The Dragon. The Roc. The Kraken. There are some truly awe-inspiring creatures in myth and fiction. There are, however, also some less impressive beasties. We scoured our minds and our libraries for our favorite silly creatures and look forward to your contributions in the comments.
This week, we're ably assisted by Pandemonium contributor and taxidermist Oz Vance. Oz, who assures us he is in no way 'wonderful', hails from New Orleans and claims that he spends 'upwards of half his day making shit up for tourists', which inspired him to 'go pro' and become a writer.
The Rougarou is the Creole werewolf. The name comes from the French - loup garou - but the Rougarou has more in common with the Native American Wendigo, another example of the cultural gumbo that makes New Orleans such an interesting place. Your average Rougarou tall tale features a man driven to cannibalism and cursed by a witch. He runs around for a hundred days or so until he's shot. Occasionally he's cured, generally after being shot. Anne Rice never got around to the book.
El Chupacabra is an ungainly varmint with nothing better to do than exsanguinate livestock. The poor bastard seems to spend most of his time in Texas, but he's swung through Louisiana more than once. One trigger-happy Texas rancher thought he brought him down, but it turned out to be a coyote with the mange. Any monster than can be mistaken for a coyote with the mange won't cause me to stay awake nights.
Legend has it, Jackalopes drink whiskey and mate during thunder storms, which doesn't sound like the worst kind of life. Jackalope wall-mounts, bunnies with fixed-on antlers - are some of the best-selling items at the shop. Real jackalopes, cottontails with the papilloma virus, have warty, bulbous growths from their forehead. They're less popular with the tourists.
The Snallygaster is the American dragon - a hook-nose, bat wings and one glowing eye. In 1909, Snallygaster terrorised Maryland for months before getting himself blown up in a moonshine still. Teddy Roosevelt himself wanted to take a crack at it but was otherwise occupied by having to be President.
I've never understood mermaids. I've got plenty sympathy for the needs of cooped-up sailors, but to leap overboard for a mermaid reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the procreative processes.
The yale, a goat-like monster with tusks and the tail of a lion... and horns that can swivel in any direction. And it hangs out in water. Like that homicidal pig of the river, the hippo. Despite having an entire well-known university named after it, the yale has fallen sadly out of fashion in these dark times.
We don't know who came up with the yale, but we sure as hell know who came up with the flumph. It's like a gooey frisbee with tentacles and eye-stalks, and it can spit acid in your face if you piss it off. But it's helpless when you flip it over. The first generation of D&Ders were apparently pretty unimpressed with the flumph, but seriously - what was their problem? It's a gooey frisbee with tentacles. It may be useless, but it's cute.
Okay, so bear with me here. What has the head of a man, the body of a lion, the feet of a dragon, the tail of a scorpion, three sets of teeth and a voice like a trumpet? It can shoot poisonous spines, too. Give up? It's the manticore! The nightmare-inducing monster of Persian origin was said to eat people whole, leaving no trace of them behind - and so regularly blamed for disappearances. It also, apparently, looked like a bearded man from afar. Never trust a man with a beard. Especially from afar. Ancient geographer Pausanius felt the manticore was probably just a fancied-up description of the tiger but Pliny the Elder was totally into the manticore and included it in his Natural History, which became standard reading in Europe and thus allowed the manticore to haunt the nightmares of centuries of filthy medieval children.
"An octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature.... A pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque scaly body with rudimentary wings." Scared yet? What if you then learned that this thing is the size of a mountain? And it's a god? And it once ran for president of the US? And, although currently asleep, it'll eventually wake up and drive everyone totally insane? It's Cthulhu! Although modernly represented with enormous wings and fearsome, uh, biceps, I'm a purist - I like to imagine my mountainous octo-headed mad-maker as kind of soft and squishy.
What gets pregnant via oral sex and gestates in its brainpan? Why, it's the weasel! Pity the poor weasel-mother, who must give birth through her ears.
As Anne points out, the greatest source of all ridiculous monsters is Dungeons and Dragons. Like one of his own campaign villains, Gygax opened some eldritch portal to a nightmare realm where animal parts were callously swapped and supernatural powers were distributed wildly, as if by the hand of some chaotic god. If any one creature embodies the chemical-tainted neuroses of the early D&D era, it is the Displacer Beast. A panther. But with tentacles. And it is always six feet to the left of where you think it is. I mean, why not?
China Miéville's carnivorous giraffes in Un Lun Dun are both sinister and adorable. Having been licked by a giraffe, I can vouch that they're actually quite intimidating creatures. And stinky.
A disconcertingly large portion of my teenage years was spent playing Diablo 2. (Conservatively, I'd say 31%. In second place, 'sleep' with 23%. 'Socialising with actual human beings' barely cracks the top fifty with 1.1%) And I never once figured out the point of Coldworm the Burrower. Coldworm, a bloated Sand Maggot, is a mini-boss in Act II. He's got an army of maggoty minions, but Coldworm itself doesn't do anything. He doesn't attack, he's completely harmless and, once his bodyguardbugs are annhilated, he just sort of sits there and quivers - a big lump of experience.
Still, when it comes to placidity, it is hard to beat the Necronomicon. It is, of course, a book. THE SCARIEST BOOK IN ALL CREATION. It will summon forth the helldemons of Yuggoth when read. It will ravage the world with tentacled apocalypses when read. It will bring forth mighty Azazoth and his army of gibbering horros when read. You see where I'm going with this, right?
On the slightly more animate side of Lovecraftian monsters, I always thought Shoggoths were his most ridiculous creations - big angry blobs of, er, blob. But as Ian Culbard highlights in his (award-winning) adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness, the real fun is with the giant albino prehistoric cave penguins. Wuk wuk wuk.
How about you? What monsters do you find ridiculous?