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Saturday, May 2, 2009

Octopus Mythology: The Kraken

Kraken are legendary sea monsters of gargantuan size, said to have dwelt off the coasts of Norway and Iceland. The sheer size and fearsome appearance attributed to the beasts have made them common ocean-dwelling monsters in various fictional works (see Kraken in popular culture). The legend may actually have originated from sightings of real giant squid that are variously estimated to grow to 13–15 metres (40–50 feet) in length, including the tentacles. These creatures normally live at great depths, but have been sighted at the surface and reportedly have "attacked" ships.

The Kraken has been a mainstay in popular culture for years, reappearing over and over again in literature and movies.

  • In 1830, Alfred Tennyson published his popular poem "The Kraken" (essentially an irregular sonnet), which disseminated Kraken in English forever fixed with its superfluous the. Tennyson's description apparently influenced Jules Verne's imagined lair of the famous giant squid in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea from 1870. In the novel, seven giant squid attack the submarine simultaneously; however, all film adaptations to date (excepting one depicting a giant manta ray-type creature) have opted for one, unrealistically massive squid instead. Verne also makes numerous references to Kraken and Erik Pontopiddan in the novel.

  • A Tolkien Bestiary by David Day proposes that the Watcher in the Water in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring was based on Kraken, though it seems unlikely that Tolkien would have placed the Kraken in fresh water. This view has been further contested by those who note that the tentacles of Tolkien's monster are nowhere described as octopus-like, though "The Watcher" does suggest a single creature. In the 2001 film version by Peter Jackson, the Watcher is clearly more similar to our modern view of Kraken.

  • The book The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham details an almost apocalyptic scenario in which the massive sea creature is the main cause. Although it is made clear in the book that the 'Kraken' of the story is actually a process of invasion by ocean-dwelling aliens, it is still clear that the Kraken is the basis for these aliens and Wyndham's fictional narrator quotes Tennyson's poem in the preface. Presumably for this reason Wyndham has been cited as having based the story on the poem.

  • In Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, The Kraken is an enormous sea monster that does the bidding of Davy Jones by pursuing the souls of men who bear the black spot, a mark that appears on men who owe Jones a debt. Captain Jack Sparrow spends most of the movie trying to avoid the creature but is eventually forced to face off with it.

  • In the 2007 film Juno, the title character relates an anecdote about a high-school student overdosing on behavioural medication, stripping off her clothes, and diving into a shopping mall fountain, declaring, "I am a Kraken from the sea!" It is later revealed that she was that student.

  • The Kraken from Clash of the Titans appears in the Robot Chicken episode "The Munnery" voiced by Todd Grinnell. Poseidon releases the Kraken to devour Andromeda. Rejoicing that he is free, eats Andromeda, and heads to his old home only to find out that his wife has re-married. From there on, the sea monster's life continues to go downhill, unable to return to his original job and winding up slaving away at a fast food joint, until he finally hangs himself in a halfway house. This is all done as a parody of Brooks Hatlen's suicide in The Shawshank Redemption, complete with a Morgan Freeman-like voice-over entoning, "Like Andy always told me, get busy dying or get Kraken."

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