Monday, October 24, 2011

The QQQE Creature Compendium Volume I: The Undead

Being the first part in a new series, this post might require an introduction.

Assuming the truth of that statement, I'll explain what I intend to do. I know a lot of us write Fantasy, Sci-Fi, or Paranormal books. Even if we don't, there are genres like Horror, and others, that still require a well full of monsters to be called upon.

What I'd like to do today, and all week, for that matter, is make a list of every monster I've ever come across in all my readings of fiction, history, legend, mythology, and role-playing-game manuals. Are you with me?

I'll start with the undead, because they're just so fascinating. They've also been featured a lot in literature, film, and TV lately, but I bet you haven't heard of some of these:

Lich: By most basic definition, a Lich is much like any any other corporeal animated corpse. What sets the Lich apart is that the person who supplied the body before it died was a king, great warrior, or wizard of unheard of power. Basically a Lich might have been but a Zombie, if he hadn't been so high-born in life. The key here is that the consciousness, wisdom, and awareness that were earned in life, are remembered after death, for whatever reason. So watch out, because undead as he may be, a Lich may have powerful spells, or a magic sword.

Skeleton: Skeletons are generally considered to be death personified. The Skeleton is the most wasted manifestation of the human form. They are obviously, by definition, little more than bone and connective tissue. But in Fantasy and role-playing games, the Skeleton can play a much larger role. Creatures of pure bone are rarely a threat in most stories of might and magic, but they can occasionally come into play if a powerful necromancer is in the vicinity, and has the ability to raise the dead, even from within the depths of the earth.

Vampire: The Vampire, or Vampyr, is probably the most famous undead creature in any legend. It might seem that Stephanie Meyer's Twilight, and even Anne Rice's Interview With a Vampire (and subsequent books) gave the Vampyl it's modern fame, but if you truly research this history of the legend, you will see that Vlad the Impaler and Bram Stoker were only the beginning. There are literally hundreds of variations on the Vampire, and they have been portrayed as everything from wild beasts to refined intellectuals, but the bottom line is that they have to at least prey on live victims for their blood, and they do not die of age or disease.

Zombie: If you thought the concept of a Vampire was widespread, wait until you read about Zombies. Originally, and in cultures that consider the Zombie a real entity, a Zombie was a corpse that was reanimated by witchcraft, or like in The Serpent and the Rainbow, by chemistry. More recently, Zombies have taken a role in literature where they are animated (or diseased) by some form of virus. The bottom line though, is that Zombies are generally mindless, ravenous hordes of shambling dead, on the hunt for brains. Some adaptations give them abilities like running and leaping, but we all know that Zombies are actually really slow, right?

Ghost: A Ghost is the soul or spirit of a dead person that refuses to leave the world of the living for whatever reason. They can range from rather benign up to a annoying forms like poltergeists or even to dangerous spirits that can do physical harm to the living, like a Wraith.

Wight: A Wight is a living corpse somewhat similar to a Lich or Zombie, but it is said to still have lingering aspects of its living soul connected to it. Wights are often associated with extreme cold, such as Tolkien's Barrow-Wights, or Martin's Wights from Beyond-the-Wall. They would be considered more conscious and more dangerous than a Zombie, but not as powerful as a Lich.

Ghoul: In Dungeons and Dragons, a Ghoul is said to be the reanimated corpse of a person who in life was a cannibal. Much like a Zombie, a Ghoul is a creature who in undeath feasts on the flesh of the living, perhaps without a preference for brain over muscle or other tissue. In the Fallout universe, a Feral Ghoul is a human who is technically still alive, but whose mind is so damaged by radiation, that they no longer know themselves, and have been reduced to cannibalism.

Banshee: In Celtic legend, a Banshee is said to be the spirit of a female faerie who wails as someone of import is about to die. In Ireland she was known as the bean-sidhe, in Scotland as the bean-nighe. There are many legends and stories of these spirits, but in role-playing games they are often considered little more than a more powerful type of ghost.

Mummy: We all know the stories and histories of the mummification processes used in real life, but when it comes to the Mummy as a monster in fantasy it's not much different than any other animated corpse. Because of the history of the practice, it is usually assumed that a Mummy was made of a person because of their great stature, so a living corpse that was put through the mummification process is usually considered a monster of some power, assuming he was some kind of king when he still lived. Mummies are generally considered the second most powerful corporeal undead after the Lich.

