Welcome to today’s post – get your hiking boots on as we’re exploring jungles, caves and mountains on the search for monsters from all around the world.
I’m excited to share an interview with the brilliant Margrét Helgadóttir to talk about her Monsters series with Fox Spirit Books. With her concluding book (Eurasian Monsters, of which she has very kindly decided to provide a copy to giveaway as a prize) the set is complete.
She’s done a wonderful job acquiring stories from authors from every continent, giving a flavour of the local culture and folklore. But I’ll let Margrét tell you all about it below!
We then have the Spells & Spaceships International Bestiary, an A-Z of interesting monsters I’ve put together for your pleasure. Enjoy the post!
An Interview with Margrét Helgadóttir
Hi Margrét, welcome back to the blog!
When planning monster week, you were the first person who came to mind.
For anyone who doesn’t know, Margrét has edited a series called ‘Monsters’ featuring monster stories from around the world. Could you tell us a little bit more about this please!?
Hello there! The seven volumes of the Fox Spirit Books of Monsters invite you to a world tour, exploring local scary myths and monsters tales continent by continent. I have invited local authors to write short stories about own culture and folklore, using any genre they feel will get the monsters’ bite across. The series started in Europe in 2014 before it continued to Africa, Asia, the Pacific region, and Central, South and North America, and it ended with Eurasia in 2020. The books contain stories by authors such as Cory Doctorow, Darcie Little Badger, Lewis Shiner, Liliana Colanzi, Teresa P. Mira de Echeverria, Nnedi Okorafor, Tade Thompson, Ken Liu, Xia Jia, Aliette de Bodard, Usman T. Malik, K.A. Teryna, and Maria Galina, to name a few.
I currently own the South American and Pacific Monsters books in the collection, though eventually plan to collect them all. Do you have a particular favourite out of all the series, or if you can’t answer that, is there a book that stands out for any particular reason?
I am proud of all the books, and I think they give lovely glimpses of the life in the various continents too. So I don’t think I will mention any favourites. I usually point readers who have not read any of the books yet, to start with Pacific Monsters or African Monsters, mostly because these are cultures that people usually are very unfamiliar with. Pacific Monsters stand out because of the huge amount of stories by authors with indigenous background. The South American volume (American Monsters Part 1) and Eurasian Monsters also stand out because of the many translated stories.
Western readers are familiar with dragons, werewolves, vampires. By creating an edition from each continent, was part of your rationale to introduce readers to monsters they may not have heard about before, or was that just a coincidence?
Absolutely not a coincidence. We – that is myself and my co-editor of the first two volumes, Jo Thomas – strongly felt that most monsters are forgotten today, while the rest are watered down and overused in the popular media, and then only a few of them dominate the scene—and they are almost all from Western popular culture. This felt so wrong, when we know how every country and region in the world has wonderful dark and eerie tales of monsters, some of them maybe thousands of years old.
So, we wished to re-establish the monsters’ dark reputation, but also drag them out from the darkest corners, to show how many great monsters and dark creatures we have from all over the world. Happily Adele Wearing at Fox Spirit Books agreed with us. Also, we felt increasingly from book two, that it was important to let the authors who grew up with the folklore and cultures tell the stories.
Do you have a favourite monster, either from your books, or in general?
Oh, that was a very difficult question. I love stories challenging the traditional view of humans as something standing apart or above animals and the wilderness. I like were-animals, but I adore a good story about shapeshifters.
How did you go about finding the right authors and the right monsters to populate your short stories collections?
I would say that the most crucial and time consuming part of my work with these anthologies have been to locate and track down the local authors. To me the most important aspect of these books has been to represent the continents well, and to make sure all voices have been heard. So countries and origin has been the most important factor, but also to create diversity in the author list.
I have also researched the local folklore but I have left it to the authors to pick the monster they want to write about. After all, they know their culture the best. We have discussed, though, both because I have tried to not fill the books with stories about the same monster – some monsters are more popular than others – but also to challenge them about what a monster tale is.
