Dr KARL SHUKER

Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. Author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), The Unexplained (1996), Mysteries of Planet Earth (1999), The Beasts That Hide From Man (2003), and more recently Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), Dragons in Zoology, Cryptozoology, and Culture (2013), A Manifestation of Monsters (2015), Here's Nessie! (2016), and what is already considered to be his magnum opus, Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors (2016), his many fans have been badgering him to join the blogosphere for years. The CFZ Blog Network is proud to have finally persuaded him to do so.

Dr Karl Shuker's Official Website - http://www.karlshuker.com/index.htm

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Friday, 30 June 2017

GREEN GROW THE TIGERS, O – AT LEAST IN VIETNAM?


Here's one I made earlier - a green tiger created by me via computerised photo-manipulation (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Quoting from a previous ShukerNature blog article of mine (click here to read it):

In various of my books, articles, and ShukerNature posts concerning cryptozoological and mythological big cats, I have documented lions of many different hues and shades, including black lions (click here, here, and here), white lions (click here), grey lions, red lions, golden lions, and even an alleged green lion (click here) – but never a blue lion. Blue tigers, yes (click here) – blue lions, no. Until now, that is.

I then went on to reveal that I had recently discovered some African and Asian legends relating to blue lions that I had never known about before, and I devoted the rest of that blog article to them.

But why am I reiterating all of this here? The reason is that I now find myself in a comparable situation with tigers. Over the years, I have documented tigers in virtually every conceivable shade and stripe version – blue tigers as already noted, plus black tigers (click here), white tigers (here), golden tigers (here), snow tigers (here), red tigers, brown tigers, double-striped tigers, and even stripeless tigers (all of which are also collectively documented in my books Mystery Cats of the World and Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery) – except for one. I had never encountered a report or sighting of a green tiger – until now, that is.

In an earlier ShukerNature article, I mentioned how correspondent James Nicholls from Perth, Australia, had sent me a fascinating email on 27 June 2017 referring to a hitherto-obscure published account from 1821 concerning giant oil-drinking spiders reputedly inhabiting two of Europe's very notable edifices of worship, an account that almost certainly inspired Bram Stoker to insert a short, comparable account in his classic Gothic novel Dracula (1897). Click here to read on ShukerNature my investigation of this fascinating subject. However, that wasn't the only remarkable piece of information contained in James's email to me.

It also included a link to a thoroughly extraordinary account on the website Reddit, which had been posted on Christmas Day 2016 by someone with the username AnathemaMaranatha and seemingly of American nationality (judging from their style of grammar and spelling, and various other Reddit posts by them), and consisted of their supposed first-hand eyewitness description of a truly unique mystery cat. It reads as follows: (Or click here to view it in its original format on Reddit.)

Okay. I saw a green tiger. I wasn't alone.

We were out towards the Cambodian border in summer of 1969, an American light infantry company of about 100 or so guys. We were operating in flatlands, thick jungle, along a river. (Saigon River? Not sure.) Bright, sunny day.

We were proceeding single file when point platoon came to a stop, there was some yelling (we were stealthy - yelling is bad) from the point, then point platoon radioed for the Command Post (CP - the company commander and his people) to come up to point.

When we got there, we found the point team glaring at each other - some kind of tussle. Point and drag were standing in the machine gunner's line of fire glaring at him. The machine gunner had wanted to shoot. Point and drag stopped him. He didn't like that.

The object of discussion was across a jungle opening maybe 15 meters away, just peeking at us over the elephant grass. It was a big tiger - biggest I've ever seen, Frank Frazetta-style big, but without the lady.

Here's the insane part. The tiger was white where a tiger is white and black where a tiger is black, but all the orange parts were a pale green. We all saw it, maybe twenty grunts and me. The machine gunner was arguing that we have to shoot it, because otherwise no one would believe it. He had a point.

But the rest of us were just awestruck. I mean, it might as well have been an archangel, wings halo and all. I felt an impulse to kneel. I don't think I was alone.

The tiger stood there checking us out for maybe 15 minutes, not worried, not angry, just a curious cat. Then he turned and disappeared.

Don't believe me? That's okay. I don't believe it myself. I mean WTF was that? Hallucinogenic elephant grass? Some trick of the light? The tiger walked through some kind of green pollen just before we saw it? No freakin' idea.

There it is, OP. I don't believe it, and I saw it. Or hallucinated it. Me and all my blues. Make of it what you will. I'm done.

