Cover Characteristic :: Mythical Creatures

Cover Characteristic is a weekly meme hosted by Sugar and Snark. Each week, participants showcase five of their favorite covers fitting the week's theme; this week's theme was mythical creatures!

Dragon's Nest (Deltora Dragons, #1) by Emily Rodda

Deltora Dragons is the third series set in Emily Rodda's fictional Deltora. Deltora is a land of myriad monsters, some of which are based on actual mythological creatures (and many more of which are the spawn of Rodda's own amazing imagination). Dragon's Nest, the first book of this quartet, bears the image of a red-scaled, fire-breathing dragon on its cover... though if you read the book, you might just find out that all is not what it seems when to comes to this beast!

Dragons in mythology are typically scene in one of two general forms: that of the European dragon, and that of the Chinese dragon. The European dragon is more familiar to those of us in the Western world, though the Chinese dragon is by no means unknown at this point in pop culture. You'll recognize the differences in each immediately; while the European dragon is a stockier reptilian creature reminiscent of a winged crocodile or dinosaur, the Chinese dragon is fairly serpentine and often wingless.

Dragons in all their forms, whether they be wyverns, sea serpents, or any other related creature, are extremely common in fantasy literature. Their recent resurgence in mainstream pop culture can be credited to George R.R. Martin's extremely popular A Song of Ice and Fire series, as well as its HBO adaptation, Game of Thrones.

Sirena by Donna Jo Napoli

Set during the mythological Trojan War, Sirena tells the story of the titular character's love for Philoctetes after she saves his life. Despite her name, Sirena is a mermaid; while sirens in modern pop culture are often musically-inclined mermaids with a penchant for murderous seduction, their mythological roots are actually as bird women more similar to harpies than to mermaids. Over the past few centuries, however, it seems that mermaids and sirens have merged in the cultural consciousness of at least America, if not the Western world at large.

In any case, mermaids are an incredibly famous mythological creature with an enduring popularity that might even surpass the dragon. By far their most important modern incarnation is that of Ariel, the red-headed and infinitely curious Disney princess introduced in The Little Mermaid. With the upper half of a human and the lower half of a fish, the mermaid is a creature of the sea; how they breath underwater with no visible gills is a mystery left up to the minds of modern storytellers.

While there are still claims of mermaid sightings being made even to this day, it's commonly purported now that mermaids may actually originate from some combination of mistaken identity and sea-bound loneliness. Many scientists and historians of the 21st century suspect that manatees and similar creatures such as the dugong were the inspiration behind these supposed aquatic humanoids.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Harry Potter, #3) by J.K. Rowling

With her unimaginably popular Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling introduced millions of children to a plethora of mythological creatures they might not have ever discovered otherwise. Among these rarer beasts is the hippogriff, a legendary creature with the front half of an eagle and the hindquarters of a horse. Dating back at least to Virgil, the hippogriff is a creature obscure enough to have been mostly forgotten by the public consciousness until Rowling chose to include a hippogriff character, Buckbeak, as a major element in her third book. In her story, hippogriffs are intelligent if seemingly nonsentient creatures with a sense of honor that makes interacting with them dangerous for the disrespectful, as one Draco Malfoy quickly learns.

The hippogriff has also been known as the "hippogryph" and the "hippogryphe", and is supposedly what happens when a mare breeds with a griffin. The griffin, you might know, is a very similar mythological creature that has the head of an eagle and the body of a lion.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Harry Potter, #2) by J.K. Rowling

From giants and vampires to hippogriffs and hobs (aka, House Elves!), Rowling's Wizarding World is rich with mythological references and legendary creatures. Upon the cover of her second novel, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, one can find an illustration of a creature known as a phoenix. This particular phoenix is Fawkes, a crimson bird owned by Albus Dumbledore, and it plays a large role in the climax of the novel, during which it uses one of its fabled magical abilities.

Dating back to Ancient Greeks cutlure, the phoenix is a bird famous for its cycle of rebirth. It has a strong association with the Sun and flames, and in some stories, it dies in a conflagration and is subsequently reborn from the ashes of its own demise. In the modern era, the phoenix has additional associations with Christian mythology.

The Flower Fairies (Fairy Realm, #2) by Emily Rodda

Emily Rodda makes this list once again with her Fairy Realm series, which, while not as expansive and imaginatively built as her Deltora setting, is a delightful series in its own right. Tailored for children who might be going through a "fairy phase", the Fairy Realm series involves a little girl with mystical ancestry traveling to the world of the fairies and going on heroic adventures.

But while the type of fairies that appear in Fairy Realm and The Flower Fairies might be familiar to us in our post-Tinkerbell era, they are actually a rather recent reinterpretation of the creatures alternately known as the fae or the fair folk or by many more specific and regional names. In some cases, the term fairy has been used to describe a vast wealth of creatures that include goblins, gnomes, elves, and similar creatures, including the aforementioned hobs that inspired Rowling's House Elves. In other cases, fairies are a specific creature unto themselves. In fact, the English concept of fairy is something of a conglomeration of Germanic elves and various creatures from Celtic and French folklore, and it shifted dramatically more toward its modern manifestation (that of tiny Tinkerbell fairies) during the Victorian era.

In general, what all fairies have in common is that they are humanoid but decidedly not human, and they have some degree of magic. Some of them are tiny, some of them are child-size, and some of them are or can be the same size as a human adult. They are closely associated with nature in most if not all of their incarnations, though some Christian interpretations of the concept state that fairies are actually earthbound former angels. (Other once-held beliefs include the notion of fairies being the spirits of the dead, demigods of some form, or a "hidden people" descendant from an unidentified prehistoric race.)

So while the Tinkerbell-style fairy is what's popular today (in spite of a small resurgence in our pop culture's familiarity with dangerous "fair folk"), there's an entire ocean of fairy mythology that's rarely touched by mainstream media. Harry Potter delved further into it than most modern stories, actually, but there's so much more to learn!

So, what's your favorite mythological creature? Do you know of any books or covers that feature it? Let me know in the comments below, and tune in next week for another Cover Characteristic!

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