The Magical Mythical Tour…

When it comes to telling stories, there’s an abundance of formats on offer, from crime and romance to horror and mystery, and everything else in between.

History is just another form of storytelling, and myths a more elaborate and creative form of history… stories of events that have been twisted and coloured over time as they pass from one mouth to the next.

Myths are important because they help shape how we view the world, through our belief in them or our dismissal of their message.

I got involved in a project a few months back, which had a little to do with myths, and which is finally coming to fruition. A group of very talented authors (and I do mean that) got together to write an anthology of short stories on the subject of trolls.

Why trolls were chosen, I don’t know, but it was a good choice, because each writer got to create their own myth, and all those myths have now been combined to form the book, For Whom The Bell Trolls (which will be published on April 1). In fact, the editors were kind enough to include my own very first short story in the anthology.

The nice thing about the  book is that the net profits from it will be donated to the charity Equality Now, an international human rights organisation dedicated to the social, civil, political and economic rights of women and girls.

trollI loved the idea of creating my own myth. The stories in this collection are scary, funny and literary tales, complete with brilliant cartoons (Lindy Moone, editor, artist, author and general-all-round genius take a bow!).

As strange as trolls may be, you’d be surprised what other odd beasties lurk in imaginations and folklore throughout the world. Below is a bare scratching of the surface of the ghouls and creatures that fill that other world from which we’re separated by a gossamer-thin layer of time, belief… call it what you will.

TROLLS: You probably know the term troll from those nasty buggers who leave horrible messages online about people. Or perhaps you know the word from those ugly/cute dolls with the mad multi-coloured hair. Well, the real trolls are far more interesting than that. Some people say they are mythological creatures, but I have my doubts – as I do about all the other weird and wonderful specimens in the list below. The troll first appeared in Norse Mythology.

They’re not the most handsome of creatures – okay, they’re not handsome at all, and, eh, nor are they smart. Basically, they’re big, stupid and ugly. I’m feeling sorry for them already.
troll doll   The myths tell of how they live high in the mountains, in castles carved of stone. They can also be found (if you look hard enough) in deep forests, and some even by the seashore.

Trolls come in all shapes and sizes, depending on the myths you read. Smaller trolls are said to live in burial mounds and in mountains in Scandinavian folk tradition. In Denmark, they’re are called troldfolk.

With the advent of Christianity in that part of Europe in the 1300s, the stories changed. Trolls could suddenly smell the blood of a Christian man, and basically they stood for anything of the old ways, which the new religion condemned.

Trolls are also said to turn to stone once they came into contact with sunlight. So  make sure to study large boulders carefully. At least now you know what to look for when you go looking for them.

A representation of a Clurichaun in T. C. Croker's Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland

A representation of a Cluricaun in T. C. Croker’s Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland

THE CLURICAUN: In my troll of the internet for this article (sorry about that) I came across a strange Irish creature, of which I’d never heard. The cluricaun is said to be an elf-like being, which looks like a tiny old man, who is permanently drunk and who loves to play jokes on people (I like the sound of this guy).

W.B. Yeats wrote about them in his book, Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry: “They are withered, old, and solitary, in every way unlike the sociable spirits…They dress with all unfairy homeliness, and are, indeed, most sluttish, slouching, jeering, mischievous phantoms… Some suppose he is merely the Leprechaun on a spree.” I’m sure I saw of few of these during the recent Paddy’s Day celebrations…

KAPPA: Japanese folklore has its own share of mythical creatures. The Kappa is one of them, and not a nice one at that. It’s said to live in rivers and lakes and to have the body of a tortoise, a beak, and the limbs of a frog/ Its head is concave and water rests there as it waits quietly for its prey. Oh, the prey – did I not tell you? Well, the Kappa (which means ‘river child’) likes nothing better than to eat disobedient children.

The Kappa is also believed to venture onto land, but that concave head must retain water or it loses its powers. You might think all this fanciful nonsense, but apparently, there are signs near some lakes in Japan warning people of their presence.

Alternatively, there is the theory that the Kappa is actually a giant salamander (‘hanzaki’), which is aggressive and can haul prey away in its strong jaws. Either way, be careful around those Japanese lakes…

Statue of a griffin at St Mark's Basilica in Venice.

