The Slender Man

From the Urban Legends Mailbag: Is Slender Man Real?

Silhouette of man in the forest.
Lluis Real/age fotostock/Getty Images

Dear Urban Legends:

There is this myth going around the internet for a couple of years now about a "creature" called the Slender Man. The myth kind of goes that he's a creature without a face, wears a black suit, and has abnormally large and thin limbs. He's said to hide in forests and takes pleasure in feeding on children. When he grabs his victims, if they see his "face," they cannot look away and are unable to run away. One sign that this creature is beginning to hunt for victims is that children begin to have nightmares about him.

I've heard that this is a made-up creature on a forum, but stories about him have been told in other countries. I don't know if this is real or fake, but ever since I heard of it I've been trying to find more information about it. Somehow, on the first day of learning about him, I fell ill and vomited that very day. I presume this might be just a coincidence, but lately I don't know. I would be very grateful if you research this story and see what your opinion might be. Thank you.


Dear Reader:

I've heard a lot of boogeyman tales in my time, but Slender Man (aka Slenderman, or "Slendy" for short) is among the creepiest. To supplement your evocative description of him, here's a viral text that invariably comes up when you search for information about Slender Man on the Internet (please note, all misspellings and grammatical errors are in the original):

The Slender Man is a supernatural creature that is described as appearing as a normal human being but he is described as being 8 feet tall and he has vectors or extra appendages that are described to be as sharp as swords. The creature is known to stalk humans and cause many disappearances. He is described as a shadow creature that has missing a face. The creature fits into many mythologies in legends from nations such as germany and celts which brings up the possibility that he could be real.

If your question is whether such a nightmarish creature might actually exist, the answer, of course, is no. We're talking about a faceless supernatural monster eight to ten feet tall with tentacles for arms, who can make himself invisible and "teleport" from place to place, and who stalks — some say eats — human victims, particularly children.

No such entity exists in the real world. That's why people refer to it as a "myth."

If you're asking whether it's true, as is claimed, that scholars have unearthed myths and legends referring to Slender Man sightings dating as far back as the Middle Ages, the answer to that, too, is no. Simply put, the so-called "Slender Man mythos" one hears so much about on the Internet is a crowdsourced fiction, and quite a recent one at that. Though it shares many features in common with older, traditional boogeyman legends, it's set apart by the circumstances of its origin, which have been so well documented that we can pinpoint the exact date and place of Slender Man's creation.

Birth of a 21st-Century Boogeyman

The Slender Man character was born in an online forum on the website SomethingAwful.com during an ongoing discussion entitled "Create Paranormal Images." The date was June 10, 2009. The thread began as a contest in which participants were invited to create "strange photos" — specifically, "images for bogus stories"  — with the potential to go viral. A pseudonymous forum member known as "Victor Surge" (since revealed to be Eric Knudsen) entered the fray with a pair of Photoshopped images depicting a gaunt, faceless specter with half-a-dozen writhing tentacles in lieu of arms chasing a group of hapless children on a playground.​

This was the caption accompanying the first photo:

"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. [view photo]

This was the caption accompanying the second:

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. [view photo]

"Made Up Off the Top of My Head" — Victor Surge

These genuinely creepy images and bare bones of a backstory were an instant hit in the forum.

More "found photos" and "documentation" of Slender Man's exploits would follow, but there was never any confusion as to the character's fictive status. Victor Surge took full credit for inventing him.

"The Slender Man as an idea was made up off the top of my head," Surge explained in a subsequent post. "The name I thought up on the fly when I wrote that first bit. The asset I used for a couple of the pictures was the creepy tall guy from Phantasm, which sadly I have not seen, and the others various guys in suits."

The Internet took the idea and ran with it, and today, for good or ill, "Slender Man" is a household name.