Meet the snoligoster, who feeds on the shadows of its victims. The whirling whimpus, who once laid low an entire Boy Scout troop. And the hoop snake, who can chase prey at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour and then, with one sting of its venomous tail, cause it to turn purple, swell up, and—alas—die. These and 17 other fearsome creatures are among the most fantastical beasts in American folklore. Their stories, as narrated by one of the last surviving cryptozoologists, are best enjoyed while sitting around a campfire. If you dare.
About the Author
Hal Johnson is the author of Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods and Immortal Lycanthropes. He loves monsters and books.
Tom Mead is a pen-and-ink artist who exhibits his work under the name "Mr. Mead."
Read an Excerpt
The world is filled with frogs and zebras, and you have probably seen them both in zoos and dissected them both in school. But the world is filled with stranger animals, fearsome creatures too terrifying for most zoologists to understand.
I have devoted my life to their study. I am a cryptozoologist and, if I do say so myself, at or near the forefront of my field. So many colleagues have been eaten by chimeras, incinerated by salamanders, or pecked to death by barnacle geese; there is not necessarily much competition left. The focus of my study has been the lumberwoods of North America, a land still wild and untamed at the margin, populated only by lumberjacks and their mortal enemies, the cruel trees that once tyrannized this land—and, of course, by fearsome creatures.
This book is the fruit of a lifetime of deathdefying feats in the jaws—the literal jaws—of some of the deadliest animals ever to stroll across the earth, but it is by no means complete. There are many undiscovered, or half-discovered, creatures still extant in this great continent. There is the hidebehind, for example, whose most distinguishing feature is that whenever you look at it, it is hiding behind something. Pecos Bill caught one and donated it to the Cincinnati Zoo; but even then, when researchers tried to study it, the creature was always concealed behind the bars of its cage. There’s not much to say about such a beast; not much is known, so I also left the hidebehind out. I left out the slink and the ring-tailed tooter. There are enough fearsome creatures in this continent to fill sixty or eventy books such as this one. I sometimes marvel that anyone makes it to the grocery store and back alive.
While he lived, Paul Bunyan served as the master of the Michigan lumberwoods; since his death, its only master has been the hodag. Three thousand pounds of pure carnivorous appetite, the hodag most resembles a bull-horned rhinoceros with a spiny back. There are larger creatures in North America, and there are faster creatures in North America, but there is nothing that can challenge a hodag. I almost owned a hodag, or a part of a hodag—more or less. A smooth talker named WellbornT. Herder had a plan to capture and exhibit the hodag as part of a traveling amusement show, and he sought me out as a potential investor.
“I will invest in your scheme,” I told him,“if you can answer three simple questions about Browne’s Pseudodoxia.”
“I don’t know what that is,” said Herder, so I threw him out the door. But he did eventually find a backer, a mantis wrangler named Constantine Vosko, and the two conspirators twirled their mustachios and discussed their plans. With Vosko’s cash, Herder bought a large tent, painted outside and in with colorful, borderline realistic pictures of the hodag, breathing fire (impossible!) and swallowing people by the busload (possible). The tent fit in the back of a large truck they would take turns driving. Oh,they were clever fellows. Herder and Vosko would roll into town with the truck’s sound system blaring. "See the wild hodag! Nature's fierces antagonist! Absolutely not for children!" They set up the painted tent and charged a sawbuck (that’s $10) for entrance. The hodag, Herder explained to the packed house, was behind this curtain here, and he would be leading the beast out, in chains, very shortly—but first a description of the terror that is the hodag! At that moment, Vosko, crouched behind the curtain, pressed play on the terrifying field recordings of the grunts and screams—the roaring! the snarling!—of a young wild hodag. Herder, dressed in the sequined cape of a circus daredevil, regaled the audience with tales of hodags ripping up trees by the roots and redirecting rivers with their great horns. And as he spoke, the sound of the hodag would reach a crescendo, until, at the precise moment, Vosco would rattle chains and shout from the back—
“Have mercy on us ALL! The hodag's escaped!”
At this point he would pull a lever and the tent would half-collapse. The terrified townsfolk would bolt out the way they’d entered, leaving Herder and Vosko to roll up the tent quickly and jam it into the tractor trailer, their pockets filled with ten-spots. No one ever stayed around to demand a refund. And Herder and Vosko were off to another town, with another group of gulls to defraud with their hodag noises and their showmanship. They crisscrossed the Midwest with this act, fleecing towns and congratulating each other.
If Herder had known that Browne’s Pseudodoxia was a classic seventeenth-century treatise on the history of errors, especially the history of errors concerning fearsome creatures (which he did not), he would have received my expert advice; and my expert advice would have been for them to stay the heck out of Michigan.