Statue of a griffin at St Mark’s Basilica in Venice.

GRIFFIN: If you ever come across one of these, don’t despair. Despite their strange appearance – the head and wings of an eagle, and the body, tail, and hind legs of a lion. In Greek mythology, it is considered a protestor from evil and witchcraft.

Griffin’s are said to have mated for life. If one died, the other never sought out another mate – hence the reason griffins are used in church architecture (the Church being opposed to remarriage).

BLACK DOG: If you see one of these, then things are grim indeed. The black dog is said to be found in the British Isles and is believed to be a guardian of the underworld, and a portent of death. It is described in various forms but is said to be large, with glowing eyes.
Black dogs like to loiter about crossroads, places of execution and ancient pathways.

THE OWLMAN: Not all such tales stem from the ancient world. On April 17, 1976,  two girls, June Melling (12) and her sister Vicky (9), were walking through the woods near Mawnan church, in Lancaster, England, when they claimed to have seen a large winged creature hovering above the church tower.

Fast-forward two months, to July 3, when Sally Chapman (14) was camping with a friend in woods near the church. According to Sally, as she stood outside her tent, she heard a hissing sound and saw a figure that looked like an owl as big as a man, with pointy ears and red eyes. The girls said the creature flew up into the air and had  black pincer-like claws.

In 1989, there was another sighting. This time the creature was described as being about five feet tall… The legs had high ankles and the feet were large and black with two huge ‘toes’ on the visible side. It was brown and gray, wit glowing eyes.

Mawman church towerThere were also a sighting as relatively recently as 1995, when an American tourist wrote to the Western Morning News in Truro, Cornwall, claiming she saw a “man-bird… with a ghastly face, a wide mouth, glowing eyes and pointed ears” as well as “clawed wings”.

Spooky… Some ornithologists believe the creature was, in fact, an eagle owl. Their claw configuration matches the descriptions given, and it can grow to two feet long with a wide wingspan. Still there’s a bit of difference between two feet and five feet…

Whatever the truth of it, the interesting thing is that, even in this so-called sophisticated modern world of ours, such primal beings can still spark fear. It’s nice to know that myths are being made all the time, and that we don’t have to look to the distant past to read about them.


About historywithatwist

I am a journalist, author and book editor. I have published five novels - four (Tan, The Golden Grave, A Time of Traitors and Patriots' Blood) set during the Irish War of Independence and Civil War, and the fifth (High Crimes), a modern thriller. I'm a history enthusiast who loves a good yarn.
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12 Responses to The Magical Mythical Tour…

  1. roberthorvat says:

    Love mythology, especially creation stories. (Eastern religions often have the best creation stories.) I have also been influenced quite a bit by the traditional stories told by the Greeks. Norse history is fascinating too. (Tales about Odin and Thor are my favourite). If you get the chance David, you should read about some of the myths (dream time) stories by Indigenous Australians.

    • One thing that struck me about creation stories… The Choctaw indians have a creation story based around the flood. I wondered how that could be so similar to the one in the bible when they had never read the bible themselves. Strange… I’ll have a look at those dream time stories. Thanks Rob 🙂

  2. Lindy Moone says:

    Reblogged this on Belly-up! and commented:
    Aha! David doesn’t know the troll book’s origin story. (Must be the only history he DOESN”T know.) Well, A long time ago (less than two years), I got trolled on a satirical news site, and I thought, “what can I do to turn this frown upside down?” (Um, no, I didn’t think that. But I did wonder what good could come from it, and the book is the result.) And David’s story is amazing — one of two stunningly good “first” stories in the book — but not surprising, from such a good writer.

  3. olganm says:

    A fantastic idea and very interesting stories… I’ll watch out…

  4. Francina says:

    excellent write, very interesting and fascinating. Thank you for sharing.

  5. I enjoy learning about myths. Excellent blog. While living in Iceland I started writing children’s stories that included Icelandic mythical characters. I now have 5 chapter books published for ages 7-12. They include dragons, trolls, fairies, wizards and have adventures. So much fun to write about mythical characters. Wendy Nystrom

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