Let's take a look at the strange inhabitants of The Ancient Magus' Bride!
Welcome back to The Wonderful Worlds of Fantasy! This week, we’ll be taking a look at the creatures that inhabit the strange and mythical world of The Ancient Magus’ Bride. Whether it be large dogs, tiny faeries, or wandering evils, everything has a root that can be traced back to real-life myths, so let’s get started!
The Black Dog
The Ancient Magus’ Bride’s ‘black dog’ is based in part on the hellhound, a large, spectral dog that haunts people and is the foreteller of one’s death. You may have read about it before, in literature like J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter or Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. The hellhound is a terrifying animal that appears in all sorts of mythology, but it can be attributed to European legends that say if you stare at a hellhound, you will die an early death. Other cultures see hellhounds as animals that guide spirits to their eternal resting place or as guardians for the dead. A common factor among all stories, however, is the hellhound as a sign of protection.
Ruth, the giant dog that appears in The Ancient Magus’ Bride, seems to be heavily based off the related church grim, a mythological creature that comes from Scandinavian and English folklore. According to these tales, church grims are protectors of a church, ensuring its success and protecting it from the devil. To create this spirit, a dog must be buried alive; it was said that they would also ring the church bells. In this case, Ruth looks after the grave of his original owner, protecting her from a malicious being that wishes to use her for experimentation.
We’ve all heard about these giant beasts, as they commonly occupy fantasy stories. Dragons appear in all sorts of forms, whether they be fire-breathing lizards, or ancient and intellectual beings. The word dragon actually comes from the Latin word draco, which is itself derived from the Ancient Greek, δράκων, related to meaning ‘to see’ or ‘one who stares’.
Dragons have appeared in ancient mythology in both the West and the East; in the West, they appear in ancient stories as Ancient Greek’s Heracles, the Norsemen’s Thor, and Old English’s Beowulf. In the East, they’re prominently featured in texts like the Rigveda and Chuchi, as well as other stories passed down through mouth and art. Because of this, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where the dragon was truly born into mythology. That said, each culture’s representation of dragons is different, as well as their estimation of dragons' importance to mankind. For some, the dragon was a beast to be feared – a harbinger of destruction and misfortune. For others, the dragon was something to be worshipped, with its legendary strength and ruling position at the top of the food chain.
In The Ancient Magus’ Bride, however, dragons aren’t terrifying monsters; they’re an endangered species slowly going extinct after having lived millions of years and being pushed out of their natural territories by the growth of humans. In this story, dragons are sagacious and ancient beings, offering words of wisdom to the young. This seems to be more in line with the way the Japanese and Chinese perceive dragons: deities that represent power, knowledge, luck, and, lastly, the balance of nature.
Unlike dragons or hellhounds, faeries have a direct link to European folklore. The word fairy seems to derive from the latin word fata, which comes from the Old French word faerie, meaning 'enchantment.' There is only a slight connotational difference between the usage of 'fairy' and 'faery' – the former is far more modernized and often refers to the type of story being told as well as a reference to classical figures. 'Faery,' on the other hand, is usually a reference to a genre of folk stories, and thus seems to be linked to non-popularized figures.
Faeries do not have a single point of origin; instead, they seem to be a cross between Celtic, Greco-Roman, and Germanic stories. From there, they split into different purposes, much like dragons. Some held them as small deities, while others saw them as servants to greater deities and metaphorical for certain magical abilities. The most common tie is nature; faeries are often linked to the natural elements as well as the stars, sun, and moon. Other stories depict them as demons, similar to imps in their mischievousness and trickery. Last, but not least, they were depicted as an intelligent but shy race of beings, only visible to certain people bestowed with a blessing, luck, or special kind of power. Faeries had many magical abilities; some could shapeshift into humans and turn them into changelings. Others had the ability to bless items or objects. More often than not, faeries were associated with curiosity and impulsion. They were fickle creatures, to the point where sometimes they were worshipped and feared, creating strange customs in Western societies like creating charms, protecting certain aspects of nature, and holding rituals to ward off evils and protect the young.
In The Ancient Magus’ Bride, the faeries are their own race that live in a hidden world few are ever privileged to see and enter. They can be used as familiars for channeling magical power or as helpers to call upon to cast a spell. They have their own Queen and King, respectively named Titania and Oberon. These are a reference to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, though as names Titania and Oberon do have an even deeper and older history in other stories. Oberon, for instance, is linked to an old French song about an elven forest inhabitant who helps the main hero overcome his battles. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, however, Oberon and Titania are a married couple that rule the fairies. Arguing over the custody of a child, their whimsical and petty nature becomes the seed of the plot, leading to many misunderstandings and manipulations of innocent human beings. Their playful yet unnatural nature is continued in the anime, where we see how they interact with Chise and Elias.
These tiny little creatures – you might have heard of them as jack-o'-lanterns – are tied to European folklore and known for being ghost lights that led travelers astray at night. Coming from the Latin phrase ignis fatuus, meaning foolish fire, these spirits resemble small flickering fires or lights that appear in Irish, Scottish, and English folktales. Sometimes they are depicted as being related to fairies, while at other times they are related to natural spirits or ghosts trying to capture souls to take with them to the next life. Unlike The Ancient Magus’ Bride, which depicts Will-o-the-Wisps as charming and curious protectors of the forest, European folklore tends to depict them as evil beings, out to ruin innocent bystanders or travelers. One would be drawn by a faint, flickering light, and upon following it, would be led to a cliff or some inhuman monster and die immediately. That said, there have been accounts where will-o'-the-wisps are guardians of treasure and riches.
Next time: Wizards? Witches? Magi? In Part 2, we’ll be looking at the people of The Ancient Magus's Bride and where they come from!