Sunday, 1 February 2015

Mythical Creatures Chart explained

In mid 2012, I spent a week of late nights making an epic diagram of mythical creatures. Now suddenly, over the last 2 months, it's clocked up over 150,000 shares on Tumblr (thanks @Soopertreeman!).

So this is a blog post including the background and context I originally wrote up on the Redbubble product page (where you can buy it).

From assuming it would be an easy design taking 2 or 3 hours, it very quickly sucked me in as a huge project.

The more I looked up interesting mythical creatures I'd never heard of, like Uchchaihsharavas and Tikbalang and Makara, the more I was fixated on expanding and laying out this complicated diagram, ending up with 57 mythical creatures and legends made up from 17 real world animals.

Click to expand or check out products on Redbubble
And then I spent an entire week converting it into a underground subway map! You can see that below and buy it on Redbubble here.

ORIGIN

I had an idea for a Venn/Euler diagram of mythical creatures, and someone showed me Unwin and Carline’s chart from 2009. This is a very classy diagram but there are some inaccuracies (e.g. Mermaid is human + fish, not narwhal) and I knew I could make a far more comprehensive chart.

RESEARCH

Uchchaihshravas, flying 7-headed horse
in Hindu mythology. Image from Wikipedia
My research was conducted via Wikipedia and Google Images, along with my own knowledge and memories of playing Warhammer Fantasy Battle as a kid. I make no apology for this.

COMPROMISE

This was a difficult chart to create! I know that many people will either have a problem with the way I’ve laid it out, or a suggestion/complaint about something that hasn’t been included.

It's certainly not perfect, but this was the best I could do, and I’m happy with it.

ACTUAL MYTHICAL CREATURES

Unwin & Carline's 2009 diagram -
classy but minimal
All creatures and characters listed in the chart have a heritage in historical mythology.

One of my problems with Unwin and Carline’s chart from 2009 is the “Mermahuataur”, which they just made up for a joke, which is fair enough. That is not happening here though.

Recent inventions like the Pegacorn are not included (much as I love the Pegacorn).

Cryptids like the Loveland Frog and Yeti are not welcome here. Or Manbearpig! Sorry not sorry.

NO DUPLICATES

Centaur, Ipotane, Tikbalang and Buraq are all different combinations of horse + human. Pegasus, Hippogriff and Hippalectryon are all different versions of horse + bird.

Russian folklore features both the Sirin and the Gamayun, but they are identical in form, so only the Sirin was included.

DRAGON = LIZARD + BAT

Sleipnir, 8-legged horse in Norse mythology.
Image from Wikipedia
As a fan of dinosaurs, it would have been easy for me to include Dragon as lizard + bird. But dragon wings are strictly lizard-like, scaly and/or leathery wings, not feathered (unlike the Cockatrice). So they had to go down as lizard + bat.

THAT DAMN NARWHAL

I felt strange including the Narwhal like Unwin and Carline, because it seems like a mythical combination of animals in its own right. But it’s a real, single creature!

For Unicorn, I could have used rhino instead, but the nature and shape of the narhwal’s tusk is far closer to the unicorn’s horn.

CREATURES, THEN INDIVIDUALS

Gorgon is included instead of Medusa, but there is no clear name for a horse with wings, so Pegasus is included by name.

The same goes for humans or legends who are individuals and do not come from any species.

MYTHOLOGY NOT RELIGION

Longma, the Chinese "dragon horse".
Image from Wikipedia
This is a very hazy area, and one person’s religion is another person’s mythology. But I tried to stick to mythical creatures, rather than religious “gods”, and not including things like angels. Ammit, for instance, seems more of a mythical creature than the Egyptian gods like Anubis. Ultimately though I just used my own judgement.

FLYING OR NOT FLYING

Some creatures are sometimes known as having wings, but are not listed as part-bird, e.g. Chimaera. This is because some creatures are definitely, exclusively winged (e.g. the Lamassu) while some like the Chimaera and Manticore are not always winged.

LIZARD vs SNAKE vs SERPENT vs FISH

Some legends are not clear about whether something is part lizard or snake (Ladon, Hydra), or part snake or fish (Ophiotaurus). I’ve done my best.

MY FAVOURITES

Uchchaihshravas – 7-headed flying horse from Hindu mythology
Hippalectryon – back end of a rooster, front end of a horse. Great name!
Zahhak – Persian legend with snakes rising from his shoulders
Hecatonchires – the “hundred-handed” (and fifty-headed) destroyers of the Titans from Greek mythology
Chimaera – lion’s body and head, goat head, lizard head and snake for a tail. Can’t beat it for totally bad-ass monster.

THE COMPLETE LIST:

Ammit
Argos Panoptes
Bai Ze
Balaur
Basilisk
Buraq
Camahueto
Centaur
Cerberus
Chamrosh
Chimaera (chimera)
Cockatrice
Cyclops
Dragon
Dryad
Echidna
Gandaberunda
Geryon
Gorgon
Griffon (Griffin, Gryphon)
Harpy
Hecate
Hecatonchires (Hekatonkheires)
Hippalectryon
Hippocamp (Hippocampus)
Hippogriff
Hydra
Ichthyocentaur
Ipotane
Kaliya
Ladon
Lamassu
Longma
Makara
Manticore
Mermaid
Minotaur
Monopod
Myrmecoleon
Nuckelavee
Ophiotaurus
Orthrus
Pabilsag
Pegasus
Satyr
Sirin
Sleipnir
Sphinx
Sun Crow (Three-Legged Crow)
Tikbalang
Typhon
Uchchaihshravas
Unicorn
Vampire
Werewolf
Wyvern
Zahhak