Some Lesser Known Mythical Creatures You Should Consider Adding to Your Fantasy World

Fantasy Favorites Tag (1)

 

If you had to pick just one, what would you say is your favorite mythical creature?

For me, it’s dragons.

Maybe it’s overdone, but there you have it. I love a good story about dragons. Evil dragons, good dragons, cultures of dragons that can be good or evil or anywhere in between… if there’s one thing that is going to pique my interest, it’s a dragon, whether it’s in the title, on the cover, or in the blurb.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t love finding other fantastical creatures in my stories, and I love it when I find an author who does something different or uses some of the lesser-well-known fantastical creatures…. or even just makes up their own!

I was polling recently to find out what creatures people are most interested in seeing in more books, and the following creatures were mentioned with a high degree of regularity so I thought I’d feature them in today’s post. Maybe it will spark some ideas if you’re between stories and searching for something new to write… or maybe you’re in the middle of writing a story and you feel something is missing… or perhaps you know of some stories that feature these magical beasts? Please share in the comments!

Qilin/Kirin – this is one that was fairly popular in my poll. Possibly because it is one I’ve never seen anywhere, and is from Japanese mythology. The qilin is a hooved chimerical creature (meaning it is made up of multiple different animals). These fearsome-looking, yet peaceful, creatures are symbols of luck, good omens, prosperity, and protection. The closest I’ve ever seen to this would be Discord in My Little Pony: Friendship is magic, but he’s technically a draconequus.

Selkies – originating in Scottish mythology, a selkie is a creature who is constantly in conflict. A seal in the ocean, it can shed its skin and take on human form to walk on land. Often a part of tragic tales, the myth goes that if a human found and hid a selkie’s skin, they could coerce it into a romantic relationship. However, if the selkie ever finds its skin, it will go back to the sea never to return. I know there’s The Secret of Roan Innish movie. I’m not sure I’ve ever come across these in anything else, though.

Gryphons – head and wings of an eagle, body of a lion, these fierce beasts of legend are usually shown in a protective light or as guardians. Though in the cartoon movie, Quest for Camelot, we get to see one working for the villain, which was kind of fun. I feature gryphons in The Minstrel’s Song series. Orphan’s Song by Gillian Bronte Adams has a gryphon (and that’s one of the books you can win in the Fantasy Month giveaway – if you missed that memo, see the pinned post for details). Another great one is “Dark Lord of Derkholm” and the sequel “Year of the Gryphon” by Diana Wynne Jones.

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Hippocamp – head and upper body of a horse, tail of a fish, the hippocamp is often depicted as the creature which pulls Poseidon’s chariot through the sea. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen or read this in anything.

Leviathan/Kraken - I definitely feel like there’s a big desire for stories with various fantastical sea creatures and sea monsters! Something about the ocean just sort of tugs at our imaginations, and the polls I took before Fantasy Month and then more recently confirmed this beyond a shadow of a doubt. Sea monsters show up in a lot of movies, there’s that famous line of Liam Neeson’s that gets memed all over the place from Clash of the Titans. And I think we see some in Percy Jackson, but it’s been a while and I don’t remember exactly.

Hippogriffs – who didn’t fall in love with Buckbeak in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban? If we didn’t know we loved hippogriffs and wanted more of them in our fantasy stories before that, we definitely do now! Front half eagle, back half horse, the hippogriff is certainly a majestic creature and I definitely want to ride one! Other than Harry Potter, I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen these anywhere else.

Phoenix – ah, the mythical bird that lives for hundreds of years before spontaneously combusting and then being reborn from its own ashes. Why is this fantastical beast not featured in more stories? I do not know. But let’s fix that and write it into more stories, shall we?

There’s Fawkes, the phoenix in Harry Potter. I also love the episode of My Little Pony where Fluttershy tries to “heal” Celestia’s phoenix. Other than Jean Grey as “the phoenix” though, I’m not sure I’ve seen or read this anywhere else.

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I’m honestly surprised that more creatures like centaurs and minotaurs weren’t mentioned in the poll (I just read “Labyrinth of Shadows” last month that retold the story of Theseus and the Minotaur and it was EPIC).

