I recommend reading this post curled up in a comfy chair with a warm blanket, the lights on, the doors locked, and a weapon close to hand. Because we are venturing into creepy territory here, my friends, where there be monsters …
Really, this post is going to be so much fun! Fantasy, legend, and mythology alike are populated with all sorts of incredible creatures and terrifying monsters. I’m planning a list on favorite fantasy creatures (of the less monstrous sort) from some favorite novels, so be looking forward to reading that one eventually—whenever I happen to get around to it, of course.
But in the meantime, this list is dedicated to my favorite fantasy creatures of a more unsavory nature.
Narrowing this list down from the horde of monsters and evil creatures that populate the pages of fantasy novels was no easy task. It is by no means complete, so I hope you’ll join the conversation and weigh in with some of your favorites at the end!
1. The Nazgul
Of course, I simply had to start with a Lord of the Rings reference. (You all know where my loyalties lie.) The Nazgul—Fell Riders of the Air, Black Riders, the Nine, Ringwraiths, really they have so many names—were absolutely terrifying to me when I first read the Lord of the Rings. Terrifying and fascinating, so of course, I turned to the Silmarillion to learn more about them.
Before they fell, they were kings, mighty men, sorcerers, and warriors who became ensnared by the very thing that gave them power.
And they became forever invisible, save to him that wore the Ruling Ring, and they entered into the realm of shadows. The Nazgul were they, the Ringwraiths, the Enemy’s most terrible servants; darkness went with them and they cried with the voices of death.”
One of the aspects of the Nazgul that didn’t really make it into the movies was the “Black Breath.” Instead of swooping down to destroy trebuchets and snatch people from the walls, like in the movies, the Nazgul’s attack in the book was much more subtle and deadly.
The Nazgul came again, and as their Dark Lord now grew and put forth his strength, so their voices, which uttered only his will and his malice, were filled with evil and horror. Ever they circled above the City, like vultures that expect their fill of doomed men’s flesh … At length, even the stout-hearted would fling themselves to the ground as the hidden menace passed over them, or they would stand, letting their weapons fall from nerveless hands while into their minds a blackness came, and they thought no more of war, but only of hiding and crawling, and of death.”
And those who suffered under the shadow of the Nazgul for long came down with an illness that the people of Gondor called the “Black Shadow,” and it often proved fatal. Faramir, Merry, and Eowyn all fell under the Black Shadow, offering Aragorn the opportunity to step in as Healer … and King of Gondor. (One of my many favorite chapters in The Return of the King.)
These things. *shudder* The dementors from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series are creepy, hooded and cloaked, gliding, wraith-like creatures that like to suck away happiness. Delightful, right?
Side note: I will never understand why the Ministry of Magic thought that it would be a good idea to employ dementors to guard Azkaban … or to send them to Hogwarts (a school for kids) to hunt for Sirius Black?
Um … dangerous much?
Yeah, I’ll take my chances with the “murderous” wizard who escaped from the inescapable prison over the soul-draining monsters, thank you very much.
Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them. Even Muggles feel their presence, though they can’t see them. Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you.”
Don’t know about you, but that’s the stuff of nightmares right there.
3. The Raven Steed
Yes, I’m doing it again, throwing creatures from my own books into these lists. *grins* Well, it is a list of my favorites, so it stands to reason, right?
If you haven’t read Songkeeper yet, minor SPOILER alert, but the Takhran rides through the Pit on a steed that is half horse and half raven.
Sounds cool, right?
Flanked by a dozen Khelari, the Takhran was mounted on a massive black steed with the head, beak, and wings of a raven, and the muscled body of a horse, on the far edge of the flickering circle of light.”
The Takhran’s steed jerked its neck and snorted. Its beak clipped the air only inches from her head. Corded muscles stood out along its chest and deep-cut hindquarters, and an iron collar encircled its neck, visible through the feather-like strands of its mane.”
Also, slightly creepy …
Surrounded by the slain, the steed’s nature as a carrion beast revealed itself in its snuffling breath, rasping voice, and the taut lines in its outstretched neck. It took a little hop-skip toward the nearest corpse, but a harsh word from the Takhran bade it be still.”
Unfortunately, the raven steed only gets a little bit of page time, which makes me kind of sad. Because as creepy as it may be … I still think it is cool!
If there are any wonderfully artistic people out there who would like to try their hand at recreating an image of the raven steed, I love fan art. *hint hint* If I had any artistic ability at all, I would love to create a picture of this creature. Sadly, my only artistic ability lies with words. But I have the highest respect (and envy) for those with skills in the visual arts.
4. The Fearsome Toothy Cows of Skree
No list of fantasy monsters would be complete without mention of these deadly beasts from Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga. They are, in fact, cows with gifted with a fearsome nature and hideous toothiness.
A crashing noise came from the forest, the sound of something large and moving fast. Leeli and Janner were too terrified to move. They saw through the knot of trees a dark creature the size of a horse—bounding directly toward Tink.”
That’s right. Toothy cows are highly ferocious beasts prone to chasing down prey, pouncing, and devouring them with excessive … toothiness.
He whipped his head around in time to see the fearsome cow bearing down on him, its long teeth bared, its girth trembling.”
But the best description comes from the footnotes—yes, the books have footnotes! How awesome is that?
In it, Bloge describes the cows as being ‘squarish in frame, with a moist snout and eyes that at first appear dull as a bowl of mud. But woe to that man who considers not the lethal potential in that bovinial thrump. In those yellowish sabers that protrude from its lippy mouth! How I wish my dear Molly had not spurned my warnings of the toothy cow’s cunning and thew, ere that thoothed brute devoured her!”
Yet another monster I will be endeavoring to avoid ….
