One of the staples of the fantasy genre are the magical beasts from mythology and the recesses of the author’s imagination. Yes, I’m aware that some people feel that such things are overused and no longer have a place in the genre. In fact, I’ve gotten into that debate several times. Seriously, how can someone say dragons are fine, but they get angry about unicorns, griffins, mermaids, and the rest of the menagerie? I digress and now I will repress the anger.
Magical worlds are filled with unique creatures ranging from large versions of regular animals to off the wall critters. Look at Middle Earth for this. You have beasts that range from giant spiders to sentient trees to the terrifying Balrog (as seen to the right). They roam the wilds and attack cities. They appear to the pure of heart or obey the darkest of wills. Most of them tend to be living in the ruins of ancient civilizations that were destroyed by the citizens’ own hubris. The point here is that nearly every fantasy series has at least one creature that is not from the real world.
The challenge with including such beasts is the ‘HOW’. The Hobbit (book!) had Smaug the dragon as the main enemy and other creatures were smaller obstacles. This is before the time where people got bored with the adventure tale. This type of story allows for the unique flora and fauna of a world to be displayed at relatively random intervals. D&D and video games would call these random encounters because they were typically not main plot essential. They were more for character evolution and world building. For example, the Hobbit would have gone the same without the giant spiders of Mirkwood, but Bilbo Baggins found his courage and Sting’s power there. Also, any creature could have been used for the effect, which seems to be another sign of how beasts are used.
Most of the new fantasy that I’ve read doesn’t touch on magical creatures unless the story focuses on them. Bears and wolves have taken the place of ogres and pegasi. Yet, dragons still show up and you see magical beasts on emblems. I’m not sure if this is a push to make fantasy more realistic or it’s just part of a cycle where the focus is more on human enemies than monsters. Personally, I like a balance, but I will admit that it’s difficult to put a monster into a story without it feeling like a random encounter or a dungeon crawl. The Compass Key has tons of battles against unique creatures, so I do worry about this. The first act has the heroes wandering a swamp, the second act involves a lost tomb for a chapter, and the third act is in a place I can’t talk about. Monsters are everywhere in these relatively untouched regions of Windemere, so it makes sense to me that they would be there. To a reader though, it might not be seen that way. Yes, I know the adage ‘you can’t please everyone’.
So, what do people think of the use of magical beasts in literature? Are the days of anything that isn’t a dragon over? Seriously, why do dragons get a pass when they’re the most overdone critter? People get angry over a hobgoblin being used, but swoon over another red dragon. I just don’t get it.