In fact, this person did make a few additional, minor comments in reply to various responses from other Reddit readers, of which the following one is well worth recording here:

I apologize for not making clear that the tiger was scaring the shit out of all us. He did NOT look sick or malnourished. He looked like he could be right in the middle of all of us in no time flat. He thought so, too. Didn't seem the least bit scared of us.

And I guess he wasn't hungry.

Another of my computer-generated green tigers (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Not surprisingly, faced with an account from someone claiming to have encountered a green tiger, my initial reaction was to assume that it was just a spoof, a joke, not to be taken seriously. But then I decided to investigate the credentials of the person who had posted it, especially as their account did sound as if it had been written by someone familiar with military action in Vietnam, and I was very intrigued to discover that they had written a number of other, much more mainstream and very detailed accounts on Reddit concerning their alleged time and military service there during the Vietnam War that all seemed entirely authentic (e.g. click here), and had been well-received by Vietnam veterans who would surely spot and soon expose any imposter. Consequently, it seems both reasonable and parsimonious to assume that this person's Vietnam-related testimony is indeed genuine.

But a green tiger? Really? I noticed that the green tiger account had attracted an interesting response (by someone with the unfortunate username eggshitter):

It was a bright sunny day right? Is there any chance that there was some murky green pool that reflected the light on to the tiger? Maybe he had just been rolling around in the grass?

Other, later posters made similar comments. They reminded me of a suggestion that has been put forward in the past concerning the blue tigers of Fujian, China – namely, that perhaps their distinctive fur colouration was simply due to their having rolled in bluish-coloured mud. However, as I have pointed out when responding to this suggestion, if that were true the entire tiger would look blue, whereas eyewitnesses have specifically mentioned seeing their black stripes and pale underparts, which of course would have been obscured if they had rolled in mud. The same logic, therefore, can be applied to the green tiger had it merely been rolling around in grass, or even, perhaps, in an alga-choked jungle pool.

Conversely, an optical illusion induced by reflected light is certainly possible. Yet bearing in mind the substantial length of time of the observation (15 minutes), and which was made by several different people simultaneously rather than just a single observer, this might initially seem somewhat improbable too.

On 19 November 2012, however, after having blogged about an alleged green lion seen in Uganda, East Africa (click here), I had received a fascinating response from John Valentini Jr (a Cryptomundo website reader who had seen a link to my article posted there by fellow cryptozoologist Nick Redfern), and which is also directly relevant to this present green tiger conundrum. So here is the summary of John's response that I added as a comment below my green lion blog article:

One day, while visiting a local zoo, John photographed a lioness, of totally normal colouration, but when he received his negatives and prints back from the developers (i.e. back in the days before digital photography), he was very surprised to discover that in them the lioness was green! She had been walking through an expanse of grass with her body held low when he had photographed her, and at the precise angle that John was photographing her the green light reflecting from the grass had made her look green. (Some grass, noted John, can be around 18-26% reflective.) Having to concentrate keeping his camera focused upon her through only a small viewfinder and thick glass, however, John hadn't noticed this optical effect himself - not until the negatives and prints had subsequently revealed it. Consequently, John speculates that perhaps, if viewed at precisely the correct angle, a similar effect could occur with a lion observed in the wild in decent light conditions but with plenty of green foliage around it, and that this may explain the Ugandan prospector's claimed sighting of a green lion.

Needless to say, I am delighted that John documented his extraordinary photographic experience on Cryptomundo in response to the link to this ShukerNature article of mine, as it may indeed offer a very plausible, rational explanation for the alleged green lion of Uganda - but one so remarkable that I would never even have thought of it, had John not posted it - so many thanks, John, once again!

Yes indeed, and it may also offer an equally plausible, rational explanation for the alleged green tiger of Vietnam – always assuming, of course, that the report is genuine. And there, at least for now, is where this most intriguing case rests, currently unproven but undeniably curious.

Of course, despite having bewailed the fact that I had never previously encountered anything about green tigers, there is one undoubted exception…of sorts. And that exception, as cartoon and super-hero fans everywhere are no doubt only too ready and waiting to remind me, is of course a certain golden-striped green tiger named Cringer – the very large but also very cowardly feline companion of Prince Adam, aka He-Man, in the very popular Masters of the Universe cartoon TV series (1983-1985) produced by Filmation (and also in the later movie starring Dolph Lundgren). Of course, when He-Man points his sword towards Cringer and fires an energy beam at him, Cringer redeems himself by transforming (albeit reluctantly) into his even bigger and now totally fearless, ferocious alter-ego felid called Battle Cat.

