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Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.
Generously transcribed by Ursula. Volunteer to transcribe a podcast.
Chris: You’re listening to the Mythcreants podcast with your hosts Oren Ashkenazi, Wes Matlock, and Chris Winkle. [opening song]
Wes: Welcome to another episode of the Mythcreants podcast. I’m your host Wes, and with me today is Oren and Chris. And before we get started, if you’re the kind of person who loves taking words that a computer makes from listening to people talk and then editing them, well, we have just the thing for you! We are looking for more people to help out with transcripts of our podcasts. We promise that it will be hilarious. We’ll give you a computer generated transcript of our podcast and then you have the joy of going through that hilarity and editing it for humans. So if you are interested in that, please look for links on the podcast page itself.
All right. So today we are entering a terrifying winter wasteland of snow and ice monsters, and maybe other things that might not quite count as monsters. Honestly, this is an underrepresented terrain, I think it’s fair to say, as far as creatures go. I will say that when I was doing research, it looks like Japan had quite a quite a larger number of them, and I am not well versed enough to talk about any of them. So if you are interested, you can do your own research on that. And I will stick to things like Frozen and Narnia and Dungeons and Dragons. So that’s what we’re doing today.
Chris: Similarly, if you search online, you end up with a lot of Inuit folklore, and I just don’t recommend using that stuff, unless you actually are really intimately familiar with Inuit culture, if you’re a part of Inuit culture. Just because there’s a lot of appropriation happening there and a lot of times those cultures really don’t want that folklore taken and used by storytellers for their horror stories or something like that.
Oren: And wendigos are the same thing. Just in general, we should probably not pick something out of native mythology and use it as a monster. Obviously that’s a thing that people have done a lot, but we should just stop. There’s not really a good way to do that.
Chris: And I’ve heard Native Americans telling storytellers, please just don’t use wendigos in your stories, period. Please just don’t use them. So in any case, that’s just something to be aware of when you’re, you know, looking for snow and ice monsters. Because it’s actually surprising that there’s not more of them.
Wes: I was thinking about that. I mean, all right, there’s resource scarcity, so what are the monsters going to sustain themselves on. I was thinking about that workshop that we three did on creating your monsters and environments and stuff, and I guess a lot of the conflict if you have heroes in that type of terrain is just the environment. The environment is the monster, right? And that can serve enough purposes, because there’s enough conflict with food scarcity and shelter, and the terrain itself could be unstable. Or there’s avalanches or crevasses or frozen lakes, those kinds of things. You’ve got to manage your resources. And then, you can have this abominable snowman show up. That’s good. Or all of those environmental problems turn members of your party into people that behave monstrously, that’s another consideration probably to explain this.
Chris: I think there’s a lot of room for a monster that just plays off of the idea that ice and snow are harsh and hostile life. But the only one that I could think of that I felt was really doing that was the White Walkers, which are an excellent example of personifying winters as a threatening force to humans.
Wes: Why though? Why snow? Like, why are the white walkers ice-associated? Because I have not read the books, I’m just going to go on the show that got increasingly terrible to the point of being practically unbearable, but we see the Children of the Forest make a White Walker by shoving obsidian into that guy’s heart. And I’m like, could they have done that anywhere? Did the Children of the Forest have an affinity with winter and snow and ice? Do you guys have any ideas?
Chris: You know, they probably do. Oren, you would know this.
Oren: If I recall correctly, the books have not given us an explanation. It’s important to remember that White Walkers and Others are actually different in the books. White Walkers are basically zombies that the Others create. And we haven’t gotten to the point where it explains what the Others are or where they came from, and we literally never will.
Wes: Yeah. You have called that, and I believe you.
Oren: I’m sorry to speak the truth.
Chris: So are the Others the Children of the Forest?
Oren: No, the Children of the Forest do briefly appear and it’s possible that in Martin’s notes they have something to do with the Others, but the Others are basically the Night King. in the show, the Night King is basically the only Other. They’re much harder to kill and they’re super fast and there aren’t a lot of them, but there’s more than just one. And the idea is that they are some other species and the Walkers are their creation. Now it’s possible they also go back to the Children of the Forest, again, we don’t know and we never will. But I can tell you why those forces are associated with cold, at least psychologically, if you’ll allow me to get a cigar out and sit on my recliner or my fainting couch.
