Sunday, August 21, 2011


   One thing that most people who love Halloween and scary things  have in common is a love of good books and a love of monsters, mysteries and the bizarre. This list combines the lot by selecting the most horrifying of all monsters from literature through the ages. Be sure to use the comments to tell us your own favorites.

10.  The Giant Squid/20,000 Leagues under the Sea, by Jules Verne

   Captain Nemo’s underwater ship, Nautilus, is equipped with the world’s most adanced weaponry for the 1800s, including electrified bullets. But near the end of the novel, Nautilus is swarmed by a school of “poulpes,” which is the French word for “octopi.” It is almost always translated as “giant squid” because one pouple in particular becomes entangled in Nautilus’s propellers, and the crew has to go topside and battle it with axes, harpoons and knives.
   Verne never gives the squid’s size, but implies it, “one of these animals, only six feet long, would have tentacles 27 feet long. That would make a formidable monster.” While battling it, the squid manages to grab up one crewman and drown him, then devour him before the others chop off its entangling tentacles and drive it away. The real horror of this monster is that Verne was always interested in being realistic in his science fiction, and giant squids are real.
   We now have photographic evidence, and the largest species is believed to be at least 40 feet long, with the muscular strength to crush a crush a small schooner like a tin can. Its tentacles are lined with serrated teeth and sharp hooks that can slice human skin like a razor. They have the largest beak of all animals, large and strong enough to bite off a human hand. The largest recorded specimen weighed 1,091 pounds.

9.  The Minotaur/Greek mythology

   The minotaur is a cross between a human and a bull, and the story of its creation is a lot of fun. King Minos had a wife and queen named Pasiphae, whom Poseidon cursed with lust for a giant white bull he sent to Minos’s island, Crete. Pasiphae would dress provocatively and saunter past the bull, but the bull didn’t care at all.
   So she whined to her husband until he ordered Daedalus, his captive engineer, to build a huge, hollow bull for Pasiphae to climb into. She did so, they wheeled it into the bull’s pasture, and he promptly had his way with her. Their offspring was so monstrous and evil, devouring every human he could get his hands on. So Minos ordered Daedalus to construct a giant labyrinth in which the minotaur will be housed and unable to escape.
   In order to keep the minotaur from trying to find his way out, Minos orders 7 men and 7 women thrown into the labyrinth every year to keep the minotaur content. The minotaur is finally killed by Theseus, who uses a ball of thread given to him by Ariadne to find his way out of the labyrinth.

8.  The Wendigo/Algonquian mythology
   One of this lister’s favorites. The mythos surrounding this monster varies with each tribe of the Algonquian languages, among which tribes are the Cree, Ojibwa, Montagnais and others. As cited on Wikipedia is the Ojibwa description of the Wendigo:
“Gaunt to the point of emaciation, its desiccated skin pulled tautly over its bones. With its bones pushing out against its skin, its complexion the ash gray of death, and its eyes pushed back deep into their sockets, the Wendigo looked like a gaunt skeleton recently disinterred from the grave. What lips it had were tattered and bloody [....] Unclean and suffering from suppurations of the flesh, the Wendigo gave off a strange and eerie odour of decay and decomposition, of death and corruption.”
   The Wendigo is a horrifying cannibalistic apparition that devours humans, and can assume their form in some of the tribes’ variations of the mythos. In all Algonquian tribes, any human who resorts to cannibalism will turn into a Wendigo forever. The best part of this mythos lies in the Abenaki tribe of Maine and Eastern Quebec. They feared the Wendigo because it would attack sleeping campers at night out in the wilderness (and Maine and Quebec have some very wild wildernesses), and cook and eat them feet first. Everyone in the area would hear the victims’ eerie distant screams.

7.  Pennywise the Dancing Clown/It, by Stephen King

   Just one more reason not to like clowns. Tim Curry’s portrayal in the film version is outstanding, but the book is a hundred times better. This is King’s absolute pinnacle of scaring people. Pennywise is the name by which the monster goes when in the form it believes will entice most children to come near it. It has been around for millions of years and arrived on Earth from an extraterrestrial origin. It appears to a person in the form of whatever most terrifies him or her. If a person, especially a child, does not know, at first, to be afraid of it, it appears as a clown to lure the person closer.
   It hibernates for some 25-30 years and wakes up during some horrible catastrophe or act of violence. It assumes the form of anything it wants, in order to terrify human beings, especially children, whose fears are easy to manifest. But its most common disguise is as a clown carrying balloons that float against the wind. Its first scene is the infamous sewer scene, in which it stands up in a rainy sewer while little Georgie Denbrough is looking for his toy sailboat.
   Pennywise offers him the boat and balloons, and when Georgie reaches in to get it, Pennywise rips his arm out of the socket and devours it with horrible, ragged lion teeth. Georgie bleeds to death in the gutter screaming in agony. It appears later in life to Georgie’s brother, Bill, as Count Dracula with razorblades for teeth, and chops its jaws together on its own lips, slicing them open inches from his face in a library, just to horrify him.
   All it wants it to eat people, and people taste best when they are terrified. It delights in causing as much psychological, emotional and physical agony in people as it possibly can. The human mind can, only in terms of fear, approximate Pennywise’s true physical form. The most common human fear is arachnophobia, and thus, at the end, to the grown-up children who pursue it into the sewers, it appears as a very fast, gigantic, black spider with enormous fangs.

