MUOM: The Quinotaur

 

Quinotaur

Welcome to the first of a new series attempt: The Monthly Underated and Obscure Monster (MUOM).

In this post and future ones like it, I’ll endeavor to bring what appears to be a largely unknown and underrated monster from cultures around the world forth, in an attempt to give some stage space to mythical creatures that ought to have some more attention.

Popular fantasy is so oversaturated with things like unicorns, griffins/gryphons — I won’t even get started on the humanoid ones dwarves and elves, which I hate  — and, of course, the star of all fantasy stories, the dragon. With all these creatures (deservedly) hogging the spotlight, it’s all too easy to overlook some really imaginative and wild things that appear elsewhere in the world.

First up, November’s MUOM: The Quinotaur.

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For those familiar with minotaurs – and I posit that most of you are – yes, there is something rather bullish about the quinotaur that has nothing to do with the stock market.

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In other news, one of my favorite and influential minotaur depictions, from Time Bandits (1982).

 

The quinotaur, on the other hand, originates from Frankish mythology, a branch of culture that I find thoroughly unexplored. To that end, it’s extremely difficult to find any imagery of this beast, let alone gif-able movie depictions.

The quinotaur is an aquatic beast, known apparently for siring the line of Merovingian kings back in the 5th Century (though first mention of the quinotaur comes from The Chronicle of Fredegar, a manuscript that detailed myths and culture back in Frankish Gaul). To catch you up, the people we call the Franks were valiant opposers of the Roman Empire, labeled as a Germanic tribe that roamed the lands along the River Rhine. They are the ancestors of — you guessed it — folks living in what we now call France.
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According to the wikipedia entry, there is speculation on the naming of the creature, specifically whether the name was coined by the original (unknown) author, or if it was translated from the Frankish word into Latin.

Quin, such as seen in quintet or quintuplet, meaning five, and -taur meaning bull, comes to roughly mean “five-bull” or “bull-five.” This has been interpreted as a bull with five horns, but as I write this I could – in spite of the earliest known sketch – suggest a bull with five anything; five heads, five tails, or five dicks.

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No, seriously, it is up to interpretation, and considering the mythology surrounding how the quinotaur is held to be responsibly for siring the Merovingian Dynasty, well, one could say anything goes, as ancient mythology can and has been considerably less tame than what I’m suggesting.

The five-horn thing seems to be the most readily accepted though, as far as Google Images suggests anyway. In my humble research I did uncover concept art for a game out there called Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends, where an attempt at a “fresh new take” on the quinotaur appears.

quinnie

Evidently they abandoned the whole aquatic aspect of the creature, and built up on the bullish five-horn traits. You can find more of Jasen Gillen’s awesome concept art in his online gallery.

I have a super soft spot for concept art, particularly that concerning landscapes and mythical creatures. I cannot say whether or not these quinotaurs appear in Rise of Legends, or any other of Big Huge Games’ titles, as this concept art is apparently dated at the same year of the game’s release. It could be for an expansion in the works or a discarded idea (as many concepts are) for all I know.

That particular interpretation aside, what we have in the quinotaur is a largely obscure, enigmatic creature the likes of which I can only compare to the currently accepted modern-interpretation of the capricorn. It is a peculiar monster that may have common connections to ancient Greek fertility rituals, as the bull is often associated with such things — though the ancient Greeks are not alone in that.

Got a suggestion for the next MUOM? Are there any obscure creatures you thoroughly enjoy but think deserve more love? Let me know what you think!

Inspiration: The Grudge

This is not so much a review of the movie The Grudge as it’s about a topic sparked by its theme.

So The Grudge is a movie from 2004, based on a Japanese horror film of the same name (called “Ju-On” from 2002). I forget exactly when I first saw it, probably a year or two after, as I did not watch it in a theater, and I’m thoroughly glad I didn’t.

Granted, this image is from the Grudge 2, but you get the idea.

Granted, this image is from the Grudge 2, but you get the idea. Most of the images online are a bit too gruesome than I’d prefer to have posted here.

Once, I swore I would never watch that movie again. As of this writing, I only just saw it a second time, with someone new, who insisted we watch ‘the scariest movie I knew.’

God dammit.

The Grudge follows a number of tropes in common with the ever-popular title “The Ring” also from 2002 (“Ringu,” 1998, in Japan). In this humble writer’s opinion, the American versions are significantly scarier, as they retain the psychological horror aspect as found in the original Japanese versions, but with the added American flavor of jump-scare emphasis.

If you haven’t heard of any of these pieces, or are largely unfamiliar with the J-Horror genre of psychological horror movies, I don’t know how to prepare you better than to say: Beware. For many people around the world, this kind of stuff is really bloody frightening.

The common theme among nearly all of these sorts of movies – not only J-Horror, but K-Horror (Korean) as well, and throughout a much of East and South-East Asian cinema, is a paranormal manifestation the likes of which probably everyone in the world would recognize on sight.

I’m talking about what the Japanese call a yūrei, what the Koreans call a gwisin, what the Vietnamese call a ma. You know, ghosts. And, just like the word “ghost” in English can mean a number of things, these are all generic categories. What I’m talking about, though, is a specific type.

