Writing Tips

Mythological Creatures for Fantasy Writers

This past week, I have been working on world building, specifically in the area of fantasy creatures and races. Since dryads, selkies, elves, and dragons are running amok in my head, today’s post will consist of some of my thoughts about writing mythological creatures and a couple of resources that I have found to be helpful.

Mythological Creatures: Resources and Tips for Fantasy Writers

First to address the topic of creating your own fantasy race verses using an already established mythological creature. 

For a long time, I was obsessed with being original: having an original plot, creating an original world, and making original creatures. However, since I have been pondering a quote from Tolkien and a couple other prompts, I’ve realized that originality is not always truthful.

But what does truth have to do with imaginary dryads and dragons? Quite a lot. I believe that dryads and other mythological creatures were made with the purpose of animating and embodying real emotions, ideas, and situations. Dragons were the intelligent, overwhelming evil and greed. Dryads embodied the ethereal experience we have when we sit alone in a grove of trees– there is a reason why dryads dance and are friendly yet secluded. To make a dragon or a tree spirit something else would indeed be a lie.

So deliberate writers should be careful of how they portray fantasy creatures (ahem– I am looking at all of you, dragon writers) and how they make new fantasy creatures. If there is already a mythological creature that embodies the idea that you want, then there may be no need to create something “new.” The centuries of mythology of a creature can add depth to fantasy and are fun to explore in a more modern way.

However, there is a place for creating new fantasy creatures, though I think it should be done with caution and plenty of thought. First, your creature should have another purpose than just to be cool. Second, you should think about how the creature would realistically function and perhaps think up some history and culture.

Speaking of mythological creatures with a ton of interesting aspect and history, I can’t help but share two of my favorite fantasy races. 

THE SELKIE

 

 

Selkies are shape-shifters in Celtic and Irish legend who take off and put on their seal skins to change between human and seal form. Legends typically deal with a selkie’s skin being stolen, and the selkie being trapped on land. The most interesting thing I have found in my research on selkies is their “curse”: “Seal people are said to be cursed with a constant longing for what they do not have: when they are swimming in the water as seals, they yearn to be on land, and when they walk on two legs as a human, they long to be in the sea.” (Quote Source)

 

Image result for dryad lewis

 

 

Dryads have been one of my favorite fantasy creatures ever since I read C. S. Lewis’ Narnia book. Dryads are tree spirits, either living inside their tree (hamadryads) or able to walk around. There are many variations of this myth, but all myths agree that a dryad’s life is tied to their tree. Dryads are typically gentle, friendly creatures, and some variations do limited travel and event hunt with the Greek goddess, Artemis.

 

What are your favorite fantasy creatures? Do you know of one that you would love to see used more often in fantasy?

As I have been trying to find and track down some fantasy creatures, here are a couple very useful resources that I have found.

  • A Wikipedia list of mythological creatures, organized by type and elemental and animal association! Now Wikipedia is not the best for finding true and original information on mythology, this list will at least give you some names to Google.
  • Encyclopedia Mythica: This website has a large number of articles on numerous mythological creatures and characters, but the articles are not very detailed. Good for general but not specific research.
  • Theoi: This website has detailed information on Greek mythology. I found this to be one of the most helpful websites that I found, but the articles are not a quick read. This website often includes references to the mythology where the creatures are found.

Hopefully, you will find those links helpful as well. Are there any resources that you have found to be really great for researching mythological creatures? I’d love to hear your suggestions (especially since I am having trouble finding information on Makhai, Greek battle spirits, and drakes, English fire fae.)

God bless,

Gabrielle

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24 thoughts on “Mythological Creatures for Fantasy Writers”

  1. One of my favorite fantasy creatures–that I have yet to see in any fantasy–is huldrefolk. These creatures are usually beautiful women with a cow’s tale. They try to convince a man to marry them so their tail falls off. Their found in Scandanavian/Norwegian folklore. I would love to do an Urban Fantasy book featuring Huldrefolk because they embody a feeling of desperation, this sharp yearning to “be right”.