6.  Scylla/The Odyssey, by Homer


   Scylla is also one of the great stories of Greek mythology, but Homer, whether man or committee, so popularized the monster that we think of it in Homeric terms. The story is a metaphor, similar to that of Daedalus and Icarus, for following the middle ground, and not veering too far one way or the other.
   In the Odyssey, Circe informs Odysseus that his route will take through the Strait of Scylla and Chraybdis. Charybdis is a huge whirlpool that will sink his ship. It will be better, thus, for him to sail closer to Scylla and lose a few men, rather than all of them.
This he does, and Homer sings, “…gasping, they squirmed as Scylla swung them up her crag and into her cavernous mouth she gobbled them up raw, howling and flailing their arms at me.”
   Scylla’s appearance is horrid beyond reason: four eyes, six necks stretched long like  hungry half-feathered chicks, huge, nasty heads, with three rows of ragged, shark teeth in each. Twelve tentacle legs and a cat’s tail with six dog heads blistered out around her waist.

5.  Fenris/Norse mythology

   Fenris (or Fenrir) is a colossal, shaggy black wolf, the offspring of Loki, god of mischief. According to the Heimskringla, and the Poetic and Prose Eddas, Fenris will attack and kill Odin himself, the king of the gods, during Ragnarok. Ragnarok is the Viking Armageddon, during which time, every single god and goddess will fight and die in battle. Almost all human beings will be destroyed in the turmoil, and the Universe itself wiped out and recreated anew by the All-father.
   Thor, god of thunder, will meet the cosmic midgard serpent, Jormungandr, who encircles the entire world and bites his own tail. When he releases his tail to fight Thor, Ragnarok will begin, and he and Thor will kill each other. Loki will fight Heimdallr, the horn god of wisdom, and they will kill each other.
   Fenris, meanwhile, is a huge wolf with a taste for human flesh. He grows ever larger with each person he devours, until, by the time of Ragnarok, he is the size of a continent or the whole world. His gaping lower jaw drags the ground while his upper jaw touches the sky. He fights and defeats Odin, then swallows him whole and alive. Then Odin’s son, Vithar, rips Fenris’s jaws apart and impales him. In some versions of the mythos, Fenris eats Odin, and then swallows the entire world before Vithar can stop him. Viking lore is so much fun.

4.  Medusa/Greek mythology
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   Perhaps the purest entry on this list in terms of physical horror, Medusa is the daughter of sea gods Phorcys and Ceto, and in the original version of the mythos, she and her three sisters, also snake-haired and ugly, always existed in their monstrous form. It’s the late addition popularized by Ovid in his Metamorphoses that gives Medusa the backstory of once being so beautiful that Poseidon raped her in Athena’s temple.
   This infuriated Athena, who promptly transformed Medusa into a snake-haired hag so hideous that even looking into her eyes would turn any living thing into stone. This is where the saying “so scared I was petrified” etc. comes from. In most versions of the mythos, Medusa is beheaded by Perseus, who watches her mirror image in his shield to protect himself from looking at her.

3.  The Balrog/The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien

   Hard to say which is more horrifying, the Balrog, or Shelob, the giant spider (or Ungoliant, from The Silmarillion). Out of a desire not to repeat an author twice, this lister chose the Balrog and left Shelob off. Giant spiders are definitely not anyone’s idea of something to hug. But the Balrog is a gigantic demon that can shroud itself in undying fire, and wields a massive flaming whip, and a gargantuan flaming sword. It has claws of steel, and may have huge, bat-like wings of darkness.
   Tolkien appears never to have been satisfied with his creation, as he kept changing it, but the character in the Lord of the Rings is so powerful that no one in its 5,000 years of history in Middle-earth can overcome it, until it meets Gandalf. It survives the First Age War of Wrath and flees to the bottom of the Misty Mountains. In Third Age 1980, the dwarves mining mithril in the Mountains disturbed it, and all of them cobined could not defeat it, so they fled forever. Orcs and goblins moved in, sent by Sauron to secure the Mountains for his coming war, and the Balrog let them stay. They lived in absolute terror of it.
   When the Fellowship of the Ring became trapped by the orcs in 3019, Gandalf the Grey tried to thwart it with spells, only to discover that the Balrog knew counterspells. They faced on the Bridge of Khazad-dum, and it turns out that both Gandalf and the Balrog were Maiar, or lesser angels, and equally powerful. They both fell from the bridge, and fought in the bowels of the Mountains for 10 days, until Gandalf finally slew it and then died from wounds it inflicted on him.
   Shelob’s just a giant spider.

