We’re pleased to feature Lee Murray, who will be writing a Kaiju story for our Kickstarter anthology, Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters II! Support the anthology here!
When editor N.X. Sharps approached me last year to commission a story for Kaiju Rising II, I assumed it was because he’s been a fan of my military fiction novel, Into the Mist. A kaiju tale of sorts, it’s a story of a group of scientists and civilians who journey into the East Cape’s misty Te Urewera mountain ranges where they encounter a primordial monster, one which features strongly in New Zealand legend and culture. For me, it was the perfect set-up for lots of bloody, monstery action, set among the gnarled beeches of our native forest, and calling on local living mythology. But as an editor myself, I know putting together a kick-arse anthology isn’t just a case of collecting stories which reflect a particular theme—in this case, colossal monsters on the rampage—you also need a good balance of stories. To that end, I asked Nick if he was looking to me to provide some New Zealand flavour.
“Some NZ flavor would be awesome!” he replied. “Definitely, some of that, please.”
Lucky for me, New Zealand simply oozes atmosphere. Perhaps it’s because darkness and danger lurk just beneath the surface of our every day. As my Hounds of the Underworld co-author, Dan Rabarts, put it recently:
“That underlying current of creeping dread is a part of [New Zealand] life. We live on a string of major fault-lines, on the spines of any number of volcanoes, surrounded by violent and unpredictable oceans and everything they bring with them, including regular floods, cyclones and tornadoes. We live with a constant sense of isolation, both in our rural and suburban communities, and even within our own neighbourhoods.”
And it seems even looking in from the outside this omnipresent foreboding is evident, with American scholar William Schafer observing that “a common cultural link between Pākehā [non-Maori] and Māori is a belief in the hauntedness of the landscape, the sense that Aotearoa New Zealand is a land of sinister and unseen forces, of imminent (and immanent) threat, of the undead or revenant spirits.” (Schafer, 1998).
Well, that sorts that, then. All I needed to do was look to the landscape for my inspiration. I chose my childhood home, a small township perched at the edge of a crater on shores of Lake Taupō. A quiet place in the winter months, Taupō is a tourist destination, attracting thousands of visitors every year. They come to visit the mighty Huka Falls, the steamy Craters of the Moon, the evocative Mine Bay Māori rock carvings, or stay a night or two in the sleepy little hamlets that line the edge of the lake. These iconic landmarks would be the backdrop for my story.
And as for the monster? Which oversized creature or spirit might rampage across the pages? A giant golem? A basilisk? Something more traditional?
Despite Peter Jackson’s best efforts to introduce elves and dwarfs, New Zealand hasn’t been readily settled by the pretty fairy folk of Europe, something that 19th century Scottish poet, Alexander Bathgate, lamented in his poem, Faerie:
Our craggy mountains steep are full of fear –
Even rugged men have felt their awful spell.
Yet lack they glamour of the fairy tale,
Nor gnome nor goblin do they e’er recall,
Though Nature speaks, e’en in the wind’s sad wail.
But Bathgate is right, because down here in Aotearoa, Nature does speak, and through a host of local folk creatures all associated with the landscape. I looked to New Zealand’s mythology to find them. There are the kahui-tipua, bands of cave-dwelling shape-shifting ogres, who hunted with packs of two-headed dogs. The first to occupy the South Island of New Zealand, the kahui-tipua were “giants who could stride from mountain to mountain and transform themselves into anything animate or inanimate.” (White, 1911)
There are the porotai, two-faced beasts conjured from both flesh and stone. There are manaia: creatures that are part-bird, part-serpent and part-man, who carry messages to the living from the spirit world. And then, of course, there are the water dwelling taniwha, man-eating lizard monsters, that can be benevolent or evil as the whim takes them.
But we mustn’t forget New Zealand’s natural fauna, almost kaiju themselves, species which roamed the land, swam in our seas, and inhabited our skies. Take, for example, the giant moa with its deadly ratite claws sufficient to disembowel a man with a single swipe, now hunted to extinction; the shy colossal squid, which still haunt our waters and whose brethren leave their calling cards on our beaches every now and again, or New Zealand’s Haast eagle, Te Hōkioi, the heaviest eagle species ever described, weighing up to 17.8kg (40 pounds) and with a wingspan of up to 3 metres (10 feet), and talons the size of a tiger’s.
So, which monster did I choose? If you want to find out, stop by the Kickstarter and pre-order yourself a copy. Suffice to say, for Kaiju Rising II, I was able to dredge up a revenant kaiju from the landscape itself, and from deep in the heart of New Zealand’s conception mythology.
William Schafer (1998) Mapping the Godzone.
John White (1911), Ancient History of the Maori, Vol. III., p. 124
About Lee Murray
Lee Murray is an award-winning writer of fantasy, science fiction, and horror. She lives with her family in the Land of the Long White Cloud where she conjures up stories for readers of all ages from her office overlooking a cow paddock.