Two views of my original 1983 model of Cringer/Battle Cat (© Dr Karl Shuker)

As far as I am aware, however, neither as Cringer nor as Battle Cat has this green-furred tigerine celebrity ever paid a visit to Vietnam…

Finally: just in case anyone is confused by this ShukerNature article's main title, it is a play on the title of a traditional English folk song, 'Green Grow The Rushes, O', which was also often used with children as a counting song (and should not be confused, incidentally, with the similarly-titled song 'Green Grow The Rushes' by Robert Burns).

I am extremely grateful to James Nicholls for very kindly bringing this apparent eyewitness report of a green tiger to my attention.

My two books on mystery cats (© Dr Karl Shuker)





Wednesday, 28 June 2017

DRACULA, VAN HELSING, AND GIANT SPIDERS IN THE CATHEDRAL


Official movie poster for the 1979 horror film Nosferatu the Vampyre (© Werner Herzog Filmproduktion/20th Century Fox – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis only)

A few weeks ago, I finally found time to watch a horror film that I had long been planning to see. Directed by Werner Herzog and starring Klaus Kinski in spellbinding form as the title character, the film in question was Nosferatu the Vampyre, the very stylish 1979 West German art-house remake of the cult 1922 German silent movie Nosferatu (starring Max Schreck), which in turn was loosely based upon Bram Stoker's classic epistolary vampire novel Dracula.

Little did I think while viewing it that only a short time later I would be investigating a fascinating but hitherto-obscure cryptozoological conundrum tucked away within the pages of the selfsame famous novel that had inspired this film – but that is precisely what happened, providing further confirmation for what I have always known, especially when dealing with mystery animals. Always expect the unexpected, and you will never be disappointed.

So here is that recent investigation of mine, presented here as a ShukerNature exclusive – the ever-curious case of Dracula, Van Helsing, and Giant Spiders in the Cathedral.

Bram Stoker in 1906 (public domain)

Many years ago, while reading Stoker's Dracula, which was originally published in 1897, I was intrigued by the following short but memorable aside spoken by the eminent vampire hunter Prof. Abraham Van Helsing to his former student Dr John Seward:

Can you tell me why, when other spiders die small and soon, that one great spider lived for centuries in the tower of the old Spanish church and grew and grew, till, on descending, he could drink the oil of all the church lamps?

At the time of reading it, however, I simply assumed that this extraordinary statement was nothing more than the product of Stoker's very fertile, and febrile, imagination. Consequently, I swiftly dismissed it from my mind, never considering for a moment that it may actually have been inspired by reality.

And then, just a few days ago, I received a fascinating email from a correspondent that has incited me to revisit this brief passage from Dracula and reassess it in a much more enlightened manner.

Hugh Jackman as Van Helsing in the 2004 Universal Pictures movie Van Helsing (© Universal Pictures, included here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis only)

Received by me on 27 June 2017, the illuminating email in question was from James Nicholls of Perth, Australia, who very kindly informed me that in 1821 two separate periodicals, the Edinburgh Magazine and Literary Miscellany (vol. 88, July-December, p. 268) and The Atheneum; or, Spirit of the English Magazines (vol. 9, April-October, p. 485), had published near-identical versions of a short but fascinating account (referred to hereafter in this ShukerNature blog article of mine as the 1821 account), concerning giant oil-drinking spiders lurking amid the shadows of two major European edifices of religious worship. Here is the version that appeared in the Edinburgh Magazine and Literary Miscellany:

The sexton of the church of St Eustace, at Paris, amazed to find frequently a particular lamp extinct early, and yet the oil consumed only, sat up several nights to perceive the cause. At length he discovered that a spider of surprising size came down the cord to drink the oil. A still more extraordinary instance of the same kind occurred during the year 1751, in the Cathedral of Milan. A vast spider was observed there, which fed on the oil of the lamps. M. Morland, of the Academy of Sciences, has described this spider, and furnished a drawing of it. It weighed four pounds, and was sent to the Emperor of Austria, and is now in the Imperial Museum at Vienna.

