Monday, April 30, 2012

Z is for Zombie!

Zombies are animated corpses that come back to life without consciousness or self-awareness. The Night of the Living Dead film made zombies synonymous with the drooling, "braaaaiiin"-mumbling creatures often seen in fiction now, but the name "zombie" comes from Haitian Creole and South African words.

And now we're at Z! And April is ending! And...thank you, all you cool people I've met! You rock!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Y is for Yong

A Yong is a Korean dragon, with gold or yellow scales and a white mane and whiskers. They have feelers they use to find prey underwater, and they make a sound similar to a yodel. Each of their feet has four toes, and they live in the volcanic mountain springs of Korea. They like to prey on musk deer. And they are also fun to draw.

X is for Xana

Xanas come from Asturian folklore. They're said to be beautiful slender creatures who live by rivers, waterfalls, or forests. They look like a human woman, but can't produce milk, so when they have a baby they trade it for a human child. You can tell your baby was traded for a xana changeling if it grows up in a handful of months. Xanas also sing, and the pure in heart who hear them feel incredible peace. The not-so-pure-in-heart...well, they feel like they're being smothered, and might go insane.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

W is for Werewolf

There were a lot of interesting W monsters. Wraiths and wyverns and will o' the wisps and the like. But my four-year-old insisted on the werewolf. We have this game, which I explained a little here, and we also recently finished a David Attenborough documentary on wolf packs. Which makes a werewolf pretty irresistible. So. Werewolves!

Shapeshifters appear in many cultures, including Native American, but usually involve a lot of animals (ravens, deer, etc). Werewolves, however, come mostly from European folklore. Wolves could get scary in the winters, especially when people encroached on their forest territory and built increasing numbers of farms with tempting tasty livestock. So wolves became symbols of evil, and it was really scary to think about a wolf with extra speed and strength and human intelligence. Werewolves traditionally transform with the moon, and are usually made because of the bite or scratch of another lycanthrope.

I'd write more, but I have to go teach, where I might (actually) use the game of werewolves to teach analysis. Whee!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

V is for Vampire

I almost did valkyrie, just so I could get points for being more creative, but I wanted to draw a vampire. So here is a vampire. The term spanned several cultures, and originally referred to a creature who sucked out life force (usually, but not always, blood) to survive. Then Lord Byron wrote an unfinished short story called "The Burial: A Fragment," which John Polidori used as a base for his more sophisticated evil bloodsucked in The Vamypre. Brahm Stoker used that to write Dracula, which turned vampires from creepy corpses to creepy suave noble corpses who could change into wolves and bats and such. And now vampires are more tied up with sex and death than ever, and you can find them all over the place. Whee!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

U is for Unicorn

This one may be expected, but unicorns are fun to draw. So I drew one. They actually didn't start out as mythical creatures--the Greeks thought unicorns were a real animal from India (probably the rhino), and classified them under "Natural History." Which is pretty awesome. When Christians learned about the mythological animal with a horn that could cure all poisons, they decided to make it a symbol for the Passion of Christ that could only be tamed by the Virgin Mary. Then unicorns were cool for Christians to draw, and they got attached to virgins. With the rise of humanism, they were also used to symbolize faithful and chaste love. More recently they've been featured in awesome books (Harry Potter, The Last Unicorn), and in awesome TV shows (My Little Ponies: Friendship is Magic stars a purple unicorn named Twilight Sparkle). Yay for horses with magical horns!

Monday, April 23, 2012

T is for Troll

Trolls come from Norse and Scandanavian folklore. In some regions, they were said to look just like humans, while others claimed they were ugly, dull-witted, and could turn to stone in the sun. Tolkien, of course, used trolls in The Hobbit, while other writers like J.K. Rowling and Nancy Farmer have used trolls as monsters (in very different ways).

Saturday, April 21, 2012

S is for Selkie

I fell in love with selkies (and boggarts) because of Susan Cooper. They actually come from Faroese, Icelandic, Scottish, and Irish folklore--they're creatures that take human form on land and seal form in the sea. Selkies mostly star in romantic tragedies, where human men find their seal skin and force them to marry, until one day they find/steal back their seal skin and swim away into the sea.

