Saving the Endangered Fantastical Creatures: So, what do you call a group of…oh my?!

Saving the Endangered Fantastical Creatures: So, what do you call a group of…oh my?! 

By Sarah Elliott


Never has it been more relevant to learn some new collective nouns. I mean, what do you call a group of vampires? Or harpies or basilisks? Strange creatures are found in stories, poems, films, architecture, and of course under your bed!


Fantastical creatures – a term more recently made popular in film titles but encompassing a whole range of any ‘living’ being that is deemed a little (or a lot) out of the ordinary. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to define them as:


An imaginary, strange living thing (not a plant) most likely created in the mind of a wonderful writer!


We will peer through our spy glasses and zoom in on distinct types of fantastical creatures: human/animal hybrid and all-out beast modes! But first, let’s secure our foundations and take the DeLorean back to where the earliest fantastical creatures raised their heads (or multiple heads).


If we’re thinking of ancient and early beginnings, it’s always a safe bet to go back to Ancient Egypt. Here we can find still standing, evidence of a fantastical creature – the Sphinx! With the head of a human and the body of a lion, the Sphinx stands for wisdom and knowledge. Greek mythology associates it with guarding the entrances to temples and only allowing passage after a riddle is answered. The Greek sphinx also has the wings of a bird! Existing before 2500 BC, it’s evident the Great Sphinx of Giza has a pretty awesome anti-ageing routine! Egyptologists are still trying to work out how old this magnificent monolith actually is.

These wonderful, imaginary (or are they?) creatures are referenced all over the globe. An 80-day tour will briefly introduce you to:


  • Windigo – North America and Canada
  • Chupacabra – Latin America
  • Yacumama – South America
  • Anansi – West Africa
  • Yali – India
  • Banshee – Ireland and also Scotland
  • Kobold – Germany
  • Basilisk – Ancient Greece and Rome
  • Kappa – Japan
  • Bunyip – Southeast Australia


We only have time for a whistle-stop tour of fantastical creatures, so we’ll take a closer look at the most storied legendary ones. But before that, let’s consider why some of these creatures are so popular. What is our obsession with them anyway? They allow our imagination to fly alongside them to the highest of heights or stay hidden in the darkest depths. They often provide the perfect antagonist or most misunderstood protagonist. What other roles do they play and how can we employ them in our writing?


Simon Young in Magical Folk: British and Irish Faeries, 500 AD to the Present says:


“[They] uphold morality, enforce taboos, connect to divinity, warn against dangers and, most importantly, entertain…There are things that are bigger than us that we glimpse and things that we cannot even conceive: things that are in any case, beyond our control”


And what do we as human beings do when we experience phenomena we cannot explain or possibly understand? We make things up! Some British tabloids are legendary for this (!). 


Creation stories provide great examples and many do involve fantastical creatures. Does this sound familiar?


“In the Worlds before Monkey,
Primal chaos reigned,
Heaven sought order.
But the Phoenix can fly only when its feathers are grown.
The four worlds formed again and yet again,
As endless aeons wheeled and passed.
Time and the pure essences of Heaven,
The moisture of the Earth,
And the powers of the Sun and the Moon
All worked upon a certain rock – old as Creation,
And it magically became fertile.
That first egg was named Thought,
Tathagata Buddha, the Father Buddha,
Said, ‘With our thoughts we make the world.’
Elemental forces caused the egg to hatch,
from it then came a stone Monkey.
The nature of Monkey was irrepressible!”


(Taken from the opening monologue to the 1970s TV series Monkey inspired by the book Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en.)


Irrepressible! No wonder we’re obsessed with these creatures. They fascinate us, scare us, teach us, and very often hold us in their thrall. Frequently used in speculative fiction some of these imaginary creatures are expected to make an appearance. But when they are not, what a great tool for a plot twist for an unexpected POV. That’s the beauty of them. We can stretch our imagination far and wide. Reading about them sends us to where no one has been before and we all have our own individual interpretations and presentations of them.


