Fictionalysis is extremely quickly becoming a ‘just whatever’ post type because here we are again with another weird one. A suggestion that was given to me by my friends, today I’ll be starting up a cryptid tier list. I’m certain that a majority of people in 2018 are aware of what cryptids are but if you happen to be one of the rare subjects who don’t then you might be one. Cryptids are creatures who supposedly may or may not exist, entities that become the subject of folklore thanks to blurry images and suspect sightings. This element of being believed in is a key part of what separates a cryptid from other fantasy creatures. Most often they’re animals or animal-like in nature, although an argument could be made for things like UFOs and alien sightings fulfilling the cryptid criteria.
The aim of this tier list is to determine the overall storytelling quality of a variety of cryptids. There are several factors which feed into this, believability being the first of them. Seeing as this is the element which defines them as being cryptids, it’s important to mask the fact that they were most likely thought up by asylum escapees. There has to be some merit, some good argument in favor of the cryptid. Although, this criteria on its own might be unfair seeing as it’s a lot harder to make something believable now than it was even just a few decades ago. Given that fact, I will also take into consideration whether or not a cryptid is engaging enough for one to want to believe in its existence.
The second factor is uniqueness, the elements which define any one cryptid. A unique cryptid is going to be more memorable; it’s going to be hard to care about a subject if it literally is just an animal. Cryptids who successfully find a place in the uncanny valley, who have these realistic elements while also bearing definitive off-traits, are most likely going to find themselves in a higher tier. The final major criteria is versatility, determining how many narratives the cryptid could fit into. A cryptid that only works in one exact scenario is boring, what I’m looking for are subjects who could be used in interesting ways in written works. A cryptid who can offer many stories past its original lore will earn a lot of personal favor from me.
The tiering system will use a letter grading system, with S being the highest and D being the lowest. S-tiers are the standouts, the cryptids who make you want to know more about them, who have the depth without having to go full fantasy. A-tiers are all around solid cryptids who might suffer from some minor issues, for example a poor transition into modern culture and media. B-tiers are still good, though they may be edging a bit too close to being generic to really catch the eye. C-tiers are highly flawed cryptids who still hold on to one or two redeemable features and D-tiers are the rabble who have nothing worth noting or salvaging. With these guidelines in mind, we’re ready to begin.
Bigfoot/The Sasquatch/The Yeti
Bigfoot, a creature that finds itself being a great example as a cryptid for being well-known rather than being well thought out. Also known as the Sasquatch, Bigfoot and creatures similar to it are most likely so popular due to their generally primate-like features. Even though the tracks Bigfoot leaves are most likely bear tracks, images that supposedly depict it show it as a tall, hairy ape man. In essence, a big human with monkey features who caught people’s imaginations by being similar enough to us. In this regard, it could be argued that Bigfoot is a simple yet successful entity concerning the uncanny valley.
The best stories regarding Bigfoot are the ones which play into its likeness to ourselves. The iconic image of Bigfoot shows it walking in a more upright fashion than what most primates would, a simple detail from which we can derive more human-like traits. The SCP entry for Bigfoot, which is a thing that does exist, is a great example of quality writing derived from this cryptid. Many comparable cryptids to Bigfoot exist, almost certainly due to the simplicity of it rather than because of anything derivative. The Yeti is a well-known example which has its own comprehensive lore to read into.
Admittedly, calling the Yeti ‘like Bigfoot’ is a gross over-simplification for what it really is. While it’s easy enough to just say it’s an ice Sasquatch and call it a day, it has some genuinely intriguing roots in Nepali folklore. While Bigfoot exists in some weird area between monkey and man, the Yeti is much more definitively an ape. Again, in reality the traces of it were most likely left by bears, but the imagery of it settles quite soundly on primate. The uniqueness of this creature comes from its environment, what’s ‘off’ about the Yeti is the fact that it’s an ape that’s indigenous to cold places. This leads to interesting concepts such as how, when and why the Yeti became native to snowy places, what its place in the ecosystem is and so on.
