Alive in Your Dreams

Fantasy is by far my favorite genre. Anything which transports me to another world. Anything which takes me out of the ordinary and shows me something extraordinary. The thing I love most about the fantasy genre are the strange, wonderful and interesting creatures which often inhabit the different magical worlds I read about. Writing magical races takes a special flare; not only do you have to make the character interesting while allowing the reader to identify with them, they have to be suitably different so that they come off as magical and other-worldly. Since there are two levels to every magical creature character, I’ve taken the time to look at both my favorite types of magical creatures as well as portrayals I think nail their defining characteristics.

This post is spoiler-light.

5. Unicorns
Why I love them:
I’ll admit from the start that I’m biased. I loved horses as a child. All I ever wanted was to own a horse. (Cliche? Maybe but I did come tantalizingly close to actually owning one.) I took horseback-riding lessons in middle school (Western style, though I’ve also ridden English style) and I have nothing but respect for horses. They’re beautiful creatures. One of my favorite books/movies growing up was Black Beauty. It’s most interesting to note that unicorns aren’t just horses with a single horn on their foreheads (as many people seem to think). Unicorns also had the cloven hooves of a goat. The origin of unicorns is interesting since there are several living creatures which might have given rise to the myth. For instance, narwhal horns were often passed off as unicorn horns (Queen Elizabeth I kept one in her cabinet of curiosities).

Unicorns are generally associated with strong healing magic, sometimes even the ability to raise the dead. They’re depicted as creatures of grace and the embodiment of purity. In the movie Legend, Lili brings darkness into the world by touching a unicorn and allowing the forces of evil to injure it while it’s distracted. Of course the funnest thing about Unicorns is breaking the traditional portrayal and trying something new, interesting and different.

Favorite Portrayal: Believe it or not Rarity – My Little Pony; Friendship is Magic (yes I’m serious) created by Lauren Faust

Of course MLP puts a fun spin on all three of the pony types (earth ponies, Pegasus and unicorns) and it’s interesting to see how each fit into pony society. (No seriously, go watch the show!) Unicorns usually have magical abilities from a young age, but it isn’t always healing related. Rarity, for instance, is a dressmaker and her magical talent seems to be finding hidden gemstones. Rarity is also unique in that, while she appears to be a prissy drama queen, she can take care of herself when she really needs to.

Favorite Rarity Quote: Must be viewed.

4. Dæmons
Why I love them:
Dæmons are the work of one author from a specific piece of fiction. They are magical creature companions of humans in some of the worlds in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials Trilogy. They can be compared to familiars, but the bond between them and their humans is much stronger. Dæmons are actually a part of their humans. When something happens to one, the other feels it. If a human is in fear or pain, their dæmon reacts to it and vice versa. It’s generally considered taboo to touch someone else’s dæmon; it is like touching the most intimate part of a person.

I think dæmons fulfill everyone’s childhood dream to have a constant companion, someone to talk to who talks back. It’s why we have imaginary friends. Except the people in Lyra’s world in the His Dark Materials Trilogy, don’t need imaginary friends. They have real friends. They’re made all the more interesting by the complex series of rules which govern them. For instance, when a person is a child, their dæmon can take any form (including dragon and basilisk and I assume other creatures that are mythical in our world). However, when a child reaches puberty, their dæmon will settle into a single form and never shift again. What a person’s dæmon ultimately becomes depends on their personality (most servants have dog dæmons). This is also interesting because it becomes an inner expression of a person which they cannot hide. Mrs. Coulter, for example, is beautiful and lovely seeming, but the ugliness of her unnamed golden monkey dæmon suggests her interior doesn’t match her facade. When a person dies, their demon ‘goes out light a light’, and somehow witches can send their dæmons across long distances, where as everyone else feels pain if their dæmon tries to move too far away.

