“How it lashes, how it thrashes,
How if flashes, how it flails,
How it dwarfs the greatest fishes,
Even dwarfs the mighty Whales.
Nothing living in the ocean
Can enjoy a moment’s ease,
For the Kraken has awakened at the bottom of the seas.” (Prelutsky,1980)
Wait it can swallow a whale? Thats one big ass sea monster. It would have to be the biggest monster on the planet in order to “hunt for mighty vessels” or “choke a great leviathan with one squeeze (Prelutsky, 1980).” The first mention of the Kraken dates all the way back to 1180. King Sverre of Norway at this time would tell tales and give warning to sailors of sea monsters that were dangerous and of these sea creatures the most dangerous of them all was the Kraken (Gaither, 2012). This was a time when the sea was more of a mystery than it is now and there was so much unexplored and unmapped waters. Men would spend months on sea, sometimes even getting lost. With drinking water and food in low supply, and extreme weather conditions ranging from storms to extreme heat it is safe to say that a lot of the men at sea were not in their right mind. The stories and experience of these early voyages were influenced due to these factors and their perception and reality was blurred. They would come back with horror stories of various monsters and experiences that held only a small amount of reality (Salvador, 2016).
I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word “kraken” immediately my mind paints an image of gigantic tentacles ripping apart a ship. The interesting part is that it’s never a modern day cruise ship, it’s always a wooden ship from a specific era in which parts of the world were still left undiscovered. Is this by coincidence? I think not. I believe the kraken has been burned into our minds as a monster from that era. Try to imagine a kraken today. Can you picture it taking down a Carnival cruise ship? Maybe a Naval jet carrier? It’s difficult to paint these pictures because the kraken is a direct product of a time in which the sea itself was an unknown danger. In Monster Theses 1: The Monster’s Body is a Cultural Body, monster theorist Jeffrey Cohen explains that a monster’s creation is directly linked to the time and culture in which it was created. “The monster is born only at this metaphoric crossroads, as an embodiment of a certain cultural moment-of a time, a feeling a place.”(Cohen, Thesis 1) The time in which the Kraken was created was a time of uncertainty in regards to the sea. There was so much mystery about the sea, how deep it was, and most importantly what creatures, or monsters if you will, inhabit it. What makes the Kraken such a significant monster as it applies to Cohen’s first thesis, is that all of these cultural factors regarding the mystery of the sea are still just that, mysteries. Although we immediately imagine the kraken in an ancient setting, the possibilities of a current kraken are still there and left unexplored in modern films. This could possibly be because the kraken has such a strong connection to the specific cultural moment in which it was created.
Living in the deepest parts of the ocean in most description, the kraken is a product of parts of the ocean left unexplored. Modern technology has taken us all the way to the moon, however we have been unable to reach the very bottom of the ocean floor on our own planet. We have yet to find aliens in space, but we haven’t explored enough to determine if they in fact exist. This same idea applies to the sea. Do we know that the kraken is just a legend? Is it possible that there are things beyond our knowledge sleeping on the floor of the darkest and deepest parts of the ocean? We can’t answer any of these questions with full certainty. The kraken, regardless of it being a product of imagination or fact, is a warning of the unknown that lies in our own planet. Perhaps it is stories and modern variations of the kraken that have stopped us from answering the questions the ocean holds. Monster theory has taught us that a monster serves as a warning to the unknown and that it embodies the ideas that scare us so that we will not look any deeper into them(Cohen, 5). Perhaps we fear waking the beast that could potentially be so large as to be mistaken for a mile long piece of land. After all we were able to build technology that allows us to breath in space but we can’t figure out technology to take us to the lowest depths of the ocean floor. Or maybe we can and we don’t? The kraken’s warning of the unknown is undeniable, and if kraken could be imagined to be down there, we can only assume there are frightening hybrid creatures dwelling with it. The potential for monstrosity on our own planet spans far beyond that of space. “To modern science, the deep sea is an alien world cradling unknown life.” (Alder, 2018) The idea of the kraken existing is not that far out as we continue to discover new forms of life in our oceans every year that were previously unrecorded. Sometimes we are even able to connect them to the ideas of the monsters in legends and myths. Although a kraken has yet to be discovered, the possibility of its existence is still there and the different imagery we have in film and television of this monster adds to our fears and anxieties.
The kraken takes on a reimagined look that strays from early descriptions we may have had in the film ‘Clash of the Titans’ where we see a sea creature hybrid that holds human-like characteristics. “Clash of The Titans” gives us a classic story of a hero, Perseus, son of the god Zeus, fighting Zeus’ brother and god of the underworld Hades. In the film, Hades is explained to have created the Kraken and uses him as a weapon in this war of gods. We receive narration throughout the film explaining just how the kraken came to be.