Needless to say, reading through this remarkable account, one is irresistibly reminded of Van Helsing's comment as penned by Stoker in Dracula – so much so, in fact, that surely there can be little if any doubt that this was indeed Stoker's source of inspiration for that comment, especially as this account was published 76 years before Stoker's novel first appeared in print.

Presumably, Stoker either misremembered the locations given for these stupendous spiders in the account, or he purposefully changed them in order to make it look as if Van Helsing had only retained a hazy, incompletely accurate memory of the account. Both of these possibilities could satisfactorily explain why he cited a Spanish church rather than either the French one or Milan Cathedral as named in the account.

Exquisite 19th-Century illustration of Milan Cathedral, capturing very effectively its immense size – big enough, surely, to conceal even the most monstrous of spiders amid the shadows embracing its upper regions during the hours of daylight? (public domain)

But might there be any factual substance to the above account, or was it too merely a work of fiction? Initially, the concept of any kind of oil-drinking spider, irrespective of body size considerations for the time being, seemed ludicrous. After all, kerosene would surely be toxic to such creatures. But when I began to research the account, I began to wonder.

For I discovered that back when it was published, during the early 1800s, and especially during the even earlier time period named by it during which the giant cathedral spider of Milan was reportedly discovered, i.e. during the early 1750s, the oil commonly used in lamps was derived from whale blubber or rendered animal fat, and therefore could conceivably be nutritious for spiders.

Moreover, spiders typically imbibe their sustenance in liquid form anyway; on account of the narrowness of their gut, they cannot digest solid food, so after immobilising or killing their prey with injected venom or enshrouding silk, they pump digestive enzymes into it from their midgut, then suck the prey's now-liquefied tissues into their gut. So the oil-drinking proclivity attributed to these great spiders is not as implausible as one might otherwise assume.

My book Mirabilis (© Dr Karl Shuker)

But what about their prodigious magnitude? My book Mirabilis; A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013) contains an exceedingly comprehensive chapter documenting a varied array of giant spider reports originating from all over the world. Within that chapter (as well as within a ShukerNature blog article on giant spiders excerpted and expanded from it - click here), I discussed as follows the crucial physiological flaw inherent in all speculation concerning the plausibility (or otherwise)  of such creatures:

The fundamental problem when considering giant spiders is not one of zoogeography but rather one of physiology. Their tracheal respiratory system (consisting of a network of minute tubes carrying oxygen to every cell in the body) prevents insects from attaining huge sizes in the modern world, because the tracheae could not transport oxygen efficiently enough inside insects of giant stature. During the late Carboniferous and early Permian Periods, 300 million years ago, huge dragonflies existed, but back in those primeval ages the atmosphere's oxygen level was far greater than it is today, thereby compensating for the tracheal system's inefficiency.

Some of the largest known spiders also utilise a tracheal respiratory system, whereas smaller spiders employ flattened organs of passive respiration called book lungs. Yet neither system is sufficiently competent to enable spiders to attain enormous sizes, based upon current knowledge at least. So if a giant spider does thrive…it must have evolved a radically different, much more advanced respiratory system, not just a greatly enlarged body.

Also, giant spiders are very much the embodiment of primeval bogey beasts, created both consciously, by parents to playfully scare their children and to make them aware of the potential danger posed by various real but highly venomous species, and unconsciously, by the human imagination working overtime in relation to creatures whose potential danger is buried very deep within the fundamental human psyche. Surely it can be no coincidence that giant spiders, almost invariably of evil intent, appear in the traditional folklore and mythology of very different cultures all around the world.

Keep away from spiders, kids, or this might happen to you! (public domain)

Then again, outrageous journalistic hokum was extremely common in the West during much of the 19th Century, i.e. when the 1821 account was published, so perhaps that is all that it ever was, with no basis whatsoever in fact. After all, elsewhere on ShukerNature I have already documented such arachnological absurdities as the deadly giant siren-singing spider of Paris, France (click here), and the giant flying tomb spider of Rome, Italy (click here), both of which debuted in highly-suspect 19th-Century newspaper reports.

Since receiving the 1821 account from James Nicholls, I have conducted some appreciable online research in a quest for supplementary details appertaining to its contents, and have uncovered a few additional coverages of it, some back in the 1820s and others from modern times. However, all of them confine themselves almost exclusively to the details already provided in the Edinburgh Magazine and Literary Miscellany and The Atheneum.

