Literary Origins of D&D Monsters

Tav_Behemoth

First Post
Just came across a mention of the Yeth Hound in a 1896 short story, "Maker of Moons" by Robert W. Chambers (known nowadays mostly for The King in Yellow, which became part of the Cthulu Mythos):

"The Yeth-hounds are dogs without heads. They are the spirits of murdered children, which pass through the woods at night, making a wailing noise."

As it turns out, though, Chambers seems to have been making use of some prior mythology -- from the Encyclopedia of the Celts:

WISH HOUNDS. Sometimes called Yell Hounds or Yeth Hounds. The spectral, headless hounds of Dartmoor which sometimes meet also in the valley of Dewerstone. They also run into Cornwall, hunting the demon Tregeagle. Their huntsman is presumably the Devil, though the ghost of Sir Francis Drake was sometimes said to drive a hearse into Plymouth, followed by a pack of headless hounds. Hunt also suggests that Cheney's Hounds are Wish Hounds. Hunt, who gives a short account of the Wish Hounds in POPULAR ROMANCES OF THE WEST OF ENGLAND, suggests that they are the same as the Devil's Dandy Dogs, but the Dandy Dogs have horns and fiery saucer eyes, while the Wish Hounds are headless.

This isn't the first time I've assumed an obscure fictional reference was the source of a D&D creature, only to find that an older legend inspired both -- there are striges in Thomas Burnett Swann's 1966 Day of the Minotaur, which much resemble stirges except for being the size of large insects, but Col. Playdoh said he didn't know Swann's novel & was inspired by Roman mythology.

The classic list of literary origins of D&D is here. Not included are that the displacer beast is inspired by Couerl from A.E. Van Vogt's 1939 short story "Black Destroyer", which later became the first chapter of the novel Voyage of the Space Beagle.

Also, of course, the rust monster and bulette started life as plastic toys - Col. Playdoh confirmed that this was indeed the case, although he said they first appeared on the miniatures grid when someone else was DMing; will have to go back and recheck that thread to see who!
 

log in or register to remove this ad

DnDChick

Demon Queen of Templates
The catoblepas, leucrotta (also spelled leucrocuta), and peryton are from Roman folklore ... they are described in "historical" accounts by Pliny the Elder.


Tolkien gave us the Orc, of course, but there is also a monster in Celtic folklore called the Orc. It was a sea monster, and appears in a Celtic myth reminiscent of the rescue of Andromeda by Perseus. Beautiful princess, horrid sea beastie, brave hero to the rescue, etc.

Orc, the name of the horrid sea monster, lives on in a creature we know today ... the Orca ...

Tolkien says he invented the hobbit on his own, but according to Katherine Briggs' Encyclopedia of Faries, there is British folkore of creatures called the Hob-Folk ... also called Hobgoblins, Hob-Hursts, Hobthrusts and Hob-It-Hursts. Of course, there are no "hobbits" in D&D, but there are Halflings... ;)

And of course, a lot of monsters are already recognizable from mythology and folklore -- some of which is pretty obscure.

We all know about Pegasus and the Minotaur, for example, but the Terrasque is a dragon from French folklore.
 
Last edited:

DnDChick

Demon Queen of Templates
Tav_Behemoth said:
Also, of course, the rust monster and bulette started life as plastic toys - Col. Playdoh confirmed that this was indeed the case, although he said they first appeared on the miniatures grid when someone else was DMing; will have to go back and recheck that thread to see who!

I can verify this as well. My brother had those long before I ever saw a D&D book. They came in a big bag of plastic dinosaurs. :)
 

DnDChick

Demon Queen of Templates
Things like the Kuo-Toa and Sahuagin may have been inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's Deep Ones, but I am not 100% certain as to that.

Of course, they could just have easily been inspired by the Creature from the Black Lagoon. :)
 
Last edited:

Krishnath

First Post
DnDChick said:
Things like the Kuo-Toa and Sahuagin may have been inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's Deep Ones, but I am not 100% certain as to that.

True.

DnDChick said:
Of course, they could just have easily been inspired by the Creature from the Black Lagoon. :)

Which in turn was inspired by Lovecraft's Deep Ones. It even wants to mate with a human! :eek:
 

MonsterMash

First Post
Gnolls come from Lord Dunsay, but his were a cross between gnomes and trolls, rather than hyena-men.

The Dunsany troll also seems not to match the D&D style from the mentions in the King of Elfland's Daughter as being more like a fey, smaller than human size, afraid of dogs, etc.
 

Tav_Behemoth

First Post
Yeah, the details of the D&D troll are from Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions, as is the Law/Chaos alignment axis (I'm pretty sure it inspired Moorcock's).

Dunsany spells them gnoles, no? (CMG just came out with a nifty-looking PDF of Dunsany short stories, btw).
 

TurlinBlackwind

First Post
I love mythology, though I'm not aswell studied as some.

The D&D Sphinx is an interesting one becuase it's closer to the Greek Sphinx from Eodipus Rex than the Egyptian guardian beast.

I also remember the Chimera being mentioned in the Epic of Gilgamesh as an asian beast composed of parts of many more than the four or five animals/monsters the modern cousin is made of.

