I ranted and raved in the previous installment of this monstrous undertaking about how all the mere morsels who responded to my first post in the the series did little to address my actual question — which was, who are the great monster of modern heroic fantasy? What crevasses do they haunt, what lonely paths do they prowl?
As you can see, many monstrosities were discussed, but little from the preferred topic of this here Black Gate blog.
However, as those comments were coming in, I also received an email from one Massimiliano Izzo of Genova, Italy, who dealt out all sorts of fantastical fantasy monsters the way Grendel dealt out death to drunken Danes — in large amounts, with enthusiasm.
Here is how this morsel describes himself: “You can just say that I became addicted to fantasy when I was 13 and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ blew me away…since then I’ve read a little bit of everything from William Morris and Dunsany to recent authors like Erikson and Robin Hobb, but I still do prefer the old school (before-Brooks). I’m also interested in mythologies from all over the world (by the way, Filipino folklore rocks! They have some terrific monsters.)
“Currently I’m a little bit bored with multi-volume series and I prefer standalone books. My favoutite authors, besides Tolkien are Patricia McKillip (hands down!!), Jack Vance and GRRMartin. I could add R.E. Howard, J.K. Rowling and another thousand of pretty predictable names but I’m stopping here… Ah, and I love old school hard rock/heavy metal/AOR.”
All monster lovers should adore metal, of course.
Never one to work too hard when you scrumptious treats choose to make it easy, I will forthwith hand Mr. Izzo the bone-strewn floor. He writes:
I’m a great fan of fantasy fiction and I’ve read your recent article on monsters in fantasy literature at Black Gate website.
I’ve found it a really interesting subject: it would be worthwhile to make a detailed article on the topic, considering the differences between the depiction of monsters in horror and fantasy (if there are any), and also considering how the figure of the monster has evolved since the birth of genre.
From my point of view I can contribute, signalling some proud monsters (some of them are very popular, anyway): From a chronological point of view:
- The Mantichore from E.R. Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros
- The Serpent Men in R.E. Howard’s “The Shadow Kingdom”
- The Weaver in the Vault from the tale of the same name by Clark Ashton Smith
And then came Tolkien. In my opinion his monsters are still the best in all the heroic/high fantasy genre. And he devised so many of them!
- The Barlog [probably the best one, but the spiders come really close]
- The Spiders (Shelob and Ungoliant)
- The Dragons (Smaug and Glaurung)
- The Ringwraiths (with their winged steeds)
- The Barrow-wight
- The Watcher in the Water (this one was kind of Lovecraftian)
- The Wargs
As you pointed out in your article many of these monsters became source of inspiration for other writers.
But what about “original” monsters after Tolkien? I haven’t read every fantasy book and probably I have forgotten some, but as far as I can remember.
- The Harpy Celaeno and The Red Bull form Peter Beagle’s The Last Unicorn – probably in the end the first one is scariest than the second
- The Fhoi Myore, giants inspired by the fomorians in Michael Moorcock’s second Corum series
- The Forvalaka, undead wereleopards from Glen Cook’s Black Company
- The Serpents from Weis & Hickman’s Death Gate Cycle – these were really well devised, and the series overall was cool even though somehow spoiled by the last book. Maybe they were somehow inspired by Howard’s Serpent Men…who knows?
- The Hounds of Shadow and the Hounds of Darkness from Steven Erikson’s Malazan series, also the K’Chain’Che’malle were a scary sort of reptilian race
- The Others from GRRM’s A Song Of Ice and Fire – they are creatures of the eternal winter, and they also have a sort of necromantical power, being able to wake the dead…and we still don’t now a great deal about them
- Joald, the colossal giant trapped under the Atlantic Ocean in Jack Vance Lyonesse III: Madouc Novel. It appears only for a couple of pages, but it leaves its mark. One of my favourites!
I am a huge fan of Patricia McKillip works so i will point out a couple of her “monsters”:
- The Dark Rider from The Book Of Atrix Wolfe
- The unnamed evil whose heart is stolen by the wizard Gyre and who is subsequently fought with great personal loss by the wizard Unciel from In The Forests Of Serre — I found is really scary beacause it was just the suggestion of horror that was so scary and the monster was never really described.
If you are familiar with Japanese manga, the five guys of the God Hand from Kentaro Miura’s Berserk are simply amazing…the manga itself is one of the grittier and darker fantasy ever conceived. Its full of demons and monsters always ready to torn someone’s flesh into small pieces.
Outside of heroic fantasy you can find some other good choices:
- The Dementors from the Harry Potter series – They grow like fungi in the dark and they can drain your wits with a kiss…
- The Other Mother from Neil Gaiman’s Coraline
- The Shrike from Dan Simmon’s Hyperion – it’s SF I know, but it’s one of the more original inventions of all the speculative fiction….
Probably I have forgotten tons of monsters…anyway I hope this will be useful to the discussion.
Useful? My goodness, Massimiliano! I think I might have to spare you. Or at least some of you — I might get the munchies after midnight, after all.
But enough about me and my appetites. What do you think of Mr. Izzo’s list? Have any you want to add? Any lists you want to proffer instead? Does this trigger any monstrous memories you’d care to share? Then please, don’t hold back on my account.
I’m not just all teeth — I’m all ears!