In the Alters’ World (and the series of books found here), creatures of legend reveal themselves to the world. Born through genetic abnormalities, defects and mutations, the Alters have lived for centuries as outcasts of human society, hiding their true nature from the world while colorful stories have been written by many to describe what they’ve seen. How are these creatures different from what was described in the stories? What relationship do they have with humanity? Every entry of the Alterpedia will delve into a new creature from around the world. This week we cover:
Powerful figures found in mythologies all across the world, Giants leave a towering impression on all cultures. Though coming in many shapes and varieties, they only come in one size – huge. Sometimes seen as another race of man, or the children of gods, perhaps even the residents of a neighboring world elsewhere in our cosmos, these immense creatures come in contact with humans rarely but do so with dramatic results. Throughout history their encounters with our heroes of legend have been immortalized as the ultimate underdog stories – the literal origins of David and Goliath.
And we’ve seen huge individuals among us, towering figures who easily dwarf everyone around them. From Andre the Giant to Shaquille O’Neal, we know there are huge people among us. But are those the giants of lore? Or is there someone bigger? And if there is someone bigger… how big do they get?
A common attribute for many creatures such as Trolls, Cyclopes, and Ogres, the definition of what would include a “giant” varies based on culture. What is universal is that all creatures who could be referred to as giants are at least twice the size of mortal men and often quite a bit larger. Sometimes these creatures are even large enough to cast shadows across vast distances, and in the case of Trolls, examples of giants within their kind are said to be like walking mountains.
For those creatures which happen to be identified purely by their size, the actual description of their appearance is very human-like. Among these human-like giants there are four distinct varieties that can be found in multiple mythologies. The first are those who are a perfect recreation of humans, giant merely due to magic and existing in a giant world of their own. These sorts are fairly rare, often expressing a reflection of how our world must look like to things that are exceptionally small. They wear traditional clothes and have furniture and architecture which mirrors our own on a grander scale.
The second kind have misshapen features that have swelled or grown disproportionately to the rest of their body. These versions, often looking more primitive, are dressed in animal skins, makeshift clothing, or sometimes nothing at all. These can often be relabeled as Ogres, depending on their overall behavior and appearance, and in the right situations the words can become nearly interchangeable.
And the third kind, the ones that arguably held the most impact on mythologies, are those tied to primordial forces – often even composed of them. Examples of these include the Jotun, who were composed of ice, ash, and fire, or the Titans, who were literal embodiments of the forces of nature. In these cases these figures can be towering on the scale of entire storm-fronts or mountain ranges that cover the whole of the horizon. Literally titanic.
The fourth kind, born of supernatural forces, drastically diverge away from the appearance of humans. These can include the aforementioned Trolls, Ogres, and the like, but also can become far more grotesque. The Gashadokuro, an evil giant born after the death of hundreds of starving people, was an immense skeleton 15 times larger than any human being and possessed of an insatiable hunger.
The result of genetic abnormalities that often present themselves in humans as gigantism, acromegaly, or other disorders – Alter Giants are the greatest expression of abnormal human growth. Though most humans with such disorders max out between 7 to 9 feet (at the extreme), these people can reach upwards of 16 feet tall. The growth is not always steady, however, and many of them are seen to be lumbering and primitive in appearance beyond certain sizes as the growth hormones coursing through their bodies result in certain features growing faster than others.
Though never actually being made of “primordial elements” as in the stories, these people still present features which may give the impression of being something other than flesh and blood. Strong chins and jawlines, thick brows, and other such features can present themselves as almost stone-like, and their clothing (often requiring special effort), is generally unusual and being clearly different from far distances. This can present both the primitive and the elemental picture found in lore, but in both cases it is simply a matter of human features impacted by their conditions.
However, not all grow into their form. The Gashadokuro, known as a immense skeleton in lore, is simply a giant which did not grow sufficient muscle mass to go along with their immense height. These tall, lanky, and pale figures appear to be little but skin and bones, and generally have difficulty moving. The resulting figure can be quite unnerving both from a distance and up close, as even seeing their faces results in peering into the eyes of an incredibly gaunt face.