There’s also the possibility that the Yeti, or an entity similar, once held a deific status in some old tribes. Perhaps they hailed its raw physical strength or its resilience in surviving in such a harsh environment. There’s a lot to explore here, in what is basically just ‘a gorilla in the snow’. It’s fun to think of non-existent species of creatures who have adapted to non-standard environments. It’s a simple concept with a lot of potential interactivity and depth and the Yeti definitely earns points for being one of the proprietors of this idea. It’s unfortunate that a lot of stories which regard Bigfoot and the Yeti devolve into just ‘but what if it could KILL YOU!!!’ but underneath that there are some redeemable ideas. I would say the Yeti is the superior of the two just because the novelty value of Bigfoot being human-like runs out fast but neither are awful either way.
Bigfoot Tier: B
Yeti Tier: A
For all the fame that Bigfoot and the Yeti enjoy, the ‘real’ stories behind them don’t exactly seem to be very in-depth. While certainly there are plenty of essays and documentaries regarding the former, what makes Bigfoot is the iconic image of him. In contrast, Mothman is made entirely by his sightings and the stories behind them. There’s no image in play, only the unreliable accounts of those first few who ‘saw’ him. The actual details within these stories aren’t exactly consistent in how believable they are, the standout thread between them is this iconography of Mothman’s large, red eyes. Past that, the features are vague and left to the imaginations of those who are reading the stories.
This is a great way to make an engaging cryptid, by creating this one key element which makes them (the red moth eyes, in this case) and letting others visualize the cryptid from there. People are more likely to get invested in the cryptid since they have to make the creature themselves in their mind based on the uncanny prompt. They’ll make something that’s believable in their own mind, or at least close enough to it, thus making the original writer not have to personally engage with that element at all. Mothman is the combination of the creepy element of an insect bound to the discernible form of a man. An off-putting amalgamation which works because it isn’t being presented visually, the silly elements of it are worked out by the reader’s mind.
Mothman works because it makes you do the thinking. Good thing, too, because the descriptions offered by the sightings really fall apart under any level of critique. The idea of several sightings happening independently from each other is great because that builds the idea that it wasn’t just some one-off crazy. Then you get claims like a man-sized creature keeping up with a car moving at 100 miles per hour while flying using wings we have to believe are capable of carrying it in the first place. You get a story about how a dog barked at it and then was mysteriously gone the next morning, because if you couldn’t tell from the glowing moth eyes Mothman is meant to be scaaaary. There’s a limit to how much you can get someone to suspend their disbelief. Also, yes, the statue of Mothman that exists does actually make this cryptid worse since it offers a physical form and thus pretty much nulls the positive I outlined in the previous paragraph.
So, all in all the original sightings of Mothman are kinda terrible. That doesn’t necessarily mean that better stories couldn’t be made using this cryptid. What those stories might be is difficult to say, seeing as a lot of what makes Mothman are the individual perspectives people have on him. You could go a similar direction as the Yeti and explore how it functions in its environment, though it’s more limited in that respect since it’s tied to a particular place. Any story regarding how Mothman came to be is doomed to fail because you’re just going to make a superhero origin story, which don’t tend to fall into non-fiction. Alright, when taking the whole original story into account maybe there’s not a lot you can do with Mothman. If you want to write a story about it, you’re better off just making your own version. Unfortunately, seeing as the original is what I’m tiering, it’s going to suffer for the weak storytelling.
Mothman Tier: C
Similar to Mothman, the Chupacabra is a cryptid which lacks any visual evidence in its original folklore. While people have supposedly sighted these creatures, the imagery of them is built off of artistic interpretations. The most common depiction that I’ve seen has them looking like weird reptile aliens but we’re going to ignore that, because as I’ve explained it’s better when you have to make the image yourself. An image not formed from any vague sightings or descriptions but rather from the creature’s victims. The name ‘Chupacabra’ means ‘Goat Sucker’, which is an apt description because they suck goats of all their blood.
Goats aren’t the only target of the Chupacabra’s fangs, however, for other livestock such as chickens have reportedly been attacked by them. The marks left by a Chupacabra’s bite are big enough to fit human fingers, thus the key element of this cryptid is made. For Mothman, it was his eyes, for the Chupacabra, it is their fangs. Large, made for drawing blood with a hunger that leaves not a drop. Given how popular vampires are, this vampiric trait displayed by the Chupacabra is a solid draw in itself. You’re essentially given the prompt ‘monster-vampire’ and that’s more than enough to make imaginations go wild.
