Creature Feature #2: The Faceless
The Noppera-bo is a type of creature or spirit in Japanese folklore that you could easily walk past on the street if they didn’t show their true face, which is, in fact, no face at all. There are many stories centering around this creature but almost all involve a lone person (a traveler, someone who is lost) who encounters a beautiful woman. The woman may appear with warnings, may need a ride on a desolate road, or may be found crying on a hillside. Whatever the context for the encounter, the woman will always reveal her blank, featureless face (a smooth expanse of skin where one’s face would be), sending the other person running. The Noppera-bo are not malevolent or evil in nature and are thought to be more tricksters, playing jokes on unassuming humans.
The idea of a faceless entity is, of course, not unique to Japanese folklore or literature. Whether the facelessness is a physical actuality, a costume, or a metaphor, we are still dealing with a similar kind of horror and mystery that stems from our human preoccupation with faces and categorization. Deep in the uncanny valley, we know that a robot (no matter how much you might love it) is not alive b/c there is something missing in its gaze.
We fear masked men. Sometimes we cannot help feeling a sense of distrust and caution with people we cannot make a physical connection with, while other times it is just a matter of our curiosities being piqued. In storytelling, the hidden helps create suspense, evokes emotion, and can keep the reader wondering until a reveal. And, of course, sometimes never revealing the faceless or the unseen sometimes makes a character or situation all that more compelling (for a while…).
Some popular examples and variants of Faclessness include Darth Vader, V (from V for Vendetta), Doctor Doom, the Headless Monks from Dr. Who, the Nazgul from Lord of the Rings, Wilson from Home Improvement, and Rorschach from the Watchman.