5 of the Biggest, Baddest Mythical Monsters in Middle Grade Literature
by Todd Calgi Gallicano
In the book Guardians of the Gryphon’s Claw, I expose the secret that mythical creatures are real and living in our national parks. An ancient curse has rendered humanity blind to their existence, but Sam London — the intrepid hero of the series — finds ways around the magic that keeps the creatures hidden. He also discovers the Department of Mythical Wildlife (DMW), a special agency within the Department of the Interior, charged with protecting mythical creatures and maintaining the secret.
In his travels, Sam meets myriad mythical creatures, some nice and some not. I’ve always been a fan of the not so nice. Mythical monsters can be found in nearly every culture’s mythology and folklore — and they pop up in a few acclaimed middle grade novels, as well. I thought it’d be fun to introduce you to some my favorite big baddies.
He’s got the looks that kill … literally. The basilisk, also known as the “king of the serpents” (Basileus is Greek for King), can kill with just a glance. My mom had a look like this when I thought it’d be fun to see what happens to put Play-Doh in the washing machine … but I digress. This monster scored his big break in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, where it was depicted as a giant snake. It’s appeared throughout folklore in a variety of incarnations, including versions that are closer to a rooster than a snake. According to Roman author Pliny the Elder, the creature also breathed fire and its blood caused a fatal disease. Good times.
As long as we’re on the subject of creatures that can kill with just a look, let’s not forget the Gorgons of Greek mythology. Catching them in your sights will turn a curious human into stone. Medusa was the most famous of the monsters and in Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, the titular hero squares off against the creature. He defeats her, but later in the series has to deal with her angry sisters. Growing up, I loved the scene in “Clash of the Titans” — the ‘80s version, mind you — where Perseus kills the monster using his shield as a mirror. I had nightmares about Medusa for weeks.
Speaking of stone, gargoyles are monsters that have been immortalized in architecture throughout the centuries. They trace their origins to a dragon from French folklore (known as Gargouilles) and can be found making an appearance in Brandon Mull’s Fablehaven series. There was also a movie and animated show about the beasts. The movie scared me to death, even though the special effects were less than convincing. Curiously enough, gargoyles also do a great job spouting water, part of the reason buildings are adorned with the creatures.
These diminutive monsters from European folklore have shown their ugly little faces in a variety of middle grade series. They’re featured in Artemis Fowl, the Harry Potter series, The Hobbit, Fablehaven series, and The Spiderwick Chronicles. Goblins appear throughout mythology and are often referred to by other names, including kobalds, bogles, boggarts, brownies, and more. Sam London faces off against a type of goblin called a redcap — the name refers to their blood-stained caps (FYI — it’s not their own blood. Ew!). The key takeaway here is that goblins are — for the most part — nefarious creatures best avoided. Though there are ways to defeat the little buggers. According to legend, goblins just can’t resist counting flax seed. Who knew? So just scatter some around and voila goblin problem gone!
Hideous, mean, and terrifying … no monster list is complete without the dreaded manticore. Just take a look at how old Pliny described the creature:
“(the manticore) has a triple row of teeth meeting like the teeth of a comb, the face and ears of a human being, grey eyes, a blood-red colour, a lion's body, inflicting stings with its tail in the manner of a scorpion, with a voice like the sound of a pan-pipe blended with a trumpet, of great speed, with a special appetite for human flesh.”
Lovely, right? This beast has made several appearances in middle grade literature, including the worlds of Harry Potter, Fablehaven, Percy Jackson, Spiderwick Chronicles, and others.
So there you have it. Five mythical monsters that will give you a terrible, horrible, no good, likely-end-in-death, kind of day.
Who’s your favorite mythical creation from literature? Share with us in the comments below.
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