April 10, 2009 Features & Images » Feature Story

So… Ogopogo 

Or at least, here be something that feeds our collective appetite for big scary monsters. Belief sold separately

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I hit the water feet first from 15 feet up and sink far into the cold blackness. When I surface, it's all I can do to keep from swimming like hell.



"If this was America, I would be wearing a T-shirt saying 'I have seen the monster'."

Bibbi Hogstrom heads the tourist bureau in Ostersund, Sweden, and spotted that area's legendary creature when she was 13. "We really haven't exploited the lake monster and that's typical of this area of Sweden. We don't think it's really that special so we keep quiet about it."

Swedish reserve also accounts for their great lake monster being known simply as the Great Lake Monster. Inhabiting Storsjö (Swedish for, yes, Great Lake), about 600 km northwest of Stockholm, the 150-plus sightings date back to 1635. Coincidentally it's a place I visit fairly often, and though I learned about the monster on my first trip years ago-a tipsy taxi driver described seeing it while living on an island, and the vodka fumes filling the Volvo convinced me at least that much was true-I neither saw nor heard anything else until last fall, when I noticed a fancy new statue in the Ostersund airport.

The Great Lake Monster was out of the closet, and darned if it didn't look exactly like Ogopogo.

As it turns out, the Swedes-whose Viking ancestors controlled all of Scandinavia-have plenty to answer for when it comes to monster mythology. Sailors were ever-mindful of the Norse saga concerning the Milgaard Serpent, which battled the god Thor to his death, encircling the world with its tail in its mouth. And there was the "World Ash" Yggdrasil, a tree supporting the nine cosmological worlds of Odin, guarded at its roots by the great serpent, Jormungunder. So pervasive were sea-monstrosities with supernatural powers that the Norse countered by building their long-ships to resemble firedrakes (dragons)-head at the bow, long curling tail astern, wide body in the middle with oars resembling fins, sails for wings, and shields mounted on the gunnels like scales. Bishops Olaus Magnus of Sweden and Erik Pontoppidan of Norway both wrote extensively about sea monsters in the sixteenth century, seeding their countries' early literature with morality tales of vindictive beasts eking out retribution on greedy fishermen (B.C. Parks might want to consider a similar approach). So it's no surprise that the Swedes have a lake monster, and perhaps no coincidence that many of Canada's crowded stable of lake monsters occur in places that saw healthy tides of early Scandinavian immigrants.

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