“Zeus convinced his brother Hades, to create a beast so strong it could defeat their parents. And from his own flesh, Hades gave birth to an unspeakable horror, The Kraken.”(Clash of the Titans, 2010)
I personally could not think of a monster more scary than one that is birthed from the flesh of the god of the underworld. Although most descriptions of the kraken early on can be written off as a giant squid or an octopus, the reimagining of the kraken is a mixture of various creatures. In “Clash of The Titans” we see that the kraken stands upright with a full torso, a head, a face, and arms in addition to its massive tentacles. Kraken is some sort of humanoid cephalopod hybrid in this adaptation. The combination of human-like features on a sea monster makes this monster that much more frightening because we are unable to classify it as just a giant squid or anything else. I believe they used this strategy to replace the image we may have had of the kraken and create something less predictable and more ferocious. Monster theory three shows us that a monster can not be defined by a specific class, it can be a combination of a few different species, or hold characteristics that cross the lines of all characteristics. So just to paraphrase this interpretation of the Kraken is part Hades, god of the underworld, part cephalopod, part who knows what else but definitely something evil and monstrous that has the ability to crush entire cities and craves the flesh of humans. The issue I have with this interpretation of the Kraken is that all it took to kill it was the head of Medusa. We see the Kraken stare into her eyes and begin to turn to stone even though he is a goliath of a creature. I feel like a creature so evil, born of Hades flesh, should have had a bit more of a fight and a more complex demise then just turning to stone especially since it has arms in addition to its tentacles and just towers over the city as if it were a set of legos. I would like to believe that the kraken could not be so easily defeated and for this, I give “Clash of the Titan’s” interpretation of the kraken a two out of five. One point for monster thesis number three being present in its physical features, and one point for the cool, fear-inducing creation story.
Although redefining the appearance of the kraken is one way to scare an audience, another way would simply be to perfect the classic description with an addition of one unforgettable and unexpected feature and this is exactly what we got in the film “Pirates of the Caribbean.” and this is exactly what we found . Jack Sparrow, the legendary drunk and untrustworthy pirate, finds his greatest fear in the beast that sleeps on the bottom of the ocean floor in The Pirates Of The Caribbean trilogy. The other-worldly pirate Davy Jones keeps the kraken as his sleeping pet, only woken in the most extreme cases to do Jones’ bidding. Sparrow finds himself on the wrong side of the seas when he is marked with “the black spot” by Jones. The black spot enables the Kraken to find Sparrows exact location upon being woken from its slumber. Before we even get a glimpse of the kraken in the film we are threatened with the monsters capabilities and unimaginable strength.
“A fearsome creature with giant tentacles that’ll suction your face clean off, and drag an entire ship down to the crushing darkness. The Kraken. They say the stench of its breath is…(shudders) Imagine, the last thing you know on God’s green earth is the roar of the Kraken and the reeking odor of a thousand rotting corpses. If you believe such things.” -Pirate Gibbs. (Pirates Of The Caribbean, 2016 )
The kraken clearly has a reputation in this world the film has created which is why Sparrow spends the duration of the movie dodging the Kraken and trying to come up with a way to evade the monster’s promise of a watery grave. We see a peak of the Kraken as it demolishes ships in less than a minute. It seems to park its unidentifiable body underneath Naval ships and with absolute silence we see the larger than life tentacles breech the ships sides and in an almost effortless swoop, the ship is completely submerged with no trace of the catastrophe. At this point we assume from the verbal descriptions and the tentacles that this Kraken is just a giant squid or Octopus. Although a giant squid would still be more than enough to freak me out, I am still able to classify it which takes away from this films variation fitting into monster thesis three. It is not until a monumental moment in the climax of the film where we actually see the kraken surface in full to feast on Jack Sparrow. Upon its emergence we get a glimpse at a huge mouth filled with rows upon rows of sharp and salivating teeth. This kraken is able to extend its mouth open in a way that is fitting of the earliest descriptions of the kraken in which sailors describe it as being able to open its mouth wide enough to swallow an entire vessels and whales(Salvador, 2016). At this moment in the film we immediately throw all the classifications of the kraken being a giant version of a sea creature out the window and it is here when it becomes the monster that we can no longer classify. The delayed reveal of this creature plays a trick on our minds leading us to believe we know what it is and then all of a sudden we are greeted by a monstrous reveal of the beastie, as Sparrow calls it. We begin to question our assumptions of the monster which monster theorist Jeffrey Cohen explains in the third monster thesis. “Generally: they are disturbing hybrids whose externally incoherent bodies resist attempts to include them in any systematic structuration.” Cohen’s observation can be easily broken down as I watched the slow reveal of the Kraken. I thought I had it all figured out, it’s just a giant squid and then, bam, where in the hell did all those teeth come from? And how in the hell is this thing able to just swallow a ship whole? It’s a freakish creature that dwells below and the fear it has struck in the characters suddenly make sense. This kraken in my opinion is the kraken of all krakens. Although we see it die in the film, it took an entire naval fleet to kill it not just some head of a snake lady. This kraken kicked ass and took names before meeting its demise. It swallowed multiple ships effortlessly, it was revealed to us in a way that kept it mysterious and surprising, and it ate the main character of the entire Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. If this kraken were to fight the kraken from “Clash of the Titans” it would clearly kick its ass, but then again the tiny head of snake lady was able to kick its ass so maybe that’s not saying much.
