As was mentioned in Part 1, birds are such a varied an interesting form of life that they can inspire one’s writing – mythological or otherwise. I’m well aware that the subject of birds is hardly an original topic; after all, everyone knows that birds can be elegant, graceful, delicate and resilient, right?
Why else would a Brit call a pretty woman a bird, or we sometimes say that someone sings like a canary, or struts like a peacock or has the eyes of a hawk? This list goes on.
Today, though, we’re gonna cover fear. And yes, we’re still on the topic of birds.
Exhibit A) Barn Owls
I recall being very frightened of what I always called “owl eyes” when I was a young child. The image of a pair of eyes, staring at me from the dark, was apparently enough to keep me from venturing outdoors at night. These days, I’m happy to report that while seeing some eyes in the dark might be alarming, but that childhood fear has evolved into a less-than-rational discomfort with this creature, the barn owl.
It looks vaguely human enough for me to prescribe human emotion – or lack thereof – in its face, and as any student of fear knows, things that that resemble the familiar are creepy. Something about the cold, indifferent gaze of a barn owl, say, while you lay bleeding in the woods at night would make a fitting keystone of terror in my book. I’ll never forget that split-second scene from Milo & Otis.
I managed to harness this imagery in creating a notable character, a parasitic evil spirit from the Void, in my novel-in-progress. In designing and describing the character, I had hoped to emphasize the character’s familiarity – perhaps he may have once been human – while evoking the same sense of dread that I at times experienced looking at a barn owl.
Exhibit B) Prehistoric Terror Birds
Now, as a fantasy writer I often find myself straddling the line between being “imaginative” and “superstitious,” not that they are mutually exclusive. I don’t believe in reincarnation, but I’ve pondered it for years and think it’s a great idea. Now, if ever I had a previous life, I have a strong notion it was as a prehistoric person that was killed by a terror bird.
The fact the these things actually existed only serves to amplify the primal fear I get when imaging them. Heck, I got a kick out of that forgettable movie 10,000 BC, but the terror bird scene? The sounds made by the beasts in question genuinely made me nervous.
Okay fine, there’s a good reason to be afraid of any creature that would consider you a meal. Surely, Jesse, there’s something unique about these animals that makes you remember the time you were doing a childhood sleepover at a friend’s house – then after watching the scene in Encino Man where Link finds himself in a museum, seeing the bones of prehistoric creatures from his old time – and the sound designer for that movie played various animal calls during the close-ups of the displays, including the skeleton of a terror bird – and the the sound scared you so much you had to go back home that night?
No sir. No good reason at all.
Perhaps it was that event that shaped my thoughts regarding terror birds. The writer-side of me wants to imagine that I possess some sort of genetic memory of these things, but probably not. The analytical side of me, on the other hand, simply recognizes that I’m probably just unnerved by titanic parakeets.
Seriously, though, a bird is sort of the step in between a dinosaur and a mammal. There’s a certain otherness to birds. I get the same vibe when being eyeballed by a snake or a fish, as if a predatory creature such as these might look upon me and think “We have nothing in common, so I have absolutely no reserves in eating you.” Not that predatory birds/reptiles/fish/mammals don’t eat other mammals/fish/reptiles/birds, but I thought I’d just s hare the angst.