It’s because the whole story of A Song of Ice and Fire, the books, to the extent that it has an overarching theme it is that winter is the enemy, and that’s why this is set in some kind of world that has winters that last for 10 years. I don’t know how it still has plants at that point, but it does somehow. So the idea is that winter itself will try to destroy you. But also we would like to sword fight and you can’t sword fight winter. So you need to give it a body that can be attacked, which is a thing we do to try to make winter more threatening, but ironically actually makes it less threatening because just winter is much harder to deal with than most winter-themed monsters.
Chris: To be fair, I found the White Walkers to be pretty good threats in the show.
Oren: I mean, they are good monsters, and I’m not saying they shouldn’t have been in there, because it’s possible you could tell a good story that’s just about trying not to freeze to death in winter and there aren’t any monsters, but that’s not the kind of story Game of Thrones wanted to be.
Chris: It said, we want a blue, glowy dragon that breathes ice or something.
Oren: If I were to make a psychological guess here, I would say that winter kills you slowly for the most part. Obviously you could die quickly of the cold, but in most cases, the cold kills you slowly by taking away your sources of food,right? And then you don’t have the fuel to burn for warmth.
Chris: Yeah. And fighting starvation is not a particularly pleasant conflict to depict in a story.
Oren: Whereas other natural forces like fire or an earthquake or what have you, those things we at least sort of associate more with being able to kill you quickly. So they make a more natural jump to monsters, at least. Again, this is my very uneducated psychological guesswork here, but I’ve just noticed that a lot of stories that do use snow and winter monsters tend to make them not really evil, but making things cold is just what they do. The White Walkers are obviously an exception, but if you look at Spinning Silver with the Staryk, or the Winter Court in the Dresden Files, you see this a lot where these fairies – cause they’re basically both fairies – are bad or at least dangerous, but they’re not evil. The things that they do that destroy humans are just a side effect of them existing.
Chris: They’re indifferent, yeah. Which I also think is a key thing to think about because there are various villains and monsters, particularly if we’re talking about Lovecraftian horror, where indifference is a key theme. And I think that fits our idea of winter and ice and snow probably a lot better than does for fire. Fire is actively consuming. Snow and ice are just indifferent to whether or not life exists.
Oren: But like you can definitely use snow monsters. Again, the Staryk and the Winter Court are both very effective, if sometimes villains, sometimes foils, sometimes reluctant allies. They serve well in all of those roles, because you can get a lot of really visceral description out of cold and out of things getting cold.
Chris: When you mentioned doing a podcast on winter snow and ice monsters, it’s funny, one of the first things I thought of is actually these worms that are in an X-Files episode.
Oren: Oh my god.
Wes: The ones trapped in ice.
Chris: And it’s totally different. They’re not really ice worms, but the whole idea is that you have these scientists that are out in a really isolated study lab of some kind. And again, ice and winter are often used as isolating factors for characters, like in The Shining, where we have this haunted hotel that’s in the middle of nowhere in the winter. But the idea is that we’re looking at ice that’s from thousands of years ago, and maybe there was something there and the scientists shouldn’t have have drilled in that old ancient ice and brought it to the surface. We unleashed worms.
Wes: It’s true. Yeah. So you brought up Lovecraftian horrors. That’s the premise of one of his longer ones, one I really recommend, At the Mountains of Madness. It’s about Antarctic exploration, and they find – you know, that’s, that’s the cool thing about the ice worm stuff, Chris. In At the Mountains of Madness, they find a thing that thaws just enough to wake up. And I’m like, that’s cool. On a previous podcast we talked about the snow going away and revealing a thing that wasn’t there and it’s really hungry.
Chris: I tried to find a snowman horror for you Wes, and it was thin on the ground. There’s one, this movie about Jack Frost is a human that gets turned into a snowman and goes around killing people, but it’s clearly a slapstick comedy.
