November 22, 2011

The Biggest Bird

        This is the time of year when people in the US are turning their thoughts to big birds.  The turkey, as you may know, was almost our national bird, with Ben Franklin as its advocate.  But this being a blog about fantasy, I'm not talking turkey.  If you want a big bird, nothing less than a roc will do.
        Mythologies around the world have stories of monster-sized birds, and it's not hard to see why.  From the power of actual giant raptors such as condors and eagles, to fossilized eggs of extinct birds that were even bigger, to the idea that such birds as ostriches might be the chicks of even huger birds, it's easy to imagine that a truly enormous bird was eminently plausible.  The roc, or rukh, originated in the Middle East and India, apparently amalgamating various bits and pieces of mythology, as these things do.  But here's what we know about the roc now.
        Marco Polo reported in the 1290's that the roc is "for all the world like an eagle, but one indeed of enormous size; so big in fact that its quills were twelve paces long
and thick in proportion. And it is so strong that it will seize an elephant in its talons and carry him high into the air and drop him so that he is smashed to pieces; having so killed him, the bird swoops down on him and eats him at leisure."  Rocs can also destroy entire ships by dropping boulders on them - at least, they could destroy wooden sailing ships that way.  I assume they have a harder time with modern steel ships, although I haven't heard any reports of recent roc attacks.  Perhaps that's because the rocs build their nests in more inaccessible places now, so that humans are no longer found destroying roc eggs.
        The roc's range is the China Seas, along the coasts and islands from Korea to Malaysia, though clearly those for whom elephants are a major portion of their diet must be concentrated at the southern end of that range.  However, Madagascar is also a hot spot for rocs.  Those, presumably, eat African elephants.  I don't know whether the Madagascar roc is a separate subspecies, or whether the range is continuous.  The roc is generally described as being white, although that would seem to make it harder for unscrupulous traders to pass off green or brown rafia palm fronds as roc feathers, as they have been known to do.
        Whether you procure your roc in Madagascar or Korea, I recommend the following recipe this holiday season:
        Dig a pit large and deep enough to hold the cleaned roc.  Line the pit with large, fire-heated stones and cover them with about ten bushels of greens and a couple sacks of sweet potatoes.  Rub the roc well with oil, and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Get the roc into the pit somehow.  A tow truck or backhoe might be useful, or you can do it the old fashioned way by gathering all your friends and family to help roll it.  This can get messy, so don't wear your party clothes at this stage.  Cover the roc with more greens, douse with a couple buckets of water (or barbecue sauce, if you prefer), spread a layer of very large cabbage leaves to protect the food, and then cover the entire thing with a layer of earth or sand.  Let roast until done.  You'd better start right away if you want it to be finished in time for Thanksgiving dinner.  Bon appetit!

[Pictures: Detail from Ferdinand Magellan sailing through the straits, copper engraving by Andrianus Collaert from a drawing by Johannes Stradanus from Americae Retectio, c 1585;
Sindbad carried off by the Roc, illustration by H.J. Hunt, from The Arabian Nights Entertainments ed. by Andrew Lang, 1898;
Anonymous roc - I found this picture on the web uncredited, and I'd love to track down the artist because I just love it.  If anyone recognizes this one, please let me know!]


Nan said...

OK, I'm on it. But first, I need to buy a house with a bigger yard.

Pax said...

What about stuffing?

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Yes, Nan, there are a few small logistical issues to be sorted out, no doubt about it. But it's worth everything, if you're hoping to have several hundred of your closest family members over for the big day.

And Pax, unless you're planning on making a rocostrichemuturducken, you'll need an awful lot of day-old bread for that stuffing. I'm thinking at least a gross of loaves - a baker's gross, that is: 169.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the recipe for cooking a roc. But I have another idea. Since most of the rocs now on the market are free-range rocs, running wild and building up those tough leg and wing muscles, I am inclined to favor a roc that has been raised in captivity, preferably on a roost, maybe the sort that is fed like a goose for pate purposes. Yessir, I am heading down to the local super to buy me a Purdue roc, a Butterball Amish roc that everyone in my genteel family can enjoy on the Big Day.
The Aging Wordsmith

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

I do like the image of a supermarket with a row of rocs on the shelf! =)