You’ve heard the myths and stories of the legendary sea monster that terrorizes sailors and brings them to their bitter ends. You’ve seen this monstrous creature represented in novels, television, and movies. In fact, I would say most everyone is familiar with The Kraken, to some extent. With its huge tentacles and death grip, the beast can snap a giant pirate ship like a toothpick. It devours sailors without thought or reason, other than them sailing to the “wrong place at the wrong time”. Dating back to the 1100’s, sailors were terrified to venture in to the deep sea, for the thought of encountering this monster was their biggest fear. The mythical Kraken captures the essence of theses 1 and 2 of Jeffrey Cohen’s seven Monster Culture theses: it has evolved with time and remained relevant to peoples’ fears, and for the most part, it always escapes. There is science behind this myth, which makes us wonder: Is it real? Is it solely mythical? Is this monster just a creation of sailors’ own nightmarish imaginations? Or does the Kraken truly exist, and is waiting elusively in the darkest depths of the sea to perhaps strike again…?
If we refer to movies such as Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, it is easy to see why the Kraken is such a terrifying beast. This thing is HUGE. It can easily envelop the massive pirate ship in its enormous tentacles, and still have room to spare. It crushes the ship as easily as a human might squish an ant. In the movie, the Kraken’s tentacles initially creep up on all sides of the unlucky pirate ship, casually plucking sailors off one by one and either flinging them into the sea or brutally crushing them. After playing this game for a couple of minutes, we get to see the full length of these massive weapons, as they shoot up into the sky and come crashing down onto the ship. At this point, we see more of the beast as its giant jaws open and its massive teeth are waiting to finish them off. As the ship is being demolished, our main guy (Will Turner) escapes and pulls a Rose and Jack by floating off on a big slab of wood. I’m thinking, in reality, there would be zero survivors against a ruthless monster like this. But hey, that’s Hollywood for ya!
Kraken scene from Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.
Another prime example and hair-raising visual representation of the Kraken is in the movie Clash of the Titans. Now, unlike the former example, I have not seen this movie in its entirety. I actually just now watched the scene with the Kraken for the first time, and I honestly might have nightmares from it. This is a textbook “monster” in all of its glory. When I think monster I think big, grotesque, and frightening. This depiction of the Kraken is all of that and more. In the scene, the monster shoots out of the ocean with a ferocious, teeth baring “ROAR”. Expressions of terror paint the faces of all the people who are about to meet their end. This monster seems to be half sea monster and half land monster, as it has giant claws in addition to its huge tentacles. What’s even more terrifying is that the monster is no longer confined to the deepest and darkest depths of the sea. He’s right up on the beach and is terrorizing all of the people who are on land! It is no longer a fear reserved for sailors- any and every beach city dweller is a potential victim. Just when the beast is about to devour some lady in a white dress, a demi-god or soldier (I’m shooting in the dark here, again I have not seen the movie in its’ entirety) holds up the head of Medusa and the beast slowly turns to stone and begins to crumble back into the sea from which it rose. It is interesting that they chose to make the Kraken so easily defeated in this movie, because that seems out of character for such a monster. Regardless of its’ immortality, I still think that this adaption did a fantastic job of capturing the terrifying essence of The Kraken.
Kraken scene from Clash of the Titans.
Aside from these visual representations in recent pop culture, we can find numerous depictions of the Kraken in literature and texts dating far, far back. Over the centuries, many sea monster legends were born and forgotten; only a few have reached our days. According to Salvador and Tomotani in Revista Brasileira De Hematologia e Hemoterapia, the Kraken, one of these “survivors,” is perhaps the largest monster ever imagined by mankind. It was a monster believed to haunt the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, and its origins lay in old Nordic myths. It has been depicted as a giant sea monster with an appetite for ships and their crews, terrorizing as it pleases. Many sea monsters of that period shared similar traits, and it wasn’t until much later that the Kraken took on the specific shape of a cephalopod, or giant squid, as we know it today. The Kraken was classified as the cephalopod first by physician and zoologist Carolus Linnaeus in the first edition of Systema Naturae, 1735. Since being classified, we have seen this creature evolve and change from a simple and giant squid, to a beastly monster. Different adaptions of the monster play into peoples’ fears, and it no longer falls into a single category, thus relating itself back to Jeffrey Cohen’s third thesis: The Monster is the Harbinger of Category Crisis. In reviewing the different adaptions of the Kraken, through time and in modern representations, we see that the Kraken isn’t a squid, cut and dry. It can be confined to the deepest depths of the sea, or it can bring itself right up to the land. It can be a mile long or a mere 6 feet as reported by Mark Dery in The Kraken Wakes: What Architeuthis is Trying to Tell Us. The Kraken is a complex and well developed monster, and thus fits many of the monster theses, as outlined by Cohen.
According to Jeffrey Cohen’s second Monster Culture thesis, The Monster’s Body is a Cultural Body, a monster is born to embody a certain cultural moment of a feeling, place, or a time. Cohen goes on to state that “the monster’s body quite literally incorporates fear, desire, anxiety, and fantasy, giving them life and an uncanny independence”. I would draw this comparison to the Kraken because it was born from a time where this fear was a prominent one. When the Kraken was born, the sea was an unexplored, mysterious, and frightening place. No one knew the kinds of creatures that dwelled beneath the surface of those dark and treacherous waters, and therefore, imaginations ran wild. Perhaps the Kraken was born purely from imagination, or derived from a legitimate beast such as the Giant Squid. Regardless, the idea of the Kraken evolved from a sea creature into a terrifying and deadly monster that haunted the thoughts of anyone who ventured out to sea. Now, we can see how the Kraken has evolved over time. Although a vast majority of the ocean remains unexplored, people do not fear that they will meet the Kraken if they sail the seas. The Kraken has become a storybook legend, and is depicted as a fantasy creature in film and text. We see from depictions such as Clash of the Titans, that the idea of the Kraken has evolved; it is now able to be defeated. No longer is it an indestructible beast: it can turn to stone from the head of Medusa just as easily as the next guy. I guess Medusa’s head is just THAT powerful?