And I’m not sure why whatever this amazing thing is didn’t make the list…

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But I guess it just goes to show that there are a TON of fantastical creatures out there just waiting to shine in a story of their own!

When you are building a world, it’s a good idea to take a moment to think about what fantastical creatures you want to include. And even if the creatures aren’t present in the story, what sort of mythology exists in your world?

The Minstrel’s Song series features whole kingdoms of mythical/legendary creatures I call “myth folk” in the books. Dragons, gryphons, and unicorns are featured most heavily, but I also included tree nymphs, a pegasus or two, as well as a wind sprite and some mer-folk. In book 4, I created two mythical races of my own… but now we tread gently on spoiler-territory, so I’ll stop.

In Turrim Archive, there actually aren’t any dragons. *cue gasping and falling over* In fact, there aren’t really any fantastical creatures at all. And there isn’t even any draconic mythology. Yep. I wrote a whole series of books in which there are no. dragons. at. all. (Bet you didn’t see that coming!) It’s been… difficult… honestly, writing a story in which I can’t even reference dragons. Can’t even have a dragon statue. But I think it’s been a good growing exercise for me as a writer, as well.

Yesterday, the folks from Deep Magic came over and gave us a look at how to spin fantastical creatures and turn some of those popular tropes on their heads. And I think that’s a great idea even with some of the less-popular fantastical creatures. That’s why, in the Minstrel’s Song series, I gave my dragons a culture all their own, and let them be capable of both good and evil, just like humans. Because of their size and shape and fire-breath, I sure gave them a different sort of culture, a more fierce and violent culture, but I also tried to show that they were cognizant of the inherent dangers that sat alongside their strengths. I didn’t want my dragons to be all good or all evil. I wanted them to be more than that.

So what are some other popular tropes we could turn upside down? What about a story about a selkie who isn’t trapped or tricked by the evil human who steals her skin? Or a phoenix whose feathers change colors each time it burns up so that you can see how old it is/how many times it has gone through its life-cycle? A leviathan who can grant wishes? A mermaid who doesn’t fall in love with a human or want anything to do with being “out of the sea?”

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What is your favorite under-represented mythical/magical creature? Can you think of any books/movies/television that feature any of the ones I’ve mentioned in this post? I’m sure there are more beyond the ones I’ve encountered!

~ jenelle

16 Comments

Chris Morcom

I tend to enjoy when mythological creatures get fun twists put on them. Like “Centaurs” that are something other than half-horse or orcs that are not universally rampaging kill-machines.

It’s also fun to see unusual creatures show up in a story…nuckelavees are fun…heck, there’s a lot of fun mythological stuff coming from the Scottish isles.

Another thing I tend to enjoy (being more worldbuilder than author) is when people actually take a serious look at the society/culture of “monsters” or otherwise not-quite-humanoid races. This is, of course, easier to examine with a ‘friendly’ race than it is with a purely hostile one (though not impossible, of course)…but things like: Okay, so you have harpies (wings instead of arms type) and they have the “enchanting song” ability…what does a harpy settlement look like? How does their culture work? Does Harpy Song work on other Harpies? What’s it like for a human to try to navigate a Harpy town? How do they operate without humanoid hands? And so on…

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jenelle

Same! I really enjoyed Kyle Robert Shultz’s “Horseman” where his main cowboy character has a ring that allows him to transform himself into a centaur (and he’s part like draft horse or something)… cowboy who doesn’t need a horse because he becomes a horse. It’s awesome.

I have never heard of a nuckelavee… now I’m going to have to go look them up.

Those are some awesome questions. By the by, as a world builder, if you’d ever be interested in writing a guest post here, I’d be all about that.

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bennyfifeaudio

Hippocamp appear in the Percy Jackson series. What I love is when an author comes up with a completely new kind of mythical creature – Brandon Sanderson does it often.
But – Dragons will probably always be my favorite. I prefer them on the sentient end of the spectrum. To me dragons kind of embody a powerful untapped element of the human psyche.

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jenelle

I totally forgot that those showed up in Percy Jackson! Thanks for reminding me.