The kraken is said to sleep on the bottom of the ocean floor, and maybe thats where its been all this time that it hasn’t been portrayed in a present day or modern way. The few versions we have been given of this beast are enough to prove just how monsterous the kraken truly is. We are never able to understand exactly what it is as it is product of the sea in which we have left unexplored. Its physical features, although sometimes recognizable, are mutated and horrific. It has been portrayed mainly in films and stories set in an era in which it was created. In this era the world as a whole was a new place and it was easy for our minds to create monsters out of pieces of reality. We have explored the planet since then which is perhaps why the role of the kraken as a monster has gone underrepresented. If you ask me we have forgotten the most important thing that defines kraken as just that, even in today’s world. The kraken is a warning of what we don’t know and what we have left unexplored on our own planet. The monster possibilities under the sea are endless because of our ignorance or perhaps our fear of knowing. Fear, anxiety, and potential of unfathomable monstrosities manifests in the legend of the kraken. I believe this monster is severely underrated and severely underrepresented in today’s culture. I suppose the kraken is out there sleeping on the ocean floors and we be wary of the day it wakes and confronts us with our fears that we seem to have forgotten of the unknown parts of our very own planet.
Alder, Emily. “Kraken.” The Ashgate Encyclopedia of Literary and Cinematic Monsters, Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock, Ashgate Publishing, 1st edition, 2014. Credo Reference, https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/ashgtmonster/kraken/0?institutionId=5312. Accessed 17 Jul. 2018.
This is a detailed analysis of the history of the Kraken. The author compares the very first documented descriptions of the kraken with other newer variations of the kraken. There is also an in depth analysis of the different names the kraken has in different cultures. I will be using this source to pull various krakens to compare. I will also be using some of the cross examinations. This source is credible because it is a scholar journal found on credo.
“Sea Serpent.” Gaither’s Dictionary of Scientific Quotations, edited by Carl C. Gaither, and Alma E. Cavazos-Gaither, Springer Science+Business Media, 2nd edition, 2012. Credo Reference, https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/sprgaithers/sea_serpent/0?institutionId=5312. Accessed 29 Jul. 2018.
This source summarizes early tales of the kraken and its origins. I will be using this source to understand how we created the monster. I will tie this in to monster theory centered around the monsters being a product of the era in which they were originated.
Alder, Emily. “Sea Monsters.” The Ashgate Encyclopedia of Literary and Cinematic Monsters, Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock, Ashgate Publishing, 1st edition, 2014. Credo Reference, https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/ashgtmonster/sea_monsters/0?institutionId=5312. Accessed 29 Jul. 2018.
This source gives a detailed background specifically around the origin of various sea monsters. Although the kraken is not mentioned in this academic journal, the observations about the unexplored sea can be applied to my essay. I will use these observations to explain how the kraken is a product of our fears of the unknown associated with the sea.
Prelutsky, Jack. “The Kraken.” 1992
https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/kraken#. Accessed 17. Jul. 2018.
This is poem written about the Kraken. I will use this source as one of the examples of the kraken that I am examining. Although it is just a short poem it is still very descriptive in its appearance. I will also use this in my introduction.
Salvador, Rodrigo Brincalepe. “The Real-Life Origins of the Legendary Kraken.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 4 Jan. 2016, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/kraken-the-real-life-origins-of-the-legendary-sea-monster-a6796241.html.
This is an article that once again details the origin of the kraken however this time the reference of the actual journals is being used. I will use this to explain the fear and anxiety the kraken actually created during this time. This will help me link the kraken to the monster theory that talks about monsters being a specific product of a moment in time or era.
Leterrier, Louis, director. Clash of the Titans. Warner Bros., 2010.
I will be using the version of the kraken from Clash of the Titans to analyze.
Bruckheimer, Jerry, et al. Pirates of the Caribbean, Dead Man’s Chest. Buena Vista, 2006.
I will be using this version of the kraken from Pirates of the Caribbean to analyze.
Cohen, J Jeffrey. “Monster Culture (Seven Thesis) Monster Theory: Reading Culture, 1996 pp. 3-20
This is the source of the monster thesis which I will be incorporating to analyze and evaluate the kraken. I will compare monster thesis 1, 3, and 5 to the kraken and explain how these theories apply to it.