Alexis’ Bestiary: Library Gnomes

dwarf-3321347_1280I feel like I’ve spent enough time on the creatures that terrorize America and Australia. Now for something a little closer to home: Library Gnomes.

These creatures are very similar to the British domestic Hobgoblin, with the main difference being that they only inhabit libraries.

I suspect that they are endemic to most of the Western world, although I have only been direct witness to their activities in the libraries of North America.

They are generally described as small, hairy people, with clothing made out of discarded book jackets. I can’t imagine these are very comfortable, so perhaps this accounts for their demeanor. Having tails and bright eyes, they are sometimes mistaken for library cats such as the famed Dewey Readmore Books.

Library Gnomes are rarely seen, but library staff sometimes catch a glimpse of them when checking for lingering library patrons at closing time. Seeing one is a sure sign that closing is not going to go well.

Typically, these closing mishaps involve technology. Many students work late at the library on papers, which they then need to either print off or submit electronically at the last possible minute before closing. Library Gnomes are particularly fond of breaking printers so that closing is delayed.

When they are in a better mood, they merely break one of them so that there is a longer line at the working printer. However, if they are in a particularly bad mood they will break both printers at once, so that all the students will have to either try the printer at the other library, or turn their paper in late.

In extreme cases, especially malevolent Library Gnomes have been known to punish students who wait until the last possible moment to electronically submit their assignments by permanently deleting their term papers. They also only ever do this outside of IT office hours, so that help cannot arrive in time.

How Library Gnomes became so tech-savvy is not known. One might suspect some kind of witchcraft, but then it is also possible that the Library Gnomes read library materials as well as destroying them.

Other mischief attributed to the Library Gnomes include stealing student’s library cards and using them to check out laptops, which are then presumably either broken or sold on Craigslist. I have personally been witness to more than one student who had a laptop or a book on their account they had no memory of checking out, so it seems the Gnomes are growing fond of this pernicious form of mischief.

On rare occasions the Gnomes directly interfere with library staff, but this is usually relatively minor, such as eating all the jelly-filled Timbits in the staff lounge, or leaving inexplicable crumbs on people’s desks.

Some library staff believe this is because the Gnomes know that the staff already have enough to deal with, but given the plight of the modern student I suspect not.

The origins of the Library Gnome are unknown. Some believe that the Library Gnomes were once benevolent creatures, pointing to the sudden return of long-lost library books as evidence of some shred of continued good will as evidence. On the other hand, it is not known whether the Gnomes were responsible for the books going missing in the first place, so this theory is considered suspect.

Others believe that Library Gnomes are the work of the same evil forces who are responsible for exorbitant textbook prices and unreasonable database license agreements.

Whatever their origins, for better or worse (probably worse) these perfidious little monsters are here to stay. But never fear, it is well known that the best way to keep the Library Gnomes at bay is to return library materials on time, and never lie to library staff to avoid paying fines (the Library Gnomes know when you are telling the truth.)

Alexis’ Bestiary: An Interview With A Jackalope

This photo was taken from the internet. My guest declined to be photographed.

Well, folks, I have a special treat for you today. I have secured an interview with a creature of folklore: the Jackalope. What follows is an accurate description of our encounter, except where I have embellished to add interest.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should note that I claimed that the interview questions I used were submitted by my readers in order to avoid personal injury, as some of the questions are quite sensitive in nature and the Jackalope is known to have an irascible temperament.

I arranged the meeting to take place in a neutral location, the back garden of a friend’s house. This not only provided us with a quiet and relaxed setting, but also prevented any possible unpleasantness that might otherwise arise. Like extra dishwashing, or the Jackalope learning where I live.

He was large, for a rabbit, about the size of an average labrador. His fur had come in thick and glossy against the coming winter, and of an attractive color: light tan darkening to an orangy brown on the shoulders and the back of his large ears. As the legend suggests, he also boasted a set of impressive antlers. Six points on one side, and five on the other. One had apparently been broken off in some mishap. The points were intimidating and looked as though they had been polished, if not actually sharpened.

