BANGOR—Growing up spending summers in Willimantic, Maine in Piscataquis County with his grandparents, Chris Packard heard a lot of stories from his grandfather—things you don’t normally hear. “He told me stories about these weird, mythological creatures that lumberjacks had seen,” said Packard. “I always thought he was making it up until I picked up a book on Maine folklore a decade ago and read about some of these creatures that he’d been telling me about. And I realized they’d been in existence for hundreds of years. These legends came from a continuous oral tradition that had been passed down through the centuries and I got a little obsessed with collecting those stories, sort of reliving my childhood.”
Packard’s collected stories, titled Mythical Creatures of Maine: Fantastic Beasts from Legend and Folklore, published by Down East Books has been out for a year.
Meticulously researched, the book contains 40 individual stories, with more than 100 academic references. “I mined anthropological records, old newspapers, books, and personal conversations with people who had recollections of these old stories.,” he said. “As someone once said to me, ‘They are literally the spirits of Maine.’ ”
Packard is presenting stories and signing books at:
Saturday, April 2
10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
A high school biology teacher, Packard found himself intrigued by tales that couldn’t be verified by science. A naturalist and avid outdoorsman, he found a connection to Nature with legends. “I think these stories we tell are compelling and are important culturally and important to how we relate to Nature,” he said. “I got really intrigued by the commonality of these stories and how they offered other dimensions to the world.”
Among Packard’s collected tales, a number of them originate from America’s “First People.”
“The Wabanaki have many traditional tales about giants like Glooskap, a warrior against evil who is kind and benevolent and possesses magical powers,” said Packard. “They have other tales about the terrible and fearsome Chenoo (or ‘kiawakq’) who has magical powers, but also a heart of ice and an insatiable hunger for human flesh. There are also tales about Pamola, a powerful and dangerous winged creature that inhabits the top of Mount Katahdin and must not be disrespected.”
Although some of the creatures are light-hearted and fantastical, he said some of the lumberjack and Maine Guide stories revolved around deadly entities—scary monsters, which he goes more in-depth about in his blog.
“The one people in the Midcoast often her about is The Sidehill Gouger, a creature adapted to hill county such as the Camden Hills,” he said. “It’s a creature of the forest with uneven legs, and keep their backs level on sloping paths. You catch them by scaring them and they fall over on their uneven sides. It’s almost like a Snipe Hunt, but with scarier elements.”
Midcoast residents can find copies of his book in locally-owned bookstores such as Left Bank Books in Belfast.
To learn more about Chris Packard and his upcoming speaking events visit: christopherpackard.com
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org