    And wonderful article, Gsabrielle!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Selkies are one of my favorites too, but I’m yet to find a story about them that isn’t for small children. My other favorite mythical creature is a kitsune, a shapeshifter from Japanese mythology than can appear as a woman or a fox. They can be either mischievous or downright evil, depending on the story. I have one in the story I’m writing, though I don’t actually use the name “kitsune” at any point.
    Thanks for sharing the resources, I will definitely check them out.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have found a couple of stories about selkies for young adults and adults, but they look like really bad romances, and I think many are erotic. So I definitely think that fantasy writers need to write more about selkies in different and truer contexts.
      Cool! I have heard of kitsune, but I have never read a story with them. What is your thinking behind not using their name? I am just curious 🙂

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      1. The only reason I don’t call them kitsune is because all my shapeshifters are essentially the same “species”. The only thing that determines what they transform into is their personality, so I thought it might over-complicate things to have different categories or sub-species, especially since I only have one who turns into a fox. So even though she is based on the kitsune in myths, they just call her a shapeshifter.
        The only more “unconventional” race that I name in my story are nekojin, which are used in anime and manga but not so often in fantasy novels. I might try and be a bit more adventurous in the future 🙂 .

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  3. Another thing to consider when using mythological creatures is to delve into the history behind them. Upon studying Leprechaun’s for a story I would like to write, I discovered that the legend may have come from real people that existed in the past. They began as an Irish clan that was overrun by invaders, thus being scattered & having to live in the wilderness, sometimes as thieves. – I am still trying to verify the truth in the information I’ve found, but even if it is not true, the story of a lost clan is far more interesting to me than that of the “little people”. I am going to write that story once I’m finished with my current project. Sometimes a bit of history research can inspire a much greater story than a mere legend. 🙂

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      1. Absolutely! As an aid on a school bus I have experienced first-hand the sort of wisdom a child will except from “just a story” that they reject from history or truth alone. No one can deny the rush of excitement experienced at the thought of a hero facing an impossible challenge, or the mighty beasts of old. They all had something worth fighting for. That’s what I want children in particular to see in a story. (Not to say adults can’t have stories. I would not enjoy them so much if that were the case. My specialty simply centers around children.)

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  4. Interesting article! Thanks for the links! I’ve been planning on writing a pirate story with a faerie crew, and I need to find more information on mythological creatures for it. The main character in it is a selkie. I found out about them first after watching “Song of the Sea”. It’s a ‘children’s ‘ movie, but it made me cry and I absolutely love it and the irish accents are awesome 🙂
    I like your take on writing the creatures with their inherit connotations, although I probably won’t be sticking to that. I really like my dragons, although they do tend to be mischievous little stinkers.

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    1. “Song of the Sea” is where I first heard about selkies too. I love that film, even if I’m about ten years too old for it 🙂

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    2. Ooh! That sounds really interesting. I have not watched “Song of the Sea” yet, but it has been recommended to me several times, so I think I must now.
      Yes, dragons are rather difficult and malleable in today’s culture. They can be written well and differ from some of original connotations.

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  5. The bit about selkies made me smile because I’m Scottish and they’ve always fascinated me. Have you come across kelpies though? You’ll have heard of Nessie but the portrayals of big green lake monsters are only part of the story. Kelpies appear near the banks of lochs in the form of a horse, bridles and saddled to tempt weary travellers to come near. The only way to see a kelpie’s true form before it’s too late is to look through the eye of its bit. But if you climb up onto its back, it will gallop into the water and drag you down to the depths. Not very pleasant but makes for good stories.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have come across kelpies, but I have not researched them very much, so I did not mention them in my post. Interesting! I did not know about the looking through the eye of the bit part of their myth. I agree that they would make for great stories.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks, Gabrielle, for this post.

    My favorite mythical creature is a Selke, and this post was very interesting.

    I agree with Kikyo, Song of the Sea is fantastic, even if it is a kid’s movie.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I am thinking of a writing a story about a dragon. I never thought about mythical creatures embodying human characteristics, but it does make sense. My dragon, however, is not based off intellectual evil and greed, but is instead based on pride and arrogance. All the stories I have read have dragons that are proud which destroys them, but to be honest, I have not read very many. What are your thoughts on a proud dragon?

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    1. Hey, Bethia!

      I think that would work really well. Biblical the dragon is a symbol of pride (more than greed actually), and I think it also shows up in many other fantasy stories (Fafnir and Smaug are two dragons that show a lot of pride). So there is definitely precedent for that, though that is not to that you cannot do something unprecedented with your dragon so long as you do it deliberately and truthfully. Does that help?

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      1. Yes. Thank you. This is actually my first “fantasy” story. I like to do historical fiction, or a genre very similar to that. I actually just posted an excerpt from one of my historical fiction short stories today and would love your feedback. When I finish my dragon story, which might be a while, I will post it on your Open Pen section. I would love to hear what you have to say about it. I have four other stories going on at the same time, though, so it might be a VERY long time! 🙂
        Thanks again!

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