Young adult fiction is saturated with supernatural creatures: vampires, werewolves, angels, demons, faeries, zombies, and unique combinations thereof. But what about all the other creatures in the world’s mythos? I think they deserve some attention. Especially since you never know what’s going to trend next. Here are seven supernatural creatures that just might inspire you when you’re reading or writing your next young adult novel.
Here in North America, jinn are known as genies–wish-granting, often friendly but usually mischievous creatures who live in lamps or other old pottery. But that’s just a western adaptation. Jinn appear in the Qu’ran, and are made of a smokeless fire. They can be good, evil, or mischievous, just like faeries. Like humans, jinn have free will. Some Muslims believe that each person has their own personal jinni (singular form of jinn), called a quarin.
Thoughts: I think that wish-granting/fairy-god-mother type creatures are underused in young adult fiction–at least as female or male lead characters. I’m sure there’s no shortage of those types as mentor characters. What about a story told from the point of view of a jinni-like soul who has to aid her charge in exchange for getting what she wants?
A ghoul is a creature–often undead–who eats human flesh. They are often found in graveyards and were first mentioned in One Thousand and One Nights. In Arabian folklore, they dwell underground but also sometimes in deserts, where they take the form of an animal and feeds on young children. It can drink blood, steal money, and also eats the dead.
Thoughts: I did not know when I was researching this article that ghouls are Arabic in origin! Every time I think of ghouls, I think of their portrayal in Supernatural, the TV series. They’re able to take the form of those they’ve eaten. So creepy!
Okay, yes, I did just mention at the top that faeries were a common young adult fiction supernatural creature. But the term “faery” encompasses a wide range of creatures: gnomes, changelings, goblins, trolls, and sometimes more ethereal creatures, closer to angels. The great thing about faeries is the variety of types and cultures. Banshees are sometimes described as dead. Some see them as demons, or demoted angels. In J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, the origin of fairies came about when the first baby laughed for the first time. In Celtic Mythology, the faeries were driven into hiding by humanity. In the really old Celtic lore, the fairy folk lived on separate planes.
Thoughts: I think the whole “SURPRISE! Turns out you’re a lost fairy queen and it’s time to marry the fairy king/prince and/or take back the realm” is a little tired in YA fiction. I’d like to see more books where we explore the Celtic mythology of faeries a little more–because it’s not all a happy fairy land with beautiful creatures. Example: Spriggans. They’re supposed to be super ugly. If you enjoy faeries, you should check out my weekly fantasy serial, Wingtorn.
Dragons have two distinct cultural parents: Asian mythology and folklore, and European folklore. The oldest representations of dragons depict them more like serpents, but they’ve had legs since the Middle Ages. Common characteristics of dragons is their ability to breathe fire, but some dragons are also poisonous. They often are said to hatch from eggs and live for eons, and are very wise creatures. Dragons in Russian folklore often have heads in multiples of threes.
Thoughts: There’s just so much lore surrounding these creatures that it’s hard to know where to begin! I think my favourite folklore story surrounding dragons is that the Vietnamese people are descended from a dragon lord and a fairy/angel. How cool is that? Dragon blood and fairy blood. There’s a story in there!
Unicorns are like white horses with a long pointed horn on their forehead. Greek natural history writers were convinced that unicorns were real–they were like the Loch Ness Monster of the Middle Ages. Their horns are popularly thought to cure disease and purify water, and are made of a magical substance called alicorn. Until the narwhal was discovered, and the existence of unicorns was pretty much debunked, people would buy “unicorn horns” and “unicorn horn powder” from apothecaries to cure their ails.
Thoughts: I really enjoyed reading the Acorna series when I was in high school, by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth A. Scarborough. It was about an alien girl who was found in space by three humans, and turns out, she’s from a race of telepathic unicorn people. Not strictly YA, but very enjoyable for those who like science fiction.
Harpies are half-woman, half-bird creatures. In Greek mythology, Zeus stranded Phineus on an island and blinded him because he revealed mankind’s future. He sent harpies to steal a buffet of food every day from him before he could eat any of it. In Dante’s Inferno, they exist in the the middle ring of the seventh circle (violence). In this level, people who commit suicide are transformed into trees and fed on by the harpies. While often violent, early depictions of harpies are of beautiful women with wings and bird feet: only later depictions such as Aeschylus’ The Eumenides show them as ugly.
Thoughts: The suicide realm was the saddest and the creepiest of all the realms in Inferno, I thought. Aside from that, I find it interesting that the later depictions just can’t deal with the earlier versions of beautiful harpies–that something has to be ugly in order to be violent. I don’t think I’ve read any young adult fiction with harpies in it…can you think of any?
Mermaids, as you probably all know, are creatures with the body of a human and the tail of a fish. Sometimes associated with sirens, mermaids are usually depicted as beautiful women with long hair. Everyone should be familiar with Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid: unlike the Disney version, to return to the sea she is told by the sea witch she must kill her prince. She can’t do it, and dies. However, in her death, she is surrounded by the daughters of the air, and told that because of her noble deed of NOT killing the prince, she can earn a human soul if she completes 300 years of service with them. In Eastern Europe, mermaid-like creatures called rusalka (they lack a tail) are actually restless spirits, who have died violent deaths.
Thoughts: Mermaids are on their way up, but they haven’t attained vampire or werewolf status. Lost Voices by Sarah Porter is a mermaid tale I’ve read that incorporates the Eastern European version of mermaids with the Western version.
Aliens are Paranormal Creatures Too.
In the Sparkstone universe, there are a variety of aliens that make up the Collective. The Collective is a group of aliens who secretly control Sparkstone University–and are very interested in the students that go there. It’s up to Ingrid and her new friends to find out the Collective’s true agenda and protect the students that go there. Read more about Stars In Her Eyes and the Sparkstone Saga.
So what do you think? Do you have a favourite supernatural, paranormal, or mythological creature? If you had to choose to be a supernatural creature, what would you become?