Wes: I saw that when I was like 13. It was terrible.
Chris: And you’ve been wanting an actual snowman horror ever since.
Wes: I know. I need it.
Oren: The way that a snowman should kill people is by pulling them into it and then freezing them to death. That’s how it should kill people. It shouldn’t stab them. That’s boring.
Chris: Yeah, for sure.
Oren: If you will allow me to get on a soapbox for a moment. A thing that I would point out is that if you want to make a snow monster, I would advise that your snow monster not just be like a fire monster, but with snow. I find a monster that breathes cold or ice it was fire and it’s trying to hit you with the ice to be very uninteresting. You know, that’s just a re-skin of your fire dragon.
Wes: Which is super common, like very common.
Oren: Right. I want it to do something different. I want it to act differently. And there are plenty of ways to do that with cold-themed monsters. Like, they can literally sap your strength like cold does, that sort of thing. They can make you lose feeling in your extremities, that’s very debilitating. And there are just so many good options that I don’t think you need to resort to, “and then my dragon breathes ice,and this dragon breathes fire, and then they breathe at each other, but the beams hit each other and now it’s Dragon Ball Z” – I’m sure that’s where you were going with that idea.
Chris: I think you should just have your monster do what a snow leopard does, where it just runs to the top of a snowy mountain and grabs its prey and then just jumps off a cliff with them.
Oren: Yeah. Oh my gosh. That was so weird. Chris and I were watching a nature documentary about big cats, and they did the snow leopard. And they showed the snow leopard grab a mountain goat, and they both fall off the cliff –
Chris: And it looks like it’s accidental. Like, oh my gosh, they accidentally fell off a cliff! No. Not an accident.
Oren: And I’m just horrified watching this, like, you can’t show us this big cute cat falling to death! And it’s like, no, it’s fine. It did that on purpose, it bounces.
Oren: What is happening? Am I watching a cartoon? What is going on here?
Chris: Right. It rolls, specifically. It rolls, because that keeps the mountain goat off of its feet, otherwise, the mountain goat is really good at finding perches. And it’s got thick skin and really thick fur to give it cushion against blunt damage. And it just rolls down cliff faces with the goat. It’s incredible.
Oren: Yeah, so that’s basically a snow monster right there. I don’t know what else you could possibly need. To return briefly to not so much monsters that are made of snow, but that live in cold places and especially are revealed by the melting ice: That’s a pretty common trope. It has been for a while. You also saw it in The Thing, where there’s an alien spaceship frozen in the ice. Part of that is just because things that are old are scary. Old things are scary and the ice gives you a perfectly plausible explanation for why a super old thing was never discovered until now, because that ice is super old. Who knows how long it’s been there. And then of course, we see all these reports of new microbes emerging from the ice. Now, granted, those microbes are not dangerous to us. Microbes generally are more dangerous to you if they have been exposed to you for a long time because they’ve had a chance to like evolve to get at ya. Whereas microbes that have never met you just immediately get attacked by your immune system because they stand out. So that’s not a huge problem, but it is scary. And you could do a story about it if you wanted to.
Wes: Let’s see. Let’s dial in on some other monsters here. Speaking about something that is beneath the snow, I combed the monster manual from D&D trying to find a few things that would work, but there’s just so much re-skinning in there, like Oren brought up. Sure, there’s a Winter Wolf that’s basically just a really big intelligent wolf that can speak some languages and do icy things. And I’m like, okay, well, that’s really no different than smart polar bears who are also blacksmiths from The Golden Compass.
The one that I did see in there – it’s always been concept art that just horrified me – that’s the Remorhaz, which is this gargantuan centipede thing that burrows deep under the snow and has tunnels there. The way the book describes it is as a massive, giant centipede thing that lives in winter climates because it can’t stand warm weather because it generates its own internal furnace. Any farther south, it can’t actively survive because it would overheat. So here’s this thing that actually is fueled by a furnace that’s so hot that if your characters engaged with it, they can sustain burning damage from its body, but it physically can’t exist anywhere else except a snow and winter climate. It’s not a made-of-stone ice monster, but its environment is restricted. Plus it’s like, your poor heroes are trying to stay warm and lighting a campfire and eating dried rations, and then this monstrous centipede thing erupts and it’s radiating heat and you’re like, oh no, I was cold, but now I’m too hot and this thing is trying to eat –
Chris: Quick, hold out a marshmallow on a stick!
