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Resources for Mythical Creatures

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Greybeard, Apr 4, 2011.

  1. Greybeard

    Greybeard Minstrel

    What are some good resources for finding mythical creatures to include in stories?

    I'm especially hoping to find some unusual creatures that have been rarely used in film and television.
  2. I got three books from a while ago (like late 90's) that helped me with different types of mythical creatures.

    Giants, Monsters, and Dragons: An Encycolpedia of Folklore, Legend, and Myth by Carol Rose
    Angels A to Z by Matthew Bunson
    The Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels, and other Subversive Spirits by Carol K Mack and Dinah Mack
  3. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

  4. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

    Problem with Wikipedia is that you often need a good idea what you're looking for before you can find it.… :confused:

    - A Dictionary of Angels; Gustav Davidson. (Much better than Angels A to Z, though that's probably second best, and not bad in itself: the quality of angelology books drops off rapidly after it… and you'll find that most of what they include is drawn from Davidson in the first place. This will be even more true of web resources.)
    - Dictionary of Ancient Deities; Patricia Turner and Charles Russell Coulter. (By far the most comprehensive, inclusive one-volume resource out there.)
    - Who's Who [in] Non-Classical Mythology; Egerton Sykes.
    - Mythologies of the World; Max S. Shapiro and Rhoda A. Hendricks.
    - Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology (at least some edition of which is likely to be available in your local library).
    - Larousse Dictionary of World Folklore

    The Sykes and the Shapiro & Hendricks books bear a similar relation to Turner & Coulter as does Angels A to Z to Davidson: they're far less comprehensive, in this case by a factor of three or so (Sykes, 2,500 entries; S&H, 2,000; T&C, 10,000…though many are only cross-references, which is why I say a factor of three rather than four to five). On the other hand, a few of the entries are better–or at least longer–so it may be useful to have both for comparison purposes. Any of the three is adequate to provide a good launching point (for, say, Wikipedia research…). (This is not a defect that Davidson suffers: for angels/devils, at least, Davidson is unquestionably the definitive text.) The Larousse encyclopedia might be more useful to you in the near run, as it includes some of the actual myths (albeit in highly abbreviated form), as opposed to short "bio"-type entries, so it might give you more to go on. (And note that the folklore one is a "dictionary," not an "encyclopedia," so it does not share this feature… though it may be marginally better for a pure critter search.) The encyclopedia will also be easier to find, if you're looking for a physical copy–any large bookstore is likely to carry the current edition (it'll be pricey, but at least you can get a look at what you're paying for: big book, lotsa pictures); both Davidson and Turner & Coulson are readily, and inexpensively, available through Amazon or the like. (I imagine Sykes is as well, though I haven't looked.)

    The Rose and Mack & Mack books mentioned by Meg are good, too, particularly the former, since its focus is primarily on monsters and such, rather than on deities, demons, etc.; fishing critters out of the T&C listings could be time-consuming, if rewarding in the long run.

    If you just want to stick to the internet (or at least to start, rather than finish with it), the following traditions are the ones most likely to prove fruitful, in terms of richness, available documentation, and the actual presence of mythical creatures in the stories (which not all traditions include–Finnish, for instance, which is an outstanding source for heroic or magical material, displays something of a paucity here):

    - Hindu (number one with a bullet… could keep you busy for years all by itself)
    - Japanese
    - Chinese
    - North American Indian
    - South American Indian (minor tribes/regions… Araucanian sticks in my mind)
    - Eskimo (usually classed separately from other Native Americans)
    - Mesopotamian (Babylonian, Chaldean, Sumerian, et al., though, being the source of much other Mediterranean lore–including parts of the Bible–it may suffer from some familiarity problems)
    - Polynesian/Maori
    - Australian Aborigine
    - Pre-Islamic Arabian
    - Sub-Saharan Africa (Dahomey, Yoruba, Bushmen, too many others to list)
    - Persian (this will overlap heavily with Hindu and Mesopotamian; has a few of the best critters–though some will be familiar already, as they got borrowed westward, so good were they)
    - Russian (mostly "fairy" type beings)

