Oh, but we do love mythical creatures, especially when they come visit the local museum. And it just happens to be #MuseumWeek on Twitter (March 23 - 29), which is meant to be a celebration of culture around the world, so my timing is spot on to bring you news of the latest exhibit I went to see.
"Mythical beasts are creatures of the human imagination. They make up a strange fauna, shaped from our hopes and aspirations but much more from our deepest fears. They are the wildlife of the unconscious, a zoo peopled by the shadow-creatures that haunt our dreams." -- Introduction to The Mythic Bestiary by Tony Allen.*
Who knew a museum dedicated to science and nature would be interested in mythical creatures, but it turns out many of these beasts are rooted in reality. And it was fascinating to see how the natural world intersected with myth and imagination. You couldn't help but sympathize with our ancestors as they attempted to make sense of the unexplained world around them.
The exhibit began with sea creatures:
Mermaids, of course, are often attributed to porpoise or manatee sightings by sailors who've been away from home for a very long time. What surprised me was how many different cultures share the myth, from Arabia to the Caribbean.
They also had this lovely creature on display. Supposedly this is the same "Feejee" mermaid trickery P.T. Barnum used as a side-show attraction. It's actually a papermache head stuck on a fish body.
|Release the Kraken! (photo source)|
And then there were the land creatures:
Evidence for unicorns comes from the physical proof of, um, well, narwhale tusks, which do look remarkably magical and convincing.
Researchers have found a fossilized jaw bone that suggests this giant inspiration for King Kong/Bigfoot/The Yeti actually did exist in China 300,000 years ago. This model stood about eight feet tall and scared the crap out of the kids walking by it. Heh.
And not to be outdone, we have our own mythical creatures here in Colorado. Bigfoot still gets the occasional sighting, as do the fur-bearing trout (those mountains are cold in the winter!) and the jackalopes. Methinks a hoaxer's best friend is the taxidermist.
And let's not forget the beasts of the air:
Oh, this pegasus was stunning against a stormy backdrop. I wants one.
This giant creature of the air is a Roc. A bird large enough to carry
off an elephant -- or two hobbits and a gray wizard when they find themselves in a tricky situation. Interestingly, there is fossil evidence of very large birds having once existed. The museum had on display a model of an Aepyornis and a real example of one of its enormous eggs.
And, of course, our favorite dragons were on display. The western version shown above was 17 feet long and had a wingspan of 20 feet. They also had a great Chinese dragon snaking its way along the ceiling, the kind you see in parades. It's easy to see why so many different cultures would have a dragon myth. They do tend to explain all that smoke and fire shooting out of volcanos and why the earth shakes so violently sometimes.
So that's a small taste of what was on display at the Mythic Creatures Exhibit. And in case you're wondering if these creatures perhaps really DO exist (and of course they do, though in a parallel wizard world, duh), I'll leave you with this popular newspaper ad making the rounds on social media.
What's your favorite mythical creature? Do you write about them? Talk to them? Feed them? Ride them? Oh, don't we wish.
*You know I bought this book. I'm the perfect sucker for when they make you exit through the gift shop!