When it comes to fantasy, mythical creatures are a given. Specifically, dragons are a given. Sometimes, a unicorn or two will pop up, but fantasy has a real thing for dragons. And while giant flying lizards are great and all, the focus on dragons has meant we have not given other creatures their proper pop culture due.
There are so many mythical creatures, it’s actually kind of a shame we’ve been stuck on dragons. This is a tiny sampling of all that’s out there, but these are the ones that are, by theme or budget or similarity to the function of a dragon, are very ready for prime time.
The basilisk’s popularity got a shot in the arm because of Harry Potter, but if we’re going to start weaning people off dragons, a giant snake who can freeze people with a glance is a good start. It’s the king of serpents! Snakes are like lizards, and the cold-bloodedness is the thing that people are generally obsessed with.
What’s worse than a one to two-foot snake that’s venomous and larger in the middle than on the ends? One that can swallow its own tail and roll toward you, like a snakeskin wheel. Oh, and one that can jump three feet, full of venom and terrifying. Thanks for all of these brand new fears, Japan.
We’ve mentioned these horrible birds before. But in case you don’t remember, the Stymphalian Birds were one of those creatures that mostly exist in memory of just how amazing Hercules was. They have razor-sharp metal feathers that they can launch right at you. Also poisonous poo. They’re nightmarish both coming and going.
Mermaids get attention all the time, but there’s another sea creature/human hybrid that’s a lot more interesting. Selkies are seal people who, by removing their seal skin, can turn into two-legged people and walk on land. Usually, some dick steals the seal skin and forces a female selkie into a relationship. It’s basically the opposite of The Little Mermaid as Disney has chosen to tell it, and it’s a bit more interesting to boot. Plus, the ability to be on land or sea by choice opens up different storytelling possibilities.
If you have to have a giant beast that everyone fears, why not go with a sphinx? Human-headed, lion-bodied, and with wings, sphinxes are less famous for their fighting prowess and more famous for eating people who don’t correctly answer their riddles. Less fighting means fewer battles and CGI bills. But more riddles means turning things into a battle of wits—that’s a challenge that could force entirely new kinds of stories.
This Angolan monster is literally two-faced: it has both a human face and one of a hyena. It uses the human face to lure in prey, and then eats that person with the hyena face—a hyena face with jaws so strong they can’t be pried back open once they bite. It’s got the duality of a werewolf with an extra level of terror and less exposure.
Here’s another one that’s perfect for people who can’t quite get rid of the idea of giant, flying lizards: a beast that’s very similar to a dragon, but with a rooster head. There are a couple of ways that a cockatrice can kill in mythology; the one I like best is the one with the deadly breath. (Although, they often have the deadly glance thing that the basilisk also has.) Also, the various ways to defeat a cockatrice are full of story possibilities: the comedy version of chasing one with a crowing rooster, the allegorical one about judging animals where the only immune beast is a weasel, and one with mirrors.