Wes: (laughing) Yeah, let’s do this please. Maybe it would be friendly.
Oren: You know, you’re all prepped to resist cold damage and then a fire monster shows up and it’s like, hey. Hey, rude.
Wes: Hey, rude. They also describe it as making a sound like a steam engine coming at you full speed. So I thought it was one of the better ones that they have, because everything else is just Frost Giants and White Dragons and I’m like, okay.
Oren: Frost Giants are the bane of my existence. They are the reason that I wasn’t able to complete my adventure that got away. I have a special hatred of Frost Giants.
Wes: Do tell.
Oren: So we played this old, like 3.0, D&D adventure back when they used to just have a bunch of these little ones that were a total of maybe four or five pages. They sold them as little booklets. And I was a kid, so I have no idea which one this was. And the GM who ran it for us doesn’t remember. The idea was that we were hiking north until this frozen mountain range to check out this weird fortress. And the first time we ran it, we had a total party wipe, except for me, because I killed the rest of the party before we even got there. I’d just like to point out: This was not my fault. I did not start it. I finished it. Then the second time we were like, okay, we’re going to get this one. So we made characters who wouldn’t all kill each other. Then we got into the first big room and a bunch of Frost Giants killed us. And it was like, oh, okay. So that was the adventure that got away. And I don’t think it exists anymore, so I don’t think I’ll ever get to find out what happens.
Chris: Maybe it doesn’t exist because the challengers were way too hard.
Oren: Yeah. That’s a possibility. And it’s possible that my GM was just like, no, I don’t want to run it for these kids anymore, they’re too messed up. (laughs) Okay. But talking about the, what was that fire centipede called again?
Wes: I mean, I don’t know how anybody pronounces it, but I say Rem-or-az.
Oren: So one of the things I liked about the Remorhaz is that it uses another unique feature of snow, which is tunneling. Because you can tunnel underground, but it takes a long time and it’s, you know, hard, and just very labor intensive. So it’s a little bit hard to justify a creature that creates new tunnels in the ground very quickly. You can do it, but it requires a lot of hand-waving. Whereas in snow, granted, I’m not saying snow is easy to tunnel through, but easier than a rock, especially if you happen to be a creature that can melt snow. So you can create all of these fun new tunnels, and just get around under the snow. So it’s basically an evil giant lemming.
Wes (laughs): Yes.
Oren: Cause that’s a thing lemmings do, they build these big burrows under the snow. And it creates a neat dynamic of your party not knowing where this enormous creature is and it can actually sneak up on them. So I thought that was cool.
Wes: Yeah. And conversely, they could be trekking on the terrain and fall into one of the entry points of this thing’s tunnels and then discover a tunnel network and then get a really terrible surprise.
Oren: Now you’re in the tunnel. Enjoy that.
Frankly, when I first saw the advertisements for Frozen, I thought Olaf was a monster. Olaf just looks weird to me. The rest of the characters, they’re not exactly photorealistic, but they are very idealized looking. And then you have Olaf with his weird face and his giant nose. And I was like, oh, that doesn’t … Hmm. I don’t like that at all.
Chris: I mean, nobody liked it. That was the funny part, that everybody saw the trailer and was like, oh my gosh, this Olaf is going to be the worst, and it turned out to be actually not as bad as he looked in the trailer, luckily.
Oren: But then fortunately they created that short where it was exactly as bad as it was in the trailer, and they finally gave us the thing we were promised. In case anyone didn’t know, this was a “short”, it was like 20 minutes long, of Olaf just messing around, that they stuck in front of Coco and people were so confused and wondering if they were in the right theater. I was in such a bad mood by the time it ended that I actually didn’t enjoy the first quarter of Coco, even though it’s objectively great. I just didn’t like it because I was in such a bad mood from the Frozen short. Fortunately, the theaters realized everyone hated it and started pulling it pretty quickly, but it was not a fun time. It was the real snow monster the whole time.
