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What is a Squonk?

Good question...

It all depends who you ask but many people of a certain age will recognise it from the 1976 Genesis Album "A Trick Of The Tail"- according to the sleeve notes of the album:

"The Squonk is of a very retiring disposition and due to its ugliness, weeps constantly.
It is easy prey for hunters who simply follow a tear-stained trail.
When cornered it will dissolve itself into tears."

However the Squonk was not created by Genesis.

Deep in the Hemlock Forests

Cox's Squonk

It was first mentioned in a 1910 book entitled "Fearsome Creatures in the Lumberwoods" by William T Cox - the Squonk was described as an ugly creature with warts covering its ill-fitting skin - and as such spent most of its time hiding and weeping over its own ugliness.

According to the book:

The range of the Squonk is very limited. Few people outside of Pennsylvania have ever heard of the quaint beast, which is said to be fairly common in the hemlock forests of that State.

The Squonk is of a very retiring disposition, generally travelling about at twilight and dusk. Because of its misfitting skin, which is covered in warts and moles, it is always unhappy; in fact it is said, by people who are best able to judge, to be the most morbid of beasts.

Hunters who are good at tracking are able to follow a squonk by its tear stained trail, for the animal weeps constantly. When cornered and escape seems impossible, or when surprised and frightened, it may even dissolve itself in tears. Squonk hunters are most successful on frosty moon-light nights, when tears are shed slowly and the animal dislikes moving about; it may then be heard weeping under the boughs of dark hemlock trees.

Mr. J.P. Wentling, formerly of Pennsylvania but now at St. Anthony Park, Minnesota, had a disappointing experience with a squonk near Mont Alto. He made a clever capture by mimicking the squonk and inducing it into a hop sack, in which he was carrying it home, when suddenly the burden lightened and the weeping ceased. Wentling unslung the sack and looked in. There was nothing but tears and bubbles.

Meanwhile, in deepest Surrey...

If we compare the original 1910 text with the lyrics of the song, it's pretty obvious where Messrs Banks & Rutherford got their inspiration:

Lacrimacorpus Dissolvens

Like father like son
Not flesh nor fish nor bone
A red rag hangs from an open mouth.
Alive at both ends but a little dead in the middle,
A-tumbling and a-bumbling he will go.
All the King's horses and all the King's men
Could never put a smile on that face.

He's a sly one, he's a shy one
Wouldn't you be too.
Scared to be left all on his own.
Hasn't a friend to play with, the Ugly Duckling
The pressure on, the bubble will burst before our eyes.
All the while in perfect time
His tears are falling on the ground

Go a little faster now, you might get there in time.

Mirror mirror on the wall,
His heart was broken long before he ever came to you.
Stop your tears from falling,
The trail they leave is very clear for all to see at night
all to see at night.

In season, out of season
What's the difference when you don't know the reason.
In one hand bread, the other a stone.
The Hunter enters the forest.
All are not huntsmen who can blow the huntsman's horn
By the look of this one you've not got much to fear.

Here I am, I'm very fierce and frightening
Come to match my skill to yours.
Now listen here, listen to me, don't you run away now
I am a friend, I'd really like to play with you.
Making noises my little furry friend would make
I'll trick him, then I'll kick him into my sack.
You better watch out... You better watch out.

I've got you, I've got you, you'll never get away.

Walking home that night
The sack across my back, the sound of sobbing on my shoulder.
When suddenly it stopped,
I opened up the sack, all that I had
A pool of bubbles and tears - JUST A POOL OF TEARS.

All in all you are a very dying race
Placing trust upon a cruel world.
You never had the things you thought you should have had
And you'll not get them now,
And all the while in perfect time
Your tears are falling on the ground.

Just a picture of tears

The visual representation of the squonk differs quite significantly between Coert du Bois' illustration for Cox's original story and the illustrations for the Genesis album by Colin Elgie for Hipgniosis, as you can see below:


Coert du bois' original


Genesis' Squonk with hunter by Colin Elgie for Hipgnosis

It's interesting to see the differences between the two, especially as lyrics were pretty faithful to the book. Of course the characters on the album had to fulfil a wider brief for the album art. Indeed taken from descriptions, du bois' Squonk is probably more accurate, though Elgie's representation is pretty iconic, if that phrase can be used for such a sad, morbid beast...