Writing about fantastical creatures provides us with endless possibilities. It raises so many questions and the ones without answers are so juicy! Whether we use them as part of a fantasy world or an anomaly, they can draw our readers in just as much as human characters can and we can build them in a similar way but have fun with a sprinkling of magic!


Random fact. Did you know that in one of his dialogues, Plato describes the cause of a women’s disease (female hysteria) to be a creature that wandered throughout a woman’s body causing havoc by blocking passages and obstructing breathing (fainting much?)? Described by Aretaeus of Cappadocia as an animal within an animal, this creature is more commonly known to us as a uterus.


See, we can create a creature to explain ANYTHING!

So how can we get all Dr Frankenstein and create our own? If we need inspiration, we can look to the past at myths and legends from around the world. But there are so many things to consider:


  • Name
  • Strengths 
  • Vulnerabilities
  • Special powers or talents
  • Small details around the appearance (eyes, ears, teeth, fur/hair)
  • Size
  • How long it has been around
  • Intelligence
  • Enemies/predators
  • Diet


And here’s a big one – motivation! 


“A story is about how the things that happen affect someone in pursuit of a difficult goal, and how that person changes internally as a result.” 

  • Lisa Cron


Have a go at writing a scene that details the origin story of your creature. Why are they the way they are? Who are their parents? What was their childhood like? What drives them and why? What do they want and what are they prepared to do to get it? Simple ingredients for whipping up a fantastical creature might include:


  • One part human
  • Two parts animal
  • One magical power
  • One extra-large physical feature
  • An interesting habitat
  • A grudge
  • Something they desire above all else


Need some more inspiration? Let’s have a play with fantastical creatures top trumps!


Top Trumps: Fantastical Creatures


Mermaid: A Karaoke-singing Rapunzel Nemo mash-up, mermaids have a human upper half and a fish bottom half. These fish-human hybrids were believed to be found sunning themselves on rocks and adorning their hair with shells. Sometimes associated with the Sirens of Greek mythology, sailors were reputed to be drawn to their song and held in their thrall. Famous mermaid? Daryl Hannah in the 1984 film Splash. And oh yes, that little one.


  • Strength (1-10) 3
  • Intelligence 90%
  • Size (1-10) 5
  • Killer rating 37%
  • Fright factor (1-10) 2


Satyr: Hello Mr Party Animal! Always up (!) for a good time, this guy has the ears and tail of a horse and a permanent erection. Gradually acquiring more goat-like features over the course of Greek history, these creatures were associated with the gods Pan and Dionysus. They would probably be seen hanging out with the ghost of Christmas present from Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.


  • Strength (1-10) 6
  • Intelligence 50%
  • Size (1-10) 6
  • Killer rating 15%
  • Fright factor (1-10) 6


Minotaur: Got your ball of yarn ready? You will need it to escape the winding, MENSA-challenging type labyrinth guarded by this beast. Hailing from Crete, this monster had the body of a man with the head and tail of a bull. Your names not on the list? You most certainly are not getting in (or out).


  • Strength (1-10) 9
  • Intelligence 5%
  • Size (1-10) 8
  • Killer rating 85%
  • Fright factor (1-10) 8


Centaur: Well, we have Achilles, Hercules, Perseus, and Theseus all trying to get a gold star from this Greek Dumbledore, also known as wise master teacher Chiron. Chiron is a centaur, a creature with the upper body of a human and the lower body and legs of a horse. It’s a whole new look for 007 in Percy Jackson, right?


  • Strength (1-10) 7
  • Intelligence 100%
  • Size (1-10) 7
  • Killer rating 15%
  • Fright factor (1-10) 5


Faun: Sporting a human top half with the ears and horns of a goat, the bottom half is all out Billy Goat’s Gruff!  Here’s a creature who likes to frolic in nature and invite random girls home for tea. Tut-tut Mr Tumnus! This guy is also associated with Pan and his popular pipes! 