I like the fact that your monsters collection look great all together as a group, but you can try whichever one takes your fancy first. I think part of the appeal is that each book will follow the same theme but will be very different due to the culture and folklore of the regions featured. Did you get that impression that even just through the monsters alone you can get a feel for the unique cultural identity of these places of the world?
Yes, absolutely. I’m actually struck by how important monsters are in a culture. What most don’t realise, is that humans of all times, all over the world, regardless of geography, culture or demography, have created stories and myths about beasts, dark creatures, and monsters – not only as entertainment, but often to teach a lesson, punish, or gain control. But what is important to one culture might not be so vital to another. It might be a coincidence but I do believe I’ve spotted some regional differences in this, while editing the monster volumes. I can give one example: In both the Eurasia and Africa volumes, several of the stories are concerned with place and origin, about immigration and going home – a signifier, perhaps, of how important homeland is to these authors. But Eurasian Monsters feels even closer to the feeling of home created in the Asia volume, where it is not so much about the place but more about the family itself and the strong relationships between loved ones—dead, living or absent. The spirits, ghosts and demons create an almost floating atmosphere in the Asia volume.
Perhaps a difficult open ended question here, but what qualifies as a ‘monster’ to you?
Actually, many of the stories in the Fox Spirit Books of Monsters series question who really is the monster. I have tried to have a broad definition of what a monster is when working on these books – both because I didn’t want to narrow down what the local author deemed as monstrous, but also because I have been increasingly aware of the fact that several cultures don’t have monsters as we speak of them in the west.
I am fasinated by the relationship between cultures and the monster folklore. What is interesting is that many of the monsters created today are based on old beliefs; and others are hybrids, created out of climate change or nuclear catastrophe.
In general I think we tend to place monsters into two categories: either the beasts living within us or the beasts living next to us. The latter have no interest in you except tearing you apart or putting terror in your heart. But to me a monster does not have to be a physical beast in itself, something I think several of the stories in the monster books are examples of. American Monsters Part 1, for instance, have several stories from Southern America about monstrous creations, such as light, waves, mountains or even islands—all dark stories that will leave you in utter terror.
Margrét Helgadóttir is a Norwegian-Icelandic writer and anthology editor living in Oslo, Norway. Her stories have appeared in a number of both magazines and print anthologies and her debut book The Stars Seem So Far Away, was finalist to British Fantasy Awards 2016. Margrét is editor of the anthology Winter Tales (2016) and the book series Fox Spirit Books of Monsters, seven volumes published between 2014 and 2020. Three volumes were shortlisted to British Fantasy Awards as Best Anthology (2016, 2017 and 2018), and Margret was also awarded with Starburst Magazine’s Brave New Words Award in 2018 for her editor work on Pacific Monsters. https://margrethelgadottir.wordpress.com
Find her Goodreads page here.
Margrét is also a charter member of the African Speculative Fiction Society.
The Spells & Spaceships International Bestiary
The Asasabonsam is a vampire-like folkloric being from the Akan people. It belongs to the folklore of the Akan of southern Ghana, as well as Côte d’Ivoire, Togo and 18th century Jamaica. It is said to have iron teeth, pink skin, long red hair and iron hooks for feet and lives in trees, attacking from above.
In Hellenic and Roman legend, a basilisk is a serpent-like creature capable of destroying other creatures by way of its deadly stare.
The basilisk is alleged to be hatched by a cockerel from the egg of a serpent or toad (the reverse of the cockatrice, which was hatched from a cockerel’s “egg” incubated by a serpent or toad)
The Caoineag is a female spirit in Scottish folklore and a type of Highland banshee, her name meaning “weeper”. She is normally invisible and foretells death in her clan by lamenting in the night at a waterfall, stream or lake, or in a glen or on a mountainside. Unlike the related death portent known as the bean nighe, the caoineag cannot be approached or questioned or be made to grant wishes.
