Different types of creatures appear in fantasy novels. Some spring directly from the mind of the creator, like J.R.R. Tolkien’s hobbits, some are inspired by mythology, like J.K. Rowling’s centaurs, and some come from history, like James Gurney’s dinosaurs. Hodags are fictional creatures that fit in all three categories and are second-to-none in terms of fantasy.
Growing up in the Mid-Western United States, I heard tales of the hodag and its exploits since childhood. I have visited Rhinelander, Wisconsin, where the hodag is the official symbol of the city. I even have my own little hodag that sits near my computer when I am writing. Is it any wonder that this fierce (but cute) creature became part of my fantasy novel, Starter Zone?
The tale of the hodag began in 1893, when newspapers reported the discovery of a new type of creature in Rhinelander. It had “the head of a frog, the grinning face of a giant elephant, thick short legs set off by huge claws, the back of a dinosaur, and a long tail with spears at the end” (Kearney, 1928). Eugene Shepard, who later claimed to have captured another hodag alive, filed the reports.
Shepard stated that he captured the hodag by using a ten-foot bamboo pole with a sponge soaked in chloroform tied to the end. He located its den and used this contraption to put it to sleep. He later displayed it at the Oneida County fair, charging fair-goers a dime per view, and made several hundred dollars—a lot of money for that day-and-age.
There are hundreds of stories about the hodag. It even makes an appearance in several Paul Bunyan tales. Drawings, paintings, and statues of the hodag can be found all throughout Rhinelander. It is the official mascot of Rhinelander High School and the namesake of the Hodag Country Music Festival (now celebrating its 41st year).
Is it a real creature? Most people tend to think Shepard’s hodag was a hoax. The black-and-white photograph from the late 1890s is not convincing. Still, the climate and geography of Rhinelander lends itself to this type of creature. The deep woods around Rhinelander are not easy to search. Bears, wolves, and bobcats present one type of danger. The marshy areas present dangerous footings (as well as mosquitos) for adventurers. The hodag could have remained hidden for all this time. (At least it is fun to think so!)
In Starter Zone Cami and her sister, Alby, have escaped from a dark, dystopian world into a fantasy realm designed like a massive multi-player online role-playing game (MMORPG). There are all types of fantastic creatures, such as centaurs, fae, and, of course, hodags.
The sisters meet L.G. Hodag while exploring a tunnel filled with sentient spiders. They rescue him from a web and he becomes their companion. Although he is an infant in Starter Zone, he will grow and develop throughout the series into a formidable fighter worthy of his North Woods heritage.
Kearney, L.S. (1928) The Hodag and other tales of the logging camps. Madison, WI: Democrat Printing Company.