Wes: Yeah. Olaf just chilled your enthusiasm.
Oren: Oh God, Wes. Wes, ugh!
Wes: I’m stealing your pun power. I think in Frozen, Elsa also makes like an Ice Golem as well. They’ve decided to not address the fact that she can create life, right?
Chris: Yeah. Frozen three: All of Elsa’s creations demand rights. Too many.
Wes: Let’s see. Also on the list, from The Empire Strikes Back, we have the planet of Hoth.
Chris: The poor Wampa!
Wes: The Wampa and the Tauntaun. And do we know that Tauntauns are also native to Hoth?
Oren: So in the movies, they never say. In certain soft canon sources, they claim that the Tauntaun are imported.
Wes: Well that ruins it.
Chris: I mean, that makes more sense than that they had time to find wildlife and domesticate it.
Oren: You guys, do you want to hear my theory on the Wampa? ‘Cause I have a theory.
Chris: All right, let’s do it.
Oren: You ready for my Wampa theory? Okay. So the Wampa is a giant apex predator, right? It needs to eat lots of things to live. There is not enough life on Hoth to fill a space cruiser, and that looks like it includes the Tauntaun because there’s no way the rebels were there long enough to capture and tame a bunch of wild Tauntaun. Those must have been domestic. And also, the fact that they can’t survive in a Hoth storm suggests that they aren’t native and there’s nothing for them to eat anyway. So there’s nothing around. But if there’s no Tauntauns, what does the Wampa eat? No one knows. So here’s the explanation: Hoth is not an ice planet naturally. It is frozen because of asteroid impacts that have created a nuclear winter and cooled the planet down. And we know there are lots of asteroid impacts in that system. They establish that in the movie. And this Wampa is basically the Hoth equivalent of a polar bear that normally would only live in the Arctic and has migrated south to wherever the rebel base is looking for food, because there is no more food around and it has to survive the cold. But all of its food has gone, which is why it’s attacking weird things that it doesn’t understand. So it’s not just a Wampa. It is the last Wampa.
Chris: Oh my gosh, Oren!
Wes: Oren… Oh no.
Chris: How did you manage to make this Wampa story even sadder? Get out. Get out of here. Out with you. That is the worst. Oh my gosh. I feel like we need to put a content notice on this podcast now.
Oren: Well, that’s terrible.
Wes: Here I was thinking like, oh, yeah, it works at the Tauntauns are native to Hoth because that means that perhaps there’s like tender plains they could graze on. Okay. No. Oren wins with his tragic, tragic story.
Oren: The tragic story of the last Wampa.
Chris: Oh, it’s the worst.
Oren: It’s declared non-canon by a deleted scene where C3PO is supposed to open a door and let a bunch of Wampas in to eat the stormtroopers. So if you include that scene, it doesn’t work.
Wes: Well, anyway, the point I was trying to get was, let’s just pretend Tauntauns are indigenous to Hoth for the sake of argument. If you’re wanting snow and ice monsters, we’ve established that you can make up your own because there’s really not a lot. And look to what does exist up there now. There are polar bears, there are caribou and walruses and seals. If your environment is just blizzard mountains and stuff, there probably is going to be slim pickings in terms of what creatures could live there, but if you bring a water element into it is not only A, awesome, because oceans are great, but B, suddenly you get more wildlife to draw on and use those in your own creations. It was also missing, when I was searching, the snow and ice monsters always seem to be in mountains or forests. At least with a forest there’s some plant life and stuff, but water exists up there, in cold places. Bring that in, use that environment in your monster craft.
Chris: I mean, it’s interesting to think about the seal-orca dynamic, where the seals of course eat fish that are in the water, but the orcas will eat seals. They can easily eat the seals in the waters. But the seal go on the ice, where they can escape the orcas. And so we have these big underwater beasts that if you get too close to the water can jump out and bite you and that whole kind of ecosystem. But there are more things on the ice because of all of the wildlife that they can eat in the water.
