April 30, 2022

Z is for Zany

         (This is it: we’ve reached the end of the alphabet!  But you can still check out all the other A to Z Bloggers here.  My A to Z Challenge theme this year is How to Make a Fantastical Creature, in which I explore 26 traits that are widely shared among the monsters and marvels of fantasy and folklore.)
        Although many magical creatures have their birth in our nightmares, and others evolve with our solemn mythological, theological, and philosophical beliefs, some strange and magical creatures are really just for fun.  Today I’ve got some of the silliest, zaniest beasties for you to enjoy.  (Plus a whole lot of links to prior posts, since I do tend to like to feature zany critters!)
        One whole class of zany monsters is called Fearsome Critters, and these are found in tales told by the lumberjacks and outdoorsmen of the American wilderness around the turn of the 19-20th century.  They often have their origins as jokes and hoaxes.  The jackalope is one of the more famous, and we encountered the hidebehind way back at A.
        The wapaloosie was featured in my bestiary, and it hails from the damp forests of the Pacific Northwest, where its inchworm physique, zygodactyl claws, and spike-tipped tail allow it to climb the tallest trees with ease.  It has soft, rich fur, but don’t bother trying to make mittens or coats or anything from it, because even when removed from the critter, the fur will compulsively continue to climb as high as it can into any tree nearby.  Oops, there goes another pair of mittens!
        Then there’s the whirling whimpus of Tennessee, which looks a bit like a gorilla with tiny feet and huge, heavy hands.  It stands at a bend in a forest trail and spins so quickly that it becomes invisible (flashback to I).  If a hiker should walk into its orbit, they will be pureed by the whirling hands.  The only way to avoid this is to listen for the sound of a whirling whimpus whirling: a strange droning noise.
        The tripodero inhabits brush around construction and engineering sites.  Its two telescopic legs, balanced by a tail like a kangaroo, allow it to raise and lower itself in the scrub.  When it sights prey, it aims, and blows a ball of sun-dried clay (which it stores in its left cheek pouch) through its snout with the force of a bullet.
        The roperite from the foothills of the Sierras can run extremely fast so that nothing can outrun it, and its most distinctive feature is its strangely elongated and flexible beak, which it uses like a lasso to rope its prey.
        These sorts of zany creatures abound in other places around the world, as well.  The fur-bearing trout is a Fearsome Critter, but very similar furred fish inhabit the lakes and rivers of Scandinavia.  In Australia can be found the vain and silly oozlum bird, and throughout Europe there are a variety of strange bird-rabbit-type hybrids, including the wolpertinger, the skvader, and the dilldapp.  You can find out more about them (and others) here.
        I can’t help suspecting that the bonnacon, which we met at B, was medieval comic relief, setting the monks to sniggering in their scriptoria.  But of course those illuminators also indulged in all manner of unnamed marginal monsters that were as zany as it gets.  We saw a few grylluses at X, and a funny winged thing at F, and here are a few more.  There are no stories about marginalia, so we can only speculate about their life cycles, dispositions, and possible magical traits.
        The hippogryph (mentioned at C and F) was originally introduced to the world as a zany creature, since it is the offspring of a griffin and a horse, two species that were considered to be utterly opposed and thus impossible to combine.  There are also some 
heraldic beasts that seem to have been intended to be a bit zany, including the

        The welwa from a Romanian fairy tale is also pretty bizarre.