The vengeful, Long-Haired Ghost.

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And yet, oddly beautiful. Or am I just a freak?

They’re quite iconic, and almost never pleasant. They’re most commonly spirits of dead folks who have been wronged, and are generally hateful of anyone or anything that interacts with them, or the places/objects they haunt. This, at least, is the common thread linking the majority of these films, and some of us can’t get enough of it.

I went through a phase once, a couple years back, where I watched I watched a Korean ghost movie almost every night – at least once every couple of days – over the course of a few months. This resulted in my seeing shadows in the corners of my eyes during the day for many months after the fact.

Oh yes, those were good times, working in a health food store only to whip your head around to make sure there wasn’t some pale, bloody phantasm creepily herky-jerky-ing its way down the vitamin aisle.

Most of the time it’s been nothing.

But there were some horrendous nightmares that come every now and then. Heck, I still get them sometimes – things I’d actually prefer not to describe at present – so yeah, on that note, let’s talk about why this stuff is awesome.

For one thing, I’ve actually grown braver about a multitude of things. Or perhaps a little desensitized – is there a difference? Certainly, the line between bravery and stupidity is notoriously thin, but then again so is the line between confidence and actual ability. At any rate, the point is that I’ve been able to explore topics and media that in the past I might have otherwise been averse to exploring. Fear is something that interests me, and not only with the Long-Haired Ghosts, but other creepy things, but with other things creepy and terrifying.

As I’ve said once or twice before, things that are creepy are scary.  Just ask H.R. Giger. Man, do I love linking that VSauce video.

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Five Night’s At Freddy’s, one of the most horrifying games I’ve ever seen. As of this post it’s pretty new, too, check it out.

This has, in fact, benefited my writing as well as my outlook on life.

The Long-Haired Ghost is something I’ve found to be repulsive and inspiring. While not directly appearing in my fiction, it has, like I said, allowed me to discover other things – and write about other things – that one might normally find difficult to entertain, or write. On the other hand, situations, creatures, or scenes that might be considered horrific by many are fairly normal to me.

Re: desensitization/bravery. I feel that as a writer, this valuable.

Besides, seeing The Grudge for the second time did raise the hairs on my arms and back of my neck, but it wasn’t quite as scary.

My guest freaked out readily enough, though, so mission accomplished.

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Today’s track is brought to you by A Tale of Two Sisters, a K-Horror that stands as one of my favorites. I’ve seen the movie twice – once, alone, during that phase earlier mentioned, and once with another person and it was significantly less scary…

The soundtrack is actually, in this humble writer’s opinion, much more delightful than the movie itself, though I’ll never forget the initial emotions evoked by my first viewing. Truth is, my mind paints a slightly different picture whenever I hear this music, and the picture in my head is better than the picture on film. Be that as it may, check out the soundtrack, if not the movie, and see what ideas appear upon the paper before you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inspire: Birds (Part 2)

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.

Cute and scary in one lovely package.

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.

I mean, come the hell on.

I mean, come the hell on.

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.

Happy writing!

Phrases

Today I shall share with you, dearest dukes and duchesses, what I believe are some over-used phrases that I see in writing. And by over-used, I mean I saw them often enough to actually make a list and blog about why they irritate me.

Describing something as razor sharp. The most common I see is “Razor sharp teeth,” “razor sharp claws,” or a sword/knife that’s been hones to a razor’s edge. This is lazy description to me. Whenever I see this, I feel the writer doesn’t really know what they’re actually suggesting. Fangs are technically not sharp, they’re really pointy. And a shark’s tooth is sharp as hell, but also serrated to tear through things. Have you looked at one recently?

No really guys, I'm serious.

Serious business.

Same with claws and talons. Claws are tough, but not sharp – they’re pointy, there’s a difference – and often claws serve a multi-function – climbing, digging, etc. A razor’s edge by definition is very thin, and by extension, frail. Something as useful as a claw or as brittle as a tooth (no big cat uses its long fangs to attack, only to kill subdued prey)  would actually be rendered fragile were it to have an edge. The same thing applies to weaponry. Ever hold a razor? Ever try swinging it, let alone hitting something? Without the aid of fantastical elements, which is fine, claws-teeth-metal blades would dent, bend, break if they actually had an edge as thin as a razor.

Be more imaginative.

The smell of fear / the smell of death. Look I’m all about describing the senses, not least of which is smell, but I hate this. When a writer uses this, it implies two things: 1) the readers know what death/fear smells like so it does not need further description and 2) the writer can’t think of anything better to write. Cheap cop-out in my opinion. What does death and fear smell like? At least try to describe what these abstract concepts are like when they reach our noses, or at least explain what it is that’s evoking the sense. Is akin to rot? Ash? Cigarette smoke

In any way, shape or form. Similar to above. Overused and usually not used properly. Thankfully it’s a modern phrase (and if you like to read, chances are you recognize how modern speech sorta spits on the rules of the language), and does not usually appear in fantasy writing.

