April 1, 2022

E is for Extreme

         (It’s April, and that means the A to Z Blog Challenge!  My 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.)
        Sometimes the way you can tell that you’re dealing with a mythical being is not that it has any particularly unusual traits, but simply that it has ordinary traits to extremes.  If a mythical being is beautiful, he or she will be extremely beautiful.  Think of nymphs, mermaids, and vila, which have for millenia offered artists the excuse to portray bevies of beautiful nudes.  But there is also the scitalis, a serpent from medieval bestiaries which captures its prey because its skin is so dazzlingly gorgeous that its victims are literally stunned by the magnificence.
        On the other hand, if a monster is ugly, it will be extremely ugly.  The poor Bugul Noz of Brittany is a rather gentle fae, but doomed to loneliness because he’s so extremely ugly that sometimes just a glimpse of him is enough to cause death, and even the woodland creatures stay away.
        The song of the sirens is so extremely enticing that sailors crash on the rocks under its spell.
        The echeneis is a tiny fish that’s so extremely strong that if it fastens to the hull of a ship, the ship stops dead in the water, even if it had been sailing along at full speed.
        The Fanesii are a tribe of people from the far north of Europe, whose ears are so extremely long that they don’t wear clothes, but simply cloak their bodies with their own ears.
        The seps is a serpent so extremely poisonous that its venom dissolves both flesh and bone.
        The tiny jetins of Brittany are Little People who are so extremely strong that they entertain themselves by tossing around enormous boulders, which is why you find menhirs, standing stones, and other megaliths littered around the countryside.
        The eagle-like humility of Connecticut could fly so extremely swiftly, that it was faster than any bullet.
        The gulon (or jerff) of Scandinavia is so extremely gluttonous that after it’s eaten until it can stuff itself no further, it squeezes itself between two close-growing tree trunks to empty itself back out, so that it can go and eat some more.
        There are also some other extreme traits that I haven’t mentioned today, because they’ll be getting their own posts later.  Foreshadowing!
        If you want to revisit some of the extreme creatures I’ve shared in the past, try the extremely beautiful xana, the extremely smelly isnashi, the extremely ravenous and extremely stupid Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal, the extremely hot hotheaded naked ice borer, and the Foon, who eats extremely hot rocks.
        The moral of these extremes is that if you would avoid a monstrous fate, seek moderation in all things.  But the Pro Tip for creature creators is the opposite: go ahead and dial up those traits to 11… or maybe even 13.
        If you could have one trait to the extreme, what would you want it to be?  (Or what extreme trait do you wish you didn’t have?)

[Pictures: Nymphs (Hylas and the Nymphs), painting by John William Waterhouse, 1896 (Image from Manchester Art Gallery);
Scitalis, illumination from Aberdeen bestiary, c 1200 (Image from University of Aberdeen);
Echeneis, engraving from Symbolorum & emblematum by Joachim Camerarius, c 1593 (Image from Linda Hall Library)
Gulon, hand-colored wood block print from Historiae animalium by Conrad Gesner, 1551 (Image from Hathi Trust).]


Katerina Dennison said...

I'm getting lots of writing ideas from this post. I may create a character that's EXTREMELY something as their magical power. I look forward to going back to your a-d posts!

Ronel Janse van Vuuren said...

Dealing with them usually leads to madness, despair and death :-)

Ronel visiting for the A-Z Challenge My Languishing TBR: E

A Tarkabarka Hölgy said...

So basically, make it bigger, make it better :D
The Multicolored Diary

Joy Weese Moll said...

What a great observation. The scitalis is new to me and I really like the idea of extremely gorgeous serpent skin.

Lisa said...

Ears as cloaks is a funny image! Connecticut had fantastical creatures! Everyone knows about WA and OR and Big Foot, so I guess other states have their creatures. New Jersey does. I might just have to look into this!

pamfaro said...

An extremely delightful post! (- combining my D-post with your E-post!)
Lots of fun - thanks for sharing your research on this!

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Katerina, I'm so pleased that you're getting ideas!

Absolutely, Zalka. "Stronger, better, faster."

Lisa, funnily enough there are a few other creatures I've encountered with extra big ears, including at least one that sleeps in its own ears, which I think sounds really cute. Also, I have seen people make maps with a mythical creature for every US state, so if you google it I'm sure you'll find something.

Thanks, pamfaro!