Oren: Orcas can also just knock the ice over that you’re sitting on, if you’re not on a really big piece. Orcas are rude, is the point.
Chris: Yeah. It’s actually pretty remarkable that orcas have eaten so few humans.
Oren: I don’t think they’ve eaten any. I’ve looked, I could not find any accounts of an orca killing a human.
Wes: They have a deal with sharks. They’re like, “You guys leave our seals alone!” (doing a shark voice) “Okay, we’re going to eat those humans anyway.”
Oren: Before we go, I think there’s one last snow-based monster that we should consider, and that is Mr. Freeze from Batman.
Wes: Oh no.
Oren: Because he gives you the opportunity for many ice puns. Excellent bonus. He has literally a woman in the fridge. She’s just not dead, she’s alive in a cryo pod. And he’s got that sympathetic backstory, and he’s got a suit and he’s just neat. And he’s played by a really good actor on Batman: The Animated Series. So if you can get that actor to play Mr. Freeze in your version, you’ll be good to go.
Wes: He’s really committed to theme. It’s super admirable.
Oren: He’s got an aesthetic going.
Wes: That’s true. I hope I’m correct, but the White Witch in Narnia, doesn’t she just petrify creatures? Turn them to stone, but she doesn’t freeze them?
Chris: No, that’s really interesting.
Wes: That’s off brand. It’s not – freeze them please.
Chris: She’s supposed to be descended from like giants or something.
Wes: Stay on theme kids.
Chris: She makes it always winter, but never Christmas. They make that sort of a big thing in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. (mocking voice) “It’s always winter, but never Christmas.”
Wes: There’s a lot of good things about winter aside from Christmas, come on.
Oren: Yeah. The White Witch is very off theme. It’s not really clear why she makes it always winter, except that she just doesn’t like the Narnians and wants them to be cold. I guess that’s her motivation. And her planet’s not winter themed either when we see it in her backstory book. So, very, very strange in retrospect that she decided to make it winter. She does have a cool sleigh though. I like her sleigh.
Chris: Right. Maybe she’s based on the Snow Queen.
Wes: Has to be. Because Hans Christian Andersen wrote The Snow Queen, so C. S. Lewis would have read that.
Chris: Quite possibly. Yeah, very likely. I’m trying to remember how many actual ice powers she has. She does live in an ice palace in this winter world. I think when she comes she does bring snow with her. But she’s mostly known in the story for winter being basically evil and cold and heartless, that basically is her thing.
Wes: It’s interesting, because I think that when Hans Christian Andersen wrote that he probably drew on some kind of folklore and stuff like that. Snow Children are like a thing, but then there’s no gods of winter as far as I know. Norse mythology has giants.
Chris: I think Norse mythology has some gods that are associated with winter, but I think those pagan gods usually represent many different things, right? So they are associated with winter, but it’s not like, for instance, Jack Frost and old man winter, which are personifications of winter. The Snow Queen you could also say is a personification of winter, which is different than having a God that is associated with winter I think.
Oren: I don’t know of any straight up god of winter, but I mean there’s like gods like Boreas, a greek god who is the god of the winter wind, and I think that’s about it. I don’t think there’s a greek god of summer specifically. There’s gods that are associated with different ones.
Wes: That’s true. It’s like Demeter is earth, but there seems to be such a springtime component with that as a focus. Anyway, we’ve probably gone on too long.
Oren: Well, you can always just use the Winter Court, frankly, if you want a supernatural creature that has some kind of affiliation with winter. Fairies are probably your easiest bet.
Wes: Yes. Do that. It’s excellent.
Oren: But we are definitely out of time. So I’m going to call this episode – we’re going to stop it cold! Badum-tss.
Chris: Better edit that out.
Oren: All right, so before we go, I want to thank a few of our patrons. First, we have Kathy Ferguson, who is a professor of political theory in Star Trek. Next we have Ayman Jaber, who writes urban fantasy and knows all there is to know about Marvel. And finally we have Danita Rambo, and she lives at therambogeeks.com. We’ll talk to you next week.[closing theme]
P.S. Our bills are paid by our wonderful patrons. Could you chip in?