Having hopped up on the lawn chair set up for our interview, he sat upright on his haunches with his forelimbs tucked against his chest, an incongruously bunny-like posture, compared with his relatively imposing stature.

I leaned back in my own, uncomfortable, lawn chair in what I hoped was a casual manner, and pulled out the notebook with the interview questions and a pen with which to record his responses.

“So, Mr. Jackalope,” I said.

“Just call me Jack.”

“Okay.” I had no intention of calling him Jack.

“You said there’d be whiskey.”

“Yes, so I did.”

Lacking hands he couldn’t actually hold the tumbler I gave to him, but he managed to grip it between his forepaws nonetheless. I was a little worried he would spill it all over himself when he tilted it back to take a sip, but he seemed confident.

“A lot of legends way that whiskey is a favorite of yours. Can you tell us how that became part of your myth?”

“I don’t know how these things get started. I do like whiskey, though. But I also like bourbon. And beer.”

“Do you prefer beer with hops?”

He stared at me for a few second before breaking out in a peal of raspy laughter. “That’s very offensive.”

The fact that he kept chuckling through the following monologue assured me that he was not, in fact, offended.

“You’re lucky I don’t believe in political correctness,” he said. “Some people these days can’t take a joke. That’s funny. Hops. But really, whether or not a beer has hops doesn’t matter, so long as all the flavors are in balance. It can’t go crazy and overwhelm all the other flavors. Balance, that’s the key. And it always tastes better from the tap than a bottle. Why does that make a difference? Can you tell me why that is? Why should it matter out of a tap or a bottle? But it does.”

“I’m afraid I don’t know. Getting back to the origins of your legend, some people say that the legend of the Jackalope is derived from sightings of rabbits infected with the Shope Papilloma virus, which sometimes results in the growth of tumours on the forehead.”

“If that’s true, people need to have their heads examined.”
“Don’t you mean their eyes?”
“That too. Someone seeing some poor deformed rabbit, and thinking it’s me– That’s just not reasonable.”
“What about the brothers Ralph and Douglas Herrick, who claimed that the legend came out of a clever bit of taxidermy they did?”
“It could be that happened, but my lot have been here long before them two. My Native American name is Manabozo.”
“So you’re endemic to North America?”
“Well no, actually my ancestors were the Wolpertingers from the Black Forest of Germany. Rather a fetching name, don’t you think? Like wolf-tiger.”


The majestic wolpertinger
“I don’t think that’s what that means, but never mind. Beyond origins, there are a few other pieces of your mythology I wonder if you could shed light on.”
“Some people say that the milk of  the female jackalope has magical healing properties. Is that true?”
He didn’t answer, but just tilted his head in a way that suggested a raised eyebrow, and something like a smile formed on his muzzle.
“Okay, we can move on from that. I’ve also heard that you can be quite dangerous. Some have suggested wearing stove pipes on the legs when traveling in jackalope country.”
“It would take a lot more than just stovepipes. I once cleared a twelve-foot wall. Stovepipes. Honestly.”

“Well, it seems that’s all the time we have for today. Thank you very much for coming.”

He nodded graciously. “You’re welcome.”

All the facts in this otherwise nonesensical bit of fiction are from:

The Bunyip: I Ain’t Afraid of No Swamp Beast

Today’s journey into the world of folklore takes us to the swamps of Australia, to visit a creature even less physically consistent than our friend the Snallygaster. While the Snallygaster of Maryland (and other places) had a variety of guises, it always appeared in the manner of a winged bird-reptile thing.

No doubt the Bunyip, who has been described as anything from a giant starfish to a crocodile covered with feathers, would deem this lack of imagination terribly passe. It has been suggested that instead of describing a single beast, the term “bunyip” might simply be what one calls any number of large (usually) evil creatures who happen to live in the swamps of Australia.

Other theories include that the creature is too terrifying to allow for accurate recall, or that the bunyip was a prehistoric beast of some sort.

Now, despite how much our courts rely on them, eyewitness accounts are known to be terribly inaccurate. Still, the notion that the bunyip is so frightening that the human mind can’t process it clearly enough to remember what it looks like is, if not unlikely, then at least highly offensive to other terrifying creatures of folklore.

