By The Landlord
’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”
He took his vorpal sword in hand;
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree
And stood awhile in thought.
And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!
One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back … – Lewis Carroll
A few weeks ago, we visited the topic of songs about unexplained phenomena. It included such things as ghosts, aliens, the Yeti and the Loch Ness Monster, but this week we enter another sphere altogether, perhaps a far bigger universe sparked by the imagination. What’s the difference? The unexplained largely covered modern-era, media-driven mysteries and stories sparked by apparent visual evidence, causing them to sit, for some, on the fence of fact. But this week we enter an older, bigger, far more fantastic realm, and focus on any kind of non-human (or part-animal) creature, beast, monster or spirit within it.
To be mythical, they have to be the stuff of legend, fictitious, formed in traditional storytelling out of any, or many, cultures, framed in folklore, fiction, poetry, theatre, or art and sometimes, inspired by those, into film. And so out of that, as a product of the feverish human brain retold in any of these genres, we’re holding a special week of musical horror, spectacle, wonder and delight, because it’s time to find where any of these beasts are mentioned, in lyrics, or title in the form of song or other musical pieces. Pulling out material from the shelves of our own dusty bestiaries, we’re creating a magical, mythical musical menagerie.
What genres might this cover? Folk, prog rock, metal and classical might feature heavily, but there’s not a genre in which this topic does not rear its head.
What’s the key thing about mythological beasts or creatures? They express everything about human nature, all that is good and evil, they highlight our fears and prejudices, our hopes, our strengths and our weaknesses. They might be scary or jokey. They might be giant, frightening versions of what is usually small, bloodsucking monsters that prey on the weak, a creature caused by our neglect, an evil to defeat, or alternatively a kind, helpful fairy coming to save us. They are everything in us, in exaggerated, fantastical form.
Of course some people believe in such things. And why not? If you believe dragons exist, good on you, it might help write more songs about them. Lady Gaga has popped into the Bar because she’s heard there’s a unicorn here: “I had My Little Ponies. I was obsessed with the idea of a creature that was born with something magical that sort of made them the misfit in the world of the stallion. I’m actually quite obsessed with unicorns. They are in essence a mythical creature. The unicorn is born magical and it’s not the unicorn’s fault and it doesn’t make it any more or less special or any less unique but it can’t help that it was born with that magic.”
All songwriters are likely to have fantasised about mythical creatures in their childhood, and one person’s mythological might be someone else’s belief. Or even an entire culture, and sometimes for good. For example, in 2013 an elf lobby in Iceland joined forces with environmentalist to block a major highway project because their believed it would disturb the local population of Huldufolk (hidden folk). And if you live in Norway, you might have a different view of what electric pylons are for. What? to keep the trolls from escaping, of course:
But for the most part most of us confine such things to myth. There are so many beasts of myth out there, I’m only only able to dip my fingers into it, and with great care. So please join me then on a chaotic alphabetical tour as wander the Song Bar’s bestiary basement. Beware what’s here, and don’t touch the bars, or try to feed anything!
We have everything from the Basque region’s Aatxe, a bull-like shapeshifter creature that sometimes look a bit like the Greek Minotaur, but instead attacks criminals and other malevolent people – he takes not bullshit from anyone. And on it goes all the way through to the Jewish Ziz, a giant griffin-like bird so big it can block out the sun, to the Romanian Zmeu, a huge ogre that kidnaps young girls, to the Zmiy, a Slavic dragon, to zombies, to the faceless Japanese ghost creature, the Zunbera-bō.
Beware then of the Basilisk, Italy’s giant serpent to the Baykok, a flying skeleton creature from the indigenous North American Ojibwe language, from the The Song of Hiawatha. Watch out for the Cyclops, Centaur, or Cerberus the three-headed dog, who guards the underworld, or in this case, our supplies of beer. And while we’re down under, so to speak, don’t go near the Australian Drop Bear, the large carnivorous koala that hunts by dropping on its prey from trees. Crikey, mate! We’ve mentioned elves already, but how about JRR Tolkien’s giant tree folk, the Ents from Lord of the Rings? We’ve also got an Encantado from Brazil, a particularly tricky and mischievous dolphin-like shapeshifter. What’s its porpoise, I wonder?
