Briggs’ Beasties: The Fachan
For anyone just joining us, over the course of the month of April, I’ll be looking at several of the most intriguing monsters outlined in Katharine Briggs’ excellent book An Encyclopedia of Fairies. I’ll also take a moment or two to explain what about them I find compelling (or not), and what we can learn about creating monsters of our own for use in our fiction.
For this week, the Fachan!
The Fachan (sometimes called “Peg-Leg-Jack”) is another particularly distorted creature, though it lacks the gore or sheer terror of Nuckelavee. According to the description quoted by Briggs (originally from J. F. Campbell in Popular Tales of the West Highlands), he apparently loathes symmetry:
With one hand out of his chest, one leg out of his haunch, and one eye out of the front of his face…. Ugly was the make of the Fachin; there was one hand out of the ridge of his chest and one tuft out of the top of his head, it were easier to take a mountain from the root than to bend that tuft.
Aside from his supernaturally powerful hair gel, the fachan apparently comes equipped, in at least one version, with a flail dripping with bewitched apples–that’s right, I said apples–and each apple bore a powerful enchantment that could worm its way right to the core of those unlucky enough to bite off more than they can chew in an encounter with it. In other stories, it carries a spiked club. Apparently his appearance is his primary weapon: he can frighten you into a heart attack just by letting you see him.
Quite the sight, I’m sure. Interestingly, the description given by Briggs’ doesn’t mention an arm–something that some of the artists who’ve attempted to render the fachan obviously decided to remedy. The idea of a hand just sticking out of the thing’s chest is very creepy, but I have to agree that it is more than a little impractical. I certainly wouldn’t think that the poor creature could scratch where it itches.
Unlike the possibility of meeting Nuckelavee, I don’t think encountering the fachan is likely to cause any sudden cardiac ailments. I doubt it would be more than just creepy. The idea of a hero trying to face down this hopping, tufted cyclops is more likely to bring back memories of the end of the “Black Knight” skit in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
In the fachan, I think we see the same elements we discussed in Nuckelavee carried in a similar direction but with different results. It is clear that we’re seeing someone’s creative effort to be scary and the assumption that more must, by default, be better.
Once again, it is the abnormal proportions that are supposed to scare us. In this case it isn’t the size; it is the symmetry. Both the fachan and Nuckelavee are playing on that tendency to feel uncomfortable with abnormal humans. The best way to bring that to mind is think about some time when you have been near someone who was severely deformed. People try not to look. People are frightened and try not to show it. At the same time, people also want to look–resulting the old “freak shows” of circus fame.
In the end, though the fachan fails to scare me, though this time I tend more towards mockery than the grudging respect I had for the attempt at horror in Nuckelavee. At least with Nuckelavee, I have to admit that all of those things would indeed be terrifying if I thought they all existed in one creature. With Peg-Leg-Jack, I just point and laugh. Not only is it not believable, I don’t think I would find it scary, even if it did!
The key is finding the balance of the strange and the subtle. I think the Wild Hunt and next week’s offering manage to succeed where the fachan and Nuckleavee fail.
Next week: An interesting creature with a very plain name–It.
- Other posts in the Briggs’ Beasties series:
Posted on April 20, 2012, in Brian Melton, Fairytales, Fantasy, Katharine Briggs, Monsters, Writing Hints and Helps and tagged fachan, fachin, folklore, monsters, nuckelavee, The Wild Hunt, writing-hints-and-helps. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.