Indeed, the most informative version that I have accessed so far, entitled 'The King of the Spiders', remains the one that appeared in The Atheneum, so here it is in full:

'The King of the Spiders' article from Vol. 9 (April-October 1821) of The Atheneum; or, Spirit of the English Magazines (public domain)

As can be seen, in addition to the standard details present in other versions, it also actually contains Morand's own verbal description (in French) of the giant Milan Cathedral spider. This translates into English as:

The body, the colour of soot, rounded, terminated in a point, with the back and the limbs hairy, weighed four pounds.

Two of the most notable 20th-Century publications to include mention of it are English spider authority W.S. Bristowe's A Book of Spiders (1947), and eminent British zoologist Prof. John L. Cloudsley-Thompson's authoritative work Spiders, Scorpions, Centipedes and Mites: The Ecology and Natural History of Woodlice, Myriapods, and Arachnids (1958). Worth noting is Bristowe's line of delightfully tongue-in-cheek speculation that he pursued in his coverage of the events detailed in the 1821 account:

I suspect the sexton [of St Eustace's Church in Paris] was under grave suspicion of borrowing the oil himself until he reported seeing [the giant spider stealing it].

Although he never stated it overtly, to my mind Bristowe's wording indicates that he entertained the possibility that the sexton had invented the entire giant spider story in order to conceal the fact that it was he who was stealing the oil. Who knows – perhaps the sexton had been aware of the report of the great spider from Milan Cathedral, and so was inspired by it to create a version of his own in order to hide his nefarious involvement in the oil's disappearance in his own place of worship.

Retitled as Spiders, reprint of W.S. Bristowe's A Book of Spiders (© King Penguin Books, reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis only)

Sadly, the 1821 account tantalises rather than teaches its readers, by offering more questions than answers. Who, for instance, was Morland (or Morand, as so named in The Atheneum's version of events), who produced a drawing of the great spider of Milan Cathedral from 1751, and where is that drawing today? Does it still survive? I wonder if Morland (or Morand) could have been the English animal artist George Morland (1763-1804). And which museum is being referred to in the 1821 account as 'the Imperial Museum at Vienna'? However, it may well be Austria's Imperial Treasury Museum, which is housed at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, and contains many secular and ecclesiastical items spanning more than a millennium in European history.

In any event, I deem it highly unlikely that a preserved 4-lb spider exists in any museum collection within Austria – after all, as Bristowe pithily observed in his own coverage, it would be as big as a pekingese dog! Having said that, I would love to be proved wrong, so if anyone reading this article has knowledge of where such a specimen might be held today if it ever did once exist, I would greatly welcome details.

Nevertheless, having reported two separate specimens of giant spider means that the 1821 account is guaranteed to be of very appreciable interest and importance to cryptid seekers anyway. This makes it all the more surprising that (at least as far as I'm aware) its documentation in this present ShukerNature blog article of mine is the very first time that it has ever appeared in any strictly cryptozoological context.

Face to face – a (very) close encounter of the arachnid kind! (Vicky Nunn/public domain)

Now that it has very belatedly done so, however, let us hope that it elicits further details concerning those spiders of stature documented within it, and perhaps concerning additional specimens too.

I wish to offer my most sincere and grateful thanks to James Nicholls for kindly bringing the 1821 account to my attention. Moreover, in his same email to me, James also referred to a second, very different, but equally astonishing mystery beast report that I had not previously encountered - so I duly investigated that one too, and I have now documented it here on ShukerNature.

Finally: how could any article inspired by Stoker's Gothic literary masterpiece be considered at an end without having included at least one appearance from a member of the undead fanged fraternity – so here it is:

A vampire from the modern school of bloodsuckers, complete with fashionably-unkempt rock star looks, locks, and designer stubble, but clearly retaining the old school's fangs, ferocity, and mainstream malevolence – not a sparkle, shimmer, or outbreak of whimpering fangless adolescent angst to be seen anywhere here! (© David de la Luz/Wikipedia CC BY-SA 2.0 licence)





Thursday, 8 June 2017

BRIDE OF THE LINDORM


The prince meeting his lindorm brother, from Folk Tales of the World, written by Roger Lancelyn Green, illustrated by Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone, and published in 1966 by Purnell and Sons Ltd (© Roger Lancelyn Green/ Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone/Purnell and Sons Ltd – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis only)

I owe much of my lifelong love of mythology to the wonderful works of Roger Lancelyn Green that my mother Mary Shuker bought for me when I was a child, in which he retold countless famous and little-known myths, legends, folktales, and fables from all around the world. Moreover, it was within these works that I first encountered many enthralling fabulous beasts and other folkloric entities, including the Japanese tanuki, the Mexican kuil kaax (click here for my ShukerNature coverage of this magical woodland spirit), the Australian kurreah (click here), and – in Green's delightful book Folk Tales of the World, exquisitely illustrated throughout in full colour by Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone, which I still treasure to this day – the Swedish lindorm.

