The world of my novel is a very hostile place, where monsters roam the countryside. They are so numerous that an order of half-monster half human huntresses are regularly employed to dispose of them. I want to populate the world with a wide varieties of species, but there's a problem. I am not sure if I should use classic mythological creatures. I planned to pilfer every beastiary I can find, but I worry that the familiar feel of the monsters would feel cliched. (Of course no elves and orcs. I thought of something along the lines of basilisks, Lamias, Efreets, spriggans, manticores, wargs baba yaga etc. ) On the other hand inveting a new array of creatures would be as if I require that the reader learns a whole new 'language'...or should I walk some middle path? ARRGH! Help!
Posts: 628 | Registered: Nov 2009
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Personally, I would stick to more obscure beasts (maybe from the same origin?). I would worry that notary monsters may come across as fairytalesque for an adult novel, unless you are intending for your story to be somewhat campy.
You could tailor the beasts with slight name variations to fit your story if you are picking and choosing.
It's difficult to make judgments without truly understanding the context.
Oh, well then totally use them. The names of your creatures isn't what will or will not make your story cliche.
Have you read the Sword of Shannara? I mean, it starts out with a wizard visiting a village of short folk and taking two of them on an adventure to find a sword. Along the way they pick up a dwarf... Need I go on?
There is a series called Farworld with some really inventive monsters. Half the fun of that novel is the monsters, and sometimes the story stalls so we can read a whole description about this or that creature. He makes it work, but I can understand why you wouldn't want to do that. You really have to care about the animals to get that book. (And there is a rather pivotal scene where the wizard mentions an iskabiddle or somesuch and you have no clue what it is.)
In fantasy, monsters from earth mythology are quite accepted. Particularly dragons. Some people may cry D&D/Tolkein clone, but perhaps those people aren't in your audience. There is also the conceit that the story you give us is a translation, they don't speak English in Krynn, so when you say Hydra it isn't 'really' a hydra but hydra is the nearest word in english to describe it.
Just remember that those monsters in mythology have a reason for being. They represent some idea that people were afraid of, or actual creatures with a little exaggeration (or none at all in some cases.) You might be better off if you just choose one mythology to draw from. I wouldn't expect to see a baba yaga (from the tundra of Russia) standing with an efreet (from the desert of arabia) discussing how to tackle a leprechaun.
Also, because I'm tired and I give way too much advice when I'm tired, I suggest you study from the sources of these creatures. Yes, you can twist them to meet your own needs, but if you are working from someone else's (D&D) twist already then I think you are losing something. Copy of a copy kind of thing. I think of the many vampire stories that use rules more or less made by Stoker. Crosses and Holy Water, stake through the heart.
Fantasy is the direct descendant of the mythology.
The simplest way to get to know monsters is to play some video games. This way you also get a sense of how they move. For instance, zombies are usually considered as slow, lurching things. The idea I got from this is to have a fast moving zombie.
Posts: 1271 | Registered: May 2007
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Some recommended reading: On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fear, (Stephen Asma, Oxford University Press 2009).
It kind of starts out as a kind of tour of legendary monsters, and then takes a sudden turn into what for many will be an unwelcome exercise in cultural criticism, but I think even that may be valuable if you keep an open mind.
One of the really useful things Asma does is raise a very basic question: what is a monster? The short and somewhat simplistic answer is that a monster is a creature that on a visceral level we know we must destroy.
Humanity is a lot more civilized now than it was even a hundred years ago. We no longer look upon somebody with a birth defect as an abomination -- or at the very least we master our horrified reactions and present a reasonable front. And if we can't do even that we understand that we *ought* to. On the whole this change in attitude is very good for the human race, but one casualty of the triumph of reason, education and emotional discipline is that our writers have lost their facility at conjuring monsters.
We turn the light of reason upon a monster, and we no longer see an abomination that we long to destroy; we see a creature which it is our duty to understand. The transformation of the vampire from a horror that draws our attention like a road accident (as in Stoker's *Dracula*) to Byronic outcast was well under way before *Twilight* showed up (see Saberhagen et al). And so fantasy heroes cut their way through "monsters" like the actors that play them in movies going to the gym.
So to make your monsters stand out, to make them *count*, you've got to make them something the readers long to see killed, like Dracula, or the monster in *Alien*.
[This message has been edited by MattLeo (edited July 30, 2011).]