Side note: There’s a fantastic short film based on the Wingfeather Saga that was just released! The artwork is beautiful, the music is simply gorgeous, and yes, they even included the footnotes. You can watch it FOR FREE here!
In a ravine she lived, and took shape as a spider of monstrous form, weaving her black webs in a cleft of the mountains. There she sucked up all light she could find, and spun it forth again in dark nets of strangling gloom, until no light more could come to her abode; and she was famished.”
I’m guessing that Tolkien really wasn’t a fan of spiders, and honestly, who could blame him? I almost put Shelob on this list, but really, Ungoliant from the Silmarillion is about a hundred times worse! Even Melkor (about a hundred times worse than Sauron) was afraid of her, so you can bet she’s one monster that I wouldn’t want to tangle with.
Then the Unlight of Ungoliant rose up even to the roots of the Trees, and Melkor sprang upon the mound and with his black spear he smote each Tree to its core, wounded them deep, and their sap poured forth as it were their blood, and was spilled upon the ground. But Ungoliant sucked it up, and going then from Tree to Tree, she set her black beak to their wounds, till they were drained; and the poison of Death that was in her went into their tissues and withered them, root, branch, and leaf, and they dried.”
Consumed by a never ending desire for more, she devours all things beautiful and lovely and belches forth a hideous darkness. She destroyed the Two Trees of Valinor, enabling Melkor to break in and steal the Silmarils, and essentially launching the Noldor headfirst into all the horrors that followed: the Oath of Feanor and his sons, the Flight of the Noldor, the Kinslaying at Alqualonde.
Although no hero arises to defeat Ungoliant, the Silmarillion hints at her end. A fitting—if horrifying—end, really. It’s rumored that her unending hunger eventually led her to devour herself …
And the world heaved a sigh of relief. No tears shed for Ungoliant.
Chimeras are mythical beasts that can be found in many a legend or fantasy tale, but this specific one is another Songkeeper monster. (Apparently, I went crazy on the monsters included in the second book of the Songkeeper Chronicles.)
Amos McElhenny is known—by himself and others—as the great Amos McElhenny, so of course, he needed a monster to fight that was worthy of standing face to face with a legend.
Enter the chimera. If you google “chimera,” you’ll most likely see that it’s a creature from Greek mythology that typically has the head of a lion at the end of its neck, the head of a goat sprouting on a second neck from its back, and a tail that ends in the head of a snake. Occasionally, you’ll see it with wings, or with all three heads sprouting from its chest.
That’s the version I decided to go with.
Out of the tunnel came a beast of nightmare. To be sure, it had stalked his dreams since that fateful night when he first braved the horrors of the tunnels, but night terrors were nothing compared to seeing such a monster again in the flesh. Three heads joined at the shoulders above a massive muscled chest. In the middle, it had the head of a lion, flanked by the head of a long-horned goat on one side and a fanged serpent on the other. Hunched back with knobs of spine jutting like blades. Long, strong forelimbs. Short, squat hindlimbs. Body covered in patches of scales, hides, and tufts of fur.”
There’s a simply delicious fight scene that takes place after that … but I won’t give any more spoilers. Suffice it to say that scene was one of the most exciting, intense, (and fun) fight scenes I’ve written. I wrote it in one sitting, about three hours from start to finish, and that scene made it almost wholly unchanged into the finished product.
The goat head bleated. Amos would have died before admitting that the bleat of a goat could sound menacing, but the utter wrongness of the sound from such a beast made his hackles rise.”
Yeah. I’m with you Amos.
I actually have a funny (embarrassing?) story about being caught off-guard by an unexpected goat bleat once … if you’re dying to hear what it is, ask and I’ll share it in the comments. ;)
Of course, this list simply had to include these monstrous creatures from The Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson. Blue-skinned, red-eyed “humanoid” creatures that range from human sized with baggy skin, to massive monsters whose skin stretches and splits because of the size of their form.
One large creature—its skin revoltingly split and cracked by stretch marks—led a few medium-sized beasts, whose bleeding rips were only beginning to appear at the corners of their mouths and the edges of their eyes. A smattering of smaller creatures—their baggy skin loose and sagging beneath their eyes and arms—accompanied their betters.”
They were created by the Lord Ruler to help him conquer the world and can be “controlled” to a point by Allomancers. Of course, uncontrolled koloss—or ones controlled by an enemy—are destruction unleashed and prone to killing anything in their path.
She climbed it, retreating slightly as the creatures surrounded her again. They crawled over the corpses of their fallen brethren, rage frothing in their blood-drop eyes. Human soldiers would have given up, going to seek easier fights. The koloss, however, seemed to multiply as she fought the, others hearing the sounds of battle and coming to join them.”
As with most of Sanderson’s works, even what you “think” you know about the koloss is overturned and expanded as the series goes on, so I won’t say too much more, because SPOILERS. Suffice it to say, these are not the sort of creatures you’d like to casually run across, particularly not when they’re in a blood rage. Although they are pleasant conversationalists …
“We are not koloss,” the lead koloss suddenly said, turning to Elend as they walked.
Elend frowned. “Explain.”
“You think we are koloss,” it said through lips that stretched too tightly to work properly “We are humans. We will live in your city. We will kill you, and we will take all.”
Of course, the list could continue on and on! Tolkien’s Uruk-Hai, particularly Ugluk, certainly belong in this list, also the Steel Inquisitors from the Final Empire Trilogy—yeah, talk about creepy!—and the Cauldron Born from The Prydain Chronicles, and about a dozen others, but in the interest of time, it’s probably best to stop there and turn the conversation over to y’all!
What are some of your favorite fantasy monsters?