This has led to interpretations of Chupacabras where they have reptilian elements, some where they’re more canine and others where they straight up have bat wings in reference to vampire bats. Not weighed down by the same baggage carried by Mothman, the Chupacabra has become an intriguing and creatively-varied creature. Additionally, their drive to feed, a drive which has fueled more than a few vampire stories, is great for storytelling. One could ask what motivates their hunger, what makes them drain every last drop, would they move on to other creatures if livestock wore thin, does the variety of interpretations for them mean that they’re adaptable to many environments, etc. The Chupacabra has the strengths of Mothman used properly and for that reason it’s a great cryptid.
Chupacabra Tier: S
Nessie & Nessielikes
Being from Scotland myself, I would like for Nessie to be a good cryptid, although at a glance my hopes aren’t high for her. She’s in the same boat as Bigfoot in the sense that her claim to fame comes in the form of an image, which shows her as a plesiosaur-like creature. It’s fair to say that this image in particular has not aged well at all, doubly so seeing as it has officially been revealed as a hoax. It becomes very difficult to believe in a cryptid whose biggest claim to fame has been directly disproven, although that hasn’t stopped some people. Nessie still has a fair amount of lore going for her, ranging from sixth century christian garbage to your standard dubious sightings and shadows under the water.
I think it’s fair to say that Nessie isn’t scoring very many points for believability, though the idea of a lake monster has entranced countless people far beyond the borders of Scotland. Creatures that I’ve dubbed ‘Nessielikes’, many of them sharing similar names to the Loch Ness Monster herself. I believe the reason for this is an infatuation for the idea of a dinosaur or dinosaur-like creature existing in the modern age. Dinosaurs are awe-inspiring, the once-rulers of this world and the closest thing to monsters that actually existed. Many of them larger than what we could fathom, how could we not have an interest in them?
Nessie exists because we want to see one of these creatures in real life, we want to hold on to that hope. Zoos are a thing because of our innate curiosity leading us to want to look at these types of things up close. The idea behind Nessie is that she’s there, huge as the dinosaurs once were and yet still out of sight. Hiding in the one place that allows us to suspend our disbelief; underwater. Because as it turns out, it’s harder to claim that there’s a T-Rex still roaming the surface and have people believe it. The reason why she and the other creatures like her are bound to lakes rather than the deep sea is so that anyone could see them, it’s to retain the concept that they could surface. Coulds and mights are what make these lake monsters, it’s a real Schrodinger’s cat situation.
Additionally, there are a fair few stories you could tell regarding these entities. How did they come to live in the lakes/lochs, how did they survive and how do they continue to survive immediately come to mind. Though they aren’t realistic in any sense, they remain in people’s minds safe in a pocket of curiosity. It’s our own nature that keeps these creatures alive, so long as we believe that they could come out one day they’re there. They play into our mentality well and for that I have to give them props.
Nessie Tier: B
Wendigos immediately separate themselves from every other cryptid on the list so far by being straight up supernatural. There’s no hiding it, no trying to cover up the unscientific elements of it, they’re supernatural and/or spiritual in nature. Now, if Wendigo were just regular ghost sightings then I would dock believability points because of this, but I’m not going to. The reason why I won’t is because the Wendigo are a concept made by a tribe that takes spiritual ideas very seriously and I’m not going to disrespect that by just saying ‘lol fake’. That’s not to say I’m giving them an entirely free pass, I just don’t want to judge unfairly based on cultural differences.
As spirits, they represent gluttony and excess, entities of eternal hunger who ceaselessly hunt and kill and eat. Overexposure to these spirits and the hunger they carry can turn a human into a Wendigo, at which point they will most likely begin indulging in cannibalism. A human’s own greed can also turn them into a Wendigo, which served as a warning in some traditions to encourage cooperation and moderation. Physical manifestations of Wendigo also have some very definitive features such as gauntness to the point of emaciation, skin pulled tightly over their bones, an ash-grey complexion and eyes pushed deep into their sockets. Some cultures also claim that the bodies of Wendigo grow proportionally to whatever they eat so they can never be full.
