A common element in storytelling, and fantasy storytelling in particular, is mythical creatures. Dragons, fairies, unicorns, centaurs, and werewolves are just some of the mythical creatures we are accustomed to seeing. In today’s article, I want to take a quick look at why we enjoy these creatures in our stories.
A Manifestation of Magic
I believe there is something inside many of us that wants to believe that magic is real. Not just to believe magic is real, but we want to experience real magic. Mythical creatures like fairies, unicorns, and pixies are usually depicted as manifestations of magic. When we read about such creatures or see them on screen, magic itself comes alive in the form of creatures we can comprehend. Just think back to your childhood and Peter Pan. When Tinker Bell is dying, it is only the belief in fairies that will bring her back to life, and it is when children stop believing in fairies when they lose their wings. The story demonstrates there is a connection between the belief and the existence of magic and its creatures. These mythical creatures are sparked into existence by our belief. Yet also, when we see or read about these creatures they spark a belief in magic within us.
Fear of the Dark
We all have some amount of fear of darkness. We are creatures who rely mainly on our eyesight to perceive the world, and in the dark, we are lacking the ability to lookout for danger. Because of our diminished perception in the dark, we tend to create horrors and creatures of a fantastical nature to match our heightened fears. For example, if you are alone in the woods in the dark, you would typically be afraid of being attacked by wolves or bears. However, when your imagination begins to run wild in such a scenario, you can begin to think about creatures such as werewolves and vampires. These types of creatures make great antagonists in our stories because they are connected to our primal fear of the dark. Almost 100 years later, the image of the classic Nosferatu still invokes fear. Recently, there has been a trend in which vampires and werewolves are becoming the protagonists of our stories, e.g., the Underworld movies and the Twilight movies. However, even in these newer stories, the antagonists are usually other vampires and/or werewolves a sense of danger still surrounds the mythical creatures.
An Opportunity for Heroism
Mythical creatures provide an opportunity for larger than life heroism. The Ancient Greek hero, Hercules or Heracles, did not just kill an evil snake, he killed a nine-headed hydra during his second labor. If Hercules had merely killed a venomous snake, his deed would be heroic, but because he killed the mythical hydra, he is a legend. The archetypal fantasy princess is captured by a dragon so that the hero is faced with an extraordinary challenge in rescuing her, a recent example being Harry Potter saving Ginny Weasley from a basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets. When the protagonist of a story is faced with overcoming the threat of a mythical creature, he usually is not going to prevail by simply running into the creature’s lair and facing it head on. These creatures provide the opportunity for the hero to not only use his bravery, but also his wits and cunning. The hero will have to formulate a detailed plan of attack, or the hero may have to gather other heroes to his party and coordinate a variety of skill sets, either one of which creates the opportunity for an interesting story. We want to be reminded that heroism exists, and greater acts of heroism tend to have a more intense impact.
Mythical creatures have been a part of our stories since the advent of storytelling itself. There are many reasons why we enjoy them, and this article merely highlights three of those reasons. Please leave a comment, and tell me why you appreciate mythical creatures.