about monsters

There are very few monsters who warrant the fear we have of them.
Andre Gide
We never see other people anyway, only the monsters we make of them.
Colson Whitehead

Monsters Are Real… (they just look a little different in the light of day) 

HIC SUNT DRACONES. This phrase translates from the Latin as “here are dragons.” It is etched on the eastern coast of Asia on one of the oldest terrestrial globe maps, the Lenox Globe, dating to 1510.

Though the phrase itself is found on only one other historical artifact, a 1504 globe crafted on an ostrich egg, the depiction of monsters and mythological beasts are common on early maps. They crop up most commonly in the unexplored reaches of the oceans, warning would-be explorers of the perils of these unknown territories.

One of the most famous of these maps is Olaus Magnus’ Carta Marina, drawn in 1527-39. A detailed map of Scandinavia-one of the oldest ever created-it depicts the Norwegian Sea as so teaming with monsters that it would seem impossible to escape these waters uneaten.

Magnus (1490-1557) was the Catholic archbishop of Sweden and a prominent historian. His travels brought him farther north than any of his contemporary European intellectuals, lending a great deal of perceived credibility to his accounts and publications. In 1555, Magnus published Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus (“A Description of the Northern Peoples”), which not only related the history, customs, and beliefs of the Scandinavian people, but also reprinted and described the creatures found on Carta Marina. His standing and reputation secured the widespread acceptance of his stories.

Olaus’ descriptions and drawings were copied repeatedly, with little to no modification, for centuries by such historical titans as Conrad Gessner (whose Historia Animalium, replete with Magnus’ drawings, is the first modern zoological work attempting to describe all known animals), Edward Topsell, Ulisse Aldrovandi, and John Jonstonus. Such repurposing ensured that these creatures were ingrained in the public mind as truth. And over the centuries, many new monsters were added to the mix as well.

Creating Myth from Reality

Where did the accounts of monsters come from in the first place? Were they simply fairytales invented to scare curious minds and small children?

Henry Lee, who wrote extensively on sea creatures and monsters, emphasized that many classical monsters are not simply pure myth. In his publication Sea Fables Explained (1883), he wrote, “…the descriptions by ancient writers of so-called ‘fabulous creatures’ are rather distorted portraits than invented falsehoods, and there is hardly any of the monsters of old which has not its prototype in Nature at the present day.”

How did these “distorted portraits” come about? By the 1500s, extensive European oceanic exploration was still limited, and the fauna that called these places home remained virtually unknown. Publications by Magnus and those who copied him represented some of the first attempts to systematically aggregate and describe these animals. More often than not, their information came not from first-hand observations, but from sailors’ accounts of mysterious encounters while at sea. Less often, the decomposing remains of a washed-up carcass also fueled confidence in the existence of these terrible beasts.

Sailors, or those unlucky beachgoers who had the misfortune to stumble upon a rotting basking shark, had no experience with such creatures. So, they explained them with what they did have experience with – myths and legends. If they enlivened their accounts with some embellishments, that simply made for a better story. And so, an oarfish became a 200 foot long sea serpent. A giant squid became a blood-thirsty kraken. A manatee became a mermaid. Olaus and others like him gobbled up the stories and published them alongside authentic species. The more the stories were circulated and published, the more likely people were to mistake what they did see for a monster. And the cycle continued.

The atmosphere of the day also fed people’s willingness to believe such tales. The 1500’s were rampant with superstition. The Scientific Revolution would not start to make headway until later in the seventeenth century. There was no division between magic and reality – the two simply coincided. Thus, there was no reason that mythical beasts could not be real. And even when scientists began to embrace the scientific method, they still struggled to reconcile previous beliefs in the supernatural with science. It would take hundreds of years of dedicated scientific study and exploration to overturn classical and common opinion. In the case of some creatures (i.e. sea serpents), sightings and questions of authenticity still remain.

Are Monsters Real?

So what’s the moral of the story? The animals that inspired such hair-raising tales as the sea serpent, leviathans, and hydra, and authenticated stories of mermaids and the kraken, are real. They just received some creative embellishments (and sometimes blatant artistic fraudulence) along the way. And in a world just beginning to turn away from superstition, but still inclined to embrace elements of mysticism, it’s not surprising that the tales were accepted. Besides, who doesn’t love a good monster story?

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List of Monsters (Pop culture)

Showa Series

      Monster Year Introduced
Godzilla (1954) 1954
Godzilla 1955
Anguirus 1955
Snowman 1955
Meganulon 1956
Rodan 1956
Moguera 1957
Varan 1958
H-Man 1958
Orochi 1959
Vampire Plant 1961
Mothra Larva 1961
Mothra 1961
Maguma 1962
Giant Lizard 1962
Giant Octopus 1962
King Kong 1962
Matango 1963
Manda 1963
Mothra (2nd Generation) 1964
Mothra Larva (2nd Generation) 1964
Dogora 1964
Rodan (2nd Generation) 1964
King Ghidorah 1964
Frankenstein 1965
Baragon 1965
Giant Octopus (2nd Generation) 1965
Gaira 1966
Sanda 1966
Ebirah 1966
Giant Condor 1966
Giant Praying Mantis 1967
Kamacuras 1967
Kumonga 1967
Minilla 1967
Mechani-Kong 1967
King Kong (2nd Generation) 1967
Gorosaurus 1967
Giant Sea Serpent 1967
Mothra Larva (3rd Generation) 1968
Manda (2nd Generation) 1968
Baragon (2nd Generation) 1968
Varan (2nd Generation) 1968
Giant Eagle 1969
Gabara 1969
Maneater 1969
Bat Men 1969
Giant Rats 1969
Black Moth 1969
Gezora 1970
Ganimes 1970
Kamoebas 1970
Hedorah (Water Form) 1971
Hedorah (Land Form) 1971
Hedorah (Flying Form) 1971
Hedorah (Final Form) 1971
Gigan 1972
Jet Jaguar 1973
Megalon 1973
Fake Godzilla 1974
Mechagodzilla 1974
King Caesar 1974
Giant Slugs 1974
Giant Bats 1974
Mutant Leech 1974
Titanosaurus 1975
Mechagodzilla II 1975
Space Beastman 1977
Phoenix 1978