If it isn’t clear by now, Wendigo are really goddamn cool and a part of what makes them great is the fact that they can be interpreted as both a creature and a concept. Physically speaking, Wendigo are fantastic cryptids because the idea of humans turning into these eternally staving husks of skin tightly wrapped around bone is extremely creepy. Uncannily starved people intent on devouring flesh endlessly, they’re like zombies but actually executed in an interesting way. The lore behind them and the idea of them being spirits of greed adds to much to a concept that’s often lazily hand-waved as ‘a disease’ or ‘magic’. Wendigo turn it into a case of self-reflection, making the transformation into our own fault, and that’s rad.
The way these spiritual and conceptual elements elevate what would otherwise be ‘thin zombie’ into something cool and unique more than makes up for any realism problems I may have had. Moreover, it opens the way for a whole lot of stories that involve or regard these types of beings. Even just taking the concept of an evil spirit of hunger is enough to inspire several tales given how versatile the concept of hunger is. The themes of greed and cannibalism only open the door wider. Wendigo were even creepy enough to inspire the creation of Ithaqua, one of the Great Old Ones in H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. I would highly recommend any reading this to read up on Wendigos personally, they deserve the spotlight way more than any zombie film you’ve seen in the past ten years.
Wendigo Tier: S
I’m like 99% certain that Jackalopes were made as a joke, I’m honestly not sure they even really deserve to be called cryptids. Keep me far away from the person who’s trying to make an argument in favor of the Jackalope because they most likely don’t speak coherently. Even if they did happen to exist, they’re so boring that I just wouldn’t care. Jackalopes are literally just rabbits or hares with horns, there’s nothing more to it. The uncanny thing about them is they have horns. I can’t fathom how this could be interesting in the slightest, there could actually be a species of rabbit or hare with horns and no one would care.
The problem with it is that horns don’t innately add anything to the creature they’re attached to. You can’t even make a roundabout argument for demonic influence, because Jackalopes are most commonly depicted with antlers. I can think of exactly one good story that would include a Jackalope and it involves them replacing the reindeer in pulling Santa’s sleigh. It would be dumb and pathetic and hilarious. There’s none of Mothman’s creepyness or the Chupacabra’s mystery, it’s just arbitrary. We can’t even connect to them because they’re rabbits and don’t have any human traits like Bigfoot or the Wendigo. These creatures have absolutely zero value as cryptids and the only reason I bring them up is so that you, the reader, can see what a D-tier looks like.
Jackalope Tier: D
The Jersey Devil is another creature that I’m unsure really fits the criteria of cryptid. Not in the same way as the Jackalope but rather in a way closer to the Wendigo, wherein it was born from a particular belief and is undoubtedly supernatural in origin. The difference being that the Jersey Devil doesn’t come from a culture but instead a religion. The Jersey Devil is unapologetically just a christian demon, in that sense living up to its ‘devil’ moniker well. Demons in that belief tend to be depicted as bestial amalgamates, most likely evil in the sense that they go against god’s vision or whatever. The Jersey Devil is precisely this, just a mishmash of animal bits turned into its own ridiculous looking creature.
The problem with the Jersey Devil, especially when compared to the Wendigo, is that it holds absolutely no conceptual meaning. It’s just the spawn of some crazy christian babble and the only way you could see it as anything else is if you buy into that. Any essence of believability it has relies on you being a part of the religion which made it, which is trash. It doesn’t even come close to standing up as a creature design on its own, there’s just way too much going on with it. The more chimeric properties it’s given the more we have to suspend our disbelief and the Jersey Devil doesn’t deserve that effort. It’s far more silly than scary and, even with regards to storytelling, it’s worthless since it’s completely bound to the absurd story which spawned it. It doesn’t have to interact with its environment because it’s a devil and it’s just an ‘eats children’ monster anyways. This thing would be better used as a fodder enemy in an unknown JRPG than as a cryptid.