Friday, April 20, 2012

R is for Roc

A roc, or rukh, comes from Arabic mythology. It is a giant bird of prey, often said to be white, and is large enough to carry away an elephant. Sailors claimed they would destroy entire ships if someone smashed their eggs, and I have to say that I don't blame the bird at all!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Q is for Qilin

A qilin comes from Chinese mythology--it's a chimerical creature that comes at the passing of a great ruler or sage, and is said to be good luck. They're seen as good luck, and were known (wrongfully) by westerners as the "Chinese unicorn." Qilin don't eat meat, don't trample grass they walk on, and only hurt the wicked. Also, they're really fun to draw! Go letter Q!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

P is for Pixie

Pixies come from Celtic mythology. Now they're often like Tinkerbell, with green outfits and caps and pointed ears, but the name may have come from the Pictic tribes who tattooed blue all over their skin. Pixies were sometimes seen as helpful, the queen of pixies was good luck, and they would sometimes turn into piles of rags to lure children into playing with them. Since the letter P also reminds me of Pratchett, I have to mention that the Wee Free Men sometimes call themselves Pictsies, and I will love them forever and always. Crivens!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

O is for Orc

J.R.R. Tolkien made up orcs. They're human-like in shape, with gray or green skin, angry features, and warlike natures. Now they're used in lots of books and games, including Dungeons and Dragons, the Warcraft series, and even Terry Pratchett's Discworld books (I very much enjoyed Unseen Academicals, which features an orc as the main character). Yay orcs!

Monday, April 16, 2012

N is for Naga

Nagas are semi-divine serpent creatures in Hindu and Buddhist mythology. They're often human above the waist and snake below the waist, although they can be entirely snake or entirely human. The nagas are so numerous that they live under the sea in jeweled palaces. Some act kind and wise, while others act like demons. And since the nagas oversee the distribution of the rain, it's generally good to treat them respectfully.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

M is for Mandragora

Mandrakes are a real type of plant from the genus Mandragora. They have odd roots that branch off, often looking like little people. Every part of the mandrake is poisonous, so it's no wonder that stories surrounded them.

Mandragoras are supposed to be little demons given to sorcerers by the devil to serve the sorcerers in a time of need. The mandrake plant makes a famous appearance in Harry Potter, too, where it can cure petrification by a basklisk and kill people with its scream.

Friday, April 13, 2012

L is for Lich

A lich is a powerful undead person, often a king or magician, with a rotting or skeletal body. A lich keeps their intelligence, unlike zombies, and they come from early fantasy fiction from the likes of H.P. Lovecraft. The word comes from a term used in the Catholic and Anglican churches, "lychgate," which is the place where the casket waits for the clergy member before going into the cemetery. "Lich" comes from the old English "lic," which means "body" or "corpse."

Thursday, April 12, 2012

K is for Kelpie

Kelpies are a water horse from Celtic mythology. They haunt rivers and lakes in Ireland, and try to get children to climb on their backs so they can take the kids to the river, drown them, and eat them. Fun!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

J is for Jabberwock

Brief personal note: Spring break is over, and I'm watching seven kids starting tomorrow and ending on Saturday. So. My research and pictures may be a bit rushed for this week--hopefully you can enjoy them anyway!

This is the Jabberwock. You know, from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass. Here's the poem--how do YOU picture it?


'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! and through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

"And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I is for Imp

Imps come from Germanic folklore. They're lesser demons, but they didn't used to be exclusively evil. Instead they were more like fairies--tricky, mischievous, fond of pranks, but not always cruel. They could control fire, and often tried to befriend humans. They'd still play jokes on any people they managed to charm, though. Hence the word "impish."

Imps show up in all sorts of books, including the Bartimaeus books by Jonathan Stroud (which I love!). Whee for imps!

Monday, April 9, 2012

H is for Hobgoblin

Hobgoblins are similar to brownies--they're fairies who go into human households and occasionally help with chores. They're trickier than brownies, however, prone to pranks and mischief, and if you wrong them they can be nasty. Oh, and giving them clothes will make them leave forever.

