Are you an animal lover? Does that love extend to mythical beasts?
If you read almost any subgenre of fantasy, you’ve probably been introduced to a few creatures. I definitely have a soft spot for all such kinds of furry creatures! We had a whole week dedicated to them in the Facebook group Fantasy Sci-Fi Readers Lounge not too long ago – other readers also had their favorites as our polls revealed! As I wanted to learn more, I put out a call to my fellow authors. Judith Pratt answered that call!
Please keep reading for this fun guest post and check out the links she provided for additional reading too!
by Judith Pratt
There are a lot of them. Why is that?
Bats are scary, especially if they end up flapping around your bedroom, so we get Nosferatu and vampires. Even the minotaur is related to an ordinary bull. I think that the unicorn and the flying horses are fantasies made up by people who love horses. And dragons are just overgrown snakes, and many snakes are poisonous, so people decide that they are dragons. Finally, in the Bible, Christians overcome evil in the form of snakes.
But why the chupacabra? The yama-uba? The squonk? The jiniki? The tarasque?
I had to learn about all these for my novel, The Dry Country, which is on Amazon.
Each character in the novel is pursued by a mythical beast that corresponds to their worst fear or strongest dream. To fit those criteria, I chose a unicorn, a horse with wings and too many legs, and the chupacabra, yamayuba, squonk, jiniki, minotaur, phoenix, and tarasque. (You may notice that there are a lot of characters in The Dry Country.)
Here’s what I learned.
Horses with wings, horns, and/or extra legs, come from many sources. I figure that when horses were the means of transportation, everyone wished for better, stronger, more magic steeds.
“Odin Rides to Hel” (1908) by W. G. Collingwood.
This horse comes from Norse mythology. It belonged to Odin, but Loki was its mother. Yes “mother.” Mr. Loki was an accomplished shapeshifter. Slepnir had eight legs, so he was faster than any ordinary horse. Despite all those legs, he had a very smooth gait. In fact, in Old Norse, “slepnir” can mean “slippery” or “smooth.”
Pegasus and other winged horses
Bellerophon rode Pegasus to kill the Chimera, another wonderful mythical beast.
But winged horses appear in Islamic, Chinese, Turkish, and Indian mythology. Too many to cover here—check with Google!
Once you begin digging around in mythical beasts, you discover a lot of them, from every culture. Japan gave me the yama-uba and jikiniki.
Greedy or miserly people become jikiniki after they die. These human-eating ghosts are compelled to eat fresh human corpses by night, even though it horrifies them. They may be redeemed from their awful existence through the prayers and offerings of a righteous living person.
“Yamauba” from the Hyakkai Zukan by Sawaki Suushi
The yama-uba is an old hag who lives in the Japanese forests. She offers shelter to travelers; then eats them. Yum.
Mathew Meyer has described dozens of lovely Japanese demons at http://yokai.com. He also explains that the yama-uba may come from the way starving people sometimes left their old people to die in the forest. His site is a treasure trove of mythical beings.
If you’d like even more Japanese creatures, see all the animated films of Hayao Miyazaki. Spirited Away is my favorite, and it’s crammed with weird beings.
Although the U.S. is a very young culture, we have come up with quite a few mythical creatures. Bigfoot the Sasquatch is only the beginning of the list.
The squonk is a very ugly creature, with ill-fitting skin that’s covered with warts. Knowing how ugly it is, it hides and spends much of its time weeping over its own ugliness. If captured, the squonk dissolves completely into a pool of tears. It lives in the forests of Pennsylvania, as seen by the loggers who cleared those forests in the nineteenth century.
The chupacabra is a fairly recent development. In 1995, in Puerto Rico, eight sheep were killed and drained of blood by—something. After that, the thing was spied again in Puerto Rico, as well as in the southern U.S. and in Mexico. Scientists say it’s just a dog or coyote with its hair eaten off by mange, but that’s no fun. Besides, there are lots of drawings of this beast!
An artist’s rendition of the chupacabra.
The chupacabra has leathery or scaly greenish-gray skin, sharp spines running down its back and unusually pronounced eye sockets. Of course, it also sports fangs and claws. Some folks have seen it hop like a kangaroo. Mangy dogs do not hop. So there!
This beastie appeared in France in the 12th century. St Martha came to Tarascon, a town near the Spanish border, because the people were being eaten by “a huge dragon, part land animal and part fish.” But this thing is not a dragon with wings—it looks more like a giant tortoise.
“It was fatter than an ox, longer than a horse, with a lion’s face and head, teeth as sharp as swords, a horse’s mane, its back as sharp as an axe, bristling and piercing scales, six feet with bear’s claws, a serpent’s tail, and a shell on either side like a tortoise.”
When not attacking people, it hid under the river Rhône.
St. Mary found the tarasque eating a hapless victim. Faced with a cross and sprinkled with holy water, the monster turned meek, and the villagers killed it. So we’re back at the Bible, where the saints vanquished Satan as he took the form of a snake.
For many years, the Tarascon festival has featured a replica of St. Mary’s monster.
I’ve only scratched the surface of mythical beasts. Google the phrase—you’ll get ten pages of fascinating creepiness!
Are you ready to dig deeper into Judith’s take on mythical creatures??! You’ll find her bio and links below so please do check her out!
If you want to continue this discussion, please comment with your favorite mythical beasts or books that tell those stories well. I do love furry creatures whether domestic, wild, or supernatural so I’d love your recommendations!
Judith Pratt has been an actor, a director, and a theatre professor. She has studied playwriting with Lois Weaver, Arthur Kopit, Stuart Spence, Laura Maria Censabella, and Liz Duffy Adams.
Her plays have been produced in New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Kansas City MO, and Cape Town, South Africa. Her full length-play The Wright Place was published by JAC Publishing Co., and her short play, Metaphorical Shoes, by Art Age Publishing.
Most recently, Maize was selected by Louisiana State University SciArts as one of three recipients of the inaugural SciArts at LSU Playwriting Prize, and Top of FormBottom of Form was a Semi-finalist in the 2019 Mach 33: Caltech/Pasadena Playhouse Festival of New Science-Driven Plays.
Her novel Siljeea Magic, was recently published by Black Rose Writing. She self-published her first novel, The Dry Country. Both of these are on Amazon.
Her third novel is only on her computer, along with her next play.