Friday, November 23, 2012

Conlanging for Beginners: Building a Naming Language for Your Fantasy Novel

[Follow this up with an addendum: Conlanging for Beginners, Some Things to Avoid]       

As a member of the Language Creation Society and of the Yahoo conculture forum, I've been discussing world-building and conlang-building lately.  I've also joined the forum at the excellent website Mythic Scribes, which is subtitled "The Art of Fantasy Storytelling."  They have many resources available, including a thread on building conlangs for your book.  Since I've composed two conlangs and several naming languages for my writings, I thought a post drawing upon my own experiences as a beginner might help out other beginners.
       First, let me stress that you don't need to be a professor of linguistics to write a conlang.  A lot of the members of the LCS are just that; they know every subtlety of language and they know  the lingo.  They're so learned that they can be a little intimidating, I'll confess.  I'm not a professional linguist, but I have studied Spanish, French, and German (French is the one I pursued the most deeply) and when I was cataloging books as a librarian, I dabbled in several other languages, including Russian, other Slavic languages, and Swedish (catalog librarians have to be able to handle any language -- there are manuals to help you do this).  I also investigated Hebrew a little bit at one point.  I've always been fascinated by languages and syntax.  If you find these subjects tedious and you never took a beginning language in high school and you barely squeaked through high school English and can't remember a thing about its structure, you may not be very successful at writing conlangs.  It's possible to get somebody else to write one for you if you're serious.
       However, if all you need is a naming language (a minimal conlang that consists simply of sounds thrown together, without contructing any syntax), you can still manage to do that convincingly.  Let's assume you're setting out to write a fantasy laid in an imaginary world where nobody ever heard of English.  You may have several different countries and several different peoples.  These peoples probably speak different languages, but you can have them all speak a common language -- a language of diplomacy, say -- in which case you can just render everything in English and be done with it. 
       But even then, you will have many names that remain in the languages of those countries.  You need names for the countries themselves and their citizens, for some of their cities, and for other places like rivers or mountain ranges.  You might also find yourself needing names of foods and flowers and minerals and gods and philosophical concepts. You can just unsystematically make up nonsense words for these, or you can try to systematically diffentiate the several languages of your countries.
       One way to do this is to make up a system of phonology for each language.  Just some notes will serve (I'm avoiding the International Phonetic Alphabet here):  Let's say the country of Talasu speaks Talasian.  So you decide that what makes the language different is that it has no voiced fricatives. 
       What is a voiced fricative, you say?  In a voiced consonant the vocal cords vibrate, in an unvoiced consonant, the vocal cords do not vibrate.  Here is a list of voiced fricatives in English (with examples): v (as in van), th (as in then), z (as in zip), zh (as in pleasure).  The corresponding unvoiced fricatives are f (as in fan), th (as in thin), s (as in sip), and sh (as in pressure).   Say them out loud and you'll hear and feel the difference.
       Thus you would be able to milk a little comedy by making a name (e.g., Zazavi) in a language that uses voiced fricatives.  A native of Talasu would pronounce the word "Sasafi" and might get teased about it, or he might be discriminated against because his speech patterns reveal where he comes from, thus becoming a shibboleth.
       From the rules, you know that the word "Talasian" will not be pronounced "Talazhian" but "Talassian."  But this introduces another point.  If you make the language "Talasian," you are making use of an English suffix -ian, which we use frequently in words like Italian, Indian, Canadian, Australian, etc.  Suffixes and prefixes like -ian  or -ed or un- are called morphemes (an indivisible basic particle, a building block for a word).
       Your imaginary people would never build their words using English morphemes, so you might want to call your language Talasunta (where the suffix -nta means "speech" or "language.")  Or you could call it Nis-Talashu (where "nis" means "language" and "Talashu" is a genitive case, thus making the word mean "Language of Talasu."  In your other countries' languages, if you needed a genitive case, you would construct it differently. 
       For my purposes here, I'll call the language "Talasunta."
       I find I can't write even about a naming language without getting into some minor linguistic terminology. But I hope you get my point -- set a few phonetic rules, make them vary among your languages, and don't use any morphemes (basic word particles) that are found in English.

       Now, I'll confess -- I have usually violated the rule of devising the phonology first!  I've always just thrown a bunch of sounds together to start with.  And I've gotten in trouble, too.  When I started writing "The Termite Queen," I had to name my dying termite right off (see sample chapters 1 and 2 on my other blog, Ruminations of a Remembrancer.) because the first line in the book is "My name is ... "  So I blithely thought, "What would be a good name?  I know!  Ti'shra!"  And I wrote "My name is Ti'shra." Then when I got to working out the details of the language, I thought, "So what does 'Ti'shra' mean?  I know!  Sweet Flowers!  Lovely!  Perfect name for this harmless little creature who gets abducted by aliens!" 
       But then I thought, "So 'flowers' is plural.  What element of the name makes it plural?  I know!  In the Shshi language, prefixing sh- makes a plural, just like with the word 'Shshi.'  You have one Shi, two Shshi."  And I stuck myself with that system.  Unfortunately, in English the combination of sh plus certain consonants doesn't occur and so leads to difficulties of pronunciation.  When we get the Shshi word "shza'zei|" for example, which means "little ones," you're likely to spit all over your computer trying to pronounce it!   Other tough combinations are sh+f, sh+d, sh+h, sh+j ... you get my point. 
       So another rule is, try to think about the consequences of a rule before you set it in stone!

