Fantastic 13th – A Chronicle of Magical Creatures: Thunderbird

This month’s creature feature centers around a being that has had a number of sightings, the most recent by Newt Scamander and the members of the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA) in the Wizarding World of 1920’s New York. We’ve already covered it’s fiery cousin, the phoenix, and thought we’d add a little lightning to the mix. Let me introduce you to the thunderbird!

 

 

WHAT IS IT

This monstrous bird is said to create storms from its enormous wings, flapping lightning from its feathers. Some say it has characteristics of a lizard, much like the prehistoric pterosaurs such as Pteranodon. In one account, the wings were said to be featherless, like a bat’s. The main thing about these winged beauties is their size – in one case, the claim was at least 500 feet.

 

ORIGIN

Thunderbird on top of Totem Pole in Thunderbird Park in Victoria, BC Canada. Taken by Dr Haggis

The origin of the thunderbird points towards Native American legends, in which it is a supernatural being that represents power and strength. They are frequently found on totem poles.

 

Different cultures have different takes on the creature. The Algonquians depict the thunderbird as the being who controls the upper world, and the underwater panther or Great Horned Serpent controls the underworld. According to the Menominee mythology, the birds live on a floating mountain and control rain and hail. They also oppose great horned snakes. Similarly, the Ojibwe legends tell a story of how these birds were created to fight underwater spirits… and punish immoral humans. The main similarity in all of these is the bird’s huge size and opposition to water snakes.

 

MODERN USE

Children from the 90s might have a certain animated bird in mind when they associate a bird with thunder. Anyone playing Pokemon Go now, especially those on Team Instinct, will recognize Zapdos.

 

 

Any Potterheads familiar with the North American School of Witchcraft and Wizardry might recognize it as one of Ilvermorny’s houses. The house itself represents the soul and favors adventurers.

 

 

Even more recently in the Potter world, we see Newt Scamander returning a thunderbird he had rescued to its natural habitat in Arizona, although Frank (as Newt names the creature) ends up being released in New York instead. Before that, Newt and his friends are inside Newt’s briefcase when Frank starts creating thunder. One of the features of Rowling’s thunderbirds is that they can sense danger. Here’s a fantastic clip of Frank:

 

 

UNIQUE IDEAS

  1. Have a character file a report to the local authorities concerning a large bird spotted during (or possibly creating) a storm.
  2. Have a character lost in the mountains encounter a thunderbird. Maybe even make it one of the floating mountains of the Menominee legend.
  3. Your main character must save a thunderbird from being caught by too-curious people.

 

These creatures don’t come up that often in literature, and when they do, they’re in the backburner. It’s time to bring these beasts out of the skies and onto paper!

 

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