Efforts by modern giants have been made to do more to fit in and rarely have they been far behind humans in terms of clothing technology. As Mammoths went extinct early in human history, Giants were forced out of wearing furs as many other humans could due to difficulty in finding appropriately sized pelts. In response, these early Giants were among the first to use textiles and have been making efforts to do so ever since. In fact, though their clothes may sometimes be pieced together, this is rarely due to lack of sophistication and simply due to sheer cost of materials as many Giants cannot afford the customized clothing they would need.
As creatures often tied to ancient forces, many giants were granted magical abilities from their source. This magic, while lacking sophistication and refinement, was still incredibly powerful and often competed with even the gods. These powers could manifest in a variety of ways, but often were presented as immortality and control of the elements. The Norse long believed that confrontations between their gods and the Jotun were the cause behind events such as severe storms and rough seas. And, in stories of the end of the world, Surtr, king of the fire Jotun of Muspelheim, was the one who brought the end to the cosmos all together with a flaming strike of his sword.
Even on smaller scales, giants were granted a mystical nature and often ruled over all around them through sheer strength and durability. Giants of the Abrahamic religions were generally more powerful than any human could hope to be and easily defeated all foes before them. These creatures, generally plaguing mankind with their violent oppression, were often only felled by divine intervention or the actions of an anointed hero.
However, for conventional Giants, there is little magic behind their feats. Latent giants, those which are still human but abnormally large, are actually quite fragile later in life due to a series of health conditions. The conditions which cause their enlargement come with a vast array of side effects. Weak joints, heart problems, and chronic pain are all a result of out of control growth in the human body which was not meant to support such immense weight.
However, active Alter Giants immediately adapt to their size. Several aspects of their body adjust to support their weight, particularly the cardio vascular systems and their skeletons. The heart of a Giant, naturally enlarged in latent Giants, strengthens considerably in active Giants to deal with the strain of pushing blood through such immense forms. Their bones, originally no more dense than average humans, become stronger than many building materials, allowing them to withstand repeated impacts by the great weight they’re to support. Even within the limits of human biology which strain their latent cousins, the average active Giant easily surpasses their weight due to sheer density.
Because of this, such Giants are incredibly long lived and abnormally powerful even for their size. They rarely suffer broken bones and are generally dense enough to shrug off what would be fatal blows to smaller individuals. Combined with their awesome strength, such giants have easily been the most powerful individual in their regions in the past – requiring extraordinary effort or dumb luck to be able to defeat in battle. The infamous confrontation between David and Goliath being due largely in part to the fact the stone managed to strike an already weakened spot on Goliath’s head – a nearly impossible to predict outcome which many believed to be an act of god at the time.
Giants have been almost universally hostile to the human world in mythology. Often either competing for resources or being part of the world too destructive to be allowed into the mortal realm, Giants represent destruction and chaos where ever they go. In the cases of the Jotun, the heroics of Thor were long believed to be the only things which kept them at bay and prevented their invasion of the human realm. Meanwhile, without the work of Zeus against the Titans, the human world never would have even come to be with the primordial forces continuing to run amok.
This is often punctuated by man-eating, specifically among the more primitive looking Giants grouped together with the likes of Ogres. Seeing people as beneath them, literally and figuratively, the average giant of lore would see humans like cattle. Others, such as the Gashadokuro, would simply be consumed with tremendous hunger – only to be satisfied by biting off human heads and drinking their blood. However, this was not always a blind devouring of people, and sometimes came with specific requirements such as a specific religion, attitude, belief, or failure.
Giants, due to their size and the relatively heavy effort required to move, are gentle and easy going. With little that can injure them or threaten their well-being, many of them devote their time simply to conserving their strength as much as possible since, despite their power, it is still a labor to move with many of them reaching several hundred pounds. This gentle nature is not to be taken for granted, however, as many have been used as soldiers in the past – renowned for their nearly unbeatable power. Though few are soldiers in the modern day, primarily due to the invention of guns, even latent Giants with their physical issues…
Are not to be trifled with.