Sunday April 19th, 2009
Below the thunders of the upper deep;
Far far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides; above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumber'd and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages, and will lie
Battening upon huge seaworms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.
The Kraken by Tennyson
The sea monsters to end all sea monsters, the mighty Kraken are said to have lived off the coasts of Norway and Iceland. A creature of gargantuan proportions, the Kraken appear in many fictional works and are thought by some to have originated through sighting of the giant squid which grow between 40-50ft in length.
In 1789 Swede Jacob Wallenberg had this to say about the fearsome beast:
“Kraken, also called the Crab-fish, which [according to the pilots of Norway] is not that huge, for heads and tails counted, he is no larger than our Oland is wide [i.e. less than 16 km] ... He stays at the sea floor, constantly surrounded by innumerable small fishes, who serve as his food and are fed by him in return: for his meal, if I remember correctly what E. Pontoppidan writes, lasts no longer than three months, and another three are then needed to digest it. His excrements nurture in the following an army of lesser fish, and for this reason, fishermen plumb after his resting place ... Gradually, Kraken ascends to the surface, and when he is at ten to twelve fathoms the boats had better move out of his vicinity, as he will shortly thereafter burst up, like a floating island, spurting water from his dreadful nostrils and making ring waves around him, which can reach many miles. Could one doubt that this is the Leviathan of Job?”
One of the earliest recorded sighting is from Pontoppidan who described the creature as being 'the size of a floating island' and went on to say, 'It is said that if it grabbed the largest warship, it could manage to pull it down to the bottom of the ocean'. Pontoppidan also claimed that Norwegian fishermen often risked catching fish above kraken as the haul was so good. When boats came back with a particularly good catch others would comment, “ You must have fished on Kraken”
Similar creatures exist throughout literature, legend and popular culture. The six headed Skylla for instance appeared in a particularly tense passage of Homer’s The Odyssey and in 1555 Olaus Magnus described a sea monster with 'sharp and long Horns round about, like a Tree root up by the Roots: They are ten or twelve cubits long, very black, and with huge eyes...' They inevitably entered the realms of science fiction as the inspiration for Jules Verne’s giant octopus in ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’ and John Wyndham’s ‘The Kraken Wakes’. Cinema has also embraced the Kraken – Clash of the Titans and Deep Rising to name two classic depictions.
It does seem that the creature’s origins lie in sightings of the giant squid, which, although it lives at tremendous depths, has been spotted on rare occasions throughout history but has only recently come to light following the discovery of remains. Fortunately these truly formidable monsters are more prone to attack other large sea creatures than ships and boats.
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