Hey listeners! Thanks for sticking with Page of the Wind so far as we barrel like a runaway wagon towards page 50, and the meat of the narrative approaches. We’re glad to have you on this journey with us.
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So, in this week’s chunk of podcast episodes, we get our first look at the living (?) nightmares known as the Scrael. It’s unclear to us still, precisely what the nature of the scrael is. Are they alive, in the sense of a natural organism? Are they some kind of supernatural automaton? Do they originate in the fey? What, if any, is their connection to the Chandrian? We all have our theories.
One thing that’s not up for debate is that they’re set up to be one of the creepiest, most frightening critters I’ve ever encountered in a fantasy book. Despite all the beauty and wonder and awe that Rothfuss fills the world of Temerant with, it’s the scrael who first give us the sense of the supernatural. And they’re scary as hell – scuttling, ravenous, seemingly mindless and indestructible. I remember being totally sucked in by this sequence the first time I read the book – even though it turns out to be not much of an action sequence.
They’re described in such a way as to make them feel unique and frightening, but they also come out of a rich fantasy tradition of horrible insect-like creatures.
There’s Tolkien’s monstrous spiders, of course – the nameless spiders that live in Mirkwood in The Hobbit, and Shelob and Ungoliant, from The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, respectively. Worth noting that in The Lord of the Rings, Shelob is not actually a spider, but an evil thing in spider form. Tolkien derived the name Shelob from the English she and the Old English lob, which means “spider”. Unlike the scrael, the spiders in Tolkien’s legendarium are presented as creatures with intelligence and free will – but of course, they’re entirely evil.
J.K. Rowling also has some monstrous spiders called acromantula, who dwell in the Forbidden Forest outside of Hogwarts. It’s worth noting that while the giant spiders in Harry Potter are presented as creepy and horrifying, they’re not wholly evil. Aragog in particular seems to have been somewhat civilized by his contact with Hagrid, enough not to immediately devour Harry and his pals.
In Stephen King’s epic fantasy series, The Dark Tower, and it’s related works (which is most of Stephen King’s novels), Mid-World is chock full of spider-like and insectoid monstrosities. There are, of course, the “lobstrosities” – hideous spider-crustaceans who attack our hero Roland on a beach and make off with parts of him he will miss. One of the final foes Roland faces on his quest for the Tower is the monstrous half-spider Mordred. The villain of “It” is not actually an evil clown, but an evil supernatural force that takes the shape of your darkest fears – but whose true form resembles an enormous, monstrous spider.
Let’s face it. Arthropods are scary. They’re unsettling, and weird, and almost alien looking. There’s a lot there for fantasy authors to mine. I’m sure the examples I mentioned above are not the only example of scary spider-like monsters in fantasy.
Did the scrael creep you out as much as they creep me out? Is there another example of a scary insect-monster in fantasy we’ve failed to include? Sound off in the comments, on our Twitter and Facebook (@pageofthewind) or in our e-mail (email@example.com) . We’d love to hear from you, and if you present us with a really cool example, we might talk about it on an upcoming episode.