March 8, 2016

Mythical J

        J is a strange letter in the history of English, having begun as a mere variant of I without any sound of its own.  We borrowed the idea of using J for words such as judge from French (but note that the second “j” sound in “judge” is spelled the original English way.)  Not until the seventeenth century were I and J clearly distinguished.  J remains one of the least common letters in English,
beating out only Z, Q, and X, although as a first letter it may also beat K and Y.  At any rate, you’d think there wouldn’t be too many mythical creatures beginning with J, but I’ve got a nice selection for you today from around the world.

jabberwock and jubjub bird - These two, discovered by Lewis Carroll, benefit from the fact that J is intrinsically funny.  More on the jabberwock here.  The jubjub isn’t described in the Jabberwocky poem, except that we must beware it, but in The Hunting of the Snark we are told that it lives in a perpetual passion, wears costume that’s ages ahead of the fashion, refuses to look at a bribe, and stands at the door of charity meetings to collect.  (Victorian English)

jaculus - Also known as the javelin snake, this small dragonoid lurks in trees and launches itself at its prey as if it were shot by a catapult.  It’s the impact that kills the victim.  The jaculus usually has wings and sometimes front legs.  (ancient Greek)



jidra - A vegetable monster, growing from the ground like a plant but eating anything that comes within its reach.  It can be killed only by destroying its roots.  What I don’t have much information on is what it looks like.  Is it a beast with an umbilical stem like the vegetable lamb?  Audrey II from “Little Shop of Horrors”?  A hydra-like vine?  I wish I had more information about this one.  (Middle Eastern)

jian - another creature for which I have only a snippet of intriguing information.  The jian is a bird, but each one has only one eye and one wing, so a pair of the creatures are inseparably dependent on each other.  (Chinese)

Jörmungandr - a cross between leviathan and ouroboros, Jörmungandr is a sea serpent so large that he encircles the earth and clasps his tail in his mouth.  He won’t let go until Ragnarök, the end of the world, at which point *spoiler alert* he and Thor will kill each other.  (ancient Norse)

        Two other J animals I’ve discussed before are 
jasconius - a fish the size of an island, more here (medieval European)

jackalope - rabbit with horns, more here (20th century North American)


[Pictures: The Jubjub Bird, illustration by John Vernon Lord, 2006, for The Hunting Of the Snark by Lewis Carroll (Image from John Vernon Lord);
The Jubjub Bird, illustration by David Elliot, 2006(?) (Image from David Elliot);
Jaculus, illumination from an English bestiary (Bibliothéque Nationale de France lat. 3630), 3rd quarter of 13th century;
Jaculus, illumination from a French bestiary (Bibliothéque Nationale de France lat. 6838B), 13th century (Images from The Medieval Bestiary);
Jörmungandr, based on a linocut by End Wares (Image from End Wares).]

2 comments:

  1. 381  “As to temper the Jubjub’s a desperate bird,
    382    Since it lives in perpetual passion:
    383  Its taste in costume is entirely absurd—
    384    It is ages ahead of the fashion:

    385  “But it knows any friend it has met once before:
    386    It never will look at a bribe:
    387  And in charity-meetings it stands at the door,
    388    And collects—though it does not subscribe.

    389  “ Its flavour when cooked is more exquisite far
    390    Than mutton, or oysters, or eggs:
    391  (Some think it keeps best in an ivory jar,
    392    And some, in mahogany kegs:)

    393  “You boil it in sawdust: you salt it in glue:
    394    You condense it with locusts and tape:
    395  Still keeping one principal object in view—
    396    To preserve its symmetrical shape.”

    As for the Jubjub in "The Hunting of the Snark", I think that this is a riddle about "time" ant/or "clocks": See page 3 in https://www.academia.edu/9970930/Hunting_Snark_with_Charles_Darwin

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