April 9, 2022

K is for Knowledge

         (My A to Z 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 bloggers here.)
        Another common property of mythical creatures is that they can be useful not just for physical objects as seen at the letter J, but for their extensive and arcane knowledge.  
        Centaurs are a bit bimodal; in most of classical and medieval lore they are barbarous, wild, violent, and uncivilized, but there are a few who are wiser.  Most famous of these is Chiron, who learned knowledge from the god Apollo himself and passed it on to Asclepius, Achilles, Theseus, Perseus, and many other heroes.  But centaurs get an upgrade from C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling, both of whom portray them as creatures rich in knowledge, especially astrology and healing.
        Similarly, western dragons have been getting smarter and smarter in modern fantasy.  I myself portray them in my Otherworld Series as being quite proud of their knowledge and wisdom. On the other hand, the lung dragons of Asia have always been keepers of knowledge.
        The simurgh (introduced at C - although you'll note that this particular illustration looks like a bird through and through) has lived through countless ages and possess her great knowledge because she has lived so long and experienced so much.  With her wisdom she serves as a mediator between earth and sky.
       In his famous travels in 1726, Lemuel Gulliver encountered the Houyhnhnms, creatures that look like (and perhaps are) horses, but are much wiser and more reasonable than humans.
        Extraterrestrial beings are one of the groups I could have mentioned under the letter E.  If they are warlike they are extremely warlike, if their technology is advanced it is extremely advanced…  But I wanted to introduce them today because often they have extremely highly developed knowledge and wisdom.  Examples include the Arisians of the Lensman Series by E.E. Doc Smith, the unnamed extraterrestrials of Carl Sagan’s Contact, and the heptapods of the 2016 movie “Arrival.”
        Advanced AI (Artificial Intelligence) are another group of beings that appear with super-knowledge in modern sci fi, such as the Minds in Iain Banks’s Culture Series.  One interesting twist is that super-intelligent and wise aliens and AI tend to control whole planets and galaxies, often without bothering to explain to any of the little people why they do what they do.  By contrast, the wise creatures of more traditional folklore tend to offer their knowledge and advice on a smaller scale, influencing the behavior of a single protagonist and thus perhaps a single kingdom.
        Then there are creatures such as the banshee and a host of similar spirits, whose knowledge is of a very specific sort: the knowledge of when someone is about to die.  Other ghosts may know who committed a crime, or other such very specific facts.
        For some particularly wise beings in prior posts, check out the qilin, the wizard, and possibly even the Oilliphéist.  The ouroboros snake that makes an eternal circle with its tail in its mouth is a symbol closely linked with the search for knowledge, so I imagine it must have much erudition and arcane mastery.
        The moral of these stories is that one can never be wise unless one is willing to learn from others, no matter how unlikely they may seem.  But a Pro Tip for scholars is to be sure to ask plenty of questions for clarification, lest you get led astray by some unfortunate misunderstanding.
        Who or what is your go-to source for knowledge, wisdom, and advice?

[Pictures: Centaur, wood block printer’s device, 1566 (Image from Penn Libraries);
Simurgh, illumination from The Marvels of Creation by al-Qazwini, 1565 (Image from Bibliotheque municipale de Bordeaux);
Houyhnhnm, illustration by J.J. Grandville for Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, 1856 (Image from Tor.com);
Heptapod, film still from “Arrival” directed by Denis Villeneuve, 2016;
Banshee, illustration by R. Prowse from The Halfpenny Miscellany, 1862 (Image from The Wild Geese).]


Rob Z Tobor said...

If there is one thing I can say about your Blog it is that there is a great deal of knowledge to be obtained from it . . . . .

Ronel Janse van Vuuren said...

I love it when a dragon is the fount of all knowledge instead of a mindless hoarder :-)

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

Narayana Rao K.V.S.S. said...

Good to know that knowledge of sci-fi characters is increasing and they are also using machine intelligence.

Jayashree Srivatsan said...

I remember watching a TV series showing that the octopus of the sea is an extremely intelligent creature ...
Jayashree writes

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Thanks, Rob and Narayana.

Ronel, I agree about dragons.

Jayashree, yes, octopuses are wonderful creatures and amazingly intelligent... but still not quite at the point where they compare with the mythical creatures of great knowledge and wisdom!