Puck from A Midsummer Night's Dream is a hobgoblin.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

G is for Griffin

Griffins have the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle. Since lions are kings of the land, and eagles are kings of the sky, griffins are often used as symbols of royalty. Griffins mate for life, and the offspring of a griffin and a mare is a hippogriff, which, since it came from a mythical creature and a lowly one, is sometimes found as statues on Christian churches to represent the divine and mortal aspects of Christ. Griffins can be traced from Greek mythology back to Egyptian mythology, and may possibly have been an ancient mistake based on the fossils of a protoceratops, which is pretty awesome.

Friday, April 6, 2012

F is for Firedrake

Firedrakes are Norse dragons. They guard treasure, and breathe fire, and kill heroes like Beowulf. To be fair to the firedrake, Beowulf did steal a jeweled cup from its lair. Then it started to eat people, and blow fire, and generally cause lots of death. Beowulf had to face it. He brought along some "loyal" Thanes, but all of them ran except Wiglaf, who ended up slaying our firedrakey friend, but not before it took Beowulf with it.

Did you know that J.R.R. Tolkien was a scholar who translated Beowulf into modern English? Smaug comes directly from that old epic poem. Which is awesome. And gives me even more of an excuse to draw a fire dragon for my blog.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

E is for Erlking

The Erlking started out as the daughter of the elf king, a creature who liked to mislead and steal mortal men. She comes from Scandanavian folklore, but Geothe wrote a famous poem that changed everything. He made the antagonist the father of the elf maiden, instead of the maiden herself, and had him prey on children instead of adults. The German version has no motive, no desire or lust--he is a force of death that cannot be reasoned with, a wild power humans can never control.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

D is for dryad

This is the sort of picture you get when my four-year-old is helping me draw. In case you can't tell, she's a dryad. She's a sexy oak tree spirit from Greek mythology. Found in the Chronicles of Narnia, the Belgariad, and classic poetry like Milton's Paradise Lost, dryads are all over the place in literature. They were harder to catch in the myths, though. Fleet and lovely, dryads would protect their trees with ferocity. Oh, and a handful married into the human world. Eurydice, the wife of Orpheus, was a dryad.  Killed by a snake on the day of their wedding, she proved that dryads are not immortal, and that it's sad if their husband has to chase them to the underworld and fails to follow directions (don't look back!). Dryads could survive the death of their trees, but they still liked forests, and they had sister Hamadryads who would die with their trees, so the Greeks were supposed to be careful in their forests...

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

C is for Cat Sidhe

Cat Sidhe is a fairy creature or a transformed witch, with a black body, a white chest, and a variety of reputed powers. From Celtic mythology, the spectral cat was said to roam the Scottish Highlands. People would guard bodies from the cat, who might come to eat the soul before it departed. Some witches were said to be able to transform into a cat nine times, although on the ninth time the witch would be stuck like that forever. There was also a belief that if a Celtic person wanted to know something, they could roast a cat alive, and a Cat Sidhe would come and answer their questions to alleviate the burning cat's suffering.

I like cats, though, so I'm going to stick with the cat-transforming-into-human/witch-Winter-Court-fairy-creature idea. Divination with cats is out for me, I guess.

Monday, April 2, 2012

B is for Baba Yaga

Baba Yaga is the ultimate witchy crone. She flies straight out of Slavic folklore on her mortar, looking for children to kidnap and bring back to her chicken-leg hut.

I read about her as a kid. I'd love to read more about her now. You can't go wrong with creepy-wise-evil-awesome witches!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A is for Albatross

Okay, so technically an albatross is a real bird, not a monster. But if you've ever read "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," you know it's a bad idea to kill one.

Long story short: the albatross is an omen of good fortune. The ancient mariner shoots it. Their ship gets becalmed, he has to wear the dead bird around his neck, and Death ends up winning the lives of the entire crew in a game of dice. Except the Mariner, who is cursed with Life-in-Death and wanders around feeling sad he ever killed the big sea bird.

(My favorite quotes from Samuel Colderidge's "Rime:"

Water, water everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink.
Water, water everywhere,
nor any drop to drink.


They groan'd, they stirr'd, they all uprose
Nor spake, nor moved their eyes;
It had been strange, even in a dream,
To have seen those dead men rise.)

Go albatross!