Saturday, April 14, 2012

Tempting Top Ten: Mythical Creatures

A couple months ago I started posting the occasional Mythical Madness post, a homage to my love of myths from different cultures and especially mythical creatures. So of course for M in the A-Z challenge I have to list my top ten favorite mythical creatures - the creatures that have tempted me to write stories about them.

10. Pegasus - just because winged horses are so beautiful.  I love Robin McKinley's Pegasus because she really develops what a culture of pegasi might be like.

9. Mermaids - I used to dream of being a mermaid when I was a kid (the kind that can also come out of the water because the tail can magically turn into legs). I'm sure the movie Splash with Tom Hanks and Darryl Hannah had something to do with this dream.

8.  Phoenix (sometimes also called a Fire Bird). My love affair  with this myth also began when I was a kid and read David and the Phoenix, where a smart-talking phoenix decides to take on the "education" of a young boy, being distressed that David knew so little about anything mythical. This book also features a sea serpent, another mythical creature that there simply aren't enough stories about... am tempted to try my hand at one someday.

7. Griffin - a creature with a body of a lion  and head and wings of an eagle, usually known as a guardian of gold, sometimes able to dig up gold. I like to envision a smaller version with the body of a house-cat and the head and wings of a hawk that will guard the households of anyone with enough magic to control it. It can disguise itself as a statue.
6. Sphinx - body of a lion, head of a human, sometimes with wings, in Egyptian and Greek myths often a guardian of tombs or city gates. The most famous story is from Greece of a sphinx who asked a riddle of travelers, and if they failed to answer correctly, she gobbled them up. But I envision a story of a lonely sphinx who is tired of her endless task of guardian, and longs to have someone finally answer her riddle and set her free from her cursed form back into the beautiful woman she once was.

5. Shapeshifters
Common in almost all myths and folklores, humans changing into frogs or wolves or bears or birds - sometimes by their own will, sometimes forced into a animal shape by a curse. One of my favorite and lesser known shapeshifting myths is from Hungary, the "Woodland Fairy". A fairy is turned into a  tree but is freed when a king has the tree chopped down. He immediately falls in love with the fairy, but a jealous gypsy turns the fairy into a fish and then disguises herself so that the king ends up marrying her instead. Eventually the fairy finds a way to return to human form and becomes a servant in the king's palace. When she is asked by the king to tell a fairy tale, she tells her own story, so the king finally recognizes her. The gypsy is sent away, and the fairy becomes queen. Source:

4. Wilis
I like this female, ghostly take on the vampire myth. Wilis are beautiful and sometimes evil female spirits from Slavic myths also called  Vila, Wila, Wiła, or Veela. Wilis are best known from the classical ballet, Giselle based on a poem by Heinrich Heine. The story is of a young peasant girl who falls in love with a prince. When she discovers he's betrothed to another lady, she kills herself in grief and becomes a wili. The Queen of the Wilis demands that she take her vengeance on the prince by dancing with him until he dies of exhaustion, but Giselle still loves the prince and protects him, thus freeing herself from the curse of being a haunting ghost so she can rest in peace. 

3. Jinns/Genies
Described in the Qu'ran as a spirit being made of smokeless flame, genies are also mentioned in the stories of the Arabian Nights (or One Thousand and One Nights), most famously in the story of Aladdin's Lamp. I also love novels about Bartimaeus, a ancient jinn with an attitude. I'm working on a story where a girl finds a magical lamp, but discovers the lamp actually contains two genies instead of one - and the genies are immortal enemies. So much for three wishes. 

2. Fire-breathing dragons.
Perhaps the most famous and most ferocious of all mythical creatures, though I think it is the modern proliferation of stories with dragons that become allies with humans, even friends, is what have made them become so popular.  One of my stories tells that the reason why dragons aren't seen anymore is that they have turned themselves into mountains... or, in some cases fiery volcanoes. I love the idea of a creature so giant its only way of disguising itself is with something as big as a mountain. But then I recently came across this picture of a lapdragon, small enough to cuddle on your lap (if you don't mind that it occasionally sets your sofa on fire).

1. Unicorns.

Here's the logline for my story about unicorns:  In order to save the last remaining refuge of the unicorns, Selty needs help from her worst enemy: a human girl. 

What's your favorite mythical creature?

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