        During the Edo period when there was a great craze in Japan for collections of yōkai (strange supernatural creatures and spirits), a number were made up for sheer entertainment.  However, one of the yōkai I find particularly zany may not have been intended as a joke.  The kamikiri is a sort of insectoid critter with razor teeth and scissor-hands, with which it sneaks up behind people and cuts off locks of hair.
        In the western mountains of China you might encounter the dijiang (aka hundun), a very strange headless, faceless creature with six legs and four wings.  Despite its odd anatomy, this critter can dance and sing.  Recently it got its chance to star in a major motion picture, being featured in the 2021 Marvel movie “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” under the name of Morris.
        Many modern fantasy authors have indulged their zany sides with strange creatures from Lewis Carroll’s toves, borogoves, and jubjub bird, to Douglas Adams’s mattresses and  ravenous bugblatter beast of Traal, and Terry Pratchett’s definitely zany take on dragons.  
Dr. Seuss offered entire books of zany beasts, of which I have previously mentioned the spotted atrocious and the foon (introduced at E), and will add today the yop which likes to hop (and is small enough it could have been featured at P).
        Gustave Verbeek and Jack Prelutsky revelled in mythical mashups such as porcupineapples and umbrellaphants, to which class one of my own contributions is the capybureau.  You can also learn about my discovery of the musical critters double-belled euphonibun, calliopine, harp-finned walkingcod, and more.
        And check out another prior post to revisit such modern discoveries as flying penguins, hotheaded naked ice borers
and Tasmanian mock walruses.  And find a whole host of unnamed zany Welsh creatures here, described by Robert Graves.
        For the moral of this post I will quote Dr. Seuss: From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere!  A Pro Tip for explorers of the Realms of the Imagination is never to be surprised by anything - but by all means take delight in everything.
        What’s your favorite zany creature?  Or, if you really want to make Z earn its keep as the final letter in the A to Z Challenge, what’s your favorite creature of them all?

[Pictures: Wapaloosie (Ever Climbing), rubber block print by AEGN, 2019;
Tripodero, and Roperite, illustrations by Coert Du Bois from Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods by Cox, 1910 (Images from Lumberwoods);
Marginalia, illuminations from Luttrell Psalter, 1325-40 (Images from British Library),
and “Maastricht Hours,” 1300-1325 (Image from British Library);
Kamikiri, painting from Bakemonozukushie (scroll version), before 1868 (Image from Internet Archive);
Dijiang, detail of wood block print by Jiang from Shan hai jing, 1628-44 (Image from Harvard Library);
Yop, illustration from One fish two fish red fish blue fish by Dr. Seuss, 1960;
Capybureau, rubber block print by AEGN, 2018 (sold out).]