  • Strength (1-10) 5
  • Intelligence 48%
  • Size (1-10) 4
  • Killer rating 10%
  • Fright factor (1-10) 5


Dragon: Dracarys! Watch out, these fire-breathing flying reptile types will have you reduced to ashes in no time. Presenting differently dependent on which part of the globe they are from; dragons have been around for aeons in legend and myth. Famous dragons include: Smaug (The Hobbit), Elliot (no relation – Pete’s Dragon), Falkor (Neverending Story), Drogon (the last surviving dragon in Westeros), Saphira (Eragon) and the one George slayed. 


  • Strength (1-10) 10
  • Intelligence 50%
  • Size (1-10) 10
  • Killer rating 95%
  • Fright factor (1-10) 10


Unicorn: Wow, aren’t horses popular as fantastical creatures? We haven’t even mentioned the flying horse Pegasus. Benefitting from a recent boost in popularity comes My Little Pony with an upended ice cream cone on its head. The long, pointed, spiralling horn protruding from the forehead of a unicorn is reputed to be very magical. Fun fact: the royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom features a unicorn (and wears a crown on the Scottish version)!


  • Strength (1-10) 7
  • Intelligence 83%
  • Size (1-10) 7
  • Killer rating 2%
  • Fright factor (1-10) 2


Kraken: Bitcoin trading platform, a brand of rum and most importantly a legendary sea monster. A gigantic octopus that struck fear into sailors, the legend originated from sightings of a giant squid, possibly off the coast of Norway. Another version is that of Greek mythology. Hailed as a titan and still a sea monster, this creature had tentacles large enough to pull ships underwater. I’ll stay on dry land thanks, in case they release it.


  • Strength (1-10) 10
  • Intelligence 27%
  • Size (1-10) 10
  • Killer rating 99%
  • Fright factor (1-10) 10


Basilisk: Look away, look away! This serpentine creature will kill you dead with one stare. If that wasn’t enough, it can also spit poison and leave deadly venom. It sports a crown-shaped crest possibly because it is alleged to have been hatched by a cockerel from the egg of a toad or a serpent. Recently seen in the Chamber of Secrets. Anyone know a Parselmouth?


  • Strength (1-10) 9
  • Intelligence 63%
  • Size (1-10) 9
  • Killer rating 95%
  • Fright factor (1-10) 9


Griffin: A lion’s body and the head and wings of an eagle, this powerful majestic creature often guarded priceless items. These were found in art, architecture, and heraldry, and are presented in a variety of ways across the globe. Fun fact: Griffins mated for life and if the mate died, they never took another so the griffin was often used as an emblem of the church’s opposition to remarriage. A griffin’s feathers were reputed to cure blindness and their claws contained medicinal properties. Great to include in your First Aid kit then! 


  • Strength (1-10) 8
  • Intelligence 87%
  • Size (1-10) 7
  • Killer rating 77%
  • Fright factor (1-10) 7


Funny how many of these human-animal hybrids have a mostly human upper half and lower animal half. Are you wanting to pay more attention on your Zoom calls now? 


Well, time to go off and weave some magic. Just remember,


“Great problems, not clever solutions make great fiction.”

  • Ira Levin in Chuck Palahniuk


Is your fantastical creature the problem or the solution? Whichever, just be sure your creature is needed in your story, and you are clear about its purpose. You could always have fun creating a menagerie and saving them for future works!


Wait, what about vampires, werewolves, and zombies? Creatures of transformation, ones who were once human and are now cursed to live a soulless existence. That’s a whole other article…



Cron, Lisa (2016) Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel (Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere) 

Palahniuk, Chuck (2021) Consider This: Moments in My Writing Life after Which Everything Was Different


Young, Simon (2020) Magical Folk: British and Irish Faeries, 500 AD to the Present



Websites – 



Further inspiration/ideas


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