There probably isn’t a person alive who hasn’t heard of a zombie, werewolf, or vampire. These creatures have been part of our media/cultural consciousness for decades. Now, they’re even more mainstream. Shows like The Walking Dead can become phenomenons, and the tween set has a glut of supernatural romances littering store bookshelves.
While I think there’s a strong argument to be made that a creative individual can always do something innovative with an old concept, I do wish people would go a little further outside their comfort zones to explore the stranger beings of legend. Because not only might they find something to spin a story around that’s new to them, it might well be a unique experience for the audience as well. So, let’s take a look at a few of the weirder and less appreciated creatures out there:
-Ghouls: Think of ghouls as zombies-plus. Technically demons or a form of djinn in Arabic folklore, they inhabit cemeteries and wastelands, feeding on corpses or any unwary souls they manage to lure away from prying eyes. Oh yeah, and they can shapeshift. And not just into animals (usually hyenas), but into normal-looking people (especially ones they’ve eaten). Just in case you thought the other stuff wasn’t bad enough.
-The Golem: An interesting bit of Jewish folklore linked to the creation myth. Golems are formed out of mud or clay and animated by either inserting a slip of paper holding a shem (one of the names of God) into its body or inscribing a Hebrew word such as emet (alive) on its forehead. Essentially brainless (because humans are unable to make a proper human being the same way God can), golems are traditionally capable of doing little else than what the person who creates them orders them to do. Incredibly strong and largely impervious, removing the shem or altering the inscription animating the golem to met (dead) are the only ways to deactivate it.
-Homunculi: While people often equate the pursuit of alchemy with transforming base metals into gold, some legends imply its highest goal was creating artificial life. Homunculi are tiny human beings born from a weird combination of semen and rot and raised on the Arcanum of human blood (although there are other equally strange methods: http://karlshuker.blogspot.com/2012/01/grow-your-own-homunculus.html). While often depicted as fully formed, albeit miniature, human beings, some stories attribute unusual powers to them (i.e. psychic abilities) which leaves lots of room to make them even creepier.
-Rusalka: The spirit of a woman who died an untimely death, usually in a river or lake (and while not always evil, I’ll focus on that version for the purposes of this post). Waiting in bodies of water during the day, they emerge at night to walk dry land. Gifted singers and dancers, these same same abilities are used to hypnotize men and lure them into the water to drown (possibly in retaliation for the pain of the broken heart causing the suicide).
-Fairies/Fae. Yeah, you read that right. Forget the Disney stuff. While there are huge differences regarding their origins and appearance from tale to tale (the latter covering the entire range from radiant beauty to stunted goblin) the nasty reputation remains pretty constant. They have a tendency to steal human babies and replace them with their own (changelings), cause illness at a touch, and abduct those who violate their rings into the fairy realm where they dance until they go mad or die. Or are just returned in old age to slowly pine away for what they’ve lost.
-Waheela. A very large white wolf said to prowl some of the colder regions of North America. Bearing some unusual physical characteristics (short ears and shorter back legs than front), one was supposedly spotted and shot twice without effect … in an area that was apparently notorious for the number of prospectors found with their heads bitten off.
These are just a few of the nightmare creatures that too often stay in the shadows. I assure you, there are many, many more to find than mentioned here, so look through the legends and folklore of as many cultures as you can. This not only provides an expanded cast of interesting beings to depict, but a reserve of individual qualities one can weave into something altogether new.