Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Magical Creatures

One of the things I love most about fantasy fiction is the use of magical creatures. The first time I ever heard of most animals we see in popular fiction was in Greek mythology. I was kind of an odd kid. I went to the school library on my own and picked out books. They were truly my first love. In fifth grade I went through a Greek mythology phase. I can remember reading about Pandora and her box of horrors and the great Hercules (Heracles). The books I read then were simplified versions of the myths I came to know better later in life, but they certainly gave me an incredible introduction into the world of fantasy. The first dragon I ever encountered was the Hydra in the Hercules myth. The Hydra in the Greek myth had 8 heads and grew two for every one that was cut off, though I have read some stories that say 3 grow back. It doesn't really matter, it set the groundwork for countless stories of derring-do about the grand knight who slays the dragon. Anne McCaffrey takes a whole new approach to the story and created a world where dragons are allies to man and have human-like intelligence. Mercedes Lackey has also written a series of books that feature Dragons called The Dragon Jousters. She doesn't create them as intelligently as McCaffrey does, choosing instead to imagine them almost as beasts of burden. Though her earlier written Halfblood Chronicles, co-written with Andre Norton goes back to the idea of intelligent Dragons. And what would fantasy fiction be without the Unicorn. Like the dragon, the first magical horse I knew was Pegasus. Though most stories I grew up with featured the Unicorn. I wasn't a horse mad girl, but the idea of the Unicorn was very appealing, and I'll always remember the movie The Last Unicorn based on the novel by Peter S. Beagle. I also really liked the way Piers Anthony created his own Unicorn legend in his Apprentice Adept series. Mercedes Lackey also took a different approach to the magical horse idea and created a world in which horses have human-like intelligence and the ability to speak psionically to their chosen partners in her Valdemar series. She also introduces an intelligent breed of Gryphons in this series and continues the story in her Mage Wars series. Mermaids can also trace their origins to Greek mythology, though I think they were more often portrayed as Sirens, the women with the magical voices that would lead sailors to their doom. What little girl doesn't know mermaids? The Disney film The Little Mermaid is probably the most well known take on the myth. Other than the Greek Sirens, I think I first remember seeing mermaids in the Disney cartoon Peter Pan; obviously mermaids are a popular subject of Disney films. Though I think my favorite mermaid film will always be Splash starring Tom Hanks and Darryl Hannah. I could go on, but I think I'll spare you the endless post. I think the reason magical creatures appeal to me so much is because I've always wondered where the legends came from. Over the years there have been many hoaxes by people who claim to have images of fairies or other creatures on film. And the success of these hoaxes tells me that I am not alone in my wonderment over the magical worlds that I have read about in Greek Mythology and elsewhere. I have barely skimmed the surface of all the books and movies out there that feature the magical creatures I have mentioned. I haven't even gone into the world of magical people like elves, dwarves, pixies and giants. And there are many stories that also endow more mundane animals like cats and dogs with magical qualities. So tell me what stories these magical beasts make you think of. What memories do you have? And what do you like to see and read about?


Stewart Sternberg said...

I think I made mention of this when I first made my blog, but I think it is a memory that is worth repeating.

A few years ago I sat on the back porch of my house overlooking Lake Huron. Life wasn't going well. I was struggling with employment and health issues, as was my spouse, and we were about to embark on divorce.

That was when I saw them. Down the hill. Flitting about. The fireflies. I saw them and thought: you know at one time people would have seen that and thought them faeries.

I was so moved by that moment that it began a chapter of my life where I began to look for the faeries, to rediscover within myself the ability to wonder anew. To look at the world with the eyes of a child without being childish.

That's where magical creatures are born and aborn anew. They come from our deepest desires and fears, they hatch from our anxieties and prey on our nervous egos. They sing with us in the night and wash themselves with shadow. And sometimes, when we laugh, they drink that music and the sound is a chorus to be shared.

So tonight, when you are lying in bed, stop and listen. Hold your breath. Is it possible the sound you hear is the chair inviting the table to dance in the moonlight?

Crunchy Carpets said...

Stewart...that is really nice....I still believe in fairies!!

S..have you read Steven R. Boyett's..Ariel? http://www.lostbooks.org/reviews/2002-06-28-1.html

I just found the authors blog too.


About a boy and his unicorn.

SQT said...

I live in Ca and have never seen a firefly. Isn't that a drag?

I love the idea of fairies and would have loved seeing those at night at a kid.

It also reminds me of stories that use the will o 'the wisp.

Asara Dragoness said...

Wow.. thanks for the trip down memory lane!! I went through a Greek mythology phase when I was in sixth grade or thereabouts also! I remember searching those books out in the library downtown, and getting lost in them.
I got extremely lucky in junior high to have an English teacher who loved those classical myths as well as I did.. I remember doing a diorama of Hades, complete with clothespin harpies hanging from the top, and I will never forget the names of most of the muses.. "I'm gonna Terpsichore, across the floor", Tha-ha-ha-haaaalia.. she was awesome. I recently came across a copy of the book she taught us from, Edith Hamilton's Mythology, at a used book store, and snatched that thing right up, just from the memories it brought back.

Anonymous said...

i have always had a thirst for the magical creatures that make you stay p long in the night to hear them peep or whisper a melody in your ear..i love when i see pictures or paintings o either fairies and mermaids or a mixture of the two because it bring me to a world undiscovered or touched by mans soiled hand...it makes me sad when i remember age is around the corner til i remember i have fairies to comfort me in my sleep:)i do recall seeing magical things as an innocent child and embarking on misadventures to find my imaginary friends:)