The Kraken… The word itself — its harsh consonants, its Norwegian etymology, its association with tentacled monstrosity, watery depths and doomed sailors, carries spell-like power.
At least it did until Clash of the Titans hijacked these associations within the pop culture consciousness. The only thing more impressive than its 1981 stop-motion animation was its disregard for mythological storylines.
Let me express my contempt! First: the Kraken is a creature from Norway! What is a legendary Norwegian monster doing in a movie set in the mythological world of the Greeks? Where is the respect? That’s like inserting hobbits in a Harry Potter movie! Second, it doesn’t remotely resemble a cephalopod.
That said, I admit that Clash of the Titans thrilled me as a boy. I still remember when the gate, with its sea-moss encrusted mystery, lifted. The idea of a barred gate hidden under the waves, ready to unleash a monster unto the world, was as potent and original as the creature itself: a dripping collosus with four sinuous arms topped with grasping claws. What a sight! Not to mention the dead, unblinking eyes in that giant, aquatic ape head. Original, yes. But not a Kraken.
The Kraken is surely inspired by the giant squid. Richard Ellis’s book “The Search for the Giant Squid” examines the mythology in detail. I just pulled it off my shelf and came across this footnote:
“The Norwegian word kraken is popularly believed to be derived from a word that means ‘uprooted tree,’ from the similarity of the body and arms of a giant squid to the trunk and roots of a tree, but Jan Haugum, a Norwegian biologist and linguist, has explained to me that the old Norwegian word made its first appearance in Pontoppidan’s 1775 work [The Natural History of Norway], and was used to mean nothing more or less than a “sea monster.” Kraken, by the way, is plural; the singular is krake.”
Footnotes can be fascinating. Anyway, all this serves as a long-winded introduction to a poem by Tennyson.
Below the thunders of the upper deep;
Far far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides: above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumber’d and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant fins the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages and will lie
Battening upon huge seaworms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by men and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.
Next Week: The Origin of Cthulhu – Inspired by Tennyson?