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Monsters of Literature — Anthropophagi

Anthropophagi_The_MonstrumologistThe list of cool monsters found in literature is quite extensive: Frankenstein, Dracula, Medusa, Grendel, the Balrog, Cyclops, and the list goes on. One of my favorite recent reads was Rick Yancey’s The Monstrumologist. The horrific centerpiece of the tale is a mythical monster come to life in Victorian Times — an Anthropophagi.

We’re introduced to the dead, headless monster, with a mouth like a shark in its torso, attached to the corpse of a young woman, which is brought to the Monstromologist for research. Yancey describes the monster in awful detail: Were it alive, it would stand more than seven feet tall, with arms dangling nearly to its knees; large hands about the size of a human skull, three inch claws are at the end of each finger, yet it has no head, only black lidless eyes that occupy its shoulders, and a mouth in the torso lined with multiple rows of shark-like teeth. Its skin is a flawless white. To top it off, Anthropophagi feed solely on people.

Another interesting feature:

“The female can breed, but she cannot bear. She lacks a womb, you see, for that location of her anatomu is given to another, more vital organ; her brain.” (Pgs. 20-21, The Monstrumologist)

Interestingly enough, the Anthropophagi are rooted in Greek mythology, first described by Horodotus as a race of mythical cannibals. Pliny the Elder, in his Naturalis Historia, later added this lovely feature:

The Anthropophagi, whom we have previously mentioned as dwelling ten days’ journey beyond the Borysthenes, according to the account of Isigonus of Nicæa, were in the habit of drinking out of human skulls, and placing the scalps, with the hair attached, upon their breasts, like so many napkins.

Yancey obviously has taken the mythology in a delightfully creepy new direction.

Anyway, I’ve added the Anthropophagi to my list of Cool Monsters of Literature. What about you? Do you have any favorites?

Photo credit: http://www.deisign.com/2012/11/anthropophagi.html

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{ 16 comments… add one }
  • Tony October 31, 2013, 6:03 AM

    I’d love to invent an iconic monster. Certainly seems to be one here. Very cool.

  • Melissa Ortega October 31, 2013, 6:42 AM

    For whatever reason, I have always favored were-wolves. Medusa was always the scariest to me growing up – and things without mouths. Which is odd, because mouthless things really don’t seem very dangerous since the only thing they can do is stare at you. They’re just creepy. Like porcelein clowns with glass eyes and terrible smiles. Plants that devour and replace you were also ridiculously frightening.

    All that said, I always feared people far more than I feared monsters as a child. I was only scared while I looked at monsters – the fear diminished when I turned away. With people, it was exactly the opposite. It comes of having grown up in the Bobby Fischer generation, I think.

  • Kat Heckenbach October 31, 2013, 6:44 AM

    I just read that book for the second time, and am almost done with my second read of book two. (Which will be immediately followed by my second read of book 3, and then my first read of the newly-released book four.)

    You know these books make me swoon. You need to finish the series!

    And that’s an awesome image :).

    As for the question…we’ve been watching Little Shop of Horrors lately, so the man-eating Audrey 2 is kinda my fave at the moment…I know, that’s not literature. Not even close, but cool nonetheless :P.

  • Karen Peters October 31, 2013, 7:08 AM

    One word….GODZILLA!
    Nothing like hanging out all day with my brother at the movie theater watching one bad monster movie after another. And feeling ookie from all the popcorn and candy we consumed. *sigh* I miss those days.

  • D.M. Dutcher October 31, 2013, 7:24 AM

    A book that gave me shivers growing up was Baleful Beasts and Eerie Creatures, and I think the one story that scared everyone who read it was The Patchwork Monkey:


    A nice old lady down the road gives a boy and girl a little monkey made out of scraps of cloth, but it’s far more malevolent than it seems. That whole anthology was nightmare fuel for kids, with the one that got me being the Yamadan; a monster that kidnaps you and slowly turns you into a copy of itself, but out of loneliness and even love.

  • Jon Mast October 31, 2013, 1:53 PM

    The Habitation of the Blessed by Catherynne Valente uses the same creature as one of her main characters with some… interesting innovations. I never would have thought someone else used them, too!

    Growing up, living dolls freaked me out. And babies. I blame Bradbury’s “The Small Assassin.”

  • HG Ferguson November 2, 2013, 2:53 PM

    All things Lovecraft, but in particular Wilbur Whateley, the winged crab monstrosities haunting the Vermont hills in The Whisperer in Darkness, The Colour Out of Space and the degenerate spawn comprising The Lurking Fear have to rate pretty high!

