Posted on February 2, 2010 (Subscribe to Blog)
Look, I can't help it – I'm a fan of manticores. Most people like dragons, others like centaurs and faeries and griffins and what-have-you. But I was always a bit partial to manticores, and so I had to include one in my Island of Fog series.
Traditionally they are composite beasts with "a blood-colored lion's body, the face of a man with blue eyes, and a tail resembling the sting of a scorpion." They are powerful beasts that "can leap great distances." The manticore eats human flesh and devours the clothing too; it's said that no trace of a victim is ever found. Its voice is "a whistle that sounds like a melody from pipes." Some say it can "shoot spines from its tail."
I always laugh at early depictions of mythical creatures, because they always look more ridiculous than frightening. I think it's just the way people used to draw in the olden days. Modern illustrations are much better! Whether they're accurate or not depends on which version of the creature you prefer – for instance, with or without wings.
According to a really ancient description: "It is said, that in India is a beast wonderly shapen, and is like to the bear in body and in hair, and to a man in face. And hath a right red head, and a full great mouth, and an horrible, and in either jaw three rows of teeth distinguished atween. The outer limbs thereof be as it were the outer limbs of a lion, and his tail is like to a wild scorpion, with a sting, and smiteth with hard bristle pricks as a wild swine, and hath an horrible voice, as the voice of a trumpet, and he runneth full swiftly, and eateth men. And among all beasts of the earth is none found more cruel, nor more wonderly shape, as Avicenna saith. And this beast is called Baricos in Greek."
The creature has a number of name variations including manticore and manticora (both common) as well as the older mantichora and mantikhoras. Basically it means "man-eater." Somewhere I read about the "man-tiger," which struck me as logical; after all, the beast is red-furred and savage like a lion, and "manticore" even sounds a little like "man-tiger." But whatever you call it, these creatures are pretty nasty!
I first met a manticore (or manticora in this case) when, back in the 1980s, I read A Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony. This is the first novel in the long-running Magic of Xanth series, and in this case the manticora was serving time as a guard at the Good Wizard Humphrey's castle. The creature wasn't really "used" much in the novel, though, and when I introduced a manticore into my own novel, Island of Fog, I wanted to make full use of its hideousness. My version has the blue eyes, the human face, the three rows of needle-like teeth, a ball of poison-tipped quills on the end of its scorpion tail that can fire across distances and bring down victims, and a deadly black stinger that protrudes from this ball of quills oozing thick yellow venom. My manticore has no wings though. I think that's going too far; my characters have to have a fighting chance against this monster!
One eerie aspect of the manticore is its high, fluty voice. I made use of this to describe the human aspect of the manticore in my book, as though the young shapeshifter (who is stuck in his manticore form) were trying to escape the monster he had become.
The manticore gets quite a bit of action in Island of Fog, but only a little bit in Labyrinth of Fire. But those who would like to see more of him, fear not – he will return with a vengeance in the third book, Mountain of Whispers.
Manticores returning with a vengeance? Ggggrrreeeaaattt! :-)