The Scottish folklorist Alexander Carmichael in Carmina Gadelica states that she foretells the death of those slain in battle, and that her mourning and weeping cause much anxiety to parents whose sons are in the wars. Before the Massacre of Glencoe, the caoineag of the MacDonalds was heard to wail night after night. Those whose fears were roused by her keening left the glen and escaped the fate of those who remained behind.
In Norse Mythology, Draugr (also known as Draug and Draugen) are the ghosts of Vikings that rise from their graves to walk the world. It is said they first appear from the graves as wisps of smoke and have the cloying stench of decay. In addition to the smell and reanimation, Draugr also retain superhuman strength and the ability to increase their size at will.
The Draugr were believed to be propelled from their graves to physically attack the living out of anger and envy. Regardless of how they were in life, in death, they were only murderous and vengeful monsters with a thirst to attack humans at every chance.
Taken from Norse mythology, the Eldjotnar are a class of giants – fire giants. They live in Muspelheim, one of the nine realms, which is ruled by Surtr (the head Eldjotnar).
The Eldjotnar were created before man. In fact, scholars seem to think they were involved in man’s creation – although the timeline varies according to whom you talk to. The fires from Muspelheim joined with the ice from Niflheim (another of the nine realms). The reaction of the fire meeting ice formed Ymir, a giant whose corpse created Midgard (the realm of humans).
In the final days of Ragnarok, Surtr will leave Muspelheim with his Eldjotnar and do battle with the gods and other giants. He will battle against Freyr, and the fire from Surtr’s sword will ignite the Earth in fire.
The Fomorians are a race of supernatural giants in Irish mythology. In some accounts, the Fomorians are described as one of the earliest races to have invaded and settled in Ireland. The Fomorians are often described as monstrous, hideous-looking creatures. They were sometimes said to possess the power over certain natural phenomena, in particular destructive elements. Some scholars believe that the Fomorians are a personification of these forces of nature.
Ghoul is a demon-like being or monstrous humanoid originating in pre-Islamic Arabian religion, associated with graveyards and consuming human flesh. In modern fiction, the term has often been used for a certain kind of undead monster.
In 1893, newspapers reported the discovery of a Hodag in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. It had “the head of a frog, the grinning face of a giant elephant, thick short legs set off by huge claws, the back of a dinosaur, and a long tail with spears at the end”
The hodag is said to be born from the ashes of cremated oxen, as the incarnation of the accumulation of abuse the animals had suffered at the hands of their masters.
Isonade are mysterious, shark-like sea monsters which scour the rocky coastlines of West Japan searching for boats to scuttle and fishermen to snatch. Their bodies are enormous, and their fins are covered with countless, tiny metallic barbs like a grater. They use these barbs to hook their prey, dragging them deep into the water to be eaten. Isonade are said to appear when the north winds blow and the sea currents change.
The Jiangshi is a Chinese vampire/zombie that’s name translates to ‘stiff corpse’. It is a horrific creature that usually hops along, and when it comes across a victim it will suck the life force out of them.
The Jiangshi has many different names, such as Chiang Shi, Kang Shi and Geungsi. They are said to be created when a person’s soul fails to leave the deceased’s body. However, some have disputed the comparison of jiang shi with vampires, as jiang shi are usually mindless creatures with no independent thought. One unusual feature of this monster is its greenish-white furry skin, perhaps derived from fungus or mold growing on corpses.
The Jiangshi is said to be raised by a necromancer, or when the soul of a dead man cannot leave his body due to reasons in life, such as they were a horrible troublemaker, or if they commit suicide. The body looks different due to when they were raised. If they are raised soon after death, their appearance looks almost like a normal human, however if they have decomposed some time before they come to life, they can look horrific and ghastly.