Nothing more, and nothing less. I don’t really have a critique about this except that I think it’s overused. Gets the point across, but usually when people say (or write) this, it’s an exaggeration. Whenever it’s spoken by a character/live person, it translates in my head as “I’m so sure of myself that I can’t even imagine the possibility of something different.”

[More/worse/ect.] than you possibly imagine. I find this phrase insulting. Writing or saying this to someone suggests they have a weak imagination, and where I come from them’s fightin’ words. It’s even worse when a 1st Person Narrative actually directs it toward the reader. Another cheap cop-out, which brings us to the next and final phrase of the day…

It defies description. Or worse: it can’t be described. Well, isn’t that your job? You’re a writer. Describe it. Otherwise, you as the storyteller or the character are/is being lazy. Maybe that’s part of the theme – a character (narrator or otherwise) who for plot reasons actually is incapable of describing something – being terrified, for instance – but don’t be all like “I’d love to tell you but words fail me.” Words didn’t fail you. You failed the words.

How about you, dearest readers? Are there phrases that you see again and again that irritate you? Or do you disagree with what I have opined here?

/end rant. Subsequent posts will be more positive, I promise.

Filling Out A Notebook

Recently I filled out a notebook that was given to me about a year ago. Not one of those full-sized loose leaf types, but rather a hardcover, one-inch thick journal type of thing.

There’s something to be said about the feeling felt upon ‘completion’ of a notebook. Perhaps it’s mostly pride – accomplishment – but for me, it’s also galvanizing, because my next thought right after “Huh, no more paper,” is “Alright, where’s the next book at?”

Filling out a journal/notebook with one’s notes and sketches, ideaa and phrases, fun names discovered or plot-point questions asked of one’s self is not a big deal. I’ve filled out numerous notebooks in the past (I think I keep them somewhere, too, even after transcribing and patching them). I’m sure most other writers have, too. But I feel like in this digital age, the value of a good notebook might be overlooked. It’s no much a technophobic “hey, slow down and smell the ink” kind of thing, so much as a “Ahh, good times, am I right?”

The majority of my writing is digital. Big surprise. But I truly enjoy looking at a notebook, knowing I’ve filled every page with scribbled ink. This feeling is surmounted only by the sensation of holding a new, fresh notebook. A clean slate.

Just felt like sharing.

Writer’s Digest Conference East 2013

So lately I’ve been busy not only with the usual weavings of life, but come Saturday April 6th will be the weekend of the Writer’s Digest Conference of 2013 in Manhattan, NY. As might be surmised by the title of the post, this is the topic. I really hope I don’t have to write out that mouthful again.

Anyway, recent times have been mad as I do last-minute research. Aside a handful of workshops I’ll be attending on Saturday, I’ll be doing the Pitch Slam, where they line all us sad writers up to throw our books at agents. As the date approaches, I confess great eagerness, served with an increasingly heated side dish of anxiety. Typical.

No really, though. This is a big step. This will be my first writer’s conference, my first agent-pitch’ing, and (very likely) my first official publisher/agent rejections. If nothing else, I will have tried, for I positively refuse to let whatever negativity that might be generated as a result of the experience to dissuade me. I’m going and come hell or high water, I’m going to learn a lot.

To everyone else headed there, I wish you the best of luck – anyone reading this, well, let me know if you’ll be there. We’ll form a click. We’ll form a dance. We’ll snap our fingers like greasers – whatever it takes.

 

Flux Capacitor

Spontaneous creativity is truly a wondrous thing.

The other day I was working on a bit of plumbing in my shower, when I slipped and fell from my stool. I awoke to discover I’d hit my head on the edge of the sink as I fell, but when I came to, I had in my head the ultimate idea that would tie together all the plot points and loose ends of my novel. Not long after that, a charismatic lad from twenty years in the future was knocking at my door and some hi jinks ensued involving a stylish car, a clock tower, and the slowest bolt of lightning in the history of recorded science.

Yeah. Subtle. Like a ninja.

Anyway, Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown raises an interesting point. When he came up with the schematic for his flux capacitor, the piece needed to invent the DeLorean Time Machine was essentially already in his brain, locked away or hidden beneath layers of consciousness  The answer was likely made up of bits of information he already knew, but was connected in such a way as to form a complete thought. An idea.

Have you ever had a dream, where circumstances or events were utterly ridiculous? Simply impossible? Yet in the dream, they happen, they function, they work. I’d be willing to venture that this concept envelops Doc’s revelation. Now, let’s apply this to our lives. I’m talking about creativity; to narrow it down, art and imaginative writing.

One takes a brush, smears a stroke of pigment. With enough strokes and some variation of color, an image can be produced. One takes up a pen, scribbles a word. With the addition of more, in a certain order, one forms a sentence. One uses red colored paint as one uses the word for ‘red.’

Flux capacitors, paintings and novels have something in common: they were all created by arranging pre-existing elements that were already in the brain. I find this interesting because the idea seems to be a little at odds with the ‘something from nothing’ concept. Creativity comes from somewhere, and it very well could be as simple as arranging information in our brains in new ways.

Let’s say you know every word in your language. Let’s say you know every color, every type of brush stroke. With this theory, you possess in your head every painting and every novel.