The Slender Man (also known as Slenderman) is a fictional supernatural character that originated as an Internet meme created by Something Awful forums user Eric Knudsen (a.k.a. "Victor Surge") in 2009. It is depicted as resembling a thin, unnaturally tall man with a blank and usually featureless face, wearing a black suit. Stories of the Slender Man commonly feature him stalking, abducting or traumatizing people; particularly children. The Slender Man is not confined to a single narrative, but appears in many disparate works of fiction, mostly composed online.
The Slender Man was created on a thread in the Something Awful Internet forum submitted on June 8, 2009, with the goal of editing photographs to contain supernatural entities. On June 10, a forum poster with the user name "Victor Surge" contributed two black and white images of groups of children, to which he added a tall, thin spectral figure wearing a black suit. Although previous entries had consisted solely of photographs, Surge supplemented his submission with snatches of text — supposedly from witnesses — describing the abductions of the groups of children, and giving the character the name "The Slender Man":
The quote under the first photograph read:
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.
The quote under the second photograph read:
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.
In an interview with the website Know Your Meme, Victor Surge (real name Eric Knudsen) claimed that he was inspired to create the Slender Man by legends of the shadow people, the writings of H. P. Lovecraft, Zack Parsons, and Stephen King (particularly The Mist), and the surrealism of William S. Burroughs. His intention was, he claimed, "to formulate something whose motivations can barely be comprehended, and [which triggered] unease and terror in a general population." In an interview with the Slender Nation podcast, Knudsen cited the Tall Man from the film series Phantasm as an inspiration for the Slender Man.
Other pre-existing fictional or legendary creatures often thought to have inspired the Slender Man include the Gentlemen, black-suited, pale bald demons from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Hush", Men in black, many accounts of which grant them an uncanny appearance with an unnatural walk and "oriental" features, and The Question, a DC comics superhero with a blank face, whose secret identity is named Victor Sage; a name very close to Victor Surge.
In her book, Folklore, Horror Stories, and the Slender Man: The Development of an Internet Mythology, Professor Shira Chess of the University of Georgia connected the Slender Man to ancient folklore about fairies. Like fairies, Slender Man is otherworldly, with motives that are often difficult to grasp; like fairies, his appearance is vague and often shifts to reflect what the viewer wants or fears to see, and, like fairies, the Slender Man calls the woods and wild places his home and kidnaps children.
The Slender Man soon went viral, spawning numerous works of fanart, cosplay and online fiction known as "creepypasta": scary stories told in short snatches of easily copyable text that spread from site to site. Divorced from its original creator, the Slender Man became the subject of myriad stories by multiple authors within an overarching mythos.
Many aspects of the Slender Man mythos first appeared on the original Something Awful thread. One of the earliest additions was added by a forum user named "Thoreau Up", who created a folklore story set in 16th century Germany involving a character called Der Grossman, which was implied to be an early reference to the Slender Man. The first video series involving the Slender Man evolved from a post on the Something Awful thread by user "ce gars". It tells of a fictional film school friend named Alex Kralie, who had stumbled upon something troubling while shooting his first feature-length project, Marble Hornets. The video series, published in found footage style on YouTube, forms an alternate reality game describing the filmers' fictional experiences with the Slender Man. The ARG also incorporates a Twitter feed and an alternate YouTube channel created by a user named "totheark". As of 2013, Marble Hornets is now one of the most popular Slender Man creations, with over 250,000 subscribers around the world, and 55 million views. Other Slender Man-themed YouTube serials followed, including EverymanHYBRID and TribeTwelve.
In 2011, Markus "Notch" Persson, creator of the sandbox indie game Minecraft, added a new hostile mob to the game, which he named the "Enderman" when multiple users on Reddit and Google+ commented on the similarity to the Slender Man. In 2012, the Slender Man was adapted into a video game titled Slender: The Eight Pages; as of August, 2012, the game has been downloaded over 2 million times. Several popular variants of the game followed, including Slenderman's Shadow and Slender Man for iOS, which became the second most-popular app download. The sequel to Slender: The Eight Pages, Slender: The Arrival, was released in 2013. Several independent films about the Slender Man have been released or are in development, including Entity and The Slender Man, released free online after a $10,000 Kickstarter campaign. In 2013, it was announced that Marble Hornets would become a theatrical film. Slender Man was the antagonist of the 2013 Lost Girl episode "SubterrFaenean", in which Slender Man was said to be the basis for the Pied Piper legend.
Because the Slender Man's fictional "mythology" has evolved without an official "canon" for reference, his appearance, motives, habits and abilities are not fixed, but change depending on the storyteller. He is most commonly described as very tall and thin with unnaturally long, tentacle-like arms (or merely tentacles), which he can extend to intimidate or capture prey. In most stories his face is white and featureless, but occasionally his face appears differently to anyone who sees it. He appears to be wearing a dark suit and tie. The Slender Man is often associated with the forest and/or abandoned locations and has the ability to teleport. Proximity to the Slender Man is often said to trigger a "Slender sickness"; a rapid onset of paranoia, nightmares and delusions accompanied by nosebleeds.
Early stories featured him targeting children or young adults. Some featured young adults driven insane or to act on his behalf, while others did not, and others claim that investigating the Slender Man will draw his attention. The web series Marble Hornets established the idea of proxies (humans who fall under the Slender Man's influence) though initially they were simply violently insane, rather than puppets of the Slender Man. Marble Hornets also introduced the idea that the Slender Man could interfere with video and audio recordings, as well as the "Slender Man symbol", which became a common trope of Slender fiction. Graphic violence and body horror are uncommon in the Slender Man mythos, with many narratives choosing to leave the fate of his victims obscure. Shira Chess notes that "It is important to note that few of the retellings identify exactly what kind of monster the Slender Man might be, and what his specific intentions are- these points all remain mysteriously and usefully vague."
