April 12, 2022

M is for Magic and Mutant

         (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.)
        Today I have two traits that both seemed important to include, so today’s post is a twofer.
        First is simply Magic.  “Well of course magical creatures are magic,” you may be muttering, and you’re not wrong.  But what I want to mention today is the idea that the creatures of mythology and folklore often have specific magical abilities.  There are lots of magical abilities that get their own entries in this alphabet, but I did want the opportunity for a catch-all of some of the magic that didn’t fit in elsewhere.
        The caladrius, for example, is a white bird that can look at a sick person and tell whether or not they will die.  If a caladrius turns away from the patient, they’re doomed, but if it faces them, it will draw the illness out of them and they’ll recover.
        The kelpie is a malevolent water creature that usually takes the form of a horse… But it has the magical trait that its back can stretch longer and longer to accommodate as many people as it can tempt to sit upon it, whereupon the victims become magically stuck to to the kelpie’s back and can’t dismount while the kelpie dives into the loch and drowns them all.
        The Mi-ni-wa-tu is a sea monster in the Missouri River.  It is like an amphibious buffalo with a serrated back, red hair, a single horn, and a single eye.  It also glows at night as it swims through the water (flashback to G).  But as if all its relatively straightforward physical characteristics weren’t enough, if anyone sets eyes on it during the daytime, they will first go blind, then go mad, and then, after a day of convulsions, die.  There are actually a number of North American monsters that cause madness to any who so much as see them, including Unhcegila and the qiqirn.
        Gorgons are monster women with snakes instead of hair, and they have the magical power that anyone who looks upon their face turns to stone.  The basilisk and cockatrice also both have petrifying stares (according to some sources).
        The chang nam of Thailand looks like a tiny mouse-sized elephant, but judge it by its size do not!  If you see a chang nam’s shadow you will die instantly, or it can kill you by stabbing your reflection in the water with its tusks.
        Then there’s the shen or shinkiro found in the oceans off China.  This giant clam-monster rises to the surface of the ocean and breathes out mirages and illusions.

        The second trait for the day is Mutant.  These creatures tend to be drawn from our modern mythology of sci fi and comics, and the poster child is Godzilla.  Godzilla is a prehistoric sea monster (who looks more like a land dinosaur) supercharged by nuclear power.  He’s in a class of Japanese monsters called kaiju, which include Rodan, Mothra, and Anguirus (among many others).
        The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have everything right there in the name.  Their mutation is caused by exposure to an alien ooze.
        DC Comics’ Captain Comet and Marvel Comics’ X-Men are mutants deriving their superpowers from their mutations.
        Various mutant creatures feature in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, including mockingjays, birds which can copy human songs (making them suitable to join the jackalopes at L).
        So, today’s moral comes from mutants: stay away from radioactivity!  You may think it would be fun to develop mutant powers, but you are more likely to become a monster than a hero.  And a Pro Tip for anyone doing business with magical creatures is to invest in a high-quality pair of protective sunglasses with mirrored lenses.  I’m not sure how much protection these will actually provide from all those lethal glances, but at least if you do still go mad or turn to stone, you’ll look cool doing it.
        Do you think fantastical things are more believable if they’re attributed to radioactivity or alien ooze as opposed to plain old unexplained magic?

[Pictures: Caladrius, illumination from bestiary, 1226-1250 (Image from Bodleian Libraries);
Kelpie (Bäckahästen), illustration by Johan Egerkrans (Image from artists’s web site johanegerkrans.com);
Gorgon, detail of black-figure jug by The Amasis Painter, c 550-530 BCE (image from The British Museum);
Shinkiro, wood block print from Hyakki shui by Toriyama Sekien, 1805 (Image from Smithsonian Libraries);
Godzilla, still from “Godzilla” with special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya, 1954 (Image from Bright Wall/Dark Room);
Mutant Ninja Turtles, artwork by Kevin Eastman, 1988 (Image from Kevin Eastman Studios).]


Liam Sullivan said...

Cool stuff. I enjoyed reading these tidbits.

Melanie Atherton Allen said...

To answer your ending question, I think my preferences depend on what we're trying to explain. For example, I might buy radioactive-blah-blah-something as an explanation for why a person is no longer able to feel pain (which can result in some superhero-looking feats, because the stopper is off, they are no longer limited by the body's warning system, but will also probably result in a visit to the hospital, because they will probably break themselves) or now has rock-hard skin. But if we are talking flying, I think I'd be more likely to believe a magical explanation. As for turning invisible or teleportation... hm, I feel like I could go either way there.

Rob Z Tobor said...

I didn't know that about the kelpie

Kristin said...

I find the myths more "believable. And scary. I would never think I heard godzilla behind me in a forest at night.

Jayashree Srivatsan said...

The head of snakes with petrifying glances is also shared by Medusa of Greek mythology right ? I somehow feel its highly possible that one gets some powers by mutation but some do seem a bit far fetched :D

Jayashree writes

Lisa said...

I'd rather have them be magical. The radio-active goop and spider venom just isn't "believable!" Too modern for me. I like the creepy legends of the kelpies and selkies. Things are weren't magic, they just were.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Thanks for visiting, Liam and Rob!

Jayashree, yes, Medusa is the most famous of the Gorgons.

It sounds like so far the magic explanation is winning among readers of this blog. =)


I think monsters are most believable when the story they exist in does a good job of building backstory and lore into said monster's creation. It's all imaginary, after all. So, if a creator does a good job in making me believe in his creation, I'm more likely to go wherever I'm led within a story...regardless of how the monster gets its power.


Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Anjela, you're right. All stories depend on magic: the magic of the writer or teller bringing you into the story!

Ronel Janse van Vuuren said...

The kelpie is my favourite :-)

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