April 29, 2022

Y is for Yonder

         (My A to Z Challenge theme this year is How to Make a Fantastical Creature, in which I explore 26 traits that are widely shared among the monsters and marvels of fantasy and folklore.)
        One characteristic shared by many magical, mythical creatures is that they don’t live around here.  Rather, they tend to live yonder, in some far-away, strange and exotic country where most of us have never been.  Of course, what counts as “yonder” is entirely dependent on where you are, so for medieval Europeans most of the craziest creatures lived in Africa or India, with some in the far north, or central and eastern Asia.  Meanwhile, however, the Chinese were placing many of their magical creatures far to the west in central Asia or even Europe, or to the south in India.  In tropical South America and Africa, yonder might be deep in the jungles, or at the tops of mountains.
        Among the faraway creatures described in medieval European bestiaries and travellers’ tales you can revisit the yale (Ethiopia), and the vegetable lamb (Central Asia).  The barnacle goose (from far-away Ireland) is a goose that begins its life cycle growing from a tree.  When it's ready, its shell cracks open and the bird drops out into the water below and can swim or fly away.  Plus, in this year’s A to Z we’ve already seen the manticore (India) at A, the gold-digging ant (India or Ethiopia) at H, the parandrus (Arctic, Central Eurasia, or Ethiopia!) at I, and the griffin (northern Eurasia or India) at C, F, H, and J!  All of these strange and exotic creatures were believed to live yonder.
        Persian bestiaries describe the sanajah, which is to be found away yonder in Tibet.  The sanajah has a deadly gaze, except that if you come up to the fierce beast with your eyes shut so that it sees you first, it will be the one to drop dead!
        They also tell of the anqa, a bird known to live in remote, strange, desolate lands far to the west.  She is sometimes described as having a long neck, human face, and eight wings (making her eligible for both C and X), and she eats nothing but elephants and large fish.  However, she was so often conflated with the simurgh (see C and K) that it’s become a little hard to tease out what other characteristics might be her own.
        The almiraj is a one-horned golden hare that lives on an island in the Indian ocean, which is far yonder from the courts of Iran, where the accounts were written.  It has a trait suitable to M, that all creatures who look upon it instantly flee.  (By the way, for a little taste of Words of the Month, almiraj is of course an Anglicization of the Arabic name, and a redundant one at that, since the al- prefix just means “the.”  However, this is not uncommon in translation  and borrowing of words, so that’s what we call it.  The same thing has occurred in the English words alcoholalgebra (flashback to X), and alchemy, all borrowed from Arabic.)
        The Han Dynasty Classic of Mountains and Seas describes creatures that can be found in all directions, away yonder beyond the seas and the Great Wastelands.  These include a number of creatures that have already appeared in this alphabet, such as the Jingren (at P), the jiutou niao (at V), and the bingfeng (at X).  In the Western Lands Beyond the Seas lives the chenghuang, like a long-tailed white fox with spikes on its back.  Anyone who succeeds in riding this beast will live at least a thousand years.
        Beyond the Southern Wastelands is the chuti, which looks like a two-headed yak (flashback to X) with long spiralling horns - at least that’s according to the translation I have, but the pictures of it don’t seem to have horns at all, so I don’t know what to tell you.
        All manner of creatures are encountered by heroes who leave home, from the firebird (introduced at G), the sirens (introduced at E), and Sinbad’s roc (introduced at P),  to all the creatures of Oz (introduced at S) and the Himmapan Forest (at C and E).
        The moral of these stories is that the creatures are always greener - I mean, more magical - on the other side of the fence.  But a Pro Tip for explorers is that you cannot assume there will never be any monsters or magic nearby.  Bogies, for example, are always local monsters, to be found right there in your nearest river, lake, or swamp.  All manner of shapeshifting trickster beasts (seen at T) can tease and torment you on your road home, and will o’ the wisps (introduced at G) may lead you astray even when you think you know the way.  Besides, never forget that your back yard is someone else’s yonder (and vice versa)!  Still, if you really want to encounter amazing magical creatures, your best course of action is to set off to seek your fortune in faraway lands… yonder.
        Which magical faraway creature do you most wish lived nearby?

[Pictures: Yale, rubber reduction print by AEGN, 2018;
Barnacle Goose, illumination from bestiary, 1175-1225 (Image from British Library);
, illumination from Wonders of Creation by al-Qazwini, early 15th c (Image from Smithsonian);
Almiraj, illumination from Wonders of Creation by al-Qazwini, 1565 (Image from Bibliotheque Bordeaux);
Chenhuang, 2 versions - wood block print from Shan Hai Jing, 1667-1722 (Image from Smithsonian),

- detail of wood block print from  Shan Hai Jing, 1628-1644 (Image from Harvard Library);

Roc (Great Bird), illumination from Wonders of Creation by al-Qazwini, c1760 (Image from Library of Congress).]