It's amazing how far and wide myths of dragons are. there's atleast one on every inhabited continent. (scientists on antarctica don't count as inhabitants yet ;) )

If memory serves right... the earliest mention of an ogre comes from African oral stories. I may be wrong but I remember reading something about it.
 

DnDChick

Demon Queen of Templates
TurlinBlackwind said:
I also remember the Chimera being mentioned in the Epic of Gilgamesh as an asian beast composed of parts of many more than the four or five animals/monsters the modern cousin is made of.

Chimerae are also found in Greek myth ... well .. one is anyway. It was killed by Bellerophon, mounted upon Pegasus.

As for literary origins again ... the Shambling Mound, judging from its picture in the 1e Monster Manual, was seemingly inspired my Marvel Comics' Man-Thing.
 

TurlinBlackwind

First Post
DnDChick said:
As for literary origins again ... the Shambling Mound, judging from its picture in the 1e Monster Manual, was seemingly inspired my Marvel Comics' Man-Thing.


Man-thing... never thought of that. Cool!

I wonder where the aboleth came from? I'm gonna look into it, might find something tasty :D

Monster origins that are easily identified like the minotaur and pegasus aren't as interesting as the harder ones. But an ancient story of beastiality can lighten your day if you don't know where the Minotaur came from. ew..... :p
 




DnDChick

Demon Queen of Templates
Tolkien gave us other things as well, besides the Orc, by taking real folklore and adding his own twist to it.

"Wraith" is just another word for "Ghost," but the wraith as we know it in D&D -- a shadowy thing with red glowing eyes that makes you weak if it touches you, etc. -- is clearly inspired by the Ringwraiths.

"Wight" is just another word for "Man," that sometime along in history got the connotation of "Man with something supernatural or eerie about him." Wight is also spelled WICHT, and the etymological origins to "witch" is clear enough. Again, the Wights we know in D&D -- which live in grave mounds and have a chilling touch -- are quite similar to the Barrow Wights of Tolklien.
 

Tav_Behemoth

First Post
The interview in which Charles Stross talks about the creation of the githyanki, githzerai, and slaadi isn't available at Planewalker.com any more, as far as I can tell, which is a shame!

In there, he says that the idea of telepathic mind flayers raising the gith as slave races was inspired by Larry Niven's World of Ptaavs, and suggests that Gygax's creation of the mind flayer was inspired by Niven as well. Niven's Thrint, or Slavers, are powerful telepaths & mind-controllers with tentacled faces (see Wayne Barlowe's interpretation); it's a safe bet that Gygax was reading just about all SF & fantasy published in the '60s, since there was so little of it coming out that fans could & did read everything they could get their hands on, and some evidence linking Niven and D&D comes from a cool old Erol Otus booklet of creatures and magic items that featured a Slaver disintegration rifle.
 

Tav_Behemoth

First Post
Geez, I so do love being able to get things straight from the Man himself:

Col. Playdoh said:
No need to speculate, for I can set forth the process in a few words. Larry Niven's writing had nothing to do with the creation of the Illithid race for the AD&D game.

I happened to be thinking of devising a new terrible race if creatures inimical to humans, and my eye fell upon a paperback book authored by Brian Lumley, The Burrowers Beneath. The cover illustration was of a bipedal monster with a head resembling a squid or an octopus. Voila!


That was a perfect model for an underground-dwelling race of fiendish predators on humankins, and thus the mind flayer was born.

I made up all the details of the race, of course, they being a form of AD&D monster.

BTW, the drow were inspired by no more than a dictionaly listing for the name as "dark elves," and i made up the kuo-toa out of whole cloth so as to have another underground race on distinctly non-human sort.
 


TurlinBlackwind

First Post
DnDChick said:
Drow = variation of a race of Scottish dark faeries called Trowes = variation of the Nordic Troll. :D
Thats nice to know, I'm facinated by the Drow.

Trowes reminds me of the Trow from The Bards Tale if anyone here has played that. Funny game and you'll love the ending... and the middle.... and the, hell the whole damned thing. Though trow aren't like dark faeries or trolls... more like little goblin/orc things. The big ones are warriors and the little ones sing and sell stuff.

I recently found out that Lamassu were carvings from Mesopotamia like the shinx of Egypt. They were winged lions or bulls with the heads of men. Often they were carved with 5 or 6 legs so you can see all four no matter where you stood.
 

Krishnath

First Post
A-ha! I knew there was a Mythos connection with the mindflayers.

(Brian Lumley was a penpal of H.P. Lovecraft and a contributor to the Cthulhu Mythos).
 

DnDChick

Demon Queen of Templates
TurlinBlackwind said:
Trowes reminds me of the Trow from The Bards Tale if anyone here has played that. Funny game and you'll love the ending... and the middle.... and the, hell the whole damned thing. Though trow aren't like dark faeries or trolls... more like little goblin/orc things. The big ones are warriors and the little ones sing and sell stuff.

And once I found out about the "trowes" of Scottish folklore, it settled the "how do you pronounce drow like cow or like slow" quandry -- for me at least. You can pronounce it however you like, but I pronounce it with a long "o" like slow ... and "troll", its lingquistic and folkloric origin. :D
 

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top