Yes, I love seeing unexpected twists on familiar creatures as well. But dragons… I do love dragons.

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Kessie

There’s a very good series called Song of the Summer King that features griffins in a Lion King-like story. Only set in fantasy-Iceland. And some of the griffins robbed the dragons of treasure and the dragons have been hunting them ever since … but naturally, it’s more complicated than that. Fantastic series.

I’ve had fun writing a culture of aliens with four arms. The top arms are dominant and the bottom ones are better at fine motor skills. They use sign language with the various arms, and the lower arms are used for whispering secrets.

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jenelle

Song of the Summer King sounds epic! Thanks for the recommendation!

Your alien culture sounds soooo cool! I love that you thought through so much of the way their extra arms would affect their culture! And the sign language is a really neat touch.

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beckythemothling

I’ve seen Secret of Roan Inish! It’s been a while, but I remember really liking it!

I think Hippocamp showed up in Percy Jackson? Maybe in the third book or something? I do vaguely remember something like that. Hippocamp are really cool!

I love selkies so much, and I wish there were more stories about them. Aren’t you writing a story about selkies? I kind of wish I could find more stories featuring Irish and Scottish mythology in general.

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jenelle

I have to watch it again, it’s been… a very long time. But I remember enjoying it, as well.

Yes, hippocamp did show up in Percy Jackson. I completely forgot about that.

Yes! I am writing a selkie story… planning to release it this summer!!

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Sarah Pennington

Thanks for mentioning the kirin! I’m glad it got a spot on here.

Is the Liam Neeson line the “Always a bigger fish” thing? Or are you referring to something else? For spending so much time on the internet, I don’t necessarily get all pop culture stuff. :P

Also, I really want more banshees. Ideally ones who are actually good and helpful and not maniacs. And more selkies would be nice as well.

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jenelle

:) You are welcome! I think they’re very cool.

No, the Liam Neeson line I’m referring to is: “Release the Kraken.” (it’s from Clash of the Titans, and I’m sure there’s a youtube clip of it or a GIF… aww man, I missed a prime GIF opportunity there)

Ooh, banshees! That’s one I’m not as familiar with other than in popular idioms… but yeah, that would be cool.

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Marlene Simonette

Yeesss, Kirin! Perytons are cool, too.

I have a culture with somewhat traditional mermaids, in that they have to earn their souls. The longer they remain without souls, the more prone they are to becoming sirens (they desire the bodily destruction of those with souls), which in turn become selkies (they prey on people’s emotions, and eventually suck the life out of them). Hopefully I can finish up my current WIP and get back to this one soon. :P

I looked up the nuckaleeve that someone else mentioned. My first thought: is that what happens when an Each Tened gets a rider so evil that their sins can never be burned away?
Huzzah for plot bunnies! Not that I need any more than I already have…

There’s an anthology called Firebirds: An Anthology of Original Fantasy and Science Fiction. While the “firebird” title comes from the imprint Firebird Books, I recall there being a handful of Phoenix/rebirth stories featured in it that were good.

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Christine

I mean, you KNOW I am here for dragons. Always. But I totally agree, it’s really great when a mythical beast I’m not familiar with appears in a book. OR when familiar creatures have a twist. I loved all your suggestions there! A phoenix whose feathers change color? Um YES. GIMME. I’m bad about sticking to the well-known ones myself. I’ve been wanting to branch out and seek out more obscure creatures. So this list is PERFECT.

I would definitely love to see more gryphons, hippogriffs, and phoenixes! And what IS that antlered horse thing because…I WANTS IT. :O Adding antlers to anything makes it 10x cooler. It’s a fact. XD

I’m trying to think of any books I’ve read with some obscure beasts but…I’m drawing a complete blank. Which tells me we definitely need to branch out more as authors. (But we can still keep writing about dragons. Because, ya know, DRAGONS.)

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E.F.B.

I’m actually writing a short story with a gryphon as the main character right now, and it’s fun to write from his perspective. There’s also a selkie or two in my portal fantasy. I hadn’t thought about it for a while, but this post reminded me that I have an idea in my idea hoarding doc that is centered around a girl who’s part selkie and doesn’t know it.

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