Jennifer Barnes is the managing editor of Raw Dog Screaming Press, which has published several Bram Stoker Award-winning books, including A Collection of Nightmares by Christina Sgn. Barnes enjoys nautical monsters, but her favorite is “the king of the sea serpents,” the Kraken.
Barnes says that a good monster holds a lot of “mystery.” She says that the Kraken is “uncommon” but still holds “that mystery for me.” A big part of her love of the creature is the name itself. “There is something amazing about those syllables. Kraken is eminently fun to say
and rolls off the tongue with power. Combined with the image of writhing tentacles, it’s an enthralling and poetic package,” she says.
Although many people’s first encounter with a Kraken is from Disney’s adaptation of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Barnes cannot remember when she first heard of the Kraken. Still, she does remember being fascinated by a specimen of the possible inspiration for the monster. “As a child I was mesmerized by a giant squid carcass they have in a case at The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. I remember it as being horribly fleshy and decayed but also completely otherworldly,” she remembers. While answering the questions for this interview, Barnes went to the Smithsonian’s website to research this monster of memory. She discovered that the museum discussed how rough the specimen, she remembered so well, was. Apparently, it had washed up on a Massachusetts beach in the 1980s after spending a while dead at sea. There was a lot of tissue loss in the process, leaving the thing a bit worse for wear. After discovering this tidbit
from the Smithsonian, Barnes says, “I think that the state the specimen was in contributed to my feeling that squids were true monsters.” The Smithsonian website also discussed how giant squid engage in “frequent brawls that end up in cannibalism.” The museum’s information goes on to describe how the giant squid “juliennes” its prey with its beak and tooth lined throat. “Now THAT’S a monster! Imagine a creature five times the size of a giant squid and you have a kraken. I think that’s terrifying for sure,” Barnes almost gleefully admits.
The Kraken is typically depicted as a giant squid-like creature that drags ships and people to their deaths. However, there are varying mythical descriptions of the beast. The Norse initially said that the Kraken looked similar to a crab-whale hybrid. Barnes states that she prefers the “cephalopod” version of the Kraken “with lots of tentacles.” The crab-whale Kraken of Norse mythology would be terrifying too. According to Barnes, “I am interested in any type of giant sea monster but ‘sea monster’ doesn’t sound as cool as Kraken.”
Part of Barnes’s fascination with sea creatures and the Kraken started with learning about the great mystery of the deep ocean. “I have had a fascination with deep sea creatures ever since I first learned that much of the deep sea has not really been explored at all, and there are likely to be things living down there that we have no inkling of. The environment is so different and alien it very unique adaptations,” she says. Her interest was further piqued when her husband, co-owner of Raw Dog Screaming Press and also a writer, was working on a book that featured squids. His research “further excited my imagination on the subject with many amazing facts.” Several interesting that stood out to Barnes was that squid brains are “donut-shaped,” they had serrated teeth on some of their suckers and hooks on others, and some squids have been known to use tools and set traps for prey. “As the basis for a monster, the giant squid has so much to offer,” she says.
Barnes offers a few recommendations for those interested in the Kraken. Firstly, she mentions 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, either the book by Jules Verne or the Disney movie; also, The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise features a Kraken. Barnes recommends two other books. The first is appropriately titled The Kraken by China Mîeville. The other is Into the Sounds by Lee Murray. Of Murray’s book, she says, “While I don’t think the sea creature in that book is necessarily a kraken, it is a deadly, intelligent squid-like monster, and Murray brilliantly engineers ways for land-going humans to have plenty of contact with it.”
Besides unleashing the horror of the Kraken, Barnes and her husband are launching AllAccessCon. “It’s a platform we are using to host online events, which is especially useful now that so many events have been canceled. Contributors to the AllAccessCon Indiegogo campaign get lifetime access to events,” she says. The website for the Indiegogo is https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/allaccesscon#.