Kraken are mythical sea monsters of gargantuan size, said to have dwelt off the coasts of Norway and Iceland. The sheer size and fearsome appearance attributed to the beasts have made them common ocean-dwelling monsters in various fictional works . The legend may actually have originated from sightings of real giant squid that are variously estimated to grow to 13–15 m (40–50 ft) in length, including the tentacles. These creatures normally live at great depths, but have been sighted at the surface and have reportedly attacked ships.
Kraken is the definite article form of krake, a Scandinavian word designating an unhealthy animal, or something twisted. In modern German, Krake (plural and declined singular: Kraken) means octopus, but can also refer to the legendary Kraken.
The Kraken is the fabled sea monster said to have been sighted frequently off the coast of Norway; it was apparently quite capable of dragging the largest ships to the bottom and simply by submerging itself it could suck a vessel to its doom by means of the whirlpool it thereby created. Brewer says that the Kraken was first described by Erik Pontoppidan in his Natural History of Norway (1752; Pontoppidan, 1698–1764, was bishop of Bergen at the time). “Kraken” is probably from the Old Swedish kraken and the Danish krage, stump or stem of a tree, from a claimed resemblance to the infamous and decidedly uncouth monster. Pontopiddan described this creature as “a mile and a half wide.” Clearly, even allowing for regional variations in what constituted a proper Christian mile, this was a beast of no mean proportions.
Pontoppidan’s assertion that the creature’s “discharges turn the sea murky” point to the likelihood that the dreaded Kraken was nothing but a giant cuttlefish. The sea monsters of Scandinavia were of a peculiarly clerical bent: they seemed regularly to manifest themselves to seagoing clergy. Hans Egede, a Norwegian missionary (1686–1758) and later bishop of Greenland, described in 1741 a monster seen in those waters: The Monster was of so huge a Size, that coming out of the Water its Head reached as high, as the Mast-Head; its Body was as bulky as the Ship, and three or four times as long. It had a long pointed snout, and spouted like a Whale-Fish; great broad Paws, and the body seemed covered with shell-work, its skin very rugged and uneven. The under Part of its Body was shaped like an enormous huge serpent, and when it dived again under Water, it plunged backwards into the Sea and so raised its Tail aloft, which seemed a whole Ship’s Length distant from the bulkiest part of its body.
According to one of the stories, the Kraken spends its time sleeping on the seabed and feeding on huge seaworms now and then, and when the fires of hell warm the ocean beyond the point of comfort (as determined by Krakens), the beast will rise to the surface and die. Other accounts have it lounging around on the surface like an island. In 1555 Olaus Magnus (1490–1557), the Catholic archbishop of Sweden, said this monster had skin that looked so much like beach shingle that seamen were often beguiled into landing on it and cooking their food (a curious action, one would have thought, since all voyaging vessels were equipped with their own galleys for just such a purpose).
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