The Slenderman aka Slender Man 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. Fiction relating to the Slender Man encompasses many media, including literature, art and video series such as Marble Hornets.
Outside of online fiction, the Slender Man has had impact on popular culture, having been referenced in the video game Minecraft and generated video games of his own, such as Slender: The Eight Pages and Slender: The Arrival.
Beginning in 2014, a minor moral panic occurred over the Slenderman after readers of his fiction were connected to several violent acts, particularly a near-fatal stabbing in Waukesha, Wisconsin.
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 caused] 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.
The Slender Man soon went viral, spawning numerous works of fan art, 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.
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 Slenderman mythos, with many narratives choosing to leave the fate of his victims obscure.
On May 31, 2014, a pair of twelve-year-old girls in Waukesha, Wisconsin allegedly held down and stabbed a classmate nineteen times. When questioned later by authorities, they reportedly claimed that they wished to commit a murder as a first step to becoming proxies for the Slenderman, having read about it online.
The victim was able to crawl from the woods, where she had been left, to reach a roadside. A passing cyclist intervened, and the victim survived the attack. The purported attackers were charged as adults and are each facing up to 65 years in prison.
One of the girls reportedly said Slenderman watches her, can read minds, and could teleport. Experts testified in court 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 December 19, 2014, the judge ruled that both girls were competent to stand trial. In August 2015, the presiding judge ruled that the girls would be tried as adults.
On October 10, 2016, both of the perpetrators’ attorneys filed to have the girl’s trials run separately, instead of jointly. The defense claims that conducting a joint trial would harm the impartiality of the decision, because the jurors would supposedly be confused by the testimony of the girls, each of which implicated the other. Beware the Slenderman is a 2016 HBO documentary about the case.
On 22 February 2019, British tabloid newspaper The Sun reported that Aaron Campbell, a sixteen year-old convicted of raping and killing six year-old Alesha MacPhail, was obsessed with the Slender Man character, quoting “a source” who said:
“He’s an utterly warped individual and we’ve stopped a serial killer in his tracks. Slender Man searches were found and, when it was Googled, it chilled seasoned investigators to the bone. Some of the circumstances between what this character does and what happened to Alesha were carbon copies.”