Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Never-Were Creatures

In the last few years I've become interested in writing more paranormal stories, remembering back when no  editor who would buy a historical  with even a little paranormal twist. Now anything paranormal is popular, in any time period.

I always thought it was hard to write anything in a medieval setting and ignore the mythology and superstitions of the time.
Supernatural beings were so real to the people of  Medieval England that they planned for them in their lives. They left out offerings to the house fairies so they would stay around and bring good luck to the family, avoided places inhabited by ghosts and water where dangerous spirits lurked. They included supernatural beings in prayers, asking blessings on the good ones and deliverance from the evil ones.

So I decided to set my paranormal historicals in a world where the medieval supernatural beliefs are actually real.

Some of the beings I've found most interesting are the fantastical beasts like dragons, griffins and wyverns. Although I haven't put any of these more widely known creatures into my books, I've enjoyed making them a subject of dialogue. In my most recent, still-unfinished book, the heroine encounters a giant snake, not knowing it was conjured by a sorcerer. The hero didn't see it,and doesn't believe her. It must have been a fallen tree branch in the fading daylight, he tells her, or maybe a dragon, because there are no six-foot long snakes in England. It would have made perfect sense to him, because everyone knew there were dragons. Giant snakes belonged to places people visited on Crusades, not in England.

Kelpies, or Water Horses, can be dual-natured, sometimes helpful to man,  but mostly malicious. Every area seems to have its own version of dangerous water spirit, and Kelpies are often found in streams where they trick children into going into the water where they are drowned and eaten. In may areas a person drowning would not be saved because it was believed the water spirits were only claiming their due.

Legend had it that a clever person could capture a Kelpie by grabbing its bridle, and force it to work on land, where it could accomplish the work of ten horses. But in most of the legends the Kelpie eventually outwits the farmer and drags him back into the water where he is drowned.

The beasts that interest me most, though, are almost too normal-  the Black Dogs, which are not necessarily black. big as a calf,  with eyes of evil that sometimes glow red or yellow, and have long, shaggy coats (rough or row, hence the name Row Dog).  -Haven't we seen dogs that are almost like that? What about wolves, which were still found in England as late as the Twelfth Century? It's no stretch of our imagination to envision the darkness of night enlarging the creatures in the mind of the weary, unsuspecting traveler who suddenly encountered a hungry stray dog, perhaps one that felt threatened. Even our lovable, oh-so-domesticated furry couch potatoes, have a touch of the wild streak in them that we occasionally glmpse. Enough to make us wonder...

Row Dogs, or Black Dogs, are reported from all over England and Wales. They're known as Moor Hounds near Exmoor, where one should take great care not to encounter them at night, for they foretell one's death. In other places such as Yorkshire, they run in packs and will chase and devour any traveler they meet, leaving nothing but the bones. Yet there are other stories of a huge Black Dog giving aid to a lost traveler and escorting him to safety.

In some places, they are shape shifters, beings belonging to the fairy world.  In one of my unfinished stories, this came in handy. My heroine, who is mortally afraid of all dogs, has no conscious memory of why. When she returns to her ancestral home where only an old caretaker and his wife live, she is frightened by their small dog, Duki. She hears Dukey, and thinks nothing of it, until she learns du ki is Cornish for Black Dog.  The dog is brown and white, and very small. She's heard about the Moor Hounds, a.k.a. Black Dogs, but she shrugs it off, knowing people are not always sensible about their pets. She should have followed her suspicions, and begins to realize it when a huge dark dog appears in her bedchamber every night and stays till dawn. But not to worry- Duki is the good dog. The evil ones are still out there, beyond the walls...


Beth Caudill said...

Great post. I love all the different types of creatures out there. I would love to see stories on any of them.

Tanya Hanson said...

Good stuff here! Enjoyed all these different legendary creatures. I have had two black dogs (Labs) and they are so precious...the black dog information was of special interest. Good luck with the book.

Paty Jager said...

Great info, Delle! The medieval times with their creatures and the Native Americans with their spirits both make great paranormal historicals. ;)