Echidna Spawned in Greek mythology, this “Monster direfull dred, / Whom Gods doe hate, and heauens abhor to see” returns to vigorous life in Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. She couples with “Cruell Typhaon” and their progeny is “the Blatant Beast”, poisonous embodiment of slander and detraction.
Cyclops The best monsters want to eat you. In The Odyssey, the Cyclops is a one-eyed giant with a taste for human flesh. Polyphemus, a monstrous son of Poseidon, is the scariest of all. He imprisons Odysseus and several of his men in his cave, killing and eating a couple of them each day. Odysseus manages to get him drunk and blind him with a red-hot stake.
Grendel Another man-eater, Grendel is the monster that Beowulf must kill. No one knows exactly what he looks like, but he dwells at the bottom of a lake, and at night carries off Hrothgar’s warriors (for food). One night, however, Grendel comes to the warriors’ hall for some victims and Beowulf rips his arm off, pursues the monster to his watery lair and then decapitates him.
Basilisk “Its methods of killing are most wondrous, for aside from its deadly and venomous fangs, the Basilisk has a murderous stare, and all who are fixed with the beam of its eye shall suffer instant death.” Many readers of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets may suppose that this is a new monster, but the basilisk has been around in legend since ancient days and is often mentioned in Shakespeare. When nasty Richard (III to be) tells Lady Anne she has nice eyes, she retorts, “Would they were basilisk’s, to strike thee dead!”
Balrog Down in the mines of Moria, things are pretty grim, but something worse than orcs is after the brave fellowship of the ring. It is a big, horrid Balrog, swathed in both darkness and fire, and carrying a whip. Close textual analysis of Lord of the Rings fails to reveal whether it has wings or not.
Kraken This giant sea monster has lain in wait for seafarers since the days of the Norse sagas. In Tennyson’s celebrated poem, it lies on the ocean floor, “Battening upon huge seaworms in his sleep”. Naturally the submariners in Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea also have to escape from this omnivorous creature.
Apollyon In the Valley of Humiliation, Bunyan’s Christian meets a “monster . . . hideous to behold”. Not only is Apollyon “clothed with scales like a fish”, he also has dragon’s wings, bear’s feet, “and his mouth was as the mouth of a lion”.
The Gruffalo Another hybrid monster: a terrible tusk, claws, and purple spikes down his back. It’s the poisonous wart at the end of his nose that makes you feel some sympathy for the top monster of recent children’s fiction, outwitted by a clever mouse in Julia Donaldson’s woodland tale.
Shoggoth HP Lovecraft was a great monster-monger, and this is one of his most glorious. “A terrible, indescribable thing”, it slithers along, “a shapeless congeries of protoplasmic bubbles, faintly self-luminous, and with myriads of temporary eyes forming and un-forming as pustules of greenish light”. It can change shape at will and likes to eat penguins.
It The eponymous monster of Stephen King’s novel is protean in form, often appearing as a human clown, though with fangs and claws, and eventually as a massive spider. It lives under a small American town, waking from hibernation every few decades to kill some children. It is killed at the end of the book, but it has laid eggs . . .