If you’ve never heard of the Slender Man before it's probably worth warning you the one of the legends surrounding him (it?) is that the more attention you give him, the more real he becomes, and that merely learning about him can put you in danger. If you have heard of the Slender Man, then you know that he is one of the coolest, most endearing examples of the collaborative creative potential of the Internet.
In June of 2009 a Something Awful user by the name of Victor Surge posted two Photoshops in a forum thread dedicated to making fake paranormal pictures. He included some creepy and ambiguous background text to go with the pictures. Both pictures included the image of a man without facial features who appeared to be in a black suit and tie. In one photo he seems to have shadowy tentacles in place of arms. Over the course of the following three days, Surge posted another handful of pictures of the same subject in other settings. All of the photos of this “slender man” were relatively well ‘shopped and very subtle in their content.
Jump to three years later, and the Slender Man has become a cult Internet phenomenon. Slender Man has inspired over 30 separate alternate reality games (the vast majority of which imploded or faded before getting very far). The most successful include Marble Hornets (63 videos on their main YouTube channel), EverymanHYBRID (52 videos), TribeTwelve (33 videos), and DarkHarvest00 (43 videos). Most of these share a general pattern—people are living their lives (and video recording them for one reason or another) when they chance upon the Slender Man, an event which leads them into a world of mystery, misery, and nightmare. There's also the phenomenon referred to as "Slenderblogs” which are episodic stories told in the form of first-person blogs from the point of view of people who have had encounters with the Slender Man. Lest you think this is a rare practice, follow this to a page with links to 52 different Slenderblogs. Keep in mind that all of these are grassroots games and blogs, meaning that nobody is making money off of any of this.
The other layer of awesome sauce on this horror and madness sundae is that there is a certain portion of the Internet-using public who is of the opinion that the Slender Man is real (although for many this can probably be chalked up to “playing along” more than earnest belief). Some think that Surge either had access to secret information that led him (consciously or unconsciously) to create the images that he did. Others think that the Slender Man didn’t exist before Surge made the first Photoshops, but that the Slender Man has become a tulpa (a term appropriated from Tibetan Buddhism) and that he has become real as a result of so many people thinking about the same thing. A second set of arguments concern whether stories about the Slender Man should adhere to the original impressions of Victor Surge (who saw the Slender Man as a much more violent creature who was pursued by government agencies and covered his tracks with arson) or to the broader mythology established by the various video series (which, often for practical production reasons, have kept the Slender Man stories that they tell much more subtle and psychological).
The story of the Slender Man is one of modern myth creation. Just like every other beastie from vampires to werewolves, from zombies to mermaids, the myth has a beginning before all of the layers of communal retelling shape and reshape its contemporary form. What's so fascinating about this case, is that we can see that first moment and trace its evolution through web videos and forum posts. Superstition and folklore and our fear of the things that hide in the dark haven't gone away, they've just been digitized for a new era.
Got your own Slender Man tales? They say that once you learn about him, he will appear in your dreams (it happened to the author of this article), will it happen to you?