Favorite Portrayal: Pantalaimon

I may be limited in selection (since these creatures only appear in three books), but the choice is an easy one. It seems only appropriate since Pantalaimon’s other half was featured in my favorite ladies post. Pantalaimon is Lyra’s special friend, her other half, the part of her soul that speaks to her, protects her and tries to be the voice of reason. Pantalaimon isn’t the only dæmon given interesting characteristics in the trilogy (though he’s certainly the one you see most), but the main reason I love him is that he’s the perfect companion for Lyra. Without him, she wouldn’t be who she is.

Favorite Pantalaimon quote: “We’ve heard them all talk about Dust, and they’re so afraid of it, and you know what? We believed them, even though we could see that what they were doing was wicked and evil and wrong… We thought Dust must be bad too, because they were grown up and they said so. But what if it isn’t?”

3. Sphinxes
Why I love them:
A Sphinx has the body of a lion and the head or upper body of a human. Usually they are female. Sometimes they have wings. No creature is more mysterious than the sphinx. Sometimes they are guardians of secret places (such as the Egyptian sphinx depicted outside temples). Most sphinxes are associated with riddles. A sphinx features heavily in the story of Oedipus; he was the only one who could answer the sphinx’s riddle and thus he was made king (inadvertently marrying his mother). Usually a person needs to answer the sphinx’s riddle in order to gain access to the secrets that they guard. Those who cannot answer the riddle are cursed or killed.

Unlike most of the other creatures on my list, sphinxes aren’t usually regarded in a positive light. They’re dangerous and troublesome, often causing chaos on whim (such as in the tale of Oedipus). Considering that a sphinx is mostly cat, it makes sense that they would do as they pleased. It’s interesting to note the differences between Egyptian Sphinxes, who were male and usually depicted as guardians, and Greek Sphinxes who were thought of as mischievous monsters and usually depicted as female.

Favorite Portrayal: My favorite sphinx portrayal comes from The Neverending Story by Michael Ende. However, the sphinxes in the book have no names. They are the female, mischievous type. Their eyes send out all the riddles in the world, a gaze which only another sphinx can withstand unless the poor soul caught in the sphinx’s gaze can manage to answer all the riddles in the universe. The sphinxes in question stand facing each other and form the first gate that one must pass in order to speak with the mysterious Southern Oracle, who can answer any question in Fantastica.

The sphinx gate is studied by a gnome named Engywook, who is the foremost expert on the Southern Oracle. His studies have shown no pattern between whom the sphinxes allow to pass (by closing their eyes) and whom they strand within their gazes. His study suggests that passage is random, though he’s unsatisfied with that answer (random would suit a sphinx’s mischief, however). Ultimately, the appeal in these sphinxes is their mystery. Since one cannot talk to the sphinxes (they appear almost as statues (in fact in the movie they ARE statues)), Engywook’s questions will never be answered.

Favorite Sphinx quote: Much like they have no names, my favorite sphinxes do not speak. But here’s my favorite quote about them from Engywook: “The gaze of a sphinx is different from the gaze of any other creature. You and I and everyone else – our eyes take something in. We see the world. A sphinx sees nothing. In a sense she is blind. But her eyes send something out. And what do her eyes send out? All the riddles of the universe. That’s why these sphinxes are always looking at each other. Because only another sphinx can stand a sphinx’s gaze. So try to imagine what happens to one who ventures into the area where those two gazes meet. He freezes to the spot, unable to move until he has solved all the riddles of the world. If you go there, you’ll find the remains of those poor devils.”

2. Gryphons (also Griffin or Griffon, choose your spelling)
Why I love them:
Traditionally, gryphons have the fore-quarters of an eagle (sometimes with wings, sometimes without) and the hind-quarters of a lion. Gryphons inherit all the best qualities of their parent animals; they’re strong, loyal and majestic. Gryphons are usually depicted as guardians. In heraldry, the gryphon represents boldness, courage, strength and leadership. Gryphons appear in much modern architecture and as the symbol or mascot for many modern teams. In fantasy settings, gryphons are usually associated with, and able to wield, magic.

