Typical: A female spirit believed to presage the death of a family member by wailing.
Detailed: n/a. See Fairy.
Typical: Serpent or dragon with deadly breath and a lethal glance.
Detailed: The Basilisk is not used much in modern fantasy. See the related Cockatrice.
Typical: A small sprite which does helpful work at night.
Detailed: The Brownie is from the popular folklore of Scotland. It is thought to be a good-natured, invisible sprite thought to do helpful work while the household is asleep. If you attempt to repay the brownie, he will not return. A similar spirit in Germany is called the Kobold.
Typical: A creature with the head, arms, and trunk of a man, but the body and legs of a horse.
Detailed: Greek mythology says the Centaurs inhabited the mountain regions of Arcadia and Thessaly. They were savage and violent, and known for their drunkenness and lust; they were often portrayed as followers of Dionysus, the god of wine. The Centaurs were driven from Thessaly when, during a drunken frenzy, they attempted to carry off the bride of the king of the Lapiths from her wedding feast. There was one Centaur, Chiron, who was known for his goodness and wisdom. He educated such famous Greek heroes as Achilles and Jason. Other sources say differently. Their temperament is a particularly controversial topic. In some literature they are especially known as great astrologers.
Typical: Serpent hatched from a cock's egg, with a deadly glance.
Detailed: Half snake, half rooster. Poisonous breath as well as glance. Only the weasel is immune, and secretes a venom that is fatal to a cockatrice. The coackatrice is not generally used in modern fantasy.
Typical: A one-eyed Giant
Detailed: Although the definitions of the Cyclops differ, they are usually hairy and big, almost always eat people, and always have a single eye. In Greek mythology, as common to most other definitions, Cyclopes were giants with one enormous eye in the middle of the forehead. According to Hesiod (a Greek poet) the three sons of Uranus and Gaea (Father Heaven and Mother Earth) were Cyclopes. Their names were Arges, Brontes, and Steropes. The three Cyclopes were thrown into the underworld by their brother Cronus, a Titan, after he took Uranus' throne. But Zeus, Cronus' son, released the three brothers. In gratitude they gave him power over thunder and lightning, with which he defeated Cronus and the Titans and became lord of the universe. Homer defines cyclopes as fearless Sicilian shepherds who were lawless, savage, and cannibalistic. In the Odyssey the Greek hero Odysseus escapes from a cave by blinding the Cyclops Polyphemus, son of Pseidon, god of the sea.
Typical: A gigantic, reptilian, fire-breathing monster with wings, and scaly skin.
Detailed: Of all fantasy creatures ever imagined, few vie with the dragon for attention, widespread use, and varied descriptions. From China to Great Britain, from the mountains to the sea, dragons have existed for centuries, in many different forms, sizes, and shapes. Some common traits can be drawn, however. Almost all dragons are reptilian, and most have wings, huge claws, and a fiery breath. Some can swim (sea dragons). Some people (the ancient Hebrews, Christians, and Mesopotamians, for example) have thought of the dragon as a symbol of destruction, and evil. Others, like the ancient Greeks and Romans, thought the dragon to be a wise understanding creature with beneficent powers. Because many regarded the dragon as benign and protective, but at the same time fierce and fiery, it was employed as a military emblem. These included the Romans, the Norsemen, various Teutonic tribes and English kings, and the Chinese Empire. Among the Chinese the dragon is typically regarded as a symbol of good fortune. The idea of dragons is sometimes thought to have come from dinosaur sightings.
Pictures: Dragon art
Typical: An abnormally small person.
Detailed: Dwarves are another "creature" who heavily populate fantasy literature. They are usually portrayed as fat, or husky, and in some genres are predominantly evil. The are sometimes characterized as "fat and ugly," with disproportioned limbs and features. They are almost always known for their mining skills. Dwarf can be pluralized as "dwarfs" or "dwarves."
Typical: A humanoid creature. Definitions differ greatly. Usually having pointed ears.
Detailed: In fairy tales elves are traditionally depicted as small mischievous creatures who live in the woods. These are the elves that are generally pictured as helping Santa. Modern fantasy literature, however, generally chooses to picture elves as tall intelligent beings.
Pictures: Elf art
Typical: a small, humanoid, magical being.
Detailed: Usually a small creature in human-like form, similar to elves, sometimes having wings, and always possessing supernatural power. They are generally beneficent, but mischievous, and can be cruel if not treated respectfully. Fairies, unlike many other fantasy creatures, are universally believed-in by folk culture. The term "fairy" sometimes refers to such creatures as brownies, gnomes, elves, nixies, goblins, trolls, dwarfs, pixies, kobolds, banshees, sylphs, sprites, and undines. Traditional characteristics of fairies can be found in much European literature.
Typical: A creature having the body of a man, and the horns, ears, tale, and sometimes legs of a goat.
Detailed: There's not too much to say about fauns. Like many other creatures they're usually either wise or mischievous. In Roman mythology Faunus, the Roman counterpart to the Greek god Pan, was attended by fauns.
Typical: A large human-like creature, often possessing great strength.