Shira Chess has argued that, even though the Slender Man's origins are clearly fictional, and his creator has been identified, he can still be classified as folklore. She argues that the Slender Man exemplifies the similarities between traditional folklore and the open source ethos of the Internet, and that, unlike those of traditional monsters such as vampires and werewolves, the fact that the Slender Man's mythos can be tracked and signposted offers a powerful insight into how myth and folklore form. Chess identifies three aspects of the Slender Man mythos that tie it to folklore: collectivity (meaning that it is created by a collective, rather than a single individual), variability (meaning that the story changes depending on the teller), and performance (meaning that the storyteller's narrative changes to reflect the responses of his/her audience). She argues that it is distinct from later concepts like "fakelore", because fakelore originates in mass media such as television or advertising, whereas Slender Man is very much a product of the "folk" of the Internet. She quotes William Wells Newell: "We can only say that the first reciter was the author, in the same way that we may say that this or that rill is the source of a river. The presumptive inventor himself formed the tale only by a re-arrangement of pre-existing elements."
Professor Tom Pettitt of the University of Southern Denmark has described the Slender Man as being an exemplar of the modern age's closing of the "Gutenberg Parenthesis"; the time period from the invention of the printing press to the spread of the web in which stories and information were codified in discrete media, to a return to the older, more primal forms of storytelling, exemplified by oral tradition and campfire tales, in which the same story can be retold, reinterpreted and recast by different tellers, expanding and evolving with time.
Reasons for success
The success of the Slender Man "legend" has been ascribed to the chaotic, ambiguous nature of the Internet. While nearly everyone involved understands on some level that the Slender Man is not real, the Internet offers up a mess of conflicting perspectives, blurring the boundary between fiction and reality and obscuring the character's origin, thus lending it an air of authenticity. Only five months after his creation, George Noory's Coast to Coast AM, a radio call-in show devoted to the paranormal and conspiracy theories, began receiving callers asking about the Slender Man. Two years later, an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune described his origins as "difficult to pinpoint." Eric Knudsen has commented that many people, despite understanding that the Slender Man was created on the Something Awful forums, still entertain the possibility that he might be real.
Shira Chess describes the Slender Man as a metaphor for "helplessness, power differentials, and anonymous forces," and also notes that "The Slender Man offers the threat of death, but the ultimate fate of his victims is unclear", leaving the implications to the reader and thus heightening the tension. Similarly, Tye Van Horn, a writer for The Elm, has suggested that the Slender Man represents modern fear of the unknown; in an age flooded with information, people have become so inured to ignorance that they now fear what they cannot understand. Troy Wagner, the creator of Marble Hornets, ascribes the terror of the Slender Man to its malleability; people can shape it into whatever frightens them most. Tina Marie Boyer noted that "The Slender man is a prohibitive monster, but the cultural boundaries he guards are not clear. Victims do not know when they have violated or crossed them."
Despite his folkloric qualities, the Slender Man is not in the public domain. Several for-profit ventures involving the Slender Man have unequivocally acknowledged Knudsen as the creator of this fictional character, while others were civilly blocked from distribution (including the Kickstarter-funded film) after legal complaints from Knudsen and other sources. Though Knudsen himself has given his personal blessing to a number of Slender Man-related projects, the issue is complicated by the fact that, while he is the character's creator, a third party holds the options to any adaptations into other media, including film and television. The identity of this option holder has not been made public. Knudsen himself has argued that his enforcement of copyright has less to do with money than with artistic integrity: "I just want something amazing to come off it... something that's scary and disturbing and kinda different. I would hate for something to come out and just be kinda conventional."
On May 31, 2014, two 12-year-old girls in Waukesha, Wisconsin allegedly held down and stabbed a 12-year-old classmate 19 times; when questioned later by authorities, they reportedly claimed that they wished to commit a murder as a first step to becoming proxies of the Slender Man, having read about it online. The victim was able to crawl out of the woods, where she had been left, to get to a roadside. Due to the intervention of a passing cyclist, the victim survived the attack. The attackers were charged as adults and are each facing up to 65 years in prison. One of the girls said Slender Man watches her, can read minds and teleport. Experts testified in court that she also said she conversed with Lord Voldemort and one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. On August 1, 2014, she was found incompetent to stand trial and her prosecution was suspended until her condition improved. On November 12, 2014, a doctor judged that her condition had improved enough for her to stand trial. On December 19, 2014, the judge ruled that both girls were competent to stand trial.
In a statement to the media, Eric Knudsen said, "I am deeply saddened by the tragedy in Wisconsin and my heart goes out to the families of those affected by this terrible act." He stated he would not be giving interviews on the matter.
After hearing the story, an unidentified woman from Hamilton, Ohio told a WLWT TV reporter her 13-year-old daughter had attacked her with a knife, and had written macabre fiction, some involving the Slender Man, who the mother said motivated the attack.
On September 4, 2014, a 14-year-old girl in Port Richey, Florida set her family's house on fire while her mother and nine-year-old brother were inside; police reported that the teenager had been reading online stories about Slender Man as well as Atsushi Ōkubo's manga Soul Eater. Eddie Daniels of the Pasco Sheriff's Office said of the girl, "She had visited the website that contains a lot of the Slender Man information and stories [...] It would be safe to say there is a connection to that."
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Slender Man.|
- Forum thread in which Slender Man was created, somethingawful.com
- Eric Knudsen's gallery that contains all of his Slender Man images, deviantart.com
- Slender Man, knowyourmeme.com