A Favorite Fantasy Monster: The Darkhound

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A varied menagerie of strange and wonderful creatures awaits us in the world of fantasy. From comfortable standbys like dragons and griffins to more exotic specimens like dementors and Ogier, the myriad monsters and imaginative denizens that inhabit the pages of fantasy are often half the fun of reading the genre.

Today I’m going to share with you one of my favorite creatures from fantasy, and then challenge some fellow fantasy authors to do the same on their own blogs. So to kick off this chain I’m challenging Lindsay Schopfer to talk about one of his favorite creatures after me. UPDATE:  Lindsay has answered my challenge! Read his entry on the dragon’s of Jane Yolen, and the entry of the one he challenged, Connie J. Jasperson, on shapeshifters.

And for my addition to this list, I’m choosing a creature from my favorite fantasy series, The Wheel of Time. There are so many cool creatures in the books I had a difficult time choosing, but I finally settled on one of the most menacing monsters the Dark One can produce:  the Darkhound.

What It Is

The darkhounds are one of the most sinister and terrifying monsters in the Wheel of Time canon. Enormous black dogs the size of small horses, they roam the world in packs, serving the shadow as near-feral assassins, and as shock troops during larger engagements and wars. They are tenacious beyond measure and, once they have the scent of their prey, nigh impossible to outrun.

The darkhounds have blood and saliva that is both highly corrosive and venomous. Exposure to either means almost certain death for humans, though in very rare cases the poison can be cured with the aid of an Aes Sedai (magic user, for those unfamiliar with the series).

One of the creepier aspects of the darkhound is that they don’t leave prints in dirt and soil like a normal animal, but their prints will show up in stone as though they have walked across mud. This makes their presence in an area difficult to confirm until the pack is bearing down on you (at which point it likely doesn’t matter because you will soon be dead).

Further, the darkhounds possess extraordinary regenerative abilities. Even an ordinary darkhound is extremely difficult to keep down due to this tendency. But, there are even more powerful breeds of darkhound that can be hacked to pieces and still manage to regenerate their bodies and resume the hunt. The only completely reliable way to destroy these all-powerful shadow beasts is via the use of balefire (a type of attack magic that disintegrates the target at a molecular level), as this prevents any organic material from being left behind for the hound to regenerate from.

Why I Love It

The darkhound was one of the first fantasy monsters to teach me about suspense. When the heroes in The Wheel of Time first encounter these beasts, it is through a set of footprints in stone that gives away the presence of a pack. A chase wherein the hounds are an ominous, occasionally heard but unseen presence bearing down on the heroes is the first exposure you have to these creatures. Robert Jordan did a great job of letting the reader’s imagination build up how terrifying the creature truly was by holding back the visual reveal for as long as he could.

When they finally do see the creatures, the heroes only survive by exploiting one of the darkhounds’ few weaknesses. They are unable to cross running water. Even then, the tactic only delays the inevitable, as eventually, the hounds find a way around the obstacle and the hunt is on once again.

The darkhounds are menacing, a huge challenge to overcome, and really make the story fun whenever they appear.

The Challenge

Alright, so here’s the challenge for future authors.

The Rules:
  1. You must write a blog post about the subject of a favorite fantasy creature of yours and why it’s a favorite.
  2. The creature may not be from one of your own books.
  3. You must challenge one other author to do the same.
  4. You may not pick the same creature as the person who challenged you.
  5. You must provide a link back to the post of the person who challenged you, and a link forward to the person you challenged once they publish their post, so people can follow the chain if they want.