April 28, 2022

X is for Variables

         (My A to Z Challenge theme this year is How to Make a Fantastical Creature, in which I explore 26 traits that are widely shared among the monsters and marvels of fantasy and folklore.)
        In the grand tradition of the A to Z Challenge, I have had to get a little creative with X, but this year I am using it in its role as a mathematic variable, and it represents the idea that mythical creatures can have variable numbers of body parts.  Monsters may have X heads, where X can equal not only the standard 1 that is usual among most animals on Earth, but 2 or 7 or 100, or just about any other number.  Changing X is one of the quickest, easiest ways to make a creature magical, and creatures with unusual numbers of body parts are so common in myth that this is another trait for which I couldn’t possibly list them all.  So I’ll just give you a sampling with a bit of variety to it.
        In the classical world there are the 1-eyed cyclops giants, and the all-seeing giant Argus with 100 eyes.  You can revisit the 3-headed guard dog Cerberus and his brother the 2-headed Orthrus (both suitable for O), and we’ve also just seen the X-headed hydra at R, where X may equal 7 or 9, or something else depending on who’s telling the tale.
        Medieval bestiaries feature the 2-headed amphisbaena, which is a sort of 2-legged serpent that carries its two heads not next to each other like Orthrus or a run-of-the-mill 2-headed giant, but one at each end.  China also knew of the bingfeng, a boar with a head on each end amphisbaena-style.  A more recent beast with the same trait is Hugh Lofting’s pushmi-pullyu from 1920, which is of gazelle/chamois/unicorn stock.
        In classical and medieval art you may also encounter the gryllus, which is not so much a single species as a whole variable class of grotesques.  Sometimes X=2 for the gryllus’s faces: one on its head, but the other on its stomach.  Sometimes X=0 for its body: it has none when it takes the form of a head set directly atop a pair of legs.  Although the gryllus may represent the beastly vices, it is also a comic figure (and also often quite chimeric - flashback to C).
        The 3-legged crow called sanzuwu in China and samjogo in Korea lives in the sun (flashback to N) and is often golden or red instead of black.
        In parts of Serbia and Croatia you may encounter the 6-legged bukavac, a demonic monster (flashback to D) with gnarled horns.  It lives in lakes, makes loud noises, and strangles people.
        Another 6-legged monster is the păl-raí-yûk of Alaska.  It behaves like an alligator, lying in wait in the rivers to grab its prey (often human, flashback to A), but it’s covered in fine, dark fur, which grows longest on its feet.  It’s got horns, and the hind legs are longer than the middle and front pairs.
        Sleipnir is the 8-legged horse of the Norse god Odin.  Danish folklore also mentions the helhest, a 3-legged horse.  But whereas Sleipnir is the best horse (and one of a kind - another flashback to O), the helhest is associated with sickness and death.
        In Romanian folklore the role of the villain is often played by a balaur, an X-headed dragon or serpent, where X = 3, or 7, or 12.  Eastern Europe is inhabited by quite a few dragons of various sorts whose heads often number either 7 or multiples of 3.
        Kitsune, the Japanese fox spirits introduced at T, grow more tails the older and more powerful they are.  Some say they can gain extra tails every 100 years, but in any case, the most powerful have 9.  In stories it is most common that X=1, 5, 7, or 9.
        The nasnas of Arab folklore is only half a person: 1 arm, 1 leg, .5 head…  A very similar half-creature is the palesmurt of Russian folklore, which has a tendency to choke people, which seems like it wouldn’t be that easy to do with only one hand.  (At least, I assume.  Not that I’ve ever tried.)
        X can also equal 0 in creatures such as the headless Blemmyes (humanoids with faces in their chests), the faceless noppera-b
ō (a Japanese yōkai, or ghost), and the headless yohualtepoztli introduced at J.
        But perhaps the winner is Kuyuthan, a bull created to hold up the rock that supports the angel that supports the Earth, according to early Islamic mythology.  This monstrous beast has 40,000 eyes, 40,000 noses, 40,000 ears, 40,000 mouths, 40,000 tongues, and 40,000 legs!
        You can see prior posts to learn about the 4-legged calanchi goose, the 1-legged monopod, the 5-legged quintaped, the 4-winged 4-headed beast of Daniel, the 6-legged tarasque, and the jian, a bird which has only 1 eye and 1 wing, so that it takes two to fly.  Plus, already in this alphabet we’ve seen the 9-tailed boyi (introduced at J), 1-eyed Mi-ni-wa-tu (introduced at M), the 6-legged 4-winged feiwei (introduced at N), the 8-headed 8-tailed Yamata no Orochi (introduced at O), and the 9-headed jiutou niao (introduced at V).
        The moral of these creatures is that it’s important to be open-minded and flexible in your judgement of how other beings should look!  A Pro Tip for mathematicians is that a little basic algebra will be of great assistance in your study of unnatural history.
        What do you think: are two heads really better than one?