Lindorms are semi-dragons inasmuch as they occupy an intermediate echelon in the evolution of the dragon from the serpent. Typically (but not invariably) two-legged and wingless, lindorms have greater affinities with the serpents than with the classical dragons (in contrast, wyverns, which are also semi-dragons, possess not only a pair of legs but also a pair of wings, so they are closer to the classical dragons than to the serpents).

A sturdy typical two-limbed lindorm readily demonstrating its semi-dragon status, intermediate between a limbless serpent dragon and a quadrupedal classical dragon (public domain)

Incidentally, the term 'lindorm' should not be (but often is) confused with 'lindworm' – which technically should only be applied to wingless four-limbed classical dragons. In heraldry, however, it is commonly applied to lindorms.

Lindorms were commonly met with in churchyards, where they ghoulishly devoured human corpses, and would sometimes invade churches too. They occurred in great numbers amid the mountainous peaks of central Europe - indeed, the elaborate dragon-shaped fountain in Klagenfurt, Austria, was inspired by the discovery in 1335 of a supposed lindorm skull (it later proved to be from a woolly rhinoceros!).

A limbless Swedish lindorm, resembling a gigantic snake (© Richard Svensson)

Their favourite land, however, was Sweden, which contained quite a variety of versions, including legless lindorms and even one that sported a small pair of fore-wings instead of a pair of legs. But most Swedish lindorms were of the typical two-limbed variety. There are many traditional tales from this Scandinavian country concerning these particular semi-dragons, but perhaps the most celebrated example is the one that I shall now retell here.

A rare winged Swedish lindorm (© Richard Svensson)

Untold centuries ago, the Swedish monarch's queen lay in her bedchamber, about to give birth to twins - the fulfilment of many years of empty longing for the children that she seemed destined never to conceive. She smiled, as she remembered how, in final desperation, she had consulted a soothsayer who had assured her that in less than a year's time she would be granted two handsome sons - provided that she ate two fresh onions as soon as she returned home to the palace.

The advice seemed quite bizarre, but the queen was so aroused by the chance, however slim, that it offered to her that she made her way back to the palace at once, anxious to seek out the necessary vegetables without delay. Recalling this scene, she also remembered hearing the soothsayer calling after her, but as she had already told her about the onions, the soothsayer's message clearly couldn't have been of much importance, and so the queen hadn't wasted time turning back. Instead, she had continued her journey home, and upon arriving had ordered two crisp, mature onions to be brought to her immediately.

When she received them, the queen was so excited by the promise that these innocuous vegetables held that she ate the first one whole, without even stopping to peel the skins from it. Not surprisingly, however, it tasted quite revolting - and so in spite of her enthusiasm she spent time carefully peeling the second one, stripping away every layer of skin, before finally eating it. Nine months had passed since then, and now, precisely as prophesied by the soothsayer, she was about to bear her greatly-desired children.

'The Serpent of Arabia' – a lindorm sumptuously depicted in the Ripley Scroll, a 15th-Century alchemical manuscript of emblematic symbolism, and of unknown origin but named after Sir George Ripley, a famous English alchemist (public domain)

The palace courtiers and staff eagerly clamoured outside the royal bedchamber, awaiting the official announcement of the new princes' births. Suddenly, an ear-splitting scream echoed within the chamber - but it was not the lusty cry of a newborn baby. It was, instead, a shriek of horror - an eldritch wail that leapt unbidden from the throat of the royal midwife when she set eyes upon the queen's firstborn. It was male - but it was not human.

The queen had given birth to a lindorm - a hideous snake-like dragon, whose wingless elongate body thrashed upon the marble floor in innumerable scaly coils, and from whose shoulders sprang a pair of powerful limbs with taloned feet. Deathly pale and so repulsed by the creature that she was unable even to whisper, let alone scream, it was the queen, still in labour with her second child, who leaned down, took the young lindorm in her arms - and hurled it, with all the power that her loathing could summon, through a nearby window, from where the creature plummeted into the dense forest surrounding the palace.

