The Questing Beast is one of those critters who seem to only exist in literature—but it starts with Q so . . . . .
It appears in Arthurian legend as a dragon-like creature with the head of a snake, the body of a leopard and the haunches of a hart. Its bite is poisonous with no antidote save intervention by one who knows the ancient religion. The curing spell requires a sacrifice of a life to save a life.
According to Arthurian lore, Arthur dreamed of the beast and woke to found the quiet lake beside which he had fallen asleep turned to boiling black mire. A sulfurous odor rose from the water and the noise of a thousand hounds came from the forest. He battled the beast and was bitten. Merlin traveled to the Blessed Realm where he arranged to sacrifice himself for Arthur.
The beast represents incest, chaos, and murder. According to Merlin, it was borne of a human mother who slept with a devil. The woman, a princess, was in love with her own brother and the devil promised he would sort that out. Devils are tricksy though. He bewitched the princess to accuse the brother of rape. Their father had the boy torn apart by dogs while the princess watched.
Only one Questing Beast can exist at a time with a new one tearing the old one apart at birth. Some speculate that the legend of the Beast Glatisant (Barking Beast) is simply a report of an ancient sighting of a kelpie or lake monster but most discussions of the beast are literary and deadly dull—all about the metaphorical significance in Arthurian legend and in British history. In the Arthur legend, it serves as a metaphor for the incest and violence that tore apart Arthur’s kingdom.