[Pictures: Cerberus, detail from engraving by Sebald Beham, 1545 (Image from The British Museum);
Amphisbaena, illumination from bestiary, 14th century (Image from Bibliotheque nationale de France);
Bingfeng, wood block print from Shan Hai Jing, 1667-1722 (Image from Smithsonian);
Pushmi-pullyu, illustration from The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting, 1920 (Image from Project Gutenberg);
Sanzuwu, detail from mural in Henan province, c 200 BCE-200CE (Image from Wikimedia Commons);
Sleipnir, carved and painted on the Tjängvide image stone, 9-10th century (Image from Wikimedia Commons);
Kitsune, color wood block print by Ryūkansai from Kyōka Hyaku Monogatari, 1853;
Noppera-bō, color wood block print by Ryūkansai from Kyōka Hyaku Monogatari, 1853 (Images from The Met);
Gryllus, marginalia from “Luttrell Psalter,” 1325-40,  (Images from British Library),

and “Maastricht Hours,” 1300-1325 (Image from British Library).]

April 26, 2022

W is for Wishes

         (My A to Z Challenge theme this year is How to Make a Fantastical Creature, in which I explore 26 traits that are widely shared among the monsters and marvels of fantasy and folklore.  Have you been visiting some of this year’s other participants?  Find them here!)
        The ability to grant wishes is presumably a subcategory of M-is-for-Magic, but it’s a special enough sort of magic that it gets its own post.  There are many tales about people receiving the magic of having wishes come true, and sometimes these wishes and their stories have happy endings, but sometimes… not so much.
        Perhaps the most famous wish-granting beings are the jinn.  The usual story is that a jinni is imprisoned in some sort of artifact (bottle, lamp, ring…), and offers wishes to whomever sets them free.  Sometimes they become enslaved to the holder of the artifact and fulfill unlimited commands, while in other stories there are only three wishes.  (But in still other stories, they claim to have made a vow to kill the one who sets them free.  If that’s the kind of jinni you find, consider my Pro Tip under T.)
        Another famous wish-giving species is the leprechaun, that diminutive sprite (flashback to P) of Irish folklore.  If you can catch a leprechaun he may bargain for his freedom with three wishes, although in modern folklore it has become more common for leprechauns to bargain instead with the gold they keep at the end of the rainbow.  I suppose it’s a distinction without a difference for those numerous people whose first wish is wealth anyway.
        A particularly dangerous creature from which to obtain wishes is the animalito of Spain.  As their name implies, these are tiny animals (another flashback to P), small enough that they are kept in lengths of reed with a node at one end and a cork at the other.  They have lizard heads and dog mouths, and anyone protected by an animalito cannot be killed except by a silver bullet.  However, in return for this protection and the fulfillment of infinite wishes, an animalito must be fed every day on the flesh either of unbaptized children or of their own masters.  As you can imagine, this can become… difficult.
        Another dangerous wish-granter is the hinnagami, a sort of living doll, almost a sort of homunculus, made with a very long, complicated magical procedure involving cemetery earth and human blood.  A hinnagami will grant all wishes, but the downside is that after every wish it immediately asks “What next?” without any pause or rest, so that it haunts the owner obsessively - even going with them into the afterlife to torment them for eternity.
        This problem of having your wish-giver destroy your afterlife is shared by the eponymous Bottle Imp of the 1891 short story by Robert Louis Stevenson.  As with many wish-granting tales, the fulfillment of wishes is often double-edged, and there’s always a catch.
        Of course any magical being may offer wishes under certain circumstances, especially as bargaining chips in return for their life or freedom, or as rewards given in gratitude for kindness.  Probably the best-known of these 
is the golden fish who offered the fisherman a whole series of wishes - none of which could satisfy the fisherman’s ungrateful wife.  Many are the wishes bestowed by fairies and even gods, only to be squandered on foolish things such as sticking sausages onto and then back off of noses.
        The moral of these stories is always to be careful what you wish for, as you may find that things can all too easily go terribly wrong.  (A corollary is that it’s not nice to hold magical creatures for ransom, and wishes given resentfully because of extortion are that much more likely to become twisted into curses.)  A Pro Tip for wishers is never to use the phrase “I wish” as a mere colloquialism, lest you waste a precious opportunity.
        And if you could have one wish, what would it be?  What if you could have three wishes?

