Written by Lindsay Amer, Fall 2015 Communications Apprentice
Forests and mountains and oceans, oh my! Our planet can be a scary place sometimes, and ever since humankind began telling stories, we have invented terrifying mythological monsters that go "boo!" in the night. In THE GRUFFALO
, the Mouse invents her own monster to protect herself from the predators that live in the deep dark wood. Made-up creatures can protect us from other scary things, represent something large and unknown in nature or stand in for inexplicable happenings.
From Sasquatch (better known as Bigfoot), who stomps through the vast and murky forests of the Pacific Northwest, to the dreaded Kraken—fabled to swallow tall ships whole—every culture has its own mythical monsters. We know why the Mouse invented the Gruffalo. Let's see if we can shed some light on the possible origins of these rough beasts...
Loch Ness Monster
The four-finned, long-necked Nessie hails from the great Loch Ness in the highlands of Scotland. Vikings in the 6th century were the earliest to record their fear of her, when an attack on a man crossing the River Ness was blamed on a colossal reptile allegedly sighted in the loch. Was he attacked? Did he drown? Loch Ness is enormous. Surrounded by highland hills, it's the second largest and deepest lake in all of Scotland, and the river that feeds it is wide and equally dangerous. The threat of meeting a giant water monster would be enough to keep me from wandering out alone onto the dark, murky water. Spooky!
Known to the Nepalese and Tibetans as the Yeti, tales of the Abominable Snowman living in the Himalayan mountains have warned residents of the dangers of nearby avalanches and the fate awaiting stranded Everest-climbing adventurers. The white-all-over bear-like creature is said to preside over its mountainous home and features in ancient lore of the Himalayan people. It is said to make a whooshing noise wherever it goes, carrying huge gusts of wind along with it. I wouldn't want to get caught in that blizzard; and because of the story of the fearsome Yeti, I won't!
These terrifying, hairless wolf-like creatures with spikes up their spines are said to hail from Puerto Rico, Mexico and South America. Their Spanish name literally translates to "goat-sucker," coming from their well-known pastime of attacking and sucking the blood of meandering livestock. While sightings of Chupacabras are probably just people seeing funny looking coyotes, how else am I supposed to explain my missing goats at the market the next day? Best to keep a watchful eye on my herd.
There are hundreds of different folkloric histories throughout the continent of Africa with thousands of equally astounding and fantastical monsters. Also known as the Lightning Bird, this lesser known mythical monster comes from the tales of Pondu, Zulu and Xhosa traditions in South Africa. The Impundulu is a human-sized bird which is said to have the magical ability to strike lightning with its claws and suck the blood of its prey. If I lived in the fire-prone drylands of southern Africa, I'd be worried about giant lightning birds, too, blood-sucking or not!
Ugly stone gargoyles famously protrude from the arches and vaults of Paris's beloved architectural landmark, Notre Dame. Practically speaking, gargoyles are actually used to protect the building's stonework from rainwater by diverting it through their spout-like mouths. But during medieval times, the faithful believed that plastering these grotesque figures all over churches would protect the sacred and beautifully ornamented insides from any evil demons that might try to break in and wreck the place.
Tales of dragons come from all over the world. The gargantuan fire-breathing reptiles show up in folklore from China, Japan, Vietnam, India, Ancient Greece and in the earliest of all literature, The Epic of Gilgamesh
from Mesopotamia. Many of these cultures depict the otherworldly creatures as powerful, even imperial symbols, representing the great forces of nature. Dragons are more symbolic than forewarning: paragons of animal might with command over earth, fire, air and water. They prove excellent opponents for mythological heroes looking to slay magnificent beasts to demonstrate their valor, and they satisfy our human desire for a mighty creature of legend superlative to any real-world animal. I can't think of a more magnificent monster!
||What makes you quake in your boots? Take to Twitter, and tell us @newvictory what creature you'd rather not meet in the deep dark wood. Then, join us for Tall Stories' musical adaptation of THE GRUFFALO, the award-winning picture book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. See you there!
||Lindsay Amer is a Communications Apprentice at The New 42nd Street, where she gets to contribute to social media, PR and marketing for a theater for kids and families! She almost has her MA in Theater and Performance Studies from Queen Mary University of London, and she holds a BS in Theater from Northwestern University. She is currently learning how to play the song from the Pixar short about volcanoes falling in love—Lava—on her ukulele.