April 4, 2022

G is for Glowing

        (My A to Z Blog 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.
        A universal tool in every fantasy-creature-builder’s box is that magical glow.  As with flight, there are certainly plenty of bioluminescent animals in the natural world, mostly insects and lots of different animals in the seas, and yet creatures that glow with their own light are nevertheless clearly magical.  What’s especially interesting to me is that in folklore this trait can be seen as either good or bad.  Some of the most wonderful creatures glow, and so do some of the most terrifying and evil.
        A couple of the most benevolent glowing creatures have been introduced in previous posts: the hercinia that guides lost travellers through the dark, and the auspicious qilin that doesn’t even bend the grass when it walks.  On the other hand, some of the most evil beasts include the demon lidérc (introduced at the letter D), and the Chemosit of Kenya (which could also have gone under A or D).  It stands on its single leg outside a village at night and sings.  Its open mouth glows like a beckoning lamp, and children are lured out by the song and the light, only to be devoured.
        Some creatures are almost nothing except their glow, such as the will o’ the wisp.  Cultures all around the world have variants on the will o’the wisp theme, often with similar descriptions both of the appearance of mysterious balls of flame or light, as well as the behavior, in which these malicious lights lead travellers astray.  You can revisit one example in the previous post about the Japanese kitsunebi.
        The Tompondrano of Madagascar is a giant crocodilian monster with a glow-in-the-dark head.  You can see the head glowing through the water as it swims… and you don’t want to be there to see it when it surfaces.
        In the Alps the Alber is a sort of glowing dragon (also a demon) that shoots through the air like lightning.
        The space goblins of Hopkinsville, Kentucky emitted a silvery-green glow when they were spotted in 1955, and in 1903 the Van Meter Visitor of Iowa had, in addition to its bat wings, a glowing horn that shot out a beam of light.
        The boi-tatá serpent of Brazil has fiery eyes that see almost nothing by day, but everything at night because of their own light.
        The giant water serpent of Algonquin folklore, Meshkenabec, had a red head, iridescent scales, and glowing eyes.
        There are lots of other creatures with glowing eyes, too, especially those sorts of creatures that people tend to encounter in dark woods or lonely highways.  These include the Enfield Horror (Illinois), the Loup-Garou (Louisiana), the Dover Demon (Massachusetts), and the Mothman (West Virginia).
        You can also go back and bask in the glow of the firebird, or the hadhayosh.  We’ll also be seeing lots of fiery creatures in a later post… Foreshadowing!
        The moral of the glow of magical creatures is that one must use the most careful discernment before following anything that glows, and be sure to watch out for marshes and swamps.  (Just like following GPS… Even if it’s giving you directions, you still need to pay attention and not do anything dumb!)  A Pro Tip for children is that if you see mysterious glowing eyes under your bed, keep your extremities from dangling - but try offering a cookie or tuna sandwich.  Under-bed monsters can make excellent friends.
        Do you have any tips for discerning between good glows and evil glows in the dark of the night?

[Pictures: Zhar-Ptitsa aka Firebird, illustration by Ivan Bilibin, 1930 (Image from Wikimedia Commons);
Will o’ the wisp (Peggiwick), illustration by AEGN from Kate and Sam and the Chipmunks of Doom, 2009;
Boi-tatá, illustration in the style of a cordel woodcut from app game “Boitatá: Cobra de Fogo” (Image from Mapingua Nerd);
Under-Bed Monster, illustration by Bill Watterson for Something Under the Bed is Drooling, 1988.]


Lisa said...

I have no idea how to tell the good from the evil glows! I do know that when I got my new washing machine not long ago, I didn't know that the tub part of it would glow in the night! I got up one night to use the bathroom, and saw the glow around the closed lid. Opening it, I found there are lights! I can't find anything in the printed material I got with it, and I don't see the point. It was a bit creepy at first.

Kristin said...

I will sick with fireflies. They seem pretty safe. And I'm not offering any under the bed glowers any treats!!

Ronel Janse van Vuuren said...

The will-o'-the-wisp stays my favourite.

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

Sara said...

What an informative post. I had hardly heard of any of these. To be honest, if anything at all starts glowing at me during the night, I'd probably run away without waiting to find out what it was!

Deborah Weber said...

Well you've certainly shone a light on the glowing creatures. And I must admit, I'm not all that soothed knowing how many there are. One night I found my husband had put a glow-in-the-dark squid on top of the spice rack in the kitchen. I'm still not sure if it's a good or bad glower, but let's just say I don't reach for spices in the middle of the night.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Lisa, I've never heard of a glowing washing machine. I can imagine that would be a little weird in the middle of the night!

Kristin, I love fireflies!

Ronel, I like will-o-the-wisps, too, at least in fiction, although I confess that I really don't know how I'd react if I actually ever encountered one.

Sara, discretion is the better part of valor. I won't judge anyone who runs away from mysterious glows! =)

Deborah, I'm laughing at your squid. Did your husband know it would creep you out? When I was in college I had a small glow-in-the-dark shark I was very fond of. I'd put him on top of the lamp in the evening to charge up the glow before bed, but one day I forgot and he actually melted on the lightbulb! (And smelled really bad.)