According to Chinese bestiaries, such as the Guideways Through Mountains and Seas, a strange creature exists in the wild, which is called the Shanhui …
There is a beast here at Penal-Law Mountain whose form resembles a dog but with a human face. It is adept at throwing things and laughs when it sees people. It is called the Shanhui. It moves speedily like the wind, and if seen by people is an omen that great winds will blow throughout the world.
Now this passage stuck with me as I was looking for creatures for my story, The Ministry of Thunder.
What caught my attention, I think, was the idea of a dog with a human face; hybrid creatures are popular in supernatural and fantasy fiction, and the Shanhui reminded me of Brown Jenkin, from H.P. Lovecraft‘s The Dreams in the Witch House.
And so, the green* devil dog of the ancient Chinese bestiaries entered my book – first as a dire warning, then as a nightmare, then as a beast in the dark, and finally as a dangerous monster trying to…
OK, you’ll have to read the book for the rest.
But then, something even more fun surfaced just a few days back: yes, the Shanhui is real.
And we’ve got photos to prove it!
The dog with a human face is in all likelihood Macacus archoides – also known as stump-tailed macaque, a creature first described (well, by a biologist) in 1831.
These monkeys can be found in India and in Southern China… and in Mexico – but just because researchers brought a community of M. archoides in Mexico in 1974.
Now this is something I really like – grounding fantasy in fact is part of the fun.
And admittedly the stump-tailed macaque looks a lot less sinister and dangerous (and green!*) than the creatures featured in my book, and it actually looks pretty funny.
And it’s a pity I was not aware of the stump-tailed macaque when I was writing my story – I could have picked a few details, like the red face, or the thick fur.
But all things considered, having to make something up, actually, was not bad.
* I described it as green simply because I mixed up the descriptions of two different creatures in my notes – but it’s all right like this.