Thesis two in Monster Culture suggests that the monster always escapes. Cohen acknowledges that the damage the monster wreaks is apparent, but the monster itself vanishes only to reappear somewhere else. The same holds true for the Kraken. The monster appears, does significant damage, and leaves; the cycle repeats with every new and unsuspecting ship that the monster victimizes. Take for example even real life encounters with the giant squid, which the Kraken is more than likely derived from. Mark Dery gives the example of a 1990 encounter off the southern coast of Baja California in his article, The Kraken Wakes: What Architeuthis is Trying to Tell Us. In this instance, the giant squid was excited by the bait the crew was using, and was soon joined by multiple other large squids who then grabbed onto the legs of a man named Kerstitch. They yanked him into the pitch black depths of the sea, ripping from him all of his belongings. Then, just as quickly as they latched on, they released him and disappeared. It could have been a lot worse, and the thought of what potentially could have happened had they held on longer and kept dragging him down is a terrifying one. The beasts came, they conquered, and they easily slipped away into the darkness- just as the monster does. I think this modern day encounter, although much more muted than the Kraken, exemplifies this monster’s resonance with Monster Thesis 2.
In conclusion, I give the Kraken an A+ on the “monster scale”. Outside of its relatability to Cohen’s monster theses, it embodies everything a monster should. For starters, the Kraken dwells in the darkest depths of the sea; a place that is frightening enough all on its own. Because it is a sea monster and lurks beneath the waters, you may not even see it coming before it demolishes you. And, even if you survive the Kraken’s attack on your ship, it’s likely you’ll still end up drowning out there. The Kraken is massive in size, and hideously terrifying to look at. It has the ability to crush you and your entire ship, effortlessly. Aside from holding up Medusa’s head, there is essentially no way to defeat this monster if you come face to face with it (and I am assuming not everyone carries the head of Medusa out with them on their voyages). Meeting this monster means meeting your doom, plain and simple. This monster may or may not be fiction, although the idea that it is derived from a legitimate creature is scary enough. Fiction or not, I don’t see myself venturing out into the high seas anytime soon to see for myself, that’s for sure….
- Salvador, Rodrigo B, and Barbara M Tomotani. “SciELO – Scientific Electronic Library Online.” Revista Brasileira De Hematologia e Hemoterapia, Associação Brasileira De Hematologia e Hemoterapia, 2014, scielo.br/scielo.php?pid=S0104-59702014000300971. This scientific article provides me with any and all information I could ever possibly need on the mythological Kraken. It goes into scientific detail of the creature and its’ history. I will use this article to inform myself on the scientific aspect of this sea monster, and to shed some light on why it was perceived as a monster. These authors are PhD so it is credible.
- Dery, Mark. “The Kraken Awakes: What Architeuthis Is Trying to Tell Us.” Boing Boing, Boing Boing, 21 Jan. 2015, boingboing.net/2013/01/28/the-kraken-awakes-what-ar.html. This article is written by a graduate student and is derived from reliable sources, so I find it credible. It talks about the kraken and more modern “appearances” of the beast, and how it’s never truly been captured. I will use this article to support Thesis 2, that the monster always escapes. It also discusses legends of the monster, which will help me describe it and categorize it as a monster in my paper.
- Torjussen, Stian Sundell. “‘Release the Kraken!”- The Recontextualization of the Kraken in Popular Culture, from Clash of the Titans to Magic: The Gathering.” Https://Brage.bibsys.no/Xmlui/Bitstream/Handle/11250/2424600/Torjussen.pdf?Sequence=1, 2016. This online journal is super interesting because it talks about the evolution of the Kraken, from historically Nordic tales to Greek mythology adaptations. I will use this article to familiarize myself with all the different facets of this legendary creature, and see how it has evolved- which I will relate to Thesis 1, The Monster’s Body is a Cultural Body. The author is an applied sciences professor from Hedmark University, so I found this a credible source.
- Bruckheimer, Jerry, et al. Pirates of the Caribbean, at World’s End. Buena Vista Pictures, 2007. During this installment of the Pirates franchise, the Kraken makes a brief appearance. I will use this scene to give myself a visual representation of the monster. I will also use it because it relates the kraken to pop culture, and makes it relevant today even though it was first introduced thousands of years ago.
- Leterrier, Louis, director. Clash of the Titans. Warner Bros., 2010. This film, like the above, will be used in my essay as a visual depiction of this monstrous creature and what it can do to human beings. This movie has a Kraken in it and shows just how ferocious and terrifying the monster is thought to have been. This gives us an idea of what people believed to be true in regards to this beast, and is entertaining to watch.
- Cohen, J Jeffrey. “Monster Culture (Seven Thesis) Monster Theory: Reading Culture, 1996 pp. 3-20. I will be using this to classify the Kraken as a monster. I will be utilizing theories 1, 2, and 3 in my essay. This is a scholarly source for my paper.
- Linnaeus, Carolus, et al. Systema Naturae, 1735. Hes & De Graaf, 2003. I am using this to reference the origins of the Kraken, as depicted in science. This was written by a botanist, zoologist, and physicist, therefore it is a credible source for my paper.