Jersey Devil Tier: D
Thunderbirds oddly enough find themselves in a place similar to lake monster-type cryptids, just in the air rather than underwater. Traditionally depicted as giant birds of prey, though sometimes said to be comparable to pterosaurs. The latter fits the same narrative I outlined for Nessie quite well, being a creature which allows people to hope that they could see a creature from a lost era. Though, perhaps the Thunderbird has aged less well seeing as it’s harder to hide in the sky than underwater. While the sky is innately inaccessible to humans, we have several ways of both reaching and monitoring it that would most likely have solidified the existence of these creatures by now if they were there.
There’s also less innate storytelling potential for Thunderbirds when compared to lake monsters since the latter are bound to very specific, enclosed areas. This works to their advantage because it lets you start asking questions as to the significance of these places but with Thunderbirds they could just be anywhere. The sky’s the limit, as they say, though that might be oddly restricting in this case. Unfortunately, the more traditional and tribal depictions of the Thunderbird don’t hold up much better. While not as visually offensive as the likes of the Jersey Devil, the Thunderbirds still don’t seem to have much conceptual meaning to separate them from the beliefs from which they were spawned.
At the very least, tribal Thunderbirds have some interesting lore which gives them real value as fantasy creatures unlike the Jersey Devil. Gigantic birds that create thunder with flaps of their wings, blast lightning out of their eyes and create rain is an awesome concept. It’s just that stories of folks going into the mountains in search of the source of thunder and the tale of big bird fighting big killer whale fall too deep into folklore for me to see the Thunderbird as a good cryptid. It’s not a bad creature generally and could be implemented nicely into many fantasy settings, it just doesn’t really capture the cryptid vibe in my perspective.
Thunderbird Tier: C
The Dover Demon is a cryptid that is thankfully closer to Mothman than the Jersey Devil, although that doesn’t exactly make it a great one. The first article I read regarding this one was as bare as bare could be, pretty much boiling down to just ‘this is a thing someone saw!’. Not exactly something I was willing to buy into given the depiction of it makes it look like a trashy 20th century movie alien rather than anything all that uncanny. The original person who sighted the creature is also quoted as swearing on a stack of bibles that he saw it and, if my review of the Jersey Devil wasn’t enough indication, crazy christian nonsense doesn’t get very far with me.
The entity gains a more Mothman-like vibe through two other sightings which describe/depict the Demon in pretty much the same way. This does give it a little more merit and, to its credit, the accounts don’t end up trying way too hard like the ones for Mothman. The glaring issue with the Dover Demon is, like I said, the fact that it doesn’t look all that uncanny. Its key feature is having a weird, ovoid head and I don’t think anyone’s going to argue that’s a far weaker draw than the likes of Mothman’s eyes. The descriptions of it go between saying that it has a baby’s or a monkey’s body, which would raise the uncanny factor if the drawn depictions weren’t offered to us. Unlike Mothman, we don’t have to smooth out the difficult-to-swallow details, we’re just directly shown that it looks ridiculous in practice.
The extremely safe nature of the sightings does it no narrative favors, either. We can’t exactly draw a lot of stories from this creature if we don’t know anything that it does. The single detail that can be drawn from is a quote that claims its feet can mold around solid surfaces, which suggests some unique and interesting anatomical traits. This cryptid could be a lot better if it played into those elements more but as it stands the Dover Demon is just ‘something people saw’. We’re given too much info in the visual department and not enough in the detailed descriptions, which earns the Dover Demon a low spot on the list.
Dover Demon Tier: C
The Squonk is widely regarded among millennials as being the most ‘mood’ of the cryptids due to its nature of staying out of sight and crying a lot. It’s ashamed of its appearance, bearing ill-fitting skin, warts and blemishes all over. Truly an accursed being who symbolizes loneliness and the struggle of being trapped in one’s own body. It avoids capture by dissolving into a pool of tears and bubbles, accurately depicting the struggle young adults face in expressing themselves. What story need the Squonk tell, for such tales would only be a reflection of the world we now live in. Full of tears and depression and inability to be what we truly wish to be. I do not see how one could dismiss the believability of such a creature, for it captures reality in a far more substantial way than any other cryptid here. Sincerely, the Squonk is the iconic cryptid of our era.