April 19, 2022

R is for Regeneration

         (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 find the Master List of participating bloggers here.)
        Mythical magical creatures often have the ability to regenerate in ways that have not yet been seen in the mundane world.  This is, of course, a trait that fills us with wonder, and it is also a trait that makes our monsters even more of a challenge to dispatch.  That’s certainly what Hercules found when he had to fight the Lernean hydra.  This serpentine beast had multiple heads (sources vary, but we’ll say seven), and each time one head was cut off, more heads grew in its place (sources vary, but we’ll say two new heads per decapitation).  If you do the math you will see that this is a truly remarkable act of regeneration, and the hydra has therefore given its name to any difficulty with a tendency to multiply and get out of hand.
        In Scotland if you decapitate a snake you must be sure to separate the head sufficiently, lest it rejoin with its body and the whole thing regenerate into a beithir.  This is the largest, most extremely deadly of serpents and thus, as with the hydra, you will be even worse off than before.
        This reminds me of our modern monster, the T-1000 Terminator cyborg from the 1991 movie.  When destroyed, all its separate molten blobs are able to ooze together and regenerate themselves back into the original form.
        In China the fengsheng shou is a little like a smallish blue leopard with a hide that cannot be pierced.  It can only be killed by smashing it in the head, but if any wind enters its mouth, it will be revived again.  (If you eat its brain together with chrysanthemum, you will gain 500 years of life, making the fengsheng shou suitable for J.  It does occur to me, however, that if you’re trying to kill it in order to get its brain for eating, and the only way to kill it is to clonk it repeatedly on the head, you may be in a little bit of a catch-22, even without the risk of inconvenient revivifying breezes.)
        Zlatorog, whom we met at J, also has a method of regeneration.  When injured, its drops of blood grow into Triglav flowers, and if Zlatorog eats these flowers, it is refilled with complete vitality.
        In the Chilean Andes you may find the sapo fuerzo, which looks like a toad with a turtle shell.  It also glows in the dark (flashback to G).  Not only can it regenerate from practically any injury, but it can also attract or repel anything with the power of its magnetic gaze.  The only way to kill it is to burn it completely to ash.  But I honestly don’t understand why you’re so intent on killing it anyway.  What has it ever done to you?
        Then of course there’s the phoenix, introduced at O.  Details of its regeneration method vary widely, but the basic gist is that when it deems itself to have reached its allotted span of life, it builds itself a funeral pyre and burns itself up.  From its ashes a new phoenix will emerge.  Nowadays we generally understand it to be the same phoenix rising from its own ashes, although in some of the older accounts it was a new phoenix being born from the corpse of its parent, and thus not really regeneration.
        A philosophical question is whether or not “rising” as an undead creature counts as a form of regeneration.  What’s your opinion?  But we’ll be seeing more undead creatures later - Foreshadowing!
        The moral of these creatures is never to celebrate victory too soon.  And the Pro Tip for monster slayers is to be sure to destroy the head (or heads).  Generally speaking, if you haven’t destroyed the head, you shouldn’t make any assumptions.  Hercules brought along a friend to cauterize the cuts to keep the hydra from regrowing its heads, and burning things to ash can also be efficacious.  Unless, of course, you’re trying to kill a phoenix.
        Another philosophical question: Eternal Life, good or bad?  Discuss.

[Pictures: Hydra, detail of Greek vase painting, 530-500 BCE (Image from Getty Museum);
Hydra (Hercules fighting the Lernean hydra), engraving by Simon Frisius after Antonio Tempesta, 1610-1664 (Image from Rijksmuseum);
Fengsheng Shou, illustration by Bin Ze, c 2018 (Image from zcool);
Triglav flower (Potentilla nitida), colored engraving from Deutschlands flora by Sturm, 1806 (Image from Plant Illustrations);
Phoenix process, illumination from the “Peterborough” bestiary, 1300-1310 (Image from Stanford Libraries).]


Sue Bursztynski said...

The hydra is th3 first creature I thought of in “regeneration”. I think it had an immortal head, which had to be buried under a rock. The Phoenix is a more positive regeneration, though I like what Terry Pratchett did with it in his novel Carpe Jugulum better than other versions.

Ronel Janse van Vuuren said...

The hydra is kinda scary if you think about it...

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

Deborah Weber said...

I kind of like the trick of having one's blood drops turn into flowers which eaten cause regeneration. Of course, I'd prefer that it didn't involve the monster part of the equation. I think I'll vote on the side of eternal life might not be my cup of tea. I'm not sure I want to be held in one place to experience one sort of life adventure endlessly.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Ronel, the hydra is most definitely scary! And Sue, you're right that special measures need to be taken for the last head (in the manner of story plots everywhere: the final villain is always the toughest.)

Deborah, I am inclined to agree with you both about the monsters and about the eternal life.