Friday, May 28, 2010

Axehandle Hound

Another American "fearsome critter" of the Splinter Cat variety is the Axehandle Hound. I should explain that fearsome critter is a collective term for mythological beasties created by early lumberjacks to frighten and confuse yahoos like you and me. This particular critter is allegedly found in the states of Minnesota and Wisconsin. The Axehandle Hound looks like a dog with a distinctly axelike shape. The head is the blade, the body the handle, and the whole bundle is made mobile by four stubby little legs. Those stubby little legs propel the hound from lumber camp to lumber camp in pursuit of food. You may be wondering what such a critter eats. It eats AXE HANDLES naturally. All the Axehandle Hound eats is axe handles. It wanders from one lumber camp to another in search of neglected axe handles. Though the Axehandle Hound is called a fearsome critter, I don't find it very fearsome myself. I think it's kind of cute. It does have a strange diet though!


Jorge Luis Borges included the Axehandle Hound in his Book of Imaginary Beings. You can find it on Amazon HERE.

If you would like to experience the woods firsthand, somewhere in Minnesota there's a campground called Ax-Handle Hound. According to Wikipedia, it's on Little Fork River near the Voyageurs National Park. Lindens Grove is very near by. If you ever go, keep a close eye on your axe handles.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Firebird

The Firebird is a beautiful creature from Slavic folklore with magical glowing feathers and gleaming crystal eyes. Its glow is so intense a single feather can illuminate a room. While singing, pearls drop from its beak. Such beauty has inspired many quests to capture the elusive bird, usually at the command of a king or father. It's a classic fairy tale containing a long difficult journey, impossible tasks, and magical helpers. The best known Firebird tale is called Ivan Tsarevich and the Grey Wolf. 


In that story, a Tsar has three sons, two of whom are lazy and selfish, and a third (Ivan) who is brave and dependable but so young he must beg permission to join the quest. The Tsar covets the Firebird, who snatched many pure golden apples from his orchard, and eluded capture save for one glowing feather. The magical grey wolf helper assists the youngest son, after guiltily eating Ivan's horse. Though along the way Ivan makes many mistakes (he's a bit of a slow learner), he ultimately gains not only the Firebird, but a fabulous horse with a golden mane and a princess named Helen the Beautiful. The deceitful older brothers are aptly punished by becoming a scullion and cowherd. The entire story can be found at the SurLaLune  website.  


The Firebird also appears in an animated Russian film called The Humpbacked Horse. It was released in the year 1947, being directed by Ivan Ivanov and written by Pyotr Tershov. There's an American version called The Magic Pony from the year 1977.

Igor Stravinsky composed a ballet called the Firebird. A clip can be seen on You Tube HERE.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Black Shuck

Walking alone down a dark road, you notice a strange black dog staring at you. It stands very still, with huge eyes glinting red in the moonlight, seeming to choose you for some unknown purpose. Should you run, or should you stand quietly and hope it moves on. Suddenly, the dog turns and races away though the woods leaving you relieved, but fightened. There was something about that dog that didn't seem real. Perhaps what you saw was the ominous Black Shuck of British legend.

Black Shuck is a spectral dog said to haunt the Norfolk, Essex and Suffolk coast of England. Its eyes, sometimes glowing red, and sometimes green, are its most striking feature. They seen to bore a hole straight through the witnesses heart. The beast's size can vary as well. I suspect the greater the victims fear, the larger Black Shuck appears. Does it feed and grow on terror? 

Black Shuck has been the source of fear for a very long time. His name may mean demon, from the Anglo-Saxon word scucca, or possibly shaggy from the equally old word shucky. Alternately, he could be a historical memory of Odin's dog of war, Shukir. 

He usually brings tidings of ill, but not always. At times he seems content to merely terrify his quarry by dramatically floating in mist, or even appearing headless before his quaking watcher. 

Do you see the scorched scratch marks in this church door? Legend has it those scratches were caused by Black Shuck during a fierce thunder storm at a village named Blythburgh in Suffolk. In the year 1577, Shuck burst through the church entry, ran up the nave, and left a man and boy dead in his wake. As you can see, the scratch marks are still there for all the world to consider. They are called, by the way, the Devil's fingerprints.

On the same day, a second encounter with Black Shuck occurred in the nearby town of Bungay. Once again, Shuck burst through the church door, ran up and down the nave and killed two people by wringing their necks. 


You shouldn't be surprised if Black Shuck sounds familiar. A very similar spectral dog is featured in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's, The Hound of the Baskervilles. Sherlock Holmes finds an entirely logical solution to the hound's existence. Logic is always reassuring. So if you meet as large black dog with glowing eyes, remember there is a logical answer to everything. Or is there?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Splinter Cat

One legendary beastie found over much of North America is the Splinter Cat. This terrifying kitty is about as large as a Bobcat with a strong muscular neck, a broad head containing nothing of any consequence, and a bony skull plate that's harder than a Ram's horn. It also has an unfortunate propensity towards nasty headaches. The headaches are caused by its method of hunting tasty chipmunks, squirrels and opossums in the thick mountain forests it calls home. Since the little dinner morsels tend to hide in tree hollows, the Splinter Cat climbs a neighboring tree, and hurls itself head-first into the marked tree's trunk. It will hurl itself over and over until the poor tree is nothing but a mass of splinters, and the meal is captured and consumed. After eating, the strange kitty takes a nap, partly because it's full, and partly to sleep off its splitting headache. As Splinter Cats are nocturnal, you probably won't see one during daytime forest walks. But if you do, remember its terrible headaches cause a perpetual foul mood, and may require your hasty retreat from the area. This is especially true during mating season, when the males show off by destroying as many trees as possible in a frenzied display of strength. In a note of caution, if you should meet a Splinter Cat, DO NOT hold still, but jump around shouting while spinning your arms like a windmill. This is so the Splinter Cat won't confuse you with a squirrel containing tree, and try to split you open. 


The obvious result of a Splinter Cat attack.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


Enbarr is a horse in Irish mythology whose name means imagination. He belonged to Niamh, the Queen of Tir na nOg (Land of Youth) and daughter of Manannan (God of the Sea). Enbarr could run across sea and land without touching water or ground. In addition, he could not be killed by man or god. There is a story about Niamh and Enbarr. Once, Niamh asked Fionn mac Cumhail if his son Oisin (a mortal) could travel with her to Tir na nOg. Oisin, being a good son, said he would return home soon. After living three years in Tir na nOg, Oisin became homesick. Borrowing Enbarr with the promise to not get off the horse or touch Irish soil, he set off to find his family. Upon reaching home, he discovered three years in Tir na nOg equaled three hundred in his own land, and sadly his family was dead. Travelling through Ireland, he came across workman laboring to move a boulder. Trying to help while riding Enbarr, Oisin fell to the ground and instantly became an old man. Niamh, who since had a daughter named Plor na nBan, returned to Ireland to find the missing Oisin. She found him gone.