The great thing about mythical creatures is that they’re real. They’re just as real as other things we know about but can’t actually touch or see, such as freedom or non-Photoshopped supermodels. I mean, if my daughter asks me, “Are unicorns real, daddy?” I’ll answer, “Sure they are – they’re real mythical creatures!”
Here’s a quick rundown of my personal favorite mythological creatures from cultures around the world. And I have to admit that I’m biased, because many of the ones I’ve listed make some kind of appearance in the Embodied trilogy, my sci-fi fantasy series.
There’s already something majestic about a white horse with a flowing mane, but when you add a single long, tapered horn to its forehead, the result is staggeringly beautiful. Unicorns have symbolized purity and grace, and can only be tamed by fair maidens. Kari Marriner, the main character in the Embodied trilogy, finds herself up against a terrifyingly unusual unicorn – and it doesn’t intend to be tamed any time soon!
I’m going with the easy ones first. Dragons come in two varieties – the European ones that are nasty and have wings, and the Asian ones that are nice and have no wings. Back in the day (before the Middle Ages) dragons looked more like snakes or sea serpents, but nowadays the fire-breathing, bat-winged variety are all the rage. The one that Kari and Starley encounter in Starley’s Rust, book 2 of the Embodied trilogy, is definitely not nice. He’s also related to the unicorn…
Quite how an aquatic creature with the body of woman and the tail of a fish came to appear in unconnected mythologies the world over is, well, a mystery. From ancient Greece to Walt Disney, mermaids have figuratively or literally enchanted people for thousands of years, along with their less common counterparts, the mermen. My daughter asked for a mermaid tail for her last birthday, so they clearly aren’t going out of style anytime soon.
If you were a man with the head of a bull, you’d probably want to be trapped inside a labyrinth on an island in Greece, but apparently the Minotaur wasn’t super keen on this situation and had to be appeased by being fed seven strapping youths and seven fair maidens every few years. According to legend, the Minotaur was the unnatural offspring of a woman and beast, so eventually Athenian hero Theseus decided to rid the world of this abomination. Or was it really Theseus? In Silent Symmetry, book 1 of the Embodied trilogy, Kari discovers an ancient book that has a different tale to tell…
The idea of a many-headed serpentine monster with poisonous breath and blood that can’t be killed because when one of its heads was chopped off a couple more would grow back from the stump is terrifying even in modern times because it seems to represent an unstoppable evil, the kind that we’re unfortunately used to hearing about in news of terrorist atrocities. Luckily for the ancient Greeks, the heroic Heracles dispatched the monstrosity using sword and fire. Good riddance!
5. Gorgons (Medusa)
In Greek mythology, the Gogons were horrifically ugly winged women with venomous snakes for hair. But let’s face it, we’ve all woken up in the morning looking like that, haven’t we? Medusa was one Gorgon sister who was able to turn anyone into stone who looked her in the eye. Again, been there, done that. The Gorgon sisters were born of deities and hated moral men, but legend has it that one such man, Perseus, was finally able to decapitate Medusa and thereafter carried her head around to use as a weapon by turning his enemies into stone.
Normally “man’s best friend”, this mutt was no stick-chasing, waggy-tailed companion who enjoyed having his belly tickled. No, Cerberus was literally an ancient Greek hell-hound – the offspring of monsters who had three heads, a serpent for a tail and snakes coming out of his body. I’m assuming that he did not walk to heel or sit and stay like a good boy. Cerberus would prevent the dead from leaving the underworld, which, on the face of it, is the kind of guard dog you want.
It’s kind of awesome that he enormous Great Sphinx of Giza (meaning “The Terrifying One” or “Father of Dread”) is almost five thousand years old and yet is still the largest monolith statue in the world. The ancient Greeks – who were pretty good at coming up with mythical creatures, and might have done very well writing Young Adult novels – defined a sphinx as having the head of a human, the haunches of a lion and sometimes the wings of a bird. The Egyptian sphinx is typically male, while its Greek counterpart is female. Either way, you wouldn’t want to run into one lurking behind a pyramid.
The ultimate freakish beast, the chimera has come to refer to any mythical or fictional animal made up of a bunch of other animals. However in Greek mythology, the chimera was a fire-breathing animal composed of the best bits of a lion, a goat, a human and a snake. Noon, one of the main characters in the Embodied trilogy, uses the term chimera to refer to high priests of the Dark Universe once they are embodied in Earth-bound form.
1. Gog and Magog
This two-for-one is probably a surprising entry for most readers. But for some reason I’ve always found these names to be terrifying. Even though I’m not religious, there was a period when I was fascinated by the Book of Revelation as a teenager, and the mysterious characters of Gog and Magog were causing havoc at the end of the world. But these strange beings don’t only appear in Christian mythology. Gog and Magog, wrote an early Muslim scholar, “ live near to the sea that encircles the Earth and can be counted only by God; they are only half the height of a normal man, with claws instead of nails and a hairy tail and huge hairy ears which they use as mattress and cover for sleeping.” Maybe they aren’t so scary – they sound like something from Where the Wild Things Are.
Mythical creatures in the Embodied trilogy
As I mentioned above, all these mythological creatures have a role to play, big or small, in the Embodied trilogy, and that’s because the Thoth, one of the Dark Universe races that come to Earth are embodied as similar creatures. But the Thoth go a step further – they often have extra features that combine different beasts from the classical mythological sources. And at the end of Diamond Splinters, we finally get to meet the terrifying Gog, who is as hell-bent on destroying the Earth as the biblical version. Can Kari defeat the Thoth? You’ll have to read the Embodied trilogy special edition eboo