February 12, 2016

Mythical G

        G is another of those letters that, for some reason, hosts an unusually high population of mythical creatures.

griffin - winged and eagle-headed lion, previous post here. (ancient Greek, Egyptian, middle Eastern, central Asian, medieval European…)

gorgon - In Greek mythology the gorgons are three sisters with living snakes for hair and hideous faces that turn people to stone.  Medusa, of course, was the one who was famously killed.  Interestingly, images of the gorgon head were often used as protective talismans, and in some versions of the myth Medusa was said to be beautiful. (ancient Greek)

golem - a humanoid made of inanimate material, brought to life to serve and protect its maker, previously discussed here.  (Jewish)

grindylow - long-armed swamp creature that drowns unwary children.  It may be etymologically related to the swamp monster Grendel.  The best-known population of grindylows are those dwelling in the Black Lake at Hogwarts.  (English)

gargoyle - a grotesque creature made of stone or capable of petrifying itself, which dwells and camouflages itself on buildings.  Relatively recently discovered as a fantasy creature, the gargoyle originates with the fancifully carved water spouts on ancient architecture, especially medieval gothic cathedrals in Europe.  An old myth gives the origins of architectural gargoyles in the story of the gargouille, a fire- and water-spouting monster about which I’ll tell you another time.  Interestingly, the words gargoyle and gargouille, which both refer to throats (as in English gargle), may share an Indo-European root with gorgon.  (modern)

giant - an enormous, ferocious, extra-strong humanoid.  Not surprisingly, cultures all around the world have giants, and many of these giants represent the forces of chaos.  (universal)

ghost - the spirit of a dead human that remains on Earth, usually because of trauma, tragedy, or sin.  There are so many interesting synonyms for ghost that I will have to feature them as Words of the Month!  (universal)

ghoul - a monster that dwells in graveyards or deserts and consumes human flesh  (Arabian)

goblin, gnome - Similar in being small, ground-dwelling humanoids, goblins are mischievous at best and usually downright evil, while gnomes are more often neutral or benign.  A branch of gnomes have evolved into guardians of gardens, portrayed in plaster or plastic (or more recently in “classic resin”) with tall pointed caps and long white beards inspired by Disney’s depiction of the seven dwarfs in “Snow White.”  (northern European)

gremlin - Another recent discovery, gremlins were first encountered by Royal Air Force pilots in the 1920s.  These imps cause all sorts of mechanical mischief, and since being described by Roald Dahl in his first children’s novel in 1943 and several Warner Bros. cartoons, they have been identified as causing issues in every kind of machinery.  I wonder whether they evolved from some older species of imp during the environmental changes of the Industrial Revolution, or simply spontaneously generated from faulty wiring spitting sparks onto spilled motor oil.  (modern)

[Pictures:  Little Griffin, rubber block print by AEGN, 2010 (sold out);
Gargoyles, scratchboard by John D. Maddin (Image from Scratchboard Fiend);
The Tread of the Friendly Giants, wood block print by Fritz Endell from Chimney-Pot Papers by Charles S. Brooks, 1919 (Image from Project Gutenberg).]

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