to him rather than offering them violence (at least in any form that is explicitly described in the stories) has heavy echoes of  the Pied piper of Hamiln. This mythic figure who had the ability to induce rodents to follow him using his pipe and was therefore able to drive them out of hamilin was double crossed by the people od the city who refused to pay him. As punishment he used the same pipe and magical ability on the children of the city, leading them to follow him out of the city in a mesmerised procession.

It has been pointed out that outside of the internet, The Slenderman retains power to concern and worry parents because he represents the classic notion of something that is  a threat to children that they cannot fully explain or define, again this is partly due to Slenderman’s inherent vagueness, in that most could not pin down his origins to for example a particular television show or game. He instead seems to concerned parents to have been conjured from nothing and yet be a character that is known amongst children and teenagers. The idea that character reported to be able to entice children and adolescents within the story is so enticing and popular with them in the real world is a blurring of boundaries that parents found threatening. Especially when Slenderman’s influence was seen to have extended beyond the internet and into real life. 

Real life and Moral Panic

In 2012 a girl in Wisconsin was stabbed 19 times by two classmates who then attributed their actions to being in the service of or trying to meet the demands laid down by Slenderman. 

Whilst one of the perpetrators also claimed to have spoken to ninja turtles and characters from the Harry Potter series, it was the reference to the ominous sounding Slenderman that caught the public’s imagination. Particularly as this was something that the more tech savvy younger generation seemed to be aware of and which their parents were in the dark about, with the police chief of the are where the stabbings occurred adding to the sense of trepidation by commenting that “the internet is full of dark and wicked things”. 

Following the incident a ‘moral panic’ arose in the United States with parents and teachers voicing their concern about the possible negative influence of this ‘slenderman’. These concerns were further driven into a frenzy by  incidents in 2014 and 2015 which were linked to the slenderman mythology. 

In the 2014 incident a young girl was alleged to have set fire to her home in Florida with her mother and sibling inside. With media reports later pointing out that amongst other things (notably Soul Eater by Atsusuhi Okubo) the girl had been reading stories of The Slenderman. 

In the 2015 incident a spate of attempted suicides amongst young people on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation was linked back to the character who was cited as being an influence. The involvement of supernatural forces in the suicide epidemic was underlined when a high ranking official from Oglala Sioux tribe mentioned belief in a suicide spirit. 

Conversely, it is interesting to note that as the Slenderman entered the mainstream media and became linked to these real life incidents the character’s popularity online showed significant signs of waning with a massive dip in popularity and related output. It is also significant that it was in the wake of these real life incidents that depictions of Slenderman as a benevolent or protecting figure first began to emerge. 

Influences 

The fact that the slenderman character and mythology was constructed by a disparate collection of creators over an extended period of time means that pinning down individual influences that may have contributed to the character’s construction can be difficult. However, it is possible to trace some figures, tropes and characteristics that almost undoubtedly helped shape the figure of the Slenderman. Amongst the influences that Knudson has acknowledged are Stephen King, the figure of The Tall Man in the horror movie Phantasm, the work of HP Lovecraft (as suggested by the appearance of tentacles) and the Mad Gasser of Matoon. 

One of the most immediately obvious influences not mentioned by the author are the ‘Men in Black’ characters that populate many sci fi television programs and have one incarnation in The Matrix films. Usually these figures are thought to represent some shadowy government agency rather than being cryptids or malevolent entities in their own rights but the dark suit is definitely reminiscent. 

 A spin off of this theme and another possible influence are the characters of The Gentlemen from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode Hush, who, though they do sport facial features, unlike The Slenderman are malevolent beings with pale skin, bald heads and dark suits who bear striking resemblances to the depictions of the slenderman. 

Other suggested influences upon the character’s later development are Jack Skellington from the Nightmare before Christmas who again sports a bald, pale head (though admittedly not featureless), is himself incredibly thin and wears a dark suit.

Finally one of the most compelling possible influences is the DC comics character The Question. This character as well as wearing a suit has an entirely featureless face and bears an uncanny resemblance to many of the Slenderman depictions seen in fan art. Whilst the existence of this character and the striking similarity in appearance does not necessarily mean that it was a direct influence upon the image of Slenderman or was even known to the character’s creator, it is interesting that Knudson originally posted as ‘Victor Surge’ whilst in the DC comics The Question’s secret identity is ‘Victor Sage’.  

Other Slender Man Stories:

Jeff The Killer Versus Slenderman More classic Creepypasta stories can be found here:

Jeff The Killer
Ben Drowned
Candle Cove

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