Mixing fantasy and history for a new story

I’ve been working on a more fanciful piece of fiction right now, one that features gryphons. Pretty different for me as a writer, though I’ve always been a fan of fantasy and sci fi that turns real events on its head with an alternative take on history.

I’m certainly not inventing these mythical creatures out of whole cloth, but there is so much room for invention when one is writing about a creature (inserted into the more realistic, historical world) that does not actually exist. Frankly, it’s a lot of fun.

But introducing a creature such as the gryphon isn’t all that easy. Just for starters, how do you spell it? Griffin or gryphon? I like the second spelling because it seems more classical somehow.

There’s been a lot written about gryphons (though not nearly so much as about dragons or unicorns or zombies) but no one seems to agree—not exactly—on the qualities and traits of a gryphon. While it’s generally accepted that a gryphon is a cross between a giant eagle and a lion, resulting in the wings and head of an eagle and the claws, hindquarters and tail of a lion, one artist’s conception varies very much from another’s.

There is also the matter of size. Is a gryphon a smallish creature the size of a German Shepherd, or something much bigger? In my story, the gryphons are big enough to carry a rider, so that makes them roughly the size of a horse.

It seems that the myth of the gryphon comes from real life … sort of. The bones of winged dinosaurs were explained away by early scientists as being gryphon bones. Their lair was believed to have been mountainous areas—which is where those fossilized bones were first found.

But what about the nature of a gryphon? Walking our dog gives me time to think about that and compare the personalities of my made-up gryphons to my pup. Are gryphons loyal like dogs and protective? Our dog is friendly enough, but walk into the house unannounced and he’s quite the opposite. Or are gryphons more like horses in that they allow other people to ride them? It seems like a small question, but it’s so central to a good story.

And what of the intelligence of gryphons? They surely can’t read or write or reason. But I think they would have a certain animal cunning. Imagine being lost in the winter woods with a pack of wolves on your trail. You are smarter than a wolf and perhaps can recite poetry or play the guitar or do your own taxes. But in the woods that’s not much use, and wouldn’t you say that a hungry wolf has a clear advantage in tht environment? The same might be said of gryphons … not smart or rational like humans, but very dangerous opponents in certain situations. Or useful allies.

In the end, there is a lot of discovery about characters—real humans and mythical creatures—that takes place on the page. But that’s part of the thrill of writing a story, isn’t it? Or reading one, for that matter.



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2 Responses to Mixing fantasy and history for a new story

  1. Chris G. says:

    A lot of food for thought, here. I love new takes on the mythic creatures of imagination – even with some of the old molds still in place, it’s fascinating to see the little creative works individual authors can work upon (or break!) about creatures like gryphons, dragons,phoenixes or the like. Robin Hobb’s take on dragons, for example – enthralling to see come to life, I must say.

    Gryphons are one that have especially caught my interest over time – probably for that reason they even make an appearance, actually, in my own upcoming novel. Very beaten down creatures therein, to say the least. Domesticated to the extent of horses, and other such animals – can’t even utilize those wings of theirs to their full extent any longer.

    I wish you all the best with your own tale! It sounds like you’ve got the specifics of creation under-wraps – will be interesting to see what comes of it.

    • David Healey says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Chris. It’s interesting that your gryphons have lost to some extent the use of their wings. Do I sense a plot twist there? Please let me know when your novel comes out because I’ll be sure to get a copy!

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