If I had to choose one mystical, magical creature to define or represent my personality, I would choose a gryphon (even though they aren’t my all time favorite). They aren’t ancient or even infallible, but they’d definitely be dependable in a pinch.

Favorite Portrayal: Skandranon Rashkae – The Mage Wars Trilogy – by Mercedes Lackey & Larry Dixon

Skandranon possesses all the qualities which gryphons represent. He’s strong. He’s courageous. His story takes place during a war and its aftermath, so he’s a leader in his squadron, meeting every military challenge thrown in his direction and excelling. But Skandranon isn’t your typical stuffy mystical character. His personality makes him just like a person, only he’s got feathers and fur. When you first meet him, he’s cocksure. He’s got ladies falling all over him and he’s proud of it. In fact, when he becomes interested in one who doesn’t, he’s completely clueless as to how to proceed. He’s whiny, even childish sometimes. But he grows throughout the course of his story, eventually becoming a mature leader, mentor and father. He grows into his wisdom and it’s well earned.

Favorite Skandranon Quote: “We don’t want to make trouble, Urtho, but we don’t want to be blackmailed into suicidal missions. Maybe that’s not how it seemed to you, but that was how it felt to us. You built our urges to reproduce as strongly as our will to eat and breathe, and used that to control us. We’d rather serve you out of loyalty than coercion.”

1. Dragons
Why I love them:
To anyone who really knows me, this will come as no surprise. I love dragons. I collect dragon figures, dragon paintings, dragon everything. If it has a dragon on it, I would love to own it. I have dragons of all styles – medieval, viking, oriental. Every culture has a dragon myth and I adore every one of them. I’ve always felt a strong pull toward dragons. They’re noble, majestic creatures and it makes me sad that they’re so often depicted as evil or as destroyers. For me, dragons have always represented wisdom and knowledge on that universal, unobtainable level that most people associate with Buddha. I’ve never actually identified my spirit animal, but I’d like to believe it’s a dragon.

Dragons are patient. They spend years obtaining what they want, be it knowledge or shiny things to add to their horde. They generally have great power, but rarely use it. I prefer when dragons are depicted as protectors or companions for humans, such as in The Dragonriders of Pern series (though technically those dragons were genetically manufactured).

Favorite Portrayal: Falkor the Luckdragon – The Neverending Story by Michael Ende

There are so many great depictions of Dragons, it’s hard for me to choose just one. But I do have a favorite, which always pops to mind faster than all the others. In my post about my favorite books I discussed how I came to love The Neverending Story and, though everyone will always think of him as a flying dog (I’m still guilty as charged), Falkor is by far my favorite dragon.

Falkor isn’t just strong, wise and loyal, he’s optimistic. No matter how bad the situation gets, no matter how tired or hungry or hurt he is, Falkor always has a smile and a prediction for a positive outcome. While I’m not usually fond of the cheery optimist, Falkor really pulls it off. Unlike in the movie (where Falkor just swoops out of the sky and picks up a dying Atreyu for no apparent reason), in the book Falkor meets Atreyu while he’s dying from the bite of Ygramul the Many. When the creature Ygramul informs Atreyu he can travel anywhere in Fantastica by allowing the creature to bite and poison him, Falkor overhears the conversation and chooses to follow Atreyu, devoting his life to him, despite having only an hour left to live. Of course both manage to live longer than the hour the poison leaves to them and Falkor accompanies Atreyu on the rest of his journeys, cheerfully loyal.

Favorite Falkor Quote: “Every poison has its antidote. Everything will turn out all right. You’ll see.”

“I can’t imagine how,” said Atreyu.

“Neither can I, but that’s the wonderful part of it. From now on you’ll succeed in everything you attempt. Because I’m a luckdragon. Even when I was caught in the web, I didn’t give up hope. And as you see, I was right.”

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