[Pictures: Jinni, illustration by F. Gross from Tausend und eine Nacht, 1838 (Image from Hathi Trust);
Leprechaun, vintage St Patrick’s Day card, c1900; 
Hinnagami, illustration by DJ-Duskie, 2018 (Image from Deviant Art);
Magic Fish, illustration by Kay Nielsen from Hansel and Gretel and Other Stories, 1924 (Image from Wikimedia Commons)
Golden Fish, illustration by Ivan Bilibin from Du Oetit Poisson D’Or, 1933 (Image from Vintage Illustrators).]

April 25, 2022

V is for Vampirism

         (My A to Z Challenge theme this year is How to Make a Fantastical Creature, in which I explore 26 traits that are widely shared among the monsters and marvels of fantasy and folklore.)
        While we were introduced to vampires at U for Undead, not all vampiric creatures are undead.  Moreover, according to the definition I’m using, not all vampires drink blood, and not all blood-drinkers are vampires.  To count as a true vampire, I don’t think it’s enough simply to take nourishment from blood as, for example la chupacabra that drinks the blood of goats on Puerto Rico.  No, a true vampire must consume its victim’s life force in a sort of mystical way along with (or instead of) just the blood.  However, being a little picky about my definition does not leave me with any shortage of vampiric creatures for today’s post.  Cultures all around the world tell stories of life-sucking monsters, so clearly this is a pretty universal fear among humans.  The forms these vampires take, on the other hand, can vary pretty widely.  
        We can start with the classic vampire based on Eastern European folklore and popularized in the nineteenth century.  Other than the nifty ability to take the form of bats (flashback to T), I’m not much of a fan, and you can see how I really feel about vampires in this previous post.
        A far cry from some suave and seductive undead nobleman is the alp-luachra of Ireland that’s more like a cross between a newt and a tapeworm.  It crawls into the mouth of a person asleep outdoors, and takes up residence in their stomach, eating all the nourishment or life-giving essence out of their food until they waste away.
        Especially common in southeast Asia, there is a whole class of vampiric monsters that are flying heads, often with internal organs dangling down below.  They also glow (flashback to G).  Those whose blood they drink develop a fatal wasting disease.  You may encounter penanggals in Malay myth, and the similar krasue in Thailand, and ahp in Cambodia.  These monsters are almost always female, and are not undead; the head flies about at night but returns to its body during the day.  (And the leyaks of Bali are ruled by the demon Rangda, whom we met at D.)
        Another flying head is the chonchon, a very advanced form that can be taken by Mapuche sorcerers in South America.  This head has talons, and it uses its large ears as wings, which I can’t help thinking is kind of adorable, no matter how horrific these monsters are.  They fly about on moonless nights and are invisible except to other sorcerers (flashback to I), and drink blood, among other evils.
        In the Philippines the sigbin has the very special ability that it can suck its victims’ blood from their shadows.  It looks a bit like a goat, but can become invisible (another flashback to I), and it walks backwards.  It has long ears that it can clap together, and a long tail that it can flick like a whip.  Sometimes it takes children’s hearts and makes them into amulets, but I’m not sure what those amulets are supposed to do.