    Some, of course, will be rather ecology-specific: the Eskimo and Polynesian ones tend to focus on sea creatures, the Eskimo on Arctic varieties thereof… doesn't mean they can't be transplanted with appropriate adaptations. Ones I'd lean away from include Greek, Egyptian, Celtic and Germanic/Norse (too familiar), Aztec, Maya, Inca, Finnish (relatively few critters–that I've encountered, at least), Roman (both problems), and Tibetan (ditto, unless you're looking for demons, in which case it's rich beyond description… they have a very idiosyncratic take on Buddhism). Others, such as Armenian and Hittite, will largely duplicate Mesopotamian and/or Persian; Etruscan will look too much like Roman (it should: the Romans stole even more here than they did from the Greeks); Turkic and Mongol peoples will be less well-documented; Siberian (Finno-Ugric) shamanism is really nifty but the material is sparse.

    Or… IF you can find them as beat-up, second-hand castoffs: the various editions and revisions of the Monster Manuals from Dungeons & Dragons. These should not be taken as authoritative, of course–the creators changed the creatures to fit their needs, which did not always mesh up with the myths–but it is surprising how much of the material there does use at least the name and a quasi-recognizable semblance of the original. Do not, however, pay retail price, or even anything near it (let alone collector's prices!) if all you're going to be using these for is sourcebooks: they aren't that useful. :rolleyes:
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
  5. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

    I dunno, I find it works better than books, at least for the starting up bit. You can just click things, read a little about them, and if something catches your eye, you can grab a reference for that mythology (say you come across a Latvian creature you like; very specific mythology, but now that it's caught your interest, you can find a book specifically about Latvian mythology)
  6. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

    True… on the other hand, if you don't know there's a Latvian tradition to look for, you may never simply run across it. Which is why I tried to give a couple of starting points (tribe names, etc.) for such things as "African"–a search on "African mythology" will certainly produce a result, but you may spend hours clicking from one link to the next without finding anything remotely resembling what you were hoping for. (Or you may find tons of stuff. Or you may consider what you do find so enthralling that you don't care.) The nice thing about books is you can flip them open anywhere and have something to work with… along with several other entries on the same or adjoining pages, without needing to tab back and forth. ;)

    (For the interested: Latvian and Lithuanian will strongly resemble Russian on the above list; Estonian will split somewhere between Russian and Finnish.)

    (I suppose, by the above logic, I should have given a couple of North American Indian tribal names as well, for those not familiar with any. Iroquois, Navajo, Sioux, and Tsimshian should give four very different points of entry.)
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
  7. Kate

    Kate Troubadour

    I'm playing around with a character/creature with some base in shape shifting legends of Mesoamerican mythology. I've had most of my stuff from Wikipedia. Wiki is a great place to start when you know where to start, but I'd really like to go deeper than that.

    Anyone know of any good resources on this that I could add to my research pile?
  8. Egan1066

    Egan1066 New Member

    I have found a great resource for mythical creatures if you want a vast variety and great diversity of different types: www.mythbeasts.com

    It contains lots of short descriptions of mythical creatures of many types. most useful.
  9. M.A.N.

    M.A.N. Scribe

    Great tip Egan1066.

    and @Ravana:
    Who needs books and Wikipedia when we got you?
    You're clearly the walking dictionary/encyclopedia by yourself.

    Take care,
    Last edited: May 31, 2011
  10. BeigePalladin

    BeigePalladin Sage

    bit geeky, but DnD has a nice wide selection of monsters and mstical critters, with well-defined abilties and the like, whihc is easy to adapt if you remeber that an average human stat in everything is 10. nice for when your lazy and want something new, as some of the stuff is very obscure, and it's all rather fleshed out

    free resources here, or if you have cash you could buy a source book or something.
  11. drkpyn

    drkpyn Scribe

    I agree with BeigePalladin. I often use the Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manuals for creature ideas. Pretty much any pen and paper RPG will have at least one book specifically devoted to creatures.
  12. myrddin173

    myrddin173 Maester

    I have this like 2in thick book full of mythical creatures, The Element Encyclopedia of Mythical Creatures, it has from A-Z almost every creature from around the world, with article descriptions ranging from a paragraph to several pages. It also includes myths about ordinary creatures, like dogs, cats, and sheep.

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