No shortage of fairies of course, but also Orkney’s finfolk, a fish-human hybrid that kidnaps humans for servants, probably right up on a platter. And goblins too, but so many bigger Gs, the Japanese Godzilla, formed from nuclear disaster, to the giant toothy worm-like Graboids in the film Tremors, to the Griffin, Golden or Ceryneian Hind, the goddess with golden horns that could outrun an arrow in flight, not to mention of course the giant golden goose on the Goodies.
Hold up! Here’s the seven-headed Hydra. That’s got a lot of bite. Beware of those harpies! They're nasty little fuckers! And then there’s the horse-hooves human, the Hippopodes, the Japanese Hōkō, or tree spirit, and the Chinese fox spirt, the Huli jing. Need to spark some ideas? Try the Arabian Ifrit, a fire genie, or if there’s too much aflame, and too many dragons, they can be killed by the Ichneumon. We’ve had the Jabberwocky, but how about the American Jackalope, a sort of rabbit with antlers. Feeling thirsty? It may be a beer, but the Kirin is also the Japanese unicorn. And don’t knock the Knucker, and English water dragon. Am I 'dragon' on a bit? We’ll get there soon.
There are lots of lake monsters, but there’s also the Lakhey, a Nepalese demon with fangs, and the Welsh Llamhigyn Y Dwr, a frog-bat-lizard hybrid. The Ms include human protectors such as Magog, and Hindu mythology’s Maha-pudma, the giant elephant that holds up the world. Not enough cats? How about the Japanese girl-feline, the Nekomusume? Don't let her paw you and watch out for those claws!
Then there’s ogres, orks and the Oozlum bird that flies backwards, and Pegasus, hopefully saving us from the Serbian Psoglav, a dog-headed monster. Now what's that? It's the unusual Frankish Quinotaur, a five-horned bull. Horny devil! Then there's the Rompo from Africa and India, a skeletal creature with elements of a rabbit, badger, and bear. Someone stealing your nuts? It’s probably the naughty Norse Ratatoskr, a squirrel spirit. There’s plenty of sea monsters and sprites, but what’s that noise? It’s only the Persian Simurgh, a dog-lion-peacock hybrid, that’s literally barking mad!
Don’t tangle with the Scottish Tangie, a shapeshifting water spirit, and definitely not Talos, the Greek giant made of bronze, he's really badass, or the Japanese Taimatsumaru, a Tengu surrounded in demon fire.
To fuel our fears of what’s beneath, there are plenty of underground monsters, but there’s also Urayuli, a Native American Hairy giant, and the rather hilarious Japanese Uma-no-ashi, a horse's leg which dangles from a tree and kicks passersby! Tree-mendous! Ouch, stop kicking!
Need more blood and bit. There's plenty of vampires and wargs, the Mayan Xecotcovach, bird, the Korean Yong dragon, and all those Zs mentioned above. They're all here, you know. Want to help with feeding time?
Overall, Japanese, Chinese and other cultures are rich in such creatures, but for western work, Greek and Roman myths still run through our culture like a message in a stick of Blackpool rock.
But what do they say much about modern life? By coincidence, Stephen Fry has just written an approachable book about the subject, Mythos: A Retelling Of The Myths of Ancient Greece, and in commenting recently on he story of Pandora, the first human on Earth, who could not resist opening her gift from the gods, and released all kinds of evils and demons onto the world, said recently, tthis very much reminded him of the internet : “The Pandora’s Box of social media has sent out the hackers and thieves, driven by anger and outrage. I have this image of the US president as some kind of Dr Seuss character, the Trumpelo, who every time his name is mentioned, anywhere in the world, he gets a little bit bigger.” No mythological beast could be as horrifying as that, surely? Perhaps that's why, here at the Bar, we are indeed looking for old-school trolls this week, but nothing of the modern kind.
And so then, this week’s chief zoologist, and keeper of our musical bestiary, is the stupendous Suzi. Place your songs about mythological beasts and creatures in the boxes below for playlists published next Wednesday. Deadline? Last orders this Monday at 11pm UK time. Let the safari commence …
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Fancy a turn behind the pumps at The Song Bar? Care to choose a playlist from songs nominated and write something about it? Then feel free to contact The Song Bar here, or try the usual email address.