I read a lot of books about supernatural/paranormal/mythological creatures, and seeing the different ways that authors portray different creatures is one of my favorite things about the fantasy genre!
And yet, I sometimes see authors get bashed or picked on for not portraying supernatural creatures the “right” way. So here are my thoughts on why different portrayals of supernatural creatures are actually pretty awesome!
(After finishing my post, don’t forget to check the #wyrdandwonder hashtag on Twitter to find more awesome fantasy-related posts for the Wyrd and Wonder blogging event happening during the month of May!)
There is No Wrong Way to Write Something that Isn’t Real
Original Lore vs. Modern Portrayals
Fun fact: Most supernatural creatures aren’t real.
Shocker, I know.
Now, I say most because, depending on religion and culture and experiences, some people, myself included, do believe in certain ones. I also subscribe to the belief that absence of proof =/= proof that something doesn’t exist. So who knows? Maybe there are some things out there that we don’t know about. But even if there are, we don’t know about them. Therefore, the author gets to create their own version, and, the way I see it, as long as that creature is based on whatever attribute(s) makes it that creature, and as long as the paranormal elements are consistent and fit with the rules of the magic in the story, then there’s not much when it comes to supernatural creatures that can actually be considered impossible or wrong.
(One possible exception is that, since some creatures are strongly tied to certain cultures/religions, certain portrayals might be problematic or offensive. That would be an entirely separate discussion though—which I might do at some point—so we won’t get into that right now.)
Another thing to consider: For a lot of creatures, the original lore is all over the place with lots of variation, and half the time the original lore is very different from what has become their modern portrayal anyway. And a lot of what we consider to be quintessential traits of creatures are just things one person made up once that stuck, not things that are set in stone.
Werewolfism, for example, wasn’t related to full moons until one person put it in a movie that became famous, and now most books/movies/shows about werewolves have them shifting during the full moon.
I even just mentioned in my recent Frankenstein review how the way the monster is described in the novel is vastly different from how he’s portrayed in most movies.
And vampires? I’ve seen all sorts of arguments about them. Vampires are supposed to burn in the sun. It’s not possible for vampires to have sex because they’re dead. Real vampires don’t sparkle. Magic. The answer is magic. They’re fictional dead beings animated by magic that can also walk and talk and think and do things like read minds and shapeshift and move really fast. I don’t think walking in sunlight or having erections or sparkling is really that far-fetched. Did you know that even Dracula was able to walk in the sun without burning? And he’s the most famous vampire there is! While something like sparkling may not be my preference, I still think it’s cool that Meyer created her own twist on why vampires can’t go in the sun.
Some authors write their version based on the modern portrayal, some write their version based on the original lore, some combine both, some give theirs an entirely new twist! And I think all of that is pretty cool.
What About Realism?
Do people in real life quit their day jobs to fight monsters? Do teenagers give long, eloquent speeches in which they profess their love? Do average civilians get involved in murder cases and solve them even when cops can’t? Did people in the 1800s have perfect teeth and hygiene?
Lots of things in books are unrealistic, but we let them slide because we know it’s fiction. And let’s be honest, if we think about it, every portrayal of supernaturals is going to have logic flaws because of that whole “magic” thing.
Why I Love Different Portrayals of Supernatural Creatures
All things considered, there’s a lot of room for authors to get creative when it comes to mythical creatures, which, as a reader, is exciting for me! It means the possibilities are endless. I love seeing what different authors come up with, how they put their own spin on things. I wouldn’t want every version to be the same. And whether the portrayal is a tried-and-true favorite or something totally unique, I’ll get to read about something interesting that I don’t get to encounter in my real life.
(I’ll admit I do gripe sometimes if a creature doesn’t have the one thing that makes them what they are (e.g. a vampire that doesn’t drink blood), or if words are used interchangeably for two creatures that aren’t the same (e.g. mermaids and sirens), but even these things are the author’s prerogative, and my issue is usually with the fact that I was misled.)
Although I love realism in books, even in fantasy, there’s a lot of wiggle room when it comes to paranormal elements. And I love how the paranormal element can make everything else more interesting, forcing authors and readers to consider how humans and supes would react if *this* creature existed, if they had *these* abilities, if they were more human than monster or vice versa. That’s where the realism is most important, in my opinion.
Everyone is absolutely allowed to have preferences and to dislike books because they don’t like how the creatures were portrayed! Even I have preferences. I just don’t think there really a “wrong” way to do it (barring a few exceptions), and I’m grateful for the authors who are taking risks, getting creative, switching things up, and writing their own versions of supernatural and paranormal creatures because I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of reading about them!
Need Some Recs?
Here are some great books about supernatural creatures! (Covers link to Amazon.)