The Kraken is a Scandinavian Mythological Seamonster of tremendous size of strength said to exist off the coasts of Norway and Greenland. Its tentacles are large enough to be able to pull entire Ships under the Water and destroy cities with relative ease. The Creature possessed endurance to match its strength. In addition to its tentacles, it was also armed with gaping maw full of many sharp teeth. Originally, kraken were considered to be similar to giant crustaceans or colossal whales. However, in later versions, the descriptions changed to match those of a cephalopod – Squid or Octopus.
Llamhigyn Y Dwr
Llamhigyn Y Dwr, also known as Water Leaper is a malicious creature from Welsh mythology and folklore that lived in swamps, ponds, rivers, and lakes. It was said to be a giant, limbless frog or toad with a bat’s membranous wings (sometimes even a bird’s feathery wings) and a long, reptilian tail with a large stinger at the tip. It leapt across the water using its wings, hence its name. Its favorite prey were fish, poor sheep who wandered too close to the water’s edge, or even fishermen! It was said that its appearance alone was to strike one dead, never mind its venomous stinger or blood-curdling screech. Llamhigyn Y Dwr was said to shriek, which stunned its prey, leap up from the water and snap the fishing line of fishermen, dragging the poor soul into the water’s abyss, only to be speedily engulfed by a malignant, and quite insatiable, maw.
A manticore is a mythological creature that was said to be unconquerable. The mighty beast is best known for its strange but magnificent features. It is often said that the beast had the head of a man, the body of a lion, and the tail of a scorpion.
A Ninki Nanka is a legendary creature in West African folklore. Descriptions of the creature vary, but most contend that the animal is reptilian and possibly dragon-like.
According to tradition, the Ninki Nanka lives in the swamps of West Africa. The animal is said to be extremely large and very dangerous. It is said that when children get too confident and feel they can disobey their parents and go into the swamp they will be taken by the Ninki Nanka.
In Japanese traditional beliefs and literature, onryō (literally “vengeful spirit”, sometimes rendered “wrathful spirit”) refers to a ghost believed to be capable of causing harm in the world of the living, injuring or killing enemies, or even causing natural disasters to exact vengeance to “re-address” the wrongs it received while alive, then taking their spirits from their dying bodies.
The Poukai is carnivorous bird from Māori mythology, described by Sir George Grey, an early governor of New Zealand, as a huge black-and-white bird with a red crest and yellow-green tinged wingtips, and, in Māori legend, was said to kill and eat humans.
The qilin, or kirin, is a mythical hooved chimerical creature known in Chinese and other East Asian cultures, said to appear with the imminent arrival or passing of a sage or illustrious ruler. Qilin is a specific type of the lin mythological family of one-horned beasts.
The rompo is a mythological beast originating from the legends of India and Africa. It has a long and thin body (approx. 2-3 feet), and is said to have the head of a hare, human ears, a horse’s mane, the front arms of a badger and rear legs of a bear.
The creature is believed to be nocturnal, secretive, and feeds on human corpses. It is also said to croon softly as it eats. Reports from African locals state that when the Rompo finds a dead body, it will not feast on it immediately, but circulate it many times to make sure it is safe to approach. When the Rompo is cornered or put into a state of fright its skin will change to the colour of what it sees. Among trees and shrubs, the Rompo’s skin becomes green.
Strzygas are usually female creatures who feeds on human blood. Her male counterpart is called strzygoń. They are considered a type of vampire and are placed among the most dangerous beings in the Polish tales.
Their origins are connected to the belief of duality of the souls. A common explanation known from the tales and ethnographic resources was that a human born with two souls could become a strzyga after death. Such people were easy to recognize, born also with two rows of teeth, two hearts, or other similar anomalies. They can die but only partially – one of the souls leaves to the outerworld, but the second one gets trapped inside the dead body, losing many aspects of humanity. Strzyga or strzygoń lives between the spheres of life and death until the second soul leaves too.
Strzyga’s appearance can resemble a normal person, only with gray or blueish skin. The longer they live as a strzyga, the more they change. They are often presented with bird-like features: claws, eyes, feathers growing off the back.