Weakened from the exertion, she sank back upon the bed, and gave birth again - but this time to a perfectly healthy, fresh-faced boy, with golden hair and sparkling blue eyes.

Encountering a traditional two-limbed lindorm in Switzerland, from Itinera per Helvetiae Alpinas Regiones Facta Annis 1702-1711 by Swiss scholar Johann Jakob Scheuchzer, 1723 (public domain)

Years passed by, and the boy became a youthful prince in search of a bride - but what he found was his brother, the lindorm. The prince had been riding around the perimeter of the vast forest encompassing the palace when, without warning, a huge ophidian head had emerged from a thorny bush directly ahead. Rearing up until its green-scaled body resembled a towering tree, the lindorm gazed down at the youth with unblinking eyes of amber that effortlessly penetrated his innermost thoughts. And as the prince stared back, mesmerised and motionless before this monstrous entity, he heard its voice, intoning deep within his mind - a voice that assured him with cold, reptilian detachment and certainty that he would never find a wife until he, his elder brother, had obtained the true love of a willing bride.

Accordingly, over the next few months a succession of village maidens were given to the lindorm, in the hope of overcoming this barrier to the young prince's quest for a bride. Needless to say, however, none of the maidens were thrilled at the prospect of marriage to a lindorm, so none came willingly - and, inevitably therefore, none was accepted by the monster. The situation seemed irreconcilable - until one day, that is, when the next maiden selected to be the lindorm's bride had the good fortune to encounter beforehand the soothsayer whom the queen had consulted all those years ago. After listening sympathetically as the maiden spoke of her impending plight, the soothsayer whispered into her ear some words of advice that swiftly replaced her sadness with a smile of joy.

The maiden instructing the lindorm to shed its first skin, as portrayed by Arthur Rackham (public domain)

That night, the maiden was presented to the lindorm, who gruffly told her to take off her dresses - of which she seemed to be wearing a surprising number. She agreed to do this - but only after extracting from the lindorm the promise that for every dress she took off, it would shed a layer of skin. This it did, until only a single layer remained - and until the maiden was clothed in just a single robe.

The maiden removing her first dress, watched closely by the lindorm after shedding its first skin as demanded by her - illustrated by Henry Justice Ford (public domain)

Despite remembering the soothsayer's words, it was not without a degree of nervousness that she then removed this final gown and stood still, and naked, before the great dragon.

The lindorm moved towards her, and the maiden tensed - fearing yet desiring what was to come, for if the soothsayer had spoken truthfully to her there would be great happiness, and great love, ahead. And so she stood erect, motionless, as the serpentine monster leisurely, almost tenderly, enveloped her body in its scaly coils. She had expected them to feel cold and slimy, and was therefore pleasantly surprised by their warmth and softness - embracing and caressing her in their muscular folds.

Even so, she felt a flicker of terror rising within her - a desire to close her eyes, to scream, to flee, to do anything rather than remain here. Then the words of the wise old soothsayer came back to her, calming her mind, and she relaxed again.

Gazing about her, she noticed that the lindorm's last layer of skin was so thin as to be almost translucent, and was beginning to peel away, folding back upon itself like a cluster of withered leaves. At the same time, a strange green mist manifested all around, bathing the lindorm in a viridescent haze until she was aware of the creature's continuing presence only from the embrace of its sinuous body.

Gradually, however, the mist dispersed - and revealed that she was no longer wrapped within the serpentine coils of a lindorm after all, but within the firm arms of the most handsome man she had ever seen!

A somewhat Oriental-looking lindorm (public domain)

The soothsayer had indeed spoken truthfully - by following her instructions, the enchantment that had incarcerated him within the guise of a lindorm had been dispelled, and here was the elder prince, heir to the country's throne, and for whom the maiden would indeed be a very willing bride. The joyful marriage took place without delay, and after the old queen had given her blessing to the newly-weds, who were now the new king and queen, she felt someone lightly tap her shoulder.

It was the soothsayer, who revealed to her the information that she had not stayed to hear all those years ago - namely, make sure that she peeled both onions before eating them!


This ShukerNature blog article is excerpted from my book Dragons: A Natural History (1995). See also my more recent book, Dragons in Zoology, Cryptozoology, and Culture (2013), for detailed coverage of lindorms in mythology, cryptozoology, and natural history.