Will-o'-the-Wisp: From the hinkypunk, to the faerie light, to the corpse road, there are hundreds of variations on the Will-o'-the-Wisp, but the one thing that is agreed upon is that it generally lives in swamps, bogs, and marshes, and will recede when approached, often assumed to be attempting to lead it's victim to a watery grave.

Jiang Shi: The Jiang Shi (Chinese), or Gangshi (Korean), or Kyonshi (Japanese) is known as a hopping Vampire (or sometimes Zombie). They are said to live in coffins or caves during the day, and move around at night by taking great leaps of impressive agility. They are known for feeding on a living person's Ch'i (or Qi or Ki) rather than their blood.

There are countless variations on these forms of undead from many different cultures and histories, but I hope I have covered the main ones, and maybe even introduced some of you to something new.

Please continue to return and read this week, as I will cover other categories of fantastic creatures all week long.

55 comments:

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Since I'm about to embark on my new project (YA horror), this series will be perfect for me. Thanks, Matt. Can't wait for the rest of the posts.

LynnRush said...

Ohhh, the Banshee always intrigued me. Contemplated writing a book with one as a character...this just inspired me to officially add it to the list of book ideas. :)

Em-Musing said...

WAY cool Matt! My first novel had spiritual entities...can't wait to see what manifests when you research those creatures.

salarsenッ said...

This is a fabulous list, Matt. Thanks for giving me something to blog about tomorrow and Friday!! I HEART monsters and things that go bump in the night. :)

Creepy Query Girl said...

Loved your definitions- I especially wonder about how legeds like these got started.

Stephanie M. Lorée said...

Love it. You're writing your own Monster Manual. I approve. :)

FantasyLass said...

wow, fantastic idea! and what a challenge! :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I'm going to enjoy this series!

Anne Gallagher said...

Thanks for sorting out all the monsters for me. I don't read the genre, but I'd like to know the definitions of them so I don't feel stupid when I say, "I don't know what a wight is." Which I had no clue. So thanks.

Sommer Leigh said...

You must know how much I'm going to love reading these posts! You're speaking my language.

Christine Fonseca said...

Strangely, I love this series!

A Daft Scots Lass said...

Very educational indeed.

Jess said...

These are awesome! I kind of wish I wrote stories that incorporated monsters...maybe it's time for a genre switch :) Very cool series!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Been raiding the D&D monster manual? Ghouls and ghasts occupy Lovecraft's stories, too.

Bea Sempere said...

I agree with Jess, maybe i should switch genres.

BTW, I nominated your blog for the Versatile Blogger Award.

Slamdunk said...

Interesting list Matthew.

I never differentiated a ghoul and a ghost--just used the terms interchangably.

Michael G-G said...

Very timely, as just last night the kids were asking us what a banshee was (after my wife claimed that the 5-year-old was wailing like a banshee.) Now we'll just send them to the QQQE to do their research.

(I learned a lot too!)

Nicole Zoltack said...

Awesome! The only one I didn't know what the last one.

Old Kitty said...

Willothe wisp sounds too cute to be such sirens! Awwwwww!

Mermaids!! they're sort of willothewisps aren't they?!?!

Take care
x

Amanda Bonilla said...

This is going to become my favorite series. What a great idea! I can't wait to see what the rest of the week brings.

Bryan Russell said...

Ah, the wee beasties...

Can't wait for the multi-headed trolls.

Michael Offutt said...

Dude...I can see your twenty-sided dice. I got mine in a bag. We should totally get together and smash stuff and take magic items.

I'm not going to give up on you when it comes to Diablo III. I shall hound you continuously when it comes out. It'll be like Dungeons and Dragons only better. And it's not an mmo so you could manage your time better...like late at night on weekends...

Shannon said...

Ack! Comments being eaten by Blogger. Let me try this again:

Love the series idea, Matt. I've learned about some new baddies today. Thanks! <3

Lisa Gail Green said...

Okay, A. This is SOOOOOO COOL. I feel like a kid in a candy store. and B. Do you use Monstropedia? It's an awesome online resource as well. http://www.monstropedia.org/

TL Conway said...

Great idea, Matt! Can't wait to see what the rest of the week has in store. This will be a great resource for writers looking to incorporate creatures in their stories. I, on the other hand, get scared too easily and can't wait for Halloween to be over.

Johanna Garth said...

Perfect Halloween list! And educational too, I'd never heard of a wight until this morning.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Fun series, Matt.

I immediately thought about all the delightfully awful creatures in the Wheel of Time series. Like the Machin Shin that's a malevolent presence that takes the form of a wind or Gray Men who have given their souls to the Dark One and are almost invisible, serving as assassins. There's the gholam who are immensely strong but have no bones, who also serve as assassins since they can get places real people can't. And of course Trollocs, who have the body of a man but the head and feet of animals. While fast, tall, and strong, they're also stupid.

