We here at Buck Off are proud to announce a new series. Every 13th we’ll post the story of a mythical creature. We’ll share the history and popular tropes of the fay as well as include some writing tips on how to give that month’s creature a unique twist.
If you have a mythical beast you want us to explore, leave a comment below! But for now, enjoy the first monster: Kelpie
WHAT IS IT?
Kelpies are Scottish folklore creatures that live near large bodies of water. Most stories depict a kelpie as a horse so beautiful, with hair so shiny, that by-passers must stop and try to pet the beast, maybe even tame it for a ride. However, once the person – usually a nobleman’s son – touches the horse’s side, the skin morphs, trapping the young man’s hand against the animal.
The horse will then run into the nearby lake, dragging its latest victim to an underwater den. Inevitably, the youth drowns and the horse eats his body. Sometimes the horse will just buck the foolish boy into the water where other kelpies wait for a fresh meal.
Few stories offer a chance to survive an attack. More often than not, it requires cutting your hand off before reaching the lake.
The only known way to kill a kelpie is to burn it with silver or iron.
The earliest stories involving kelpies began in Scotland, but its tale of a watery death can be found throughout cultures, including the German nec (a fairy-like woman that drowns sinful young ladies) and the Mediterranean mermaid.
William Collins is credited as using a kelpie in his ode, first written before 1759. And in 1810, Walter Scott’s epic poem “The Lady of the Lake” mentions a river demon rise named a kelpy.
Some cultural anthropologists have theorized that kelpies are born from twisted memories of sacrificing horses to water gods and having the gods use the horses to punish misbehaving children. Kelpies may have always been a way to deter young children away from dangerous water systems.
The most famous kelpie is the Loch Ness Monster, which can be found in various shows and movies ranging from anything such as “Scooby-Doo” to the “X-Files.” In some of the more recent tales, the kelpie needs help; often it’ll be a mother trying to protect its eggs from someone who wants to drain a lake or build a tourist resort.
In the Scooby-Doo movie, the gang stops an evil construction company that wants to turn the Scottish countryside into the next destination spot by using a Loch Ness machine to scare away the local residents. After the cops arrest the criminals, the gang discovers that a gentle water-horse was living in the lake the whole time.
The kelpie can be a hard one to write. The traditional kelpie was a river demon to fear, but as attitudes towards conservation changed, writers began to use the beast as an example of the beauty of nature.
However, writers willing to challenge themselves could use the kelpie as a way to show that, while nature is beautiful, it’s also deadly.
And let us not forget that the kelpie takes the form of a horse. Maybe the villain of the story rides a steed of flowing water that, with just one touch, will drown a person whole? Perhaps the only way to defeat the cursed soul is to burn his horse away?
Or maybe the kelpie is a gentle animal that just needs to be pet while wearing gloves. Maybe it’s skin doesn’t trap but is so mucus-y it feels like a five-year-old just snort-rocketed into your palm.
And maybe, just maybe, there’s also a fire-horse.