June 19, 2012

Chimeras

        The classical chimera, with its three random heads poking out of random places, has always seemed to me a most unconvincing beast.  It seems like a made-up monster rather than a plausible creature.  But in the word's more generalized meaning, a monster made up of elements from different creatures, fantasy is full of excellent chimeras.
        Really, almost any fantasy creature can be described in chimerical terms, from the Asian dragon with its "horns resembling those of a stag, his head that of a camel," etc., to the griffin's mix of eagle and lion, to the jackalope's conglomeration of other creatures' features.  But while they can be described by analogy, dragons and griffins seem to have their own integrated identities.  I want to focus on a few chimeras that are definitely hybrids but which, unlike their Lycian namesake, I wholly endorse.
        First of all, two chimeras of my own invention.  The walraconstrictor is a product of a game I used to play in college.  My roomates would give me two animals and my job was to combine them.  The only one I specifically remember, because it was our favorite, was the walraconstrictor.  Another chimera came to me in a dream.  I dreamt of the frowl and when I woke tried to sketch it.  I never could get it to look quite right, but I still think the concept is promising.
        A running joke in the fantasy cartoon series "Avatar: The Last Airbender" is that the animals are all hybrids, including tiger-dillos, badger-moles, buffalo-yaks, cat-owls, elephant-rats, eel-hounds, ostrich-horses, and sabertooth moose-lions.  Indeed, when our heroes encounter the Earth King's pet bear in the episode "City of Walls and Secrets," they question whether the beast must actually be a platypus-bear, skunk-bear, armadillo-bear, or gopher-bear.  A "just bear" seems rare and strange to them.  P and T really enjoyed the chimeras played for laughs throughout the series.
        Finally, if you and your friends want to create your own chimeras, the game "exquisite corpse" can be adapted to animals.  Each person takes a turn drawing a portion of an animal - head, fore-body, or rear - in which all the artist can see of the other contributions is the very edge, to make sure they all match up.  There are also a number of split-page books that make it easy to mix-and-match animal parts.  My favorite is definitely Flip-o-storic illustrated by Sara Ball.  The sectioned animals are all post-dinosauric prehistoric creatures such
as the saber-toothed cat and the glyptodon.  The book includes good factual information about the real extinct creatures involved, presented so that you can also see how it would describe the chimeras you create.  It's fun to see how some combinations look too "normal" to be appealing, while other combinations don't seem to meld convincingly - but some mash-ups are just right.
        As long as humans have been telling stories they seem to have been creating monsters by combining features of the real animals they encountered.  So remember, all it takes to design your own mythical creatures is a well-stocked menagerie and a pair of scissors!

[Pictures: Chimaera of Arezzo, woodcut depicting the famous Etruscan bronze sculpture, from Monstrorum historia by Ulisse Aldrovandi, 1642 (image from AMS Historica of the University of Bologna);
Walraconstrictor and Frowl, pencil and photoshop by AEGN, 2012;
Macraunyclagus and Dolothus, illustrations by Sara Ball from Flip-o-Storic by Britta Drehsen, 2011.]

3 comments:

  1. Love this post. I've been using chimeras in my work for years. An endless source of possibilities!

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