To name a few.

Joshua said...

What does it say about me that I knew every one of those?

Also, as much as we know that zombies are slow, I do like the rage zombies from 28 DAYS LATER and the remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD.

Christina Lee said...

OOOhh LOVING--and there are three I don't even recognize from your list!

Bethany Elizabeth said...

So, I had first-hand experience zombies with my last RPG session, all because our mage decided to an arcana check on a rune from across the room, and so didn't see it was an alarm spell. Hello, Zombies!
(That may have been the single nerdiest sentence I've ever written down.)
Great idea, though! I never actually knew what a Wight was before. :)

Kristen Pelfrey said...

Matthew, I have goosebumps just reading this. "Shambling" is a word that makes me bug-eyed, because that is EXACTLY what zombies do. Exactly. And that is terrifying. Stephen King can use this word in almost any context and it is creepy.
I have a healthy respect for all things Ban-shee. I will tell you a story someday that will curl your hair. Or straighten it.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Thanks for sharing this. I never heard of a lich or a wight. And I loved learning about the jiang shi.

maine character said...

Looking forward to your thoughts on Smurfs.

Nancy Thompson said...

Wow! Who knew there was so much to know about the undead?!

I must admit, I do know about most of these, but a few had me scratching my head, like the Lich, the wight, and the Jiang Shi.

Knowledge is a good thing, even if you don;t read or write in that genre. Thanks for sharing.

Sub-Radar-Mike said...

Woah, every single monster ever? That's quite ambitious, I salute you. Looking forward to the rest of this series!

Matthew MacNish said...

@ SR Mike, um no. Not EVERY single monster. Just the cool ones. That I feel like describing. Without having to do too much work.

Nate Wilson said...

An excellent start to the compendium, Matt. Though it's too bad this is all hokum. Every one of these creatures is just some old guy in a mask; haven't you ever watched Scooby Doo?

LTM said...

Wow. Who knew there were so many undeads??? Never heard of Lich, Wight (other than the Isle), or Jiang Shis... I've heard "Will o the Wisp," but I didn't know it was talking about an undead... Super interesting~ :o) <3

Andrew Leon said...

If I'm remembering correctly, the main difference between a lich and a zombie is that a lich is self-made while a zombie is made by someone else. Basically, someone makes the decision, while still living, to become a lich and works the appropriate magic or ritual to become the living dead so that they retain all of the powers they had in life.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Um ... hold on, let me grab my Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual so I can cross-reference ...

I could totally get inspired by your upcoming monster series to write something completely new! (If I wasn't bogged down with manuscripts needing revision ...)

Angela Orlowski-Peart said...

Great series, Matt. Looking forward to reading each and every one of these posts.
Banshee has been my favorite for quite sometime although I might have found a new scary object of interest -- Jiang Shi :-)

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

nice list. Every time i thought of something it would show up on here. Now i want to watch a scary movie. A good one.

The Golden Eagle said...

Great list!

I've never heard of Jiang Shi before. Those would be interesting to write about.

Ashley said...

Okay, maybe I'm the only one scared around here.

Alleged Author said...

Zombies, represent! Woo woo!

Christine Danek said...

Oh a bunch of my favorites. Now, I'm starting to come up with ideas for a new story. Looking forward to more of these posts.
Thanks.

Just Another Day in Paradise said...

Fun post. You are so thorough. Some of my favorite things... those that go bump in the night. That and monsters too.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Wow...Great list, Matthew! Thanks for sharing all things scary...

Laura Pauling said...

I"m late today! I didn't even know what a wight was until I read a book! The strangest creatures appear in books - that's called research!

Angela Ackerman said...

Oh Hellz yes! This is so going into my @writerthesaurus links! Thanks Matt-you rock. :)

Angela@ The Bookshelf Muse

Jamie (Mithril Wisdom) said...

This is going to be an awesome series :) Looking forward to the rest!

Angela Brown said...

I can't even begin to tell you how perfect this is, especially since I've begun checking out more undead creature info for my NaNo project.

Thank you so much!

Interwebs Fails said...

I'm going to enjoy it. (:

Rusty Webb said...

How ambitious. Several of those mentioned were new to me. I was never a D & D player though. Always leaned more towards sci fi monsters.

Good luck working your way through you monster list.

Carrie said...

Great series. I had no idea there were so many variations on the undead.