        In Hindu mythology can be found vetalas, evil spirits that can take possession of corpses and cause all manner of trouble, including vampirism.  They tend to hang out (literally - upside-down in a tree!) in charnel grounds, and because time and space mean nothing to them, they have extensive knowledge of past, present, and future (flashback to K).  One famous story is about a vetala who could only be captured if his opponent could not answer his question.  Every time he was caught, he would tell a story that ended with a question, and his captor would be unable to resist answering the question, thus freeing the vetala (and making it eligible for the letter Q, although with a twist from the usual pattern!)
        In southern Chile may be found the peuchen, a shapeshifter (flashback to T) that not only sucks blood but can remove the entire heart of its victim without leaving any external wound on the body.
        According to Ewe folklore of western Africa, the adze looks like a firefly, in which form it can get into people’s houses to suck their blood, thus giving them fatal diseases, which honestly just sounds pretty much like a straight-up malaria mosquito or tsetse fly.  However, an adze can also take human form if caught (yet another flashback to T).
        In Japan there is an evil spirit called Wanyūdō that looks like a burning wheel with a man’s face in the middle.  He rolls around, especially along the road to the underworld, and will steal the soul of anyone who gets within range.
        The jiutou niao of the northern wastes of China is a red-feathered bird with nine heads.  It used to have ten, but lost one, and the headless neck continually drips toxic blood.  This creature drains people (especially children) of qi, which is life force or spiritual energy.
        The talamaur of Vanuatu is a a sort of vampiric sorcerer who controls a ghost and uses it to drain the life force of the living, and in Albanian folklore a shtriga is a vampiric witch.
        The vampiric trope of the witch or wizard who steals the life of younger beings in order to keep themselves perpetually youthful shows up in a lot of tales, including Stardust by Neil Gaiman, 1993’s “Hocus Pocus,” 2012’s “Snow White and the Hunstman,” plus “X-Men” mutant Silene, and the skeksis of 1982’s “The Dark Crystal.”  (There’s also the fact that my cat gets kibbles that claim to be made “with LifeSource Bits®” which sounds extremely sinister to me.  I do hope the life force of innocent kittens is not being drained in unholy factories somewhere in order to keep my middle-aged cat youthful.)
         You can also revisit the Yara-ma-yha-who of Australia, who use their suction-cup fingers and toes to drain their victims.  Plus, vampiric monsters in previous posts include the lidérc (mentioned at D, G, and T), impundulu (mentioned at both D and N), succubus (at D), and jiangshi (at U).
        The moral of vampires is that it’s not okay to take another life - especially not when someone else is already using it.  A Pro Tip for maidens is never to get involved with vampires, no matter how sparkly they may appear.  Actually, that’s good advice not just for maidens, but for everyone.
        But why do you think vampires are so popular???

[Pictures: Vampire, photograph of Bela Lugosi as Dracula, from Universal Studios, 1931 (Image from Wikimedia Commons);
Krasue, illustration by Tawee Witsanukorn from comic Krasue Sao, 1968-1973 (Image from südostasien);
Vetala, cover of Baital Pachisi by Ravi Prakashan (Image from ebay shoryaa);
 Wanyūdō, detail of color wood block print by Ryūkansai from Kyōka Hyaku Monogatari, 1853 (Image from The Met); 
Jiutou niao, color wood block print, 1644-1911 (Image from Library of Congress);
Skeksis, still from “The Dark Crystal” directed by Jim Henson, 1982 (Image from fandom);
Detail of package from Blue Buffalo cat food.]

