According to Norwegian folklore, Kraken is a sea monster which rises from the sea to attack ships, in turn drowning sailors within the whirlpool it creates as it descends back into the depths. It is often described as being part octopus and part crab, and due to its gargantuan size, it has at times been mistaken for an island. Kraken is a distinct entity from its legendary oceanic brethren (including sea serpents, giant squids, and biblical leviathans), though they share common lore; even as sea-fairing folk believed that the catch was better in and around the beast’s habitat, accounts of its activities were often confused with those of other creatures.
It was not until 1752, with the publication of Erik Pontopiddan’s Natural History of Norway, that Kraken was first explicitly depicted. Pontopiddan cautioned, “It is said that if it grabbed the largest warship, it could manage to pull it down to the bottom of the ocean.” Kraken continued to enjoy popular recognition throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, beginning its rise with Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s 1830 poem “The Kraken.” Tennyson clad the beast in the gloom of Armageddon, fixing its name with a superfluous “the,” and it was this vision that went on to become the basis for such literary monsters as Jules Verne’s leviathan in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and H. P. Lovecraft’s dreaded octopus-headed Cthulhu.
Aziraphale also knows of the creature.
“Kraken,” he says on the night of the Antichrist‘s birth. “Great big bugger […] sleepeth beneath the thunders of the upper deep. Under loads of huge and unnumbered polypol — polipo — bloody great seaweeds, you know. Supposed to rise right at the end, when the sea boils” (41). His description runs as a close (albeit intoxicated) approximation of Tennyson’s poem, which proclaims of the terrible beast, “The Kraken sleepeth […] Until the latter fire shall heat the deep; / Then once by man and angels to be seen, / In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.”
And rise it does. Kraken’s progress is duly noted by the crew of the Kappamaki, a whaling research ship. At first, there are no whales in the ship’s vicinity, and then there are no fish. Where the seabed should be two hundred meters deep, “several million yen worth of cutting-edge technology” (212) register it at 15,000 and falling. As the captain and his navigator stand befuddled over the readings, the creature wakes up. “Millions of tons of deep ocean ooze cascade off its flanks as it rises,” and in gaining consciousness, it succeeds with brute biological function where the whaling ship’s instruments have failed: as it “billows up through the icy waters it picks up the microwave noise of the sea, the sorrowing beeps and whistles of the whalesong” (212). When the ocean speaks, Kraken listens. “Ten billion sushi dinners cry out for vengeance” (213), and the Kappamaki goes unrecognized, an insignificant bit of metal upon the beast’s great back.
“Kraken.” Wikipedia. Accessed 2 Aug 2006. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kraken>.
“Kraken in popular culture.” Wikipedia. Accessed 2 Aug 2006. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kraken_in_popular_culture>.