MY NAME IS SU

How Do You Do?

Alexander, I thought, might have been encountered

while crossing the Granicus, and elephants

might be driven into the sea; but how could

any one face a beast with a man’s head?

Leigh Hunt, Life of Leigh Hunt, Vol. 1 (1878)

The Mantichore, a tigerlike creature with a human head, is one of the less convincing mythical animals. After all, could the following be real? According to the ancient Greek writer Ctesias, the Mantichore was said to have “the face of a man and the bulk of a lion; to be of red-colour, having three rows of teeth in each jaw, with human ears but larger, and grey eyes; equipped with a tail above a cubit long, pointed with a sting like that of a scorpion.” [1]

This must be a monster of pure imagination. However, Ctesias claimed to have seen the beast himself in Persepolis, after its capture in India.

Modern researchers suggest Ctesias merely saw a tiger. T. H. White, author of The Sword in the Stone and translator of The Bestiary, rather strangely suggests that the Mantichore may only [?] be a were-tiger. An American Werewolf in London comes to mind, wherein David Naughton’s character changes into a four-footed beast, but his face remains human until the very end of the transformation. Perhaps the Mantichore is a were-tiger who never quite made it. White adds that “In Haiti at the present day there is a voodoo animal called the cigouave, which resembles the Manticora.” [2]

* * * *

Andre Thevet was a French clergyman and explorer of the sixteenth century. He was almoner [one who distributes alms to the poor] for Catherine de Medici and historian to Charles IX. He introduced tobacco to France after a sojourn in Brazil. In 1571 he penned the Cosmographie Universelle, in which he had this to say:

At the time when I was on the Red Sea, certain Indians came from land, from the banks of the River Vachain . . . They brought a monster the size and shape of a tiger, with no tail, but a face just like a well-proportioned man’s except the nose was a snub: the hands in front like a man’s and the feet behind like a tiger’s, all covered with tawny fur. As to the head, ears, neck, and mouth, they were like a man’s. [3]

* * * *

In his book On the Track of Unknown Animals, Bernard Heuvelmans theorizes that Thevet’s monster was a lemur. [4] Some species of lemurs, the earliest of the primates, resemble monkeys with pointed, foxlike snouts. Other writers, oddly enough, suggest that the fabulous Cynocephali [dog-headed people] were based on lemurs. Could the same animals inspire legends of humanoids with animal heads and of quadrupeds with human heads?

* * * *

Traveler’s tales range from the possibilities of a Marco Polo to the silliness of a John Mandeville. However, something like a Mantichore has been reported in the twentieth century – in North America, yet.

In July 1901, according to fortean authors Jerome Clark and Loren Coleman, three men, Milton Brint, Taylor Brint, and Tom Lukens, were ‘coon hunting in Pensbury township, Pennsylvania. Their hunting dogs ran ahead, barking wildly at first then growing silent. After a long moment they turned tail and fled.

The puzzled hunters shone their lantern up into a cedar tree. “A low dismal sound” came from high in the tree, which now shook as something descended. According to Milton Brint: “it was impossible to tell precisely just what it was . . . I got a faint glimpse of the thing before it struck the ground, however, and while its head and neck bore every semblance to a man, it had the body and legs of a wild beast.” [5]

The hunters ran for home. The dogs did not show up for nearly a week. “We have tried several times to continue hunting in Stewart’s woods, but it’s of no use. The dogs won’t hunt in the woods,” Milton concluded.

Later two other men, Lewis Brooks and Jack Murphy, riding through the area on a wagon, saw “something with a manlike head and an animal-like body” cross the road in front of them. “Brooks emptied a revolver into the thing but with no apparent effect.”

A trio of similar creatures, reputedly a male, female, and cub, haunted the area around Albany, Kentucky, in 1973:

Its tail, which it carried like a cat’s, was long, bushy, and black. According to one witness, its head was shaped “like an ape/human with a flat face and nose with large nostrils. Its ears are like mule ears and will perk up.” [6]

* * * *

Compare this description with that of the legendary South American creature, the Su, or Succarath, reported by early European explorers: “a very emaciated sort of lion with a plume of a tail like an anteater’s and a grotesque head somewhat reminiscent of a bearded man.” [7] Particularly intriguing is Father Andre Thevet’s drawing (ca. 1558) of the Su, with its bushy tail and pointed ears (see above).

The Kentucky creatures reportedly killed many pigs, calves, and dogs. Livestock ran around their pens in panic when they approached at night, and wildlife disappeared from the local forests. One witness, Rick Hall, reported:

My girl’s aunt went home one evening and found it just outside their back door eating old table scraps. She shot at it six times with a pistol and 17 times with a .22 rifle and she says she missed it. [!]

The thing ran but paused at the edge of the woods, one hundred yards away, just to watch the woman. It fled when her husband started after it. This woman was either a very bad shot, or the Su-beast shares the werewolf’s resistance to ordinary bullets.

Most anthropomorphic animals and were-beasts are depicted, basically, as animal heads on humanlike bodies. They seem almost natural. [8] The opposite idea, however -- a human head with an animal body -- has always struck the present writer as less aesthetically pleasing. If I should ever meet a Su or Mantichore, I may take a tip from H. P. Lovecraft:

“I glimpsed – and ran in frenzy from the place,/And from a four-pawed thing with human face.” [9]


NOTES

1. Costello, Peter. Magic Zoo. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1979), p. 104.

2. White, Terence H. Bestiary: A Book of Beasts. (New York: Perigree Books, 1980 [1954]), p. 52.

3. Heuvelmans, Bernard. On the Track of Unknown Animals. (New York: Hill and Wang, 1959), p. 507.

4. “A monster the size and shape of a tiger” – that’s some lemur!

5. Clark, Jerome, and Loren Coleman, Creatures of the Outer Edge (New York: Warner Books, 1978), pp. 63-64.

6. Ibid., pp. 115-116.

7. Heuvelmans, p. 279.

8. In a psychological study of preschoolers, who were shown pictures of minotaurs, Anubis, mermaids, and other animal-human characters, it was noted that most children found nothing unusual in bipedal, anthropomorphic animals, rarely referring to them as “monsters”, “half-human”, or the like. [Nash, Harvey. How Preschool Children View Mythological Hybrid Figures (Dominguez Hills, CA: California State University, 1982).]

9. Lovecraft, Howard Philips. Fungi from Yuggoth and Other Poems (New York: Ballantine Books, 1971), p. 121.


Back to Wandering Monsters