A legendary creature is a mythological creature, such as a dragon or griffin, that had its origin in traditional mythology. They have been believed to be real creatures at one time. Some were based on real creatures, originating in garbled accounts of travelers’ tales, such as the Vegetable Lamb of Tartary, which supposedly grew tethered to the earth but was actually a type of fern. The traditional unicorn may have come from garbled stories about the rhinoceros or narwhal.
Often mythical creatures are hybrids, a combination of two or more animals. For example, a centaur is a combination of a man and horse, a minotaur of a man and bull, and the mermaid, half woman and half fish. These were not always intended to be understood as literal juxtapositions of parts from disparate species. Lacking a common morphological vocabulary, classical and medieval scholars and travelers would attempt to describe unusual animals by comparing them with familiar ones. The giraffe, for example, was called cameleopard, and thought of as a creature half camel, and half leopard. The leopard itself was so named since it was historically believed to be a half lion (leo) and half panther (pardus). This etymology has been kept until the present day, despite its zoological inaccuracies.
Many legendary creatures appear prominently in fantasy fiction. These creatures are often claimed to have supernatural powers or knowledge or to guard some object of great value, which becomes critical to the plot of the story in which it is found. Dragons, for instance, are commonly depicted as perched on a gleaming hoard of gold which becomes the target of adventurers.
Other legendary creatures are thought to exist today. These monsters are called modern monsters and include Chupacabras, Bigfoot, Yeti, the Loch Ness Monster, the Jersey Devil, Mothman, Yowie, Yeren, Pukwudgie, and even Space aliens. These are often called cryptids and are studied in modern times by cryptozoologists working from the example of legendary creatures rooted in reality like the Vegetable Lamb mentioned above. They attempt to discover what, if anything, is the real life inspiration for these animals.
Some creatures downplayed as just storytelling, have been rediscovered and found to be real in recent books, such as the giant squid. In Africa, Natives of the Congo told European visitors of an animal that looked like a cross between a zebra and a giraffe. While the visitors assumed the stories were just folk tales, in 1901, Sir Harry Johnston brought back pelts that proved the creature, which we now call the okapi, was real.
Media monsters are monsters from books and movies. These include Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, Werewolves, Godzilla, King Kong and Mothra among others. Throughout history legendary creatures have been incorporated into heraldry and architectural decoration. Legendary creatures have also been accepted into many facets of popular culture most notably in fantasy role playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons or Everquest, video games, and Hollywood movies.