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In the Age of Exploration, the world’s oceans were mysterious and endless. Sailors told stories of boiling salt water near the equator and fearsome sea life. As these stories were told again and again, the subjects became even more terrible and unimaginable. One such legend came from the wide bays and icy waters of Scandinavia. It is a legend that still lives among our movies, novels, video games, and maybe even in our deepest fears of the open ocean - the legend of the kraken.
Likely Based on the Giant Squid
The legend of this colossal, crew-eating, ship-sinking, monster was likely based on a real creature - the giant squid. It was first described as such in Erik Pontoppidan’s The First Attempt at a Natural History of Norway (1752). Here, however, Pontoppidan claims the Kraken was so large that it was sometimes mistaken for an island. He further writes that the Kraken was less dangerous as a predator of sailors than as a hazard that generated a frothing whirlpool in its wake that could sink ships. Pontoppidan does, however, concede that given the length of the Kraken’s arms, it could easily force the largest war ships down to the bottom of the ocean.
In Literature and Movies
Pontoppidan’s description of the kraken undoubtedly inspired a new generation of authors to craft hyperbolic scenes involving the kraken. In the classic ocean tale, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, the author, Jules Verne, describes a scene where Captain Nemo must save his submarine from an attacking kraken. In the story he describes the kraken as a monster that “could entangle a ship of five thousand tons and bury it into the abyss of the ocean.” In Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, the kraken is an agent for Davy Jones, ruler of the sea. Jones would summon the kraken by using a giant hammer that would send shockwaves through the ocean. The kraken would overtake ships ensuring that Jones had a steady supply of sailors to use as slaves aboard his own vessel.