Wednesday, June 8, 2016

What Scary Creatures Are Part of Your Culture?

By Elizabeth MS Flynn, w/a Eilis Flynn
I’m taking a break between editing gigs and starting to think about the workshops I’ll be teaching next year (plan far ahead and you won’t panic as much. Some, but not much), and prime among those are a couple I’ll be doing on Asian myths and legends. Because, you know, they’re fun and I’ve got all this source material staring me in the face every time I turn around in my office (since I’m writing this instead of cleaning my office, because after all, you’d do the same), so I might as well. Right?

Anyway, I have conducted quite a few workshops of myths and legends around the world (“Along the Silk Road and Beyond,” looking at faeries, dragons, vampires, werewolves/shifters, angels, demons, ghosts, water beasties, even “bigfeet”—if you’re interested in any of these, let me know!), examining how those myths are presented and change depending on where you are in the world, and how they’re similar and different, even compared with a culture that may be right next door. So I’m taking the Asian component of those workshops and merging them into data that works for Asian only.

I’m also prepping for this by reading this book called The Book of Yokai by Michael Dylan Foster, about mythical creatures specific to Japanese culture. Foster is an ethnographer, so the presentation and topic is right up my alley (anthropology major, many years ago). Foster notes how some of those creatures he’s looking at may have non-Japanese origins, but they have definitely been shaped into distinctively Japanese myths. How’s that, you say? (Of course you did. I heard you!)

I could tell you…but let me ask this: What kind of scary creatures did you grow up hearing about? Let me explain why I’m asking. In my ghost workshop, I looked at ghost stories (yeah! It was fun), and I was amused and fascinated to discover there was a story about a spectral woman in white in many, many cultures and regions. In the US alone, I counted half a dozen, and I didn’t look that hard in American culture (because I was looking around the world and had limited time and resources). Of course, the stories about those women always had the female wearing an outfit appropriate for that culture and region, no matter if the sighting was in Malaysia or Texas or New Jersey. The stories are all similar, from sighting to realization (because there’s always contact with the living, a brief interaction, the disappearance, and then the realization that the woman was dead all along!). Ghosts are ghosts, no matter where you are.

But this isn’t the fairest of examples, because there are ghost stories wherever there are live people, with memories to remember the dead. Or history in general, actually. But the flip to that is the myth of the werewolf, which morphs into the myth of the shapeshifter in regions where the wolf isn’t native. (If you run across a story about wolves in regions like the Pacific Rim, you know you have a borrowed myth because—can you guess? That’s right, there are no wolves around there.)

So what are the scariest stories where you are? Why do you think those are unique to where you live?

Elizabeth MS Flynn has written fiction in the form of comic book stories, romantic fantasies, urban fantasies, historical fantasies and short stories, a young adult novel, and a graphic novella (most published under the name of Eilis Flynn). She’s also a professional editor and has been for 40 years, working with academia, technology, and finance nonfiction, and romance fiction. If you’re looking for an editor, she can be found editing at and reached at If you’re curious about her books, check out In any case, she can be reached at


  1. My grandfather spent a lot of time in Rhinelander, WI and he'd tell me stories of the hodag that lived around his cabin. It's part frog, dinosaur, lizard and elephant.