Several creatures cross the boundaries of cryptid, fearsome critter, and monster. Take the Hodag for example. Originating from logging camp lore, this popular fearsome critter morphed into a monster found in video games, cartoons, and even the Harry Potter series. Some cryptid sites report sightings of the creature by local fisherman and cryptid hunters, placing the hodag in the category of cryptid. Such crossovers blur the lines until one wonders just what is the difference between cryptids, fearsome critters and monsters?
Here’s a basic breakdown.
Fearsome critters are the made up creatures found in tall tales primarily invented by lumberjacks. You can find a comprehensive article and origin of the words fearsome critter over at A Book of Creatures.
Mel and I dive a little into the logging camp culture as we set the stage for rising of the Bigfoot Culture in The Legend of Bigfoot: Leaving His Mark On the World.
For the lumberjacks, teasing became a way of testing and proving one’s masculinity; coming up with a joke showed cleverness. The give-and-take of ribbing displayed strength, a necessary skill for fitting in. And it cemented relationships on the job. It wasn’t uncommon for journalists and photographers to enter the camps on Sundays. Knowing this, one Wisconsin lumberjack named Eugene Shepherd, a reputable prankster, claimed to have caught a hodag— the rhino of America’s North woods. With a photographer on hand, Shepard gathered a group of friends and positioned them around a beast trapped on a log, posing the gang as if they were going to kill it. He had a picture taken and made into a postcard that sold thousands. Seeing is believing. That fearsome critter of the north brought in tourists from all over the country.The Legend of bigfoot: leaving his mark on the world, chapter 4: Bigfoot culture
Bigfoot is certainly the most well known creature to crossover from fearsome critter status to full blown cryptid. After employees of the Wallace Brothers Logging Company presented a casting of an oversized footprint to the local newspaper, Bigfoot sightings increased all over North America.
Per Merrian Webster, “a cryptid is an animal (such as Sasquatch or the Loch Ness Monster) that has been claimed to exist but never proven to exist.” The first recorded use of the word was in 1983 by John E. Wall in the International Society of Cryptozoology Newsletter. You can read more about the origin of the word in this article by Loren Coleman.
Common cryptids include Bigfoot (or Sasquatch), the Loch Ness Monster, the Jersey Devil (America’s original cryptid), Mothman, Thunderbirds, Dogman, and literally hundreds of others. These cryptids range from realistic, such as the Tasmanian Tiger, to wildly the fantastical–like my personal favorite–Frogman. (But, in his defense, the first eyewitnesses reported the creature looked like a giant lizard). Much depends on who is talking about the encounters and how they personally interpret the information.
Merriam Webster gives us several definitions, but for the sake of this article, let’s remove any reference to humans and inanimate objects. That leaves us with this:
- an animal or plant of abnormal form or structure.
- one who deviates from normal or acceptable behavior or character.
- a threatening force.
- an animal of strange or terrifying shape.
- something monstrous (a host of behavioral qualities that we can apply to the monster).
Any animal, cryptid, or fearsome critter could be a monster. As well as mythological creatures, aliens, atmospheric beasts, and humanoid characters etc. There’s no real parameter placed on a monster. Behavior and purpose define them.
One could argue that all monster origin can be found in literary works that have evolved from tales that date back as far as man. But the first known and recorded monster tale is the Epic of Gilgamesh written around 1800 BCE.
Vampires, werewolves, zombies, sirens were all introduced to the public through literary works for the purpose of explanation, teaching, and entertainment. But perhaps my favorite explanation for the creation of monsters is that it is a device used to give fear a face.
What is your favorite monster?
What monster most frightens you?
Which do enjoy reading/talking about more: fearsome critters, cryptids, or monsters?
“Today, I will live in the moment, unless it’s unpleasant, in which case I’ll eat a cookie.” –Cookie Monster.