Where the wild things are

As our planet edges closer to the apocalypse, the escapist, fantasy world of cryptids is suddenly coming to life
By MIKE MILIARD  |  January 12, 2009

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"For every square mile that man has walked on the Earth, three hundred square miles exist that have never been touched by human feet — but MAY INDEED HAVE BEEN TOUCHED by the hooves, paws, tentacles, and horrid tongue-foot-pads of the CRYPTIDS."

— John Hodgman

Venture out into the waters and woodlands of New England, and there's a chance you'll bump into "Champ," America's own Loch Ness Monster, who allegedly plies the muddy ripples of Lake Champlain. Or, perhaps, the Gloucester Sea Serpent. Or the Granite State Bigfoot. Or Connecticut's Winsted Wildman. Dare you wander into the dark-woven forests of Maine or the eerie and unexplored Hockomock Swamp, smack in the middle of the Bay State's allegedly supernatural "Bridgewater Triangle"?

View Loren Coleman's collection of cryptids in our slideshow: Cryptids in Maine

You well may. After all, could what's living in there be any scarier than what's living out here? We find ourselves in a world where presidents swindle their countries into wars, governors shake down children's hospitals, and con men abscond with $50 billion from their investors, many of them charities. Is it any wonder that some people spend hefty chunks of each day dreaming of a world inhabited by unseen creatures untouched by the mean banality of mankind?

Can it be a coincidence that the field of cryptozoology — literally, the study of "hidden animals" — has evolved from a discipline cloaked in shadows and pooh-poohed by science into a full-fledged pop-cultural explosion? In short: the world of late has gone cryptid crazy.

At the Museum of Science, the "Mythic Creatures" exhibit (on display through March 22) delves into the folkloric and ethnozoological aspects of cryptids, from the Kraken (Norwegian sea beast) to the Chupacabra (Latin American livestock muncher). In Egleston Square, the 826 Boston writing center — a chapter of the San Francisco workshop established by Dave Eggers — disguises itself behind a think-tank named, fancifully, the Greater Boston Bigfoot Research Institute. (Slogan: "We exist because he exists.") Even Harpoon Brewery's new line of high-octane beers is called the Leviathan Series — named for that gargantuan but seldom-seen creature of the lower depths.

That's to say nothing of the new books by the likes of tweedy fabulist John Hodgman, a son of Brookline whose latest almost-true almanac, More Information Than You Require (Dutton), devotes space to discussion of the Pope Lick Monster and Mongolian Death Worm, and delves even deeper into the hollow-earth netherworld of the mole-men. Or the forthcoming Beasts! (Fantagraphics), which features stunning, full-color portraits of more than 90 cryptids, demons, and sprites — from the Ajattar (a grotesque Finnish dragon lady) to the Yuki-Onna (a cruel snow harpy from Japan) — by such comic book artists as Peter Bagge, Kim Deitch, and Lightning Bolt's Brian Chippendale.

Or the popular TV shows that revel in the unexplained — be they documentary (MonsterQuest, Destination Truth) or fantastical fiction (Lost, with its polar bears pawing through the jungle brush). Or Quatchi, the Sasquatch mascot of the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games. Or even, we suppose, the politically disillusioned Minnesota citizen who, in this past fall's US Senate race, given the choices Norm Coleman and Al Franken, preferred to vote for "Lizard People."

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Related: Most popular articles of 2009, Slideshow: Cryptids in Maine, Bigfoot coming to Congress Street, More more >
  Topics: Lifestyle Features , Science and Technology, Nature and the Environment, Loren Coleman,  More more >
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