Monsters, Inc.

Most epic fantasy novels worth their salt feature battles between the protagonists and fierce, evil beasts that pose a danger to the task at hand. In fact, it is almost obligatory. I for one couldn’t imagine such a tale without a fire-breathing dragon laying waste to a forest or kingdom, or a gigantic cyclops hurling boulders at the heroes of the story as they strive to fulfill their quest.

From the time I was a boy, I loved to read books with monsters. It should come as no surprise then that my favorite story in kindergarten was Where the Wild Things Are. Oh how I wished that I could have been Max, sailing off to that island where the monsters roamed and subjecting them the way that he did. I couldn’t get enough of the pictures as I browsed through and examined each savage beast from head to toe. How fascinated I was by Sendak’s work!

My father was a huge fan of monster movies, and I often watched them with him—everything from Godzilla to King Kong to Jason and the Argonauts. Heroes such as Jason and Hercules are the ones that drew me to the epic fantasy genre and ultimately inspired me to write my own fantasy novels.  I have already discussed in my previous blog posts how I managed to create the plot of my first book, as well as the thirteen characters who set out on the quest. Now it’s time to talk about the mythical creatures that inhabit the Tenebrae and the land beyond.

Let’s start with the Surnia. I knew I wanted the dark woods of the Tenebrae to conceal giant birds of prey that could dive from the shadows of the treetops onto their unsuspecting victims. I first considered vultures, but ultimately decided on owls because they have long been considered bad omens in Christianity. Since the owl is a nocturnal animal, it is associated with darkness, and thus evil. Owls are mentioned throughout the Old Testament, including the books of Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Isaiah. I took the name “Surnia” from the genus that scientists use to refer to hawk-like owls.

Next we have the Colubri. Their name is taken from the Latin word for “serpents.” I suppose there is very little to explain here. Everyone knows the story of how the talking serpent tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden, and that these scaly creatures have long been considered a symbol of Satan. I even gave the leader of the Colubri a pair of horns on his head, and named him “Cerastes” (Latin for “horned serpent”).

After leaving Mizar, the thirteen are ambushed in the forest by a pack of monsters called the “Strya.” By now you may have figured out that this is merely an anagram of “satyr.” The Strya have the appearance of satyrs, being described as human from the waist up but having the legs of a deer. I chose to depict them this way because satyrs are also mentioned in the bible, specifically in the book of Isaiah. Originally I imagined these creatures as more ape-like, but changed my mind when I came across a frightening picture of a thickly-muscled satyr holding a slingshot. Thus the Strya were born.

When the thirteen trek through the dreaded Mortuus Valley, they endure a fierce battle with the Cyporsks. These monsters are described as having the body of a scorpion, the head of a locust, and the teeth of a lion. One might wonder where I got the idea for such a ghastly creature. But their appearance simply reflects that of the monsters in the book of Revelation that came to earth and tormented people for five months.

In the Northern Mountains, our heroes come face-to-face with Lilith, a beautiful woman who tricks them into thinking she will lead them to the location of the Medallion, only to morph into a giant spider and capture them in her web. Lilith is the name of a female demon from Jewish mythology, and though a subject of scholarly debate, there may be a reference to her in the book of Isaiah. I had her transform into a spider as a nod to Tolkien, who made Frodo face the wrath of Shelob on his way to Mount Doom in The Lord of the Rings.

Next we have the Caurio, the black panther-like creature that creeps and crawls in the shadows of the forest kingdom of the Strya. I conceived of the Caurio based on a line in the First Letter of Peter, which describes the devil as “prowling around like a roaring lion, waiting for someone to devour.” Only instead of a lion, I made the beast’s fur black to emulate the darkness of evil.

Other creatures, such as the unicorn and the raven, can also be found in Sacred Scripture. Unicorns are mentioned in several places in the Old Testament, including the books of Job, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Isaiah, and Psalms. The raven is a prominent figure in the Old Testament for two major reasons. First, it was the raven that Noah released from the ark in order to search for dry land. Second, the ravens were sent by God to feed the prophet Elijah when he was forced to flee to Cherith and hide, his life having been threatened by Jezebel. Thus I did not hesitate to include a raven as a character in The Quest of the Thirteen. Even the giant toads the thirteen encounter in the Labyrinth of Secrets are biblically based, as I recalled the plague of frogs depicted in the book of Exodus.

So now all of you can see that there is a theological reason behind every selection I made for the mythical creatures inhabiting the world I created. I hope you enjoyed this entry. Next time, I’ll discuss some distinct Old Testament parallels featured in my novel. Until then, may the Lord be with you.

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