Heisei Series

      Monster Year Introduced
Shockirus 1984
Godzilla 1984
Dragon 1987
Biollante (Rose Form) 1989
Biollante (Final Form) 1989
Dorats 1991
Godzillasaurus 1991
King Ghidorah 1991
Godzilla (Supercharged) 1991
Mecha-King Ghidorah 1991
Battra Larva 1992
Mothra Larva 1992
Mothra 1992
Battra 1992
Mechagodzilla 1993
Rodan 1993
Baby Godzilla 1993
Fire Rodan 1993
Super Mechagodzilla 1993
Moguera 1994
SpaceGodzilla (Flying Form) 1994
SpaceGodzilla 1994
Fairy Mothra 1994
Little Godzilla 1994
Moguera II – SRF 1994
Amano Shiratori 1994
Kumasogami 1994
Kaishin Muba 1994
Orochi 1994
Utsuno Ikusagami 1994
Burning Godzilla 1995
Destoroyah (Micro Form) 1995
Destoroyah (Juvenile Form) 1995
Destoroyah (Aggregate Form) 1995
Destoroyah (Flying Form) 1995
Godzilla Junior 1995
Destoroyah (Final Form) 1995
Godzilla (Rebirth) 1995
Mothra (Mothra Series) 1996
Fairy 1996
Garu-Garu 1996
Desghidorah 1996
Mothra Leo Larva 1996
Desghidorah (Flying Form) 1996
Mothra Leo 1996
Ghogo 1997
Garu-Garu II 1997
Dagahra 1997
Barem 1997
Dagahra (Final Form) 1997
Rainbow Mothra 1997
Aqua Mothra 1997
Fairy (2nd Generation) 1998
Garu-Garu III 1998
Grand King Ghidorah 1998
Light Speed Mothra 1998
Cretaceous King Ghidorah 1998
Primitive Mothra 1998
Armor Mothra 1998
Eternal Mothra 1998


Millennium Series

      Monster Year Introduced
Godzilla 1999
Millennian 1999
Orga 1999
Orga (Phase II) 1999
Godzilla (2nd Generation) 2000
Meganulon 2000
Meganula 2000
Giant Meganulon 2000
Megaguirus 2000
Godzilla (3rd Generation) 2001
Baragon 2001
Mothra Larva 2001
Ghidorah 2001
Mothra 2001
King Ghidorah 2001
Merman 2001
Doson’s Familiar 2001
Sawara’s Followers 2001
Godzilla (4th Generation) 2002
Godzilla (1954) 2002
Mecha-Trilobite 2002
Kiryu 2002
Yamata No Orochi 2003
Kiryu (2nd Version) 2003
Mothra (2nd Generation) 2003
Kamoebas 2003
Mothra Larva (2nd Generation) 2003
Godzilla (5th Generation) 2004
Manda 2004
Gigan 2004
Rodan 2004
Zilla 2004
Anguirus 2004
King Caesar 2004
Kamacuras 2004
Kumonga 2004
Minilla 2004
Ebirah 2004
Mothra (3rd Generation) 2004
Hedorah 2004
Monster X 2004
Gigan (Modified) 2004
Keizer Ghidorah 2004
Godzilla (6th Generation) 2007
Giant Robot 2008
Giant Robot (2nd Generation) 2009
Colossal Titan 2015
Titan 2015
Attack Titan 2015
Armored Titan 2015


“Shin” Series

      Monster Year Introduced
Godzilla (First Form) 2016
Godzilla (Second Form) 2016
Godzilla (Third Form) 2016
Godzilla (Fourth Form) 2016
Godzilla (Fifth Form) 2016


MonsterVerse

      Monster Year Introduced
Godzilla 2014
MUTO (Male) 2014
MUTO (Female) 2014
King Kong 2017
Sker Buffalo 2017
Mother Longlegs 2017
Mire Squid 2017
Leafwing 2017
Skullcrawler 2017
Spore Mantis 2017


Distributed

      Monster Year Introduced
Ultraman 1967
Bemular 1967
Gomola 1967
Chandlar 1967
Red King 1967
Magura 1967
Pygmon 1967
Suflan 1967
Ultraman Jack 1971
Daigoro 1972
Daigoro’s Mother 1972
Goliath 1972
Mirror Man 1972
Shikigami (Flying Form) 1988
Kudoku 1988
Shikigami 1988
Goho Doji 1988
Asura 1988
Poltergeists 1988
Hell King 1988
Mischief Demon 1988
Hell Queen (Final Form) 1990
Phoenix 1990
Gamera 1995
Gyaos 1995
Super Gyaos 1995
Symbiotic Legion 1996
Legion Flower 1996
Legion 1996
Godzilla (US 1998) 1998
Baby Godzilla (US 1998) 1998
Hyper Gyaos 1999
Baby Iris 1999
Iris 1999
Jorogumo 2007
Goblin 2007
Huge Fetus 2007
Hanyo 2007
Maimai’Onba 2007
Ki Oni 2007
Tokage Oni 2007
Daitengu 2007
Inu Oni 2007
Ratto Oni 2007

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