Detailed: Giants are towering beings usually possessing superhuman strength, and often special powers. Titans, trolls, and cyclopes are often said to be within the family of giants. Sometimes they are cannibalistic, mean, and ugly, and other times handsome and genteel. In Greek Mythology giants were a race of enormous human-like beings who were destroyed in battle with the Olympians. Many tales of giants exist in folklore (Paul Bunyan for example), Greek mythology (Argus, Orion, and many others), Scandinavian mythology (Balder, Loki, Thor), and literature from around the world.
Typical: A dwarf-like creature who lives underground.
Detailed: Gnomes are fabled creatures who are thought to live underground and guard hordes of treasures. Not used too much in modern fantasy literature.
Typical: A grotesque elfin creature who works mischief and evil.
Detailed: Goblins are usually smaller than people, although sometimes they can be huge. Generally they're wicked, but occasionally they can be good-natured. See fairy.
Typical: A beast with the head and wings of an eagle, the body of a lion, and occasionally a serpent's tale.
Detailed: The griffin (which can also be spelled gryphon) is thought to have originated in the Middle East. It is found in sculptures and paintings of the ancient Persians, Babylonians, Assyrians, and was used by the Romans for various decorative purposes. It can also be seen in gargoyle form in the Gothic architecture of the late Middle Ages. It is thought to represent strength and vigilance.
Pictures: Griffin art
Typical: A loathsome monster with the head and trunk of a woman, and the wings and talons of a bird.
Detailed: In Greek mythology Harpy was one of several creatures such as described above, but it has come to describe the race as a whole.
Typical: A beast with the head and wings of an eagle, the body of a horse, and occasionally a serpent's tale.
Detailed: See Griffin.
Typical: A small sprite which does helpful work.
Detailed: See Brownie.
Typical: A sea creature with head and trunk of a woman, and the tail of a fish for a lower body.
Detailed: Although traditionally women, merfolk also include men (known as mermen). They are of varying temperament. Merfolk are not used overly much in modern "hard-core" fantasy literature, as they are generally thought to fit more with childish fairy tales.
Typical: A fairy-like creature.
Detailed: Nixies (nixie may also be spelled nixy) are thought to be mischievous and playful, and are very similar to fairies. They are identical to pixies.
Typical: Large, ugly, evil creatures.
Detailed: Orcs have the general form of a human, but usually larger and stronger, and more "beast-like." They are rather similar to large goblins. (Many people who have played the popular Warcraft computer games from Blizzard Entertainment picture orcs as they are depicted in those titles.)
Typical: A fairy-like creature.
Detailed: Pixies (pixie may also be spelled pixy) are thought to be mischievous and playful, and are very similar to fairies. They are identical to nixies.
Typical: A creature generally resembling a lizard thought capable of living in and withstanding fire.
Detailed: The salamander's definition differs greatly: sometimes he is a small pet creature, other times a ferocious dragon, and still other times a wise old talking reptile.
Typical: A creature having the body of a man, and the horns, ears, tale, and sometimes legs of a goat or sheep.
Detailed: Almost identical to the faun.
Typical: An elemental soulless being.
Detailed: Paracelsus believed the sylph were soulless beings who inhabited the air. See Fairy.
Typical: A Giant.
Detailed: Greek mythology: a family of giants (the children of Uranus and Gaea) who sought to rule heaven, but were overthrown by the family of Zeus. See Giant.
Typical: A giant, ugly creature with a club. Turned to stone by sunlight.
Detailed: Trolls originated in Scandinavian mythology. They were said to live in caves on the hilltops, and rob and eat any passersby. They were huge, tough, and virtually indestructible, but could be turned to stone by sunlight. They later became smaller and less formidable, committing specific malicious acts and crimes. They also started to learn magic. It was during this period that trolls started showing up in stories outside of Scandinavia. Now they are found in various forms throughout the world, and throughout literature.
Typical: n/a. See Fairy.
Detailed: n/a. See Fairy.
Typical: A horse with a single horn projecting from its forehead.
Detailed: The unicorn is a fabled beast, often pure white in color, resembling a horse, but with a long horn projecting from its forehead. It is symbolic of holiness and chastity, and was prominent in the art of the Middle Ages. It was also used widely for heraldry (the art of blazoning arms). Another variation of the unicorn is the body of a horse, but legs of a stag, and the tail of a lion. Other variations exist as well.
Typical: A male witch.
Detailed: A warlock is not a wizard (look them up to see the difference). Warlocks must use brews, potions, spell, etcetera, to work magic.
Typical: A person who can assume the form of a wolf.
Detailed: Werewolf, from old English, means "man-wolf," and describes a man capable of turning into a wolf. The creature is sometimes said to transform by means of a full moon. Werewolves were thought to exist throughout medieval Europe, and people were accused and convicted.
Typical: A horse which can fly by the use of wings.
Typical: A woman believed to have supernatural powers, and practice sorcery.
Detailed: A woman who uses potions or spells to work magic. Throughout history people have been afraid of, and condemned women thought to be witches (especially during 1000 A.D. to 1800 A.D.) Although traditionally evil, there are also modern stories of good witches. The warlock is the equivalent of a male witch.
Typical: A man who practices magic.
Detailed: Some people confuse wizards with simple magicians, or warlocks. They are neither! Wizards are very powerful, but their magic come from within them, and requires more mastery than simple words or spells. This magic within them cannot be used indefinitely; every time they use it, it takes a toll on their morale, strength, and stamina. Wizards are generally considered more "hard-core" than magicians.