Archive for March, 2013

Myths, Legends, and Folktales: The Basics


So far for this site, I’ve been using words like myth, legend, or folktale while operating under the assumption that if this sort of stuff interests you, then you probably already know how they are different. Today I decided it would be wise to explain these concepts a little more thoroughly, both for future reference and for your convenience.

The first thing I should probably explain is that academics and scholars are not always in agreement about this sort of terminology. Mythology, for example, is sometimes used as a blanket term to refer to all of the concepts I’m about to elaborate on. It is also used to refer to a more specific concept, which is how I will usually use it on this site.

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While this blog is often about exploring well-known mythical creatures in fiction, sometimes I’d like to shine a light on ones that don’t get so much attention. With that in mind, today I’m introducing a new feature, Monster of the Week, which focuses on underused or little-known spirits, monsters, and supernatural beings.

I’m sure you’re familiar with werewolves, but around the world, there are many similar stories of were-leopards, were-bears, were-crocodiles, and so on. Really, so long as there was a giant predatory animal around, our ancestors fantasized about becoming it. There is, however, another side to this coin, which is when instead of people becoming animals, we have stories of these sorts of animals becoming people.

Continue reading ‘MONSTER OF THE WEEK: Animal-People’

BOOK RECOMMENDATION: The Works of Carol Rose

Since I keep extolling the virtues of doing research when it comes to using myth and legend in fiction, I would be remiss if I didn’t try to point people towards useful resources for this purpose. So, one of the recurring segments on this blog will be book recommendations. I should note, I have no association with any author whose book I promote here; they are just volumes I have found to be particularly helpful or well-written.

When doing research on mythical creatures, I find that the available resources come in two forms: in depth essays and books focusing on just one creature, or broader reference books that try to cover a wide range. For a beginner, or for someone just looking for inspiration, I find it’s easiest to start with the second sort of book, figuring out what your options are and what’s out there, before moving on to the more in-depth books for detailed information.

With this in mind, I would like to introduce you to two books which are part of a larger whole: Spirits, Fairies, Leprechauns and Goblins: An Encyclopedia, and Giants, Monsters, and Dragons: An Encyclopedia of Folklore, Legend, and Myth, both by Carol Rose. These books, while they generally offer only blurbs and slight descriptions, are very comprehensive in their range. Pretty much all mythical creatures can be divided between “spirits” and “monsters,” with some overlaps, and this distinction informs a lot of the writing I do on this site. These two volumes are extremely useful for finding out about new mythical creatures from around the world and then doing further research upon whichever one catches your eye.

Aside from just being an encyclopedia that lists the creatures alphabetically, the appendices also group them by theme, culture of origin, associations with different animals or natural forces, and so on. For example, say you want to write a story and include a monster or spirit associated with the harvest. Just flip to the appropriate appendix. Then, perhaps your setting has Germanic influence. Cross reference the first appendix with another, and you can narrow your search down to beings like Frau Holle or the Kornwulf, and you can see if any of them jumpstart your imagination.

Now, to be fair, these volumes aren’t perfect. They include such a vast number of entries that you will find Ms. Rose made some mistakes, either not listing a creature in an appendix that isn’t in the text, or vice versa. It’s not a frequent problem, but you will notice it now and then. In addition, the books do have a narrow blind spot, where they don’t cover certain mythical creatures. In general, if the creature was originally human in origin, it might not be in there; the undead are particularly under represented.

Still, these minor flaws are greatly outweighed by the books’ strengths, and I feel confident saying that if you buy them you will get your money’s worth. Just keep in mind that they are a jumping off point, and for more detailed analysis you’ll have to move on to other works.

MAGIC, PART ∞: Illusions

Magic can be hard to write. Done well it seems weird, enigmatic and powerful. Done poorly it seems like a cheap plot device used to move the story forward with no explanation or buildup. That’s why this running series will be all about how cultures of the past viewed magic, wizards, and superstitions. I find that when your magic seems too mechanical, turning to the past can help you nail down the right tone, as well as figure out the logic a little easier.

This week I’m going to talk about magical illusions.

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VAMPIRES, PART VII: The Bones of the Vampire (The End Already, Goddamn)


PART I: In Which You Learn All Drunk People Are Secretly Undead Monsters

PART II: The Logic and Superstition of Vampire Watermelons. Yes, I Said ‘Watermelons.’

PART III: Corpse Desecration for Beginners

PART IV: Who’s in There, Anyway?

PART V: Buckets of Blood

PART VI: Wolves and Witches

Over the course of this series, I’ve tried to showcase the great variety of Slavic vampire beliefs and traditions, despite the many competing or contradictory ideas therein. We’ve had vampires that are walking corpses and vampires that are more like ghosts. We’ve had vampires that drink blood, vampires who eat flesh, and vampires who steal your breath. We’ve even had owl-monsters and vampire watermelons. At this point a reasonable person might well be wondering, well, just what is a vampire?

Continue reading ‘VAMPIRES, PART VII: The Bones of the Vampire (The End Already, Goddamn)’