Beasts in the Books

Pena and ink rendition of beasts as described in a dream in Pushkin's Eugene Onegin.
A variety of beasts including a skeleton conversing with a skull, a dwarf with a tail, and a lobster riding a spider, from Eugene Onegin, as imagined by creative muse Morra Morron.

Trotting along on my little hooves… oh, sorry there! Clackety-clack, slow it down from a trot to a walk to a tie-up at the blog post.

While researching Russian literature as part of a book I’m writing and will shamelessly promote when ready, I came across a curious passage from Alexander Pushkin’s 1837 version of the novel in verse Eugene Onegin, Chapter 5 (from The Poems, Prose and Plays of Alexander Pushkin, Random House, 1964):

Recovered, Tanya, pale and shrinking,
Looks round: the bear is gone, at least;
She hears wild shouts and glasses clinking
As at a mighty funeral feast; 
The noise is queer and terrifying.
With caution through the key-hole spying
She sees... Why, who would credit it?
About the table monsters!
One is a horned and dog-faced creature,
One has a cock's head plain to see,
And there's a witch with a goatee,
A dwarf, whose tail is quite a feature
A haughty skeleton, and that 
Is half a crane and half a cat.

More horrors: here a lobster riding
A spider; here a red-capped skull
A goose's snaky neck bestriding–
Most fearful and most wonderful!
A wind-mill all alone is whirling,
Its wings with crazy motions twirling;
They bark and whistle, sing and screech,
To horse's stamp and human speech!
And in the crowd that filled the hovel,
Aghast, Tanya recognized
The dreaded one, the dearly prized:
The very hero of our novel!
Onegin sits and drinks a health,
And glances at the door by stealth.

How odd it seemed to hear of such creatures in writings by *gasp* a dead white man–oh, horrors! Just around the same time, I picked up a nifty 25¢ book at the Goodwill Superstore about medieval beasts, Medieval Beasts, (publication info coming). None of the medieval beasts look just like any of Pushkin’s as described, yet the one book reminded me of the other.

Medieval illustration of a manticore, half man and half lion.
Manticore, part man, part lion, struts through time and medieval forests.
Medieval illustration of men hunting a bonacon, an antelope-like mythical creature with noxious, burning flatulence.
The Bonacon, whose noxious farts could burn up to several acres. Would have been handy for Samson.

The theme of Beasts in the Books rolled into Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, illustrations by John Tenniel, including the scene from the chapter The Caucus Race. Although Mr. Tenniel illustrates real beasts in this particular picture, not fantastical ones, they delight nonetheless.

Old black and white illustration from the chapter The Caucus Race in Alice in Wonderland. Alice confers with a variety of birds, mice, and crabs.
Alice from Alice in Wonderland holds a conversation with birds, mice, and crabs.

I wonder whose beasts influenced or inspired other’s beasts in literature, and movies, over the years and across continents and cultures, for instance, the goofy multi-eyed dragon in Monty Python’s The Holy Grail, or the liger from Napoleon Dynamite, or how about the creepy Furry scene in The Shining? Oops, I slipped from books to movies, but beasts make an impression in literature and maybe even more so in movies.

Again, with the holidays approaching, I seem to tip in favor of horror-lite; Suzy Sunshine I am not. Oh well, roast beast, anyone?

Next time: “It’s the Most Horrible Time of the Year“…if you’re a pine or spruce.

Published by Morra Rose

I love the links between life and literature, and couldn't get by day-to-day without a little humor. Here's my place to share thoughts and discoveries in bite-sized pieces, illustrated by my sister Morra Morron. Enjoy!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: