Male harpies

Posted on August 29, 2009 (Subscribe to Blog)

To those who know anything about Greek mythology, the term "male harpies" might seem like an oxymoron. Half bird, half woman, harpies are nasty creatures – but female. Some pictures depict them as large birds with human heads, while others present them as a little more human-like. The "original" drawings suggest they look like this:

Harpies

To quote from Wikipedia:

The harpies were sisters of Iris, daughters of Thaumas and Electra. Phineas, a king of Thrace, had the gift of prophecy. Zeus, angry that Phineas revealed too much, punished him by blinding him and putting him on an island with a buffet of food which he could never eat. The harpies always arrived and stole the food out of his hands right before he could satisfy his hunger, and befouled the remains of his food. This continued until the arrival of Jason and the Argonauts.

Harpies

So the original harpies were three ugly sisters, and the word "harpy" derives from the Greek harpazein, which means "to snatch." It seems there are endless ways to describe harpies, and every book or movie has its own preference. Sometimes harpies have arms as well as wings, and other times only wings.

Over time, harpies have become not just a few ugly thieving sisters but a whole species of nasty, hideous bird-women. Plenty of modern artists have come up with some really vicious-looking beasties, and I like all these versions better than the comical bird-with-human-head type. However, with a target audience of 9+, I have to make sure that my harpies are covered from head to toe with plumage so there are no rude bits showing! But otherwise I like the idea of human people with wings, and talons for feet.

Harpies

Just to be different (or awkward), the harpies in my own books are both male and female, although mostly female. Apart from certain types of sea life and plants, I can't see how a species can survive without males. (I can hear women out there disagreeing with this.) Then again, how does a half-bird, half-human species like this get started in the first place? Let's not even go there...

A modern dictionary says that "harpy" simply means "grasping, vicious person," so I don't see why we can't have males as well. Turning the legend on its head, maybe the original harpies in Greek mythology were just a few female harpies from a pre-existing species. Still, in keeping with tradition, the harpies that show up in Labyrinth of Fire have a queen (not a king) and they live in a nest (although not the cute little bowl of twigs in a tree that you're probably thinking of). These harpies are filthy and cruel, and they steal food from the nearby village on a regular basis. And they steal babies too.

If you haven't yet read Island of Fog then you might be wondering what harpies have to do with anything. If you have read it, then you'll understand... and maybe you'll feel sorry for one of those kids! I've just got halfway through Chapter Twelve of Labyrinth of Fire and it's left a nasty stench of harpy in the air.

Comment by ALICIA on Sunday, August 30, 2009...

If I ever see the Island of Fog in a bookstore Keith, I'll be sure to get it. And I can imagine a life without males...peace and no football ^_^. Wow, harpies sound, well annoying.

Comment by NIGEL ROWE on Sunday, August 30, 2009...

I guess any creature being female has the potential to become pretty nasty! *ducks to avoid missiles*

How come it's okay to write about stealing babies but not okay to show their breasts? Looking forward to reading Labyrinth of Fire — thanks for keeping us abreast of your progess. ;-)

Comment by KEITH ROBINSON on Sunday, August 30, 2009...

Alicia, if you're going to wait for Island of Fog to appear in bookstores, you have a long wait ahead!

Trust you, Nigel, to bring that up! This would be a good point if we were talking about adult TV, especially in America. But — and I know you were just kidding — don't forget that one of these harpies is a twelve-year-old girl. And since my age group is 9+ I'd rather just keep the adult harpies covered as well! I don't think boys and girls are the slightest bit interested in that kind of thing anyway until they're eighteen (or is it twenty-one?).

Comment by KARLA ARNOLD on Sunday, August 30, 2009...

Keith, Congrats are definitely in order, my friend! I loved the first novel, Island of Fog! I'm anxiously awaiting publication of the second novel in the trilogy, Labyrinth of Fire, which is coming this November 2009! It is a "great read" and a "must have" for every library. It keeps you on the edge of your seat wondering what is going to happen to the kids and their families. I couldn't put it down! It's loaded with suspense and intrigue. It's diversity of drama, science fiction, and mythical lore merge for a wonder plot. You are an inspiration to us all! Henry David Thoreau once said, "We were born to succeed, not to fail." Keith, my friend, you are a great success!

Karla Arnold

Comment by KEITH ROBINSON on Sunday, August 30, 2009...

Ooh, Karla, thanks! How much do I owe you to say all those nice things? :-) Seriously, I'm glad you enjoyed it, and it was good to find out that you're a "secret" children's fantasy reader as well as a poet and all that good stuff! Stay tuned for the next book...

Comment by ALICIA on Wednesday, September 2, 2009...

It sounds interesting, so I suppose it's worth the wait Keith. And if it does become famous [Like Twilight, but a LOT better] I'll be sure to gloat to my friends "I've actually talked to Keith Robinson." Well not talked face-to-face, but through some form of communication...

Comment by AWY on Sunday, October 13, 2013...

I've heard about a masculine harpie called "Virago", but I can't find info about it. Anyone who knows anything about it?

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