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The kraken (/ˈkrɑːkən/)[1] is a legendary cephalopod-like sea monster of giant size that is said to dwell off the coasts of Norway and Greenland. Authors over the years have postulated that the legend originated from sightings of giant squids that may grow to 13–15 meters (40–50 feet) in length. The sheer size and fearsome appearance attributed to the kraken have made it a common ocean-dwelling monster in various fictional works.

Contents Edit

Etymology[edit] Edit

The English word kraken is taken from Norwegian.[2] In both Norwegian and Swedish Kraken is the definiteform of krake, a word designating an unhealthy animal or something twisted (cognate with the English crookand crank).[3] In modern German, Krake (plural and declined singular: Kraken) means octopus, but can also refer to the legendary kraken.[4]

History[edit] Edit

An illustration from the original 1870 edition of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

In the late-13th-century version of the Old Icelandic saga Örvar-Oddr is an inserted episode of a journey bound for Helluland (Baffin Island) which takes the protagonists through the Greenland Sea, and here they spot two massive sea-monsters called Hafgufa ("sea mist") and Lyngbakr ("heather-back").[a][b] The hafgufa is believed to be a reference to the kraken:

After returning from Greenland, the anonymous author of the Old Norwegian natural history work Konungs skuggsjá (circa 1250) described in detail the physical characteristics and feeding behavior of these beasts. The narrator proposed there must only be two in existence, stemming from the observation that the beasts have always been sighted in the same parts of the Greenland Sea, and that each seemed incapable of reproduction, as there was no increase in their numbers.

Kraken were extensively described by Erik Pontoppidan, bishop of Bergen, in his Det første Forsøg paa Norges naturlige Historie "The First Attempt at [a] Natural History of Norway" (Copenhagen, 1752).[8][9] Pontoppidan made several claims regarding kraken, including the notion that the creature was sometimes mistaken for an island[10] and that the real danger to sailors was not the creature itself but rather the whirlpool left in its wake.[11] However, Pontoppidan also described the destructive potential of the giant beast: "it is said that if [the creature's arms] were to lay hold of the largest man-of-war, they would pull it down to the bottom".[10][11][12] According to Pontoppidan, Norwegian fishermen often took the risk of trying to fish over kraken, since the catch was so plentiful[13] (hence the saying "You must have fished on Kraken"[14]). Pontoppidan also proposed that a specimen of the monster, "perhaps a young and careless one", was washed ashore and died at Alstahaug in 1680.[12][15] By 1755, Pontoppidan's description of the kraken had been translated into English.[16]

Swedish author Jacob Wallenberg described the kraken in the 1781 work Min son på galejan ("My son on the galley"):

In 1802, the French malacologist Pierre Dénys de Montfort recognized the existence of two kinds of giant octopus in Histoire Naturelle Générale et Particulière des Mollusques, an encyclopedic description of mollusks.[18] Montfort claimed that the first type, the kraken octopus, had been described by Norwegian sailors and American whalers, as well as ancient writers such as Pliny the Elder. The much larger second type, the colossal octopus, was reported to have attacked a sailing vessel from Saint-Malo, off the coast of Angola.[10]

Montfort later dared more sensational claims. He proposed that ten British warships, including the captured French ship of the line Ville de Paris, which had mysteriously disappeared one night in 1782, must have been attacked and sunk by giant octopuses. The British, however, knew—courtesy of a survivor from Ville de Paris—that the ships had been lost in a hurricane off the coast of Newfoundland in September 1782, resulting in a disgraceful revelation for Montfort.[13]

Appearance and origins[edit] Edit

Since the late 18th century, kraken have been depicted in a number of ways, primarily as large octopus-like creatures, and it has often been alleged that Pontoppidan's kraken might have been based on sailors' observations of the giant squid. The kraken is also depicted to have spikes on its suckers. In the earliest descriptions, however, the creatures were more crab-like[15] than octopus-like, and generally possessed traits that are associated with large whales rather than with giant squid. Some traits of kraken resemble undersea volcanic activity occurring in the Iceland region, including bubbles of water; sudden, dangerous currents; and appearance of new islets.[citation needed]

In popular culture[edit] Edit

Main article: Kraken in popular culture

Kraken attacking merchant ship,1810

The legend of the kraken continues to the present day, with numerous references existing in popular culture, including film, literature, television, video games and other miscellaneous examples (e.g. postage stamps, a rollercoaster ride, and a rum product).

In 1830 Alfred Tennyson published the irregular sonnet The Kraken,[19] which described a massive creature that dwells at the bottom of the sea:

In Herman Melville's 1851 novel Moby-Dick (Chapter 59. Squid.) the Pequod encounters what chief mate Starbuck identifies as: "The great live squid, which, they say, few whale-ships ever beheld, and returned to their ports to tell of it." Narrator Ishmael adds: "There seems some ground to imagine that the great Kraken of Bishop Pontoppodan [sic] may ultimately resolve itself into Squid." He concludes the chapter by adding: "By some naturalists who have vaguely heard rumors of the mysterious creature, here spoken of, it is included among the class of cuttle-fish, to which, indeed, in certain external respects it would seem to belong, but only as the Anak of the tribe."[20]

Pontoppidan's description influenced Jules Verne's depiction of the famous giant squid in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea from 1870.[citation needed]

John Wyndham's apocalyptic science fiction novel The Kraken Wakes depicts humanity locked in an existential struggle with ocean-dwelling aliens.

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