The Legend of The Kraken

The Kraken is a legendary giant sea creature that was said to have lived in and around the coasts of Scandinavian countries. Tales of mythical sea monsters resembling a kraken would probably have existed since people first sighted a giant squid. Kraken have been depicted in a number of ways, primarily as large octopus or squid-like creatures, and it has often been alleged that the kraken might have originally been based on sailors’ observations of the giant squid. In the earliest depictions however, the creatures were more crab-like, and also 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 land.

By looking at the characteristics of different descriptions of the kraken, it is quite easy to see how natural occurrences other than sea creatures have influenced the legends and stories. For example the 13th century Old Icelandic saga Örvar-Odds saga tells of two massive sea-monsters called Hafgufa (“sea mist”) and Lyngbakr (“heather-back”). The hafgufa is believed to be a reference to the kraken. In other sources, the kraken is told to usually appear, and attack vessels in patches of thick mist at sea, particularly around Iceland. The mist is also told to be created from the kraken itself, with the mist smelling awful, likened to rotting fish coming from the krakens stomach. This can most likely be explained by further volcanic activity under and around Iceland, explaining the cases with the foul-smelling mist. Other elements of a kraken attack include pulling apart ships with tentacles, or it simply lying in wait, appearing to be an island, and allowing for ships to flow into its mouth in the obscuring mist. These can also be explained; with the attacks form the creature’s tentacles perhaps really being the undersea volcanic activity mentioned earlier, creating sudden bubbles of water, and large dangerous waves and currents that would pull a ship apart in severe cases. The mentions of a kraken appearing as an island and allowing ships to sail into its mouth most likely also come from volcanic activity, with small islands being pushed above the surface of the water fairly frequently in the high activity volcanic area of which Iceland itself was made from. Overall, it is fairly simple to see how stories of a horrific and deadly sea creature emerged from such occurrences. With the combination of sudden, deadly currents of water, unexpected pieces of land popping up and the sightings of large creatures in the water, all obscured by a strange, disgusting smelling mist, it’s no wonder that the Scandinavian seafarers of the time thought something ‘supernatural’ was happening in their waters, Especially when ships went missing or were found wrecked and deserted.

Although the term kraken is first found used in the 18th century, as mentioned above, the most iconic representation of the creature comes from Icelandic, and other Scandinavian writings. But similarly sized and feared sea creatures have been around far longer than that. Examples of this include the Greek legend of Scylla, also paired with the Greek legend of Charybdis. These creatures, although having a more established mythological background relating to the gods, may also have similarly real origins as the Kraken. For example, Charybdis was said to swallow a huge amount of water three times a day, before belching it back out again, creating large whirlpools capable of dragging a ship underwater. This can be explained  simply by dangerous currents of water as well.

Although fictional and the subject of myth, the legend of the kraken continues to the present day, with numerous references existing in popular culture, including film, literature, television, video games. However the supposed original culprit for the stories of this gigantic creature, the giant squid, seems to have been trying to prove the reasons for fear of the kraken. On at least three occasions in the 1930’s they reportedly attacked a ship. While the squids got the worst of these encounters when they slid into the ship’s propellers, the fact that they attacked at all shows that maybe the legend of the kraken doesn’t seem as ridiculous as may have first thought.

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