April 23, 2022

U is for Undead

        (My A to Z Challenge theme this year is How to Make a Fantastical Creature, in which I explore 26 traits that are widely shared among the monsters and marvels of fantasy and folklore.  You can see all the other participating blogs here.
        One of the most terrifying traits of mythical monsters is when they are undead, an idea that has haunted the nightmares of people around the world.  While the idea of death scares us, apparently the idea of death not keeping hold horrifies us even more.  Although there is the occasional story with a zombie dog or ghost cat, for example, generally speaking, the undead are variants of humans.
        There are all manner of ghosts, which are spirits of the dead who remain on the earthly plane for various reasons.  Usually (although not always) ghosts are malevolent, being spirits of particularly evil people, or spirits of people who were particularly wronged and are now vengeful.  In Norse mythology the draugr, aka their English name barrow-wights, are those who were buried in neolithic mounds, but continue to “live” in their tombs as evil spirits, often guarding treasure in their barrows (flashback to H).  Although barrow-wights can fight people and strangle them, ghosts are most often incorporeal.  However, poltergeists can create physical disturbances.  Other types of ghosts, including the dybbuks of Jewish folkore, can posses living people in order to give themselves a physical presence and abilities.
        Japan is particularly rich in ghosts (yūrei), with a tradition since the 17th century of listing and illustrating different types.  Some categories are spirits who are particularly vengeful, spirits of women who died in childbirth, and spirits driven by gluttony.  And of course, spirits of tragic lovers are always popular.
        A second category of undead is zombies, which in some ways are the opposite of ghosts.  If ghosts are animated spirits without bodies, zombies are animated corpses without spirits.  In the Vodou tradition in which zombies originate, the corpse is reanimated by an evil sorcerer to be used as a mindless servant, often set to particularly malevolent tasks.  In more recent stories such as “Night of the Living Dead” from 1968, zombies might be the result of special diseases or contagions, and the monsters have no directive at all other than to feed upon the living (especially their brains).  And in the most recent variant of zombie mythology, zombies are considered to retain some personality and will of their own, such as “Warm Bodies” of 2013.
        The famous Creature of the 1818 novel Frankenstein could be considered a sort of zombie, having been created from reanimated corpses.  He, however, is patch-worked of many parts, and brought to life through Science rather than magic.  As the Creature is intelligent and articulate, and motivated by being treated as an outcast, the 21st century versions of zombies are more like Frankenstein’s monster than they are like the original zombies.
        The third main class of undead creatures is vampires, which are creatures that suck the life-force from the living.  In the European tradition they are people who have died, but return from their graves, both body and spirit.  Count Dracula is, of course, the most famous in the English-speaking world.  Another good example is the jiangshi of China (with variants throughout Asia).  These undead monsters are so stiff that they have to move around by hopping with their arms reaching out.  They have pale green skin and often have a paper talisman stuck to their forehead.  But I’m not going to go into any further introductions of vampiric creatures because… Foreshadowing!
        Undead creatures we’ve seen before include the duppies introduced at B, and (at least according to some versions) banshees introduced at K, plus you can revisit some of the many words English has for ghosts here or read a little more about the word Frankenstein here.
        The moral of these tales of the undead is not to let yourself be consumed by unhealthy obsessions while you’re living, lest you end up a miserable, tormented, unresting monster after death.  A gruesome Pro Tip for grave-diggers is to bury the dead with special methods to prevent their unwelcome return.  Consider stakes through the heart, prayers or other holy symbols in the mouth, and weights, chains, or other impediments to keep a corpse in place.  Or just cremate everyone (unless - flashback to R - it’s a phoenix zombie you’re worried about).
        How do you feel about tales of the undead?  Do you enjoy such scary stories or not?

Yūrei, painting from Bakemonozukushie (scroll version), before 1868 (Image from Internet Archive);
Dybbuk, illustration by Ephraim Moses Lilien, 1908 (Image from Wikimedia Commons);
Zombies, still from “Michael Jackson’s Thriller,” 1983 (Image from IMDb);
Frankenstein’s Monster, illustration by Bernie Wrightson, 2011 (Image from Attention Deficit Delirium);
Jiangshi, movie poster for “Mr. Vampire II”, 1986 (Image from IMDb).]