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Mary Robinette Kowal – The Ten Deadliest Monsters in Fantasy

Fantasy has a lot of monsters. Sure, they turn up in science fiction from time to time, but nuclear mutations aside, enormous beasties are typically the result of imagination — and fantasy has the lock-down on sheer ferocity. Monsters make a ready conflict for the hero, and raise the stakes in ways that no mere human villain can. The question remains: Which beastie is the most deadly?

10. Mulgarath in The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008)
This shape-shifting ogre — voiced by Nick Nolte — is terrifying precisely because he can appear as anything. His plans for world domination start with fairy kind, but he’s not thinking small: The only thing standing between him and victory is his need for the Book. Though he has the possibility for widespread destruction, he doesn’t live up to his potential and actually kill anyone on screen, which is why he’s stuck in the 10-spot on our list.

9. Kali in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974)
Brought to life by the magic of the evil Koura, (Tom Baker) the six-armed idol of Kali gives Sinbad (John Phillip Law) a run for his money. Against any other opponent, she would win the day without even thinking — which she doesn’t, being an animated statue and all. She gets points for style but the execution is lacking. Literally: To be deadly, you need to execute people.

8. Grendel in Beowulf (2007)
Ogres and trolls run through fantasy the way magic runs through a wand, and the archetype starts with Grendel (Crispin Glover). Ferocious and a deadly killer, Grendel can rip apart dozens of trained Viking warriors. And let me tell you, having lived for a year in Iceland, the Vikings are tough, tough people. Even missing an arm, Grendel’s still a match for most men, and the only one who can defeat him is, of course, our hero Beowulf (Ray Winstone).

7. Medusa in Clash of the Titans (1981)
You know you have the ferocity-thing going when you’re still deadly after beheading. Medusa has been slaying men for years with her stone-cold stare. Her island home is littered with the statues of her victims as proof. Clever Perseus (Harry Hamlin) beheads her, but even that doesn’t stop the deadliness. If looks could kill? Oh yes. She takes down the Kraken from the grave.

6. The Garthim in The Dark Crystal (1982)
As agents of destruction, the Garthim strike fear into the hearts of the local Pod people. With good reason: These giant bugs are responsible for acting out the orders of the Skexis, which leads to the almost complete genocide of the Gelflings. The only question is: Are the Garthim the monsters or the Skexis? I guess it doesn’t really matter when you’re talking about carnage on this scale.

5. Bunny in Month Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
Oh sure, the rabbit in Monty Python looks like nothing but a harmless bunny. But underneath that fuzzy exterior is a vicious killer responsible for more bloodshed than any other monster in the history of England. It single-handedly destroys all the unnamed Knights before narrowly being stopped by the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch. This just goes to show that you should never trust cute things.

4. The Shadows in MirrorMask (2005)
Good horror directors know that showing the monster is almost always a mistake: The anticipation of the unknown is what scares us. And that’s what makes the Shadows in MirrorMask so terrifying. Even though they are not a traditional monster, they can show up anywhere and it is impossible to tell them from simple darkness. The dangerous thing is that they erase anyone who touches them. Left alone, the Shadows would consume the entire world.

3. Sammael in Hellboy (2004)
As if being a Hellhound weren’t fearsome enough, Sammael is a serious breeder. Not only can this fanged menace destroy the average citizen, he also spawns eggs and “reincarnates”in seconds. But wait — it gets much worse. Whenever you kill one and it reincarnates, you get two more coming at you. Nothing is so evil that adding a second won’t make it worse. But it’s still not quite as bad as…

2. Vermithrax Pejorative in Dragonslayer (1981)
Good old androgynous Vermithrax likes to snack on tasty maidens — virgins only, please. Without these tender morsels the dragon would lay waste to the entire kingdom of Urland. You know you’re a bad dude if you’re not even willing to pick on someone who has a chance of fighting back. Canny, strong and a fire-breather, Vermithrax is not the sort of creature you want to tick off.

1. ?ozaru in Dragonball: Evolution (2009)
Nor is this one, who largely gets top billing because, dang, talk about long-range planning and scope of vision. You know, if most monsters failed in their bid to destroy the Earth they wouldn’t stick around to try again. Not so with ?ozaru. He waits it out for 2,000 years while his master Piccolo (James Marsters) suffers in exile, after which he finds a way to sneak back to Earth to try that whole destruction racket again. A for effort, ?ozaru, A for effort.

I do want to note that I left Godzilla off the list, because, well, that bad dude is in a league all his own.


Mary Robinette Kowal is the winner of the 2008 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer and a professional puppeteer. Her first novel, Shades of Milk and Honey, is being published by Tor in 2010.

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