Mar 11, 2015
Dragons, and Centaurs, and Unicorns!
"From the waist upward he was like a man, but his legs were shaped like a goats...and instead of feet he had goat's hoofs. He also had a tail. He was a faun,"
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
One of the most beautiful and intriguing elements of fantasy is that of the mythical creatures that inhabit the fantasy realms.
C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia are riddled with talking animals, a great lion, Centaurs, Griffins, and Fauns.
Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, while focusing more on the humanoid species of fantasy, had its share of wild creatures, such as orcs and goblins and trolls.
Today I would like to take a brief but in depth look at the use of mythical creatures in novel, both classic and modern.
Classically we have, of course, C.S. Lewis and Tolkien. While Lewis's greatest beasts of myth were of the good side, Tolkien preferred the darker creatures, and cast them in with his evil characters.
Personally, I like Lewis's usage better, so we'll focus on him.
In The Chronicles of Narnia we are introduced, and inevitably fall in love with, a variety of creatures. In the Lion the Witch and Wardrobe, we have Mr. Tumnus, a Faun that Lucy meet in the woods of Narnia. he is a kind hearted soul, who at first betrays Lucy, but is so overcome with grief and guilt, he sacrifices himself to save her.
In The Silver Chair we meet Puddleglum the Marsh Wiggle, who like his name is quite glum and depressing. He probably has the greatest character development, second only to Jill.
But where did Mr. Lewis get so many of his fantastic creatures from?
Why, from the Greeks and Romans.
Greek mythology is filled with Satyrs (Fauns) and centaurs. Pan, the most famous of the fauns, was an ugly satyr who scared people, chased dryads, and is credited with the invention of the pan pipes. Not quite a Mr. Tumnus, I grant you, but is his ancestor of sorts.
We also have the Centaurs, great wild beasts who were horrid, and are comparable to the people of Nineveh in the tale of Jonah (though as far as I know, no one threatened to destroy the centaurs if they didn't behave. Pity, really....). The greatest of their kind was Chiron, who despised his brothers ways, and become known as a great teacher of heroes.
These creatures have travelled all the way down from history, capturing the imagination not only of C.S Lewis, but of more modern writers as well.
Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series is filled with satyrs, centaurs, and other mythical creatures of Greek and Roman origin.
But Greek and Roman tales aren't the only legends to have lasted so long. The old tales of fairies and goblins and trolls under bridges have inspired other authors in their own writing.
Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl series revolves around the existence of fairies, trolls, goblins, and leprechauns. It puts quite a different spin on the classic legends of every child's favorite creatures, rewriting in quite the modern YA sense the story of gold at the end of the kidnapping... er, rainbow.
So many creatures have passed the test of time, lasting from bygone days to the present, and will probably last well into the future. These stories and series I've mentioned are some very original examples of classic fairy tale creatures being brought to life in the realms of fantasy (or contemporary fantasy, as the case may be), but they only cover a small portion of the mythical creatures available through out history.
I shall end with two favorites.
Dragons and Unicorns.
Dragons are by far the most popular creature, and they find a place almost everywhere in fantasy. My favorite representations of dragons are that of Tolkien in The Hobbit, and Christopher Paolini's in The Inheritance Cycle.
In The Hobbit, the Lonely Mountain halls of Erebor have been taken over by the worst dragon in the history of Middle Earth, Smaug the terrible. If any of you have seen the new Hobbit trilogy, I have to say that their deign of Smaug is the best I've seen. Smaug cuts quite an imposing and terrific figure, who's one lust is for gold. He is a nasty beast, who has no qualms about attempting to fry Bilbo, even after a rather pleasant conversation.
Paolini's dragons of The Inheritance Cycle are polar opposites to Smaug. While still the winged beasts of legend, they are more gentle, and bond with humans and elves in the order of Dragon Riders. They are loyal to their friends, and a nightmare to their enemies. They are quite smart, and as dragons rightly should, have a touch of magic within them.
I can count two books in which a kind of unicorn has appeared. The Last Battle, Book 7 of the Chronicles of Narnia, and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle.
I don't know why this is, or why people don't think of unicorns more.
Pop culture has made unicorns into a girlish image. The very name, unicorn, arouses an image of a pink my little pony type beast, with a long flowing mane filled with ribbons.
I think unicorns, if given the proper recognition, would be a fine and majestic beast, and I think of them more along the lines of Jewel the Unicorn, in The Last Battle.
What I would like to see is a book with a unicorn that is wise and majestic, a mentor for the heroes, not a girly girl plaything.
If anyone has book suggestion for that, I'd be glad to hear them.
I'd like to end this post by saying that, if after reading this, you begin to feel discouraged, and think that there are too many mythical creatures in fiction already, or that Tolkien's dragon, or Lewis's fauns are too perfect to be matched, then clearly I misspelled something, or you misread.
My hope for this post is that it will inspire you to take a look at more mythical creatures then those mentioned here. I didn't even touch on griffins (another disappearing breed) or mermaids, or selkies, or even bigfoot.
There are so many untold stories about these fantastic beings that are just waiting to be written.
Waiting for you to write them.
I hope you have become inspired to see what original twists you can bring to these classic creatures, and I'd love to hear what you come up with!