Many other creatures have habits (which we’ll get to in a minute) that are just as frightening as those of the bunyip, but most of them are described fairly completely. Why should the bunyip be so special? It has been suggested by some mythical beasts that this is just a cheap trick by the bunyip’s PR department, intended to boost its image without having to come up with a truly terrifying description.

The idea that the legends of the bunyip might have originated from cultural, or more recent, memories of prehistoric creatures could have some merit. It is certainly what the early European explorers hoped was the case, eager as they were (where ever they went) to find living examples of the bones they found and thus gain fame and prestige back home.

One more modern explanation is that the legend of the bunyip is derived from sightings of seals that wandered up river.

Which makes complete sense. I can totally see how you could mistake a seal for a feathered crocodile.

Now, as to the creature’s habits–which are only slightly less various than its physical description. As I’ve said, it is a swamp beast. And yes, Australia has swamps. It’s not all desert. Where do you think platypus’ live?

It is normally thought of as evil, and highly dangerous to humans. Some stories describe the bunyip killing its victims by hugging them to death.

Which might explain why no one knows what it looks like. If I was hugged to death by a giant starfish I don’t think I would remember the event clearly either.

Others paint a more nuanced view, with the bunyip as the frightening guardian of the Australian wilderness. A swamp Batman, if you will.

This disparity could easily be explained by differences in perspective. Or perhaps the bunyip is a moody creature, indiscriminately vicious one minute, and concerned about its home the next.

Either way, if you needed another reason not to visit the swamps of Australia at night, the bunyip certainly fits the bill.


The Snallygaster: Fake News Ain’t New

Hello, and welcome to episode one of Alexis’ bestiary, the part of the show where I talk about some silly beast. Today, we’ll be discussing the Snallygaster.

The United States is home to a number of fearsome creatures, but few have a cooler name than the Snallygaster. Of course, as any quick google search will tell you, the creature’s first victims, German immigrants in what is now Maryland, called it the “schneller geist” or “quick ghost.”

Like many such creatures, the Snallygaster was a pain in the neck for farmers. It preyed on livestock, often sucking their blood like Mexico’s El Chupacabra (“goat sucker”). To this day you can still find some barns marked with the seven-pointed star, said to ward off the creature. Why seven? Beats me.

And to follow another tradition of folklore and crypto-creatures, the Snallygaster too had an annoying habit of changing its appearance, having no regard for consistency whatsoever. However it tended to stick to features between that of a bird and reptile, usually appearing as some sort of scaly flying thing.

It was fond of metallic weaponry, whether beak, teeth or claws. And sometimes tentacles.

Tentacles on a wingy thing? Why?

I can’t picture it either. Maybe something like prehensile catfish whiskers? But would those have been described as tentacles, or whiskers? Who knows.

For many years, however, not a peep was heard from the Snallygaster. Evidently it had retired, and decided to live in peace. Then in the early twentieth century, the Snallygaster was the victim of a terrible fake news campaign perpetuated by the Middleton Valley Register, a newspaper seeking to profit from the Snallygaster’s notoriety.

The editors of the newspaper told outlandish tales of the creature carrying off livestock, uttering train-whistle-like calls–(“It’s the Snallygaster Mom!” “No, it’s just the train.” “That’s what they sound like!”)–and laying barrel-sized eggs.

To add insult to injury, they even dragged the president into the mix, claiming that good ol’ Teddy Roosevelt was undertaking a venture to hunt the Snallygaster. And to add a thin veneer of credibility to the stories, they claimed that the Smithsonian was interested in studying the creature.

This went on for some time until, mercifully, the powers that be told the newspapers to knock it off, and charged the editors with fraud, thus allowing the maligned Snallygaster to recover the pieces of its tattered reputation and move on with its life.


A note on sources:

I got all this information from wikipedia, and other websites that appear on the first page of a “snallygaster” google search. In keeping with the haphazard nature of the oral tradition of folklore, and my intended audience, I’m not citing any of them.

But as a “library person” I encourage you to take the list of sources from the wikipedia article, or any of the others, to your local library person and see what they can do with it. Or do the research yourself, that works too. Or not.