  • Forest (D&D Preacher) Ray November 3, 2013, 6:10 PM

    I am stating the Anthropophagi out for my convention game later this month. My favorite monster is the Behir
    The behir is a serpentine monster that can slither like a snake or use its dozen legs to move with considerable speed. A behir is about 40 feet long and weighs about 4,000 pounds. Most are a deep blue color. Behirs attack by biting, and will
    swallow prey whole. They also lash their bodies around prey. Behirs also have a breath weapon – they can spit a bolt of lightning. I love having a party meet one or two in a Dark Dungeon

  • Katherine Coble November 4, 2013, 1:00 PM

    Why am I the first annoying pedant to say


    • Katherine Coble November 4, 2013, 1:02 PM

      Other than that I still think my favourite monster is Tom Baker.

    • Kat Heckenbach November 4, 2013, 1:14 PM

      Hah! We were just discussing that with our waitress when we went out to dinner last night. She thought the monster was Frankie, too. I told her, no, the monster is just the monster. Then she asked, “What about the Bride of Frankenstein? That’s not the doctor’s wife.”

      Because whoever came up with the Bride of Frankenstein didn’t know either??

      I also told her she MUST watch Young Frankenstein. Must, must, must.

      • Katherine Coble November 4, 2013, 1:57 PM

        “The Bride Of Frankenstein!” is what Pretorious (the creator of the homonculi and the film’s Bad Consciousness) calls her at the moment of animation. Up to that point he had been goading Dr. Frankenstein into making a bride as requested by the Monster. Dr. Frankenstein was reluctant, yet Pretorius taunts him with Pretorius’ own numerous creatures. So as the bride is animated Pretorius shouts “the Bride of Frankenstein!” This means that she is not only the Doctor’s creation, but also that her existence weds him forever to the evil impulses of hubris and destruction that he had renounced after the events of the Monster in the first film. So she is indeed the Bride of Frankenstein, and not the Bride of The Monster. She rejects the monster as did everyone else in the film, and the monster’s last act is to destroy Pretorius and the Bride, (“We belong dead”) buying time for the Doctor and his love interest to flee.

        Oh yeah, earlier in the film the doctor’s love interest is telling him repeatedly to not make the Bride, so his choice to make her was him choosing between the Good Conscious (his girlfriend) and Bad (Pretorius.) So when Pretorius announces “The Bride Of Frankenstein” it is also an acknowledgment that the Doctor abandoned his human love for his insane quest to control life.

        So, yeah. She IS the bride of Frankenstein. Not the bride of the Monster.

        • Kat Heckenbach November 4, 2013, 2:14 PM

          Ah, okay. I’m not familiar enough with that part of the lore. I do know enough to get irritated (as you do) when people refer to the monster as Frankenstein. My daughter is all into Monster High dolls, and the “Frankie Stein” doll is of course a *monster* doll. I keep wanting to say she should be wearing a lab coat rather than bolts.

          PS–there was a preview for “I, Frankenstein”–a movie that will be coming out next year and is described this way on imdb: “Frankenstein’s creature finds himself caught in an all-out, centuries old war between two immortal clans.” It looks…interesting. I do not have high hopes for it plot-wise, but the effects look cool and I was more than a bit gleeful to see the gargoyles–a “monster” that has been greatly lacking in movies.

          • Katherine Coble November 4, 2013, 2:23 PM

            I lOVE gargoyles.

            I’m actually not a fan of Frankenstein at all. (Much more into Young Frankenstein.) But I got stuck defending the Feminism of Mary Shelley at various points and so reading and watching the movies were part of it. And the Bride Of Frankenstein is a hollywood-generated thing. Nothing to do with the book at all. But it does perpetuate the misunderdstanding about the Monster’s name.

            And does “I Frankenstein” sound like a rip off of Van Helsing or is it just me? Or maybe a rip-off of that Brothers Grimm movie with Heath Ledger. Either way, it sounds like a rip-off of a movie that really bit it.

            • Katherine Coble November 4, 2013, 2:24 PM

              Oh, and “We belong dead” is one of my all-time favourite last lines of any movie. So there’s that.

  • Annie December 16, 2013, 9:15 AM

    I’m a huge fan of the monstrumologist series- the only one I have left to read is the final, which hasn’t yet come out in paperback. However, I am confused about the anthropophagi- they are often associated or confused with blemmyes, ‘whose heads do grow beneath their shoulders’ (from othello, just after the mention of anthropophagi). I was wondering if you had any clue how the anthropophagi differs from the blemmyes? From the descriptions in Rick Yancy’s book, the basic structure seems the same- they have no heads and the features you would expect on their face appear on the torso. Thank you! I’m glad someone else seems to appreciate the monstrumologist haha. In terms of other creatures I like the one from the second book- the wendigo, and I love werewolves and vampires (i just like folklore and mythical monsters in general)

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