2.  Grendel/Beowulf

   The first of three major villains in the anonymous epic poem. He is described as a descendant of Cain, the world’s first murderer, whose lineage God cursed with atrocious physical deformities. Grendel is never physically described in the poem except to say that he is a horrific creature, “very terrible to look upon.” He becomes enraged, probably by the people’s loud carousing every night in the mead hall of Heorot, and proceeds to break in during the festivities one night and devour 30 men.
So King Hrothgar sends out word for Beowulf, the world’s greatest warrior, to come and kill the beast. With Beowulf and his men lying in wait, Grendel breaks in and gobbles up several of his men, then comes upon Beowulf, and they fight to the death. Beowulf rips one of his arms out with his bare hands, and Grendel flees nine days underwater to his mother’s lair. Beowulf goes after him, kills his mother, and finds Grendel cowering in a corner, and beheads him.
   Granted, Grendel’s a total wuss once he meets Beowulf, but until then, there’s no one in the world who can stop him.

1.  The Jabberwock/Through the Looking-Glass, by Lewis Carroll
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   He is a monstrous nightmare. The reason he is so horrifying is because of Carroll’s masterful description of him using blends (portmanteaus). He concocted new words throughout his famous poem, The Jabberwocky, to lend an air of nonsense, but with that nonsense comes fear. We are afraid of things we cannot sense. When the lights go out, you look over your shoulder at the drooling, horrifying monster you know is instantly panting behind you, ready to strip the flesh off your bones.
   Well, that’s the Jabberwocky. This lister always envisioned him as “the abominable snowman,” something like Bigfoot but whiter, covered in blood, with giant hawk-like claws, opened wide and ready to snatch you up into its horrible maw. Take the phrase “and the mome raths outgrabe.” Never mind what it means. It sounds violent, especially the sharp vowels in “raths” and “out.” Then the strikes of the consonant clusters “ths” and “tgr.” “Ths” sounds like a hiss.
   It has bright red eyes, a color that sticks out in a forest, and it “burbles,” which sounds just like the sound of drooling ravenously. “It came whiffling through the tulgey wood.” “Whiffling” is this lister’s favorite word in the poem. It implies light-footed speed, especially pertinent to a horrific beast that has just spied you and is sprinting, galloping as frantically as it can to rush upon you.
   What makes Carroll’s description masterful is how much he leaves out. That way, the reader makes up most of the image, and it’s always more horrid and terrifying that way. The whole poem exudes an abiding sense of dread, and the next time you take a walk in the woods and everything gets real quiet, you might wonder what’s immediately behind you, eyes wide and fangs drooling.


The town of Gotland

Travel 600 years back in time

   During eight days in August the Middle Age is back. Gotland’s special settings, Visby’s 200 medieval houses on winding lanes, splendid church ruins, and the magnificent city wall frame a spectacle without equal.
   Markets and music, theater and lectures. Knights clash in tournaments. Medieval Week leaves no one unaffected. It is an unforgettable journey in time and space. Experience Medieval Week on Gotland. Discover history.
   Medieval Week 2011 takes place August 7th - 14th.

About Gotland
   Gotland, Sweden’s largest island, lies right in the middle of the Baltic.
   Its population is 58.000, a figure that doubles many times over during the summer, as Gotland is a much-loved destination for holidaymakers.
   The island’s biggest city, Visby, boasts one of the best preserved medieval ramparts anywhere in the world. Not surprisingly, Visby has been on UNESCO’s world heritage list since 1995. It also has more restaurants per capita than just about any city in Sweden, offering a wide range of culinary delights.

   The countryside, with its woodlands, bleak heaths and flowering meadows, is richly varied and hauntingly beautiful. Here, you’ll also find more than 90 medieval churches, ancient remains from the Viking period and any number of top-quality crafts studios. Along the almost 800 km coastline, gently shelving sandy beaches alternate with shingle shores and seaside meadows. The climate is mild, with many hours of sunshine and pleasantly warm autumns.

What is the Medieval Week?

      The Medieval Week is arranged annually on Gotland in the beginning of August.
   In the year of 2010 it will be held from Sunday the 8th to Sunday the 15th of August.
   Every year during one week in August, we blow life into history. The Medieval market gets into life in Gotlandsänget and Paviljongsplan, where stonemasons and smiths work alongside the clattering of horses’ hooves and bleating sheep.