They sleep in their graves and come out at night to hunt. They need the blood to survive – sucking it out of the bodies of their victims and eating out their entrails. Their main targets are humans but they could live off the animal blood as well for short periods of time.
The Tikbalang is a creature of Philippine folklore said to lurk in the mountains and forests of the Philippines. It is a tall, bony humanoid creature with the head and hooves of a horse and disproportionately long limbs, to the point that its knees reach above its head when it squats down.
Tikbalangs are said to scare travelers or play tricks on them which will lead them astray from the right path. Such tricks will keep the traveller from returning to the path, no matter how far he goes or where he turns.
Utopiec, Vodník or Topnik is a name applied to Slavic spirits of water. The utopiec are spirits of human souls that died drowning, residing in the element of their own demise. They are responsible for sucking people into swamps and lakes as well as killing the animals standing near the still waters.
The vrykolakas, is a harmful undead creature in Greek folklore. It has similarities to many different legendary creatures, but is generally equated with the vampire of the folklore of the neighbouring Slavic countries. While the two are very similar, blood-drinking is only marginally associated with the vrykolakas. It has similarities in its traits with werewolves and zombies too!
Wendigo is a mythological creature or evil spirit which originates from the folklore of Algonquin First Nations tribes based in and around the East Coast forests of Canada, the Great Plains region of the United States, and the Great Lakes region of the United States and Canada. The wendigo is often said to be a malevolent spirit, sometimes depicted as a creature with human-like characteristics, which possesses human beings. The wendigo is known to invoke feelings of insatiable greed/hunger, the desire to cannibalize other humans, as well as the propensity to commit murder in those that fall under its influence.
Xingtian is a Chinese deity who fights against the Supreme Divinity, not giving up even after the event of his decapitation. Losing the fight for supremacy, he was beheaded and his head buried in Changyang Mountain.
Nevertheless, headless, with a shield in one hand and a battle axe in the other, he continues the fight, using his nipples as eyes and his bellybutton as a mouth!
The Yeti also known as Meh-Teh, in Himalayan folklore, is an ape-like creature purported to inhabit the Himalayan mountain range in Asia. In western popular culture, the creature is commonly referred to as the Abominable Snowman.
The Yeti is often described as being a large, bipedal ape-like creature that is covered with gray or white hair and sometimes depicted as having large, sharp teeth.
Ziburinis are malevolent creatures from Lithuanian folklore and enjoy taking over the bodies and lives of intelligent creatures, so the pain and trauma they cause will have greater effect. They only take over the lives of the creatures they possess for a short period though as their hatred mostly takes over and burns it’s way out of the possessed body leaving nothing but a burning skeleton behind.
In this form the ziburinis seeks out a new victim to possess. It can survive a month in burning skeleton form until its fire burns out completely. Ziburinis are elemental creatures made from fire and anger, because of this scholars often mistake them for spirits or undead as the negative energy around these creatures is strong. The Ziburinis often burns its way out of the victim after becoming angry with someone, and very often the person that caused this violent burning explosion of rage will be its next host. Ziburinis are seen as the most evil of all elemental creatures, and for good reasons, the possessed victim is aware of the presence at all times and will feel everything including its flesh and insides burning away, which is a very painful and slow end!
Which monster do you like the most? Let me know in the comments or on twitter!
Picture Credits –
Asanbosam – Archives of Nethys
Basilisk – WretchedSpawn2012
Draugr – Dela Longfish
Eldjötnar – Sam Burley
Fomorian – Romane Weiss
Ghoul – TheGurch
Hodag – Lithub
Isonade – Matthew Meyer
Llamhigyn Y Dwr – RPerboni
Ninki Nanka – Carlos Eulefi
Onryō – Matthew Meyer
Qilin – Bagoum
Rompo – engraving by J. Thompson
Strzyga – MartaEmilia
Tikbalang – SuperpowerWiki
Utopiec – Anton Golubev
Wendigo – Rushelle Kucala
Xing-Tian – Deimos-Remus
Yeti – Animal Planet