   A week filled with colour and events, including music, pageants and jousting tournaments. A huge variety of lectures and study courses are also held. A mixture of sobriety and merriment, education and festivities.
   The Medieval Week incorporates music, dance and theatre performed by many different artists and groups.
   You will find hair-raising mystery plays and amusing farces. There are guided walks around the Medieval town and its wall. You can walk around herb gardens or along the shore. There are many opportunities to learn more about the Middle Ages through a wide variety of courses, including Medieval crafts of various kinds, song and music, runes or even juggling, as well as the chance to attend various lectures.

   One of the highlights of the week is the Jousting Tournament. This spectacle brings to life the atmosphere of a Medieval tournament, where knights on horseback joust. You will also find a royal presence, archers, combatants, acrobats and Medieval markets. These tournaments have proved to be so popular that some are held as early as July, in Visby and in the countryside. A large number of other events of the Week also take place outside Visby in churches, museums etc.
   Medieval Week on Gotland is well-known by many. We can hear professional men and women refer to Medieval Week in radio programs, we can read about Gotland and Medieval Week in books and magazines. A couple of doctoral theses cover Medieval Week and its activities.    By how many know what Medeltidsveckan looks like from behind and how it is organized. Medeltidsveckan is run by an independent foundation with a small office at its disposal. Here a few dedicated persons work all year around to make sure that week 32 on Gotland becomes an experience to remember and to take home. The foundation was founded in 1994 by six founders: Gotlands kommun, Gotlands Fornvänner, Gotlands Turistförening, Gotlands Hembygdsförbund, Gotlands Bildningsförbund and Medeltidsgillet på Gotland.

   As important as the office that keeps Medieval Week together, are all the persons who volunteer before and during week 32. They are the reason this special week takes place. It is also the associations and companies that make it possible for the little extras to work.
   Something you learn when you have participated in Medieval Week over a few years is that there many things that have to fit in order for it all to function. Even the implementation of the smallest detail is a condition for the whole arrangement to be a success.

Wardobe and baubles used during Medievel Week


Historical background to Medieval Week:

   Let’s go back to the summer of 1361 when Visby still was a powerful Hanseatic town with a surrounding wall, wealthy churches, monasteries and chapels.

   Warehouses with their stepped gables were clustered tightly along the main street Strandgatan, filled with luxurious goods brought by ship from far off countries.
   The streets and alleys were thronged with merchants, monks, servant girls, journeymen and beggars. Gotland belonged to Sweden which was at that time ruled by Magnus Eriksson. However, the island gave a strong impression of being its own realm, where there was distinct antagonism between the townspeople and the wealthy farmers. Valdemar Atterdag ruled Denmark.
   King Magnus was forced to cede the provinces Blekinge, Skåne and Halland in 1360. The large islands Gotland and Öland were also threatened.

   King Valdemar and his army landed on the west coast of Gotland on July 22, 1361. The Gotlandic farmers defended themselves bravely, but were finally overthrown in the great battle outside the gates of Visby, where 2000 men fell.
    The townspeople passively witnessed the farmers’ downfall. In exchange for Valdemar’s promise to retain its privileges, the town capitulated and opened its gates.
The Coat of Arms of Medieval WeekThe Medieval Week’s coat of arms was developed in 2005 and is today used for symbolism at ceremonial occasions.
   The heraldic symbolism of the coat of arms represents Medieval Week and Gotland at the same time. The two-part shield exemplifies the countryside and the city on Gotland, and also the connection between the two. Red and white are the colors of Gotland.

   The left part of the shield is adorned by a ram which has been recognized and acknowledged as the symbol of Gotland since medieval times. The numerous yellow crosses represent all the churches found on Gotland that through history have had so much importance for both city and countryside.
   The rose coat of arms on the right is inspired by Peder Harding’s coat of arms (Peter Harding was the Gotlandic chief who led the people of the countryside in the civil war of 1288). In addition the rose is the flower that symbolizes and is associated with Gotland, and especially with Visby.
   The coat of arms is designed by the heraldist Veljo Pärli.

The Soul of Medieval Week

   What entices thousands of visitors to come to Gotland and dress in medieval clothing?
   Young and old travel back 1000 years and live in the Medieval Age for a whole week on Gotland.
   Is the interest for this distant time period really serious or do we have a wish to escape from the present for a while, to dress in something foreign or different? To become a different person and fantasize about how life would have been for people in various situations, occupations and social connections.
   Medieval Week is carried out with high quality demands. All events shall be perceived as medieval and genuine, while the artistic creation of today also shall be found on the program – historical science and contemporary creativity in close association seems ideal to us!

   Medieval Week mixes high and low, just like medieval times, the heavenly and the worldly, advanced artistic achievements and a flowing selection of things and events. The mixture of styles, strong and unrestrained, is one of the phenomena that make the character of Medieval Week a real and authentic experience. That is also why we, year after year, meet visitors who faithfully - and enthusiastically – return