       Names often mean something, like my "Ti'shra," and all words derive from older roots, so you have to decide -- do my names of people, provinces, cities, mountains, rivers, etc., have meanings apart from themselves?  If so, you need to decide how the component parts fit together.  Maybe the country of Talasu has a range of mountains called the Black Jaws (obviously you're going to make something sinister happen there!)  "Jaw" becomes "frago," "black" is "nat."  You decide that in Talasunta, the adjectives follow the modified word, as in French or Spanish, so your mountain range becomes the "Fragonat." 
       At that point you should begin making a vocabulary list -- extremely important, because there is no way you can remember every word you've used, and as your book gets longer and you create more words, you'll never be able to find them again.
      You should also write out every decision you make regarding syntax, like the rules for placement of adjectives, for how to construct plurals and genitive case, etc. 

       What if you want the people in your world to sometimes speak privately, not using the common language?  You want someone to overhear a few phrases in Talasunta.  You can construct just a few rules and usually you can come up with something that will work.  That's what I did in the beginning with !Ka<tá, the Bird language spoken by my Prf. A'a'ma, the avian alien that plays such an important role in "The Termite Queen."  Mostly what I constructed were expletives (birds apparently curse a lot!) but there are some full sentences, too.   In Chapter 2, he says, "Prf. Jerardo ali ♫hi ♫ko’ó∙wa gi !i po∙atré]” and Kaitrin humorously upbraids him, "Tió’otu!  That’s not nice!  But what’s going on?  You surely didn’t go to all the trouble to contact me just to make fun of one of our colleagues.”
        I don't tell the reader of the book what Prf. A'a'ma's insult meant, but I'll reveal it here: "Prf. Jerardo has dung beetles in his head."  When I first wrote the book, I decided on the English of what I wanted him to say and then I just cooked up some words that sounded like birds might twitter them -- I had done nothing on the phonology yet.  I did come up with some non-English sounds and some characters to represent them, like ∙, which is a cough, and ♫, which is a warble and, as a prefix, makes words plural.  
       But this remark did require devising a third person singular present tense form of the verb "to have."  In English, "to have" is an irregular verb.  Most languages have some irregular verbs, but I decided that in !Ka<tá, "to have, to possess" is regular.  I don't remember whether at that point I decided on a form for the infinitive, which would be "khe'ali."  I think I just  said, "OK, 'ali' sounds good for 'he has'" and went from there. 
       But again, I kept careful notes on what I'd done -- I made a little table of verb forms and started by filling in the 3rd person singular masculine present tense.  At first I had just two or three entries, but later it grew to include all possible forms and tenses and aspects and moods ...  So I stress again, keep records on all grammatical decisions! 

       Now I'll construct an example of Talasunta: The hero hides behind the curtain and he overhears two men talking in that language, which he doesn't understand.  You could just write, "so the Prince rushed off to find the Ambassador, who spoke Talasunta, and repeated the words as near as he was able.  The Ambassador was horrified at what he heard ... "
        But it would be much better this way: "The Prince overheard two men speaking in Talasunta, but all he could catch was "Asolya dimerumu chinsa."  A few moments later, he was consulting the Ambassador, who spoke the native tongue.  And the diplomat was horrified.  "He said, 'We plan to kill her at dawn'!"  That enhances the realism of the story.
       In this language, the subject pronoun is suffixed to the root of the verb, so "asolu" means "to plan" and "asolya" means "we plan."  Infinitives end in -u, so "dimeru"  is "to kill" and "mu" is the objective case of the third person feminine pronoun, which is suffixed to the full infinitive.  "Chin" means "dawn" and the suffix "-sa" is a postposition (the language doesn't have prepositions) meaning "at the time of."
       As you can see, if a conlang, even just a naming language, is done right, there are multifold complications!  But you know what?  Writing a conlang is the most fun of anything in the world, for anybody to whom language is fascinating and not a tedious bore!  Actually, I got quite interested in Talasunta while I was writing this, but conlangs can be very time-consuming, and so I don't think you'll ever learn any more about that language!
Summation of How to Write a Naming Language
  • Set up a system of speech sounds (phonology) for each of your languages in order to differentiate them.
  • Never use any morphemes (basic word particles) that are taken directly from in English, or for that matter from any other Earth language. That is, you could use the syllable, but it can't have the same meaning as it does in Earth languages.
  • Try to think about the consequences of a decision before you make it (and that's harder than it sounds!) But this is important, because going back and changing a whole language structure is almost impossible.
  • As you construct words, make a vocabulary list, preferably in two directions, Talasunta to English and English to Talasunta.
  • Keep careful records of rules of syntax, so you won't put adjectives after nouns on p.6 and before nouns on p.300.  (And parenthetically, don't use the same grammatical structure for all your languages.)
  • And if you can work it out, use syntax that resembles English or other Earth languages as little as possible (that's one of the tougher rules to follow, unless you're more familiar than I am with all the languages of the Earth). 
       When I started this, I had intended to talk about the naming language in "Monster Is in the Eye of the Beholder," but I got sidetracked.  Maybe I'll write about that in a later post!


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Guest Post: Insects, Folklore, and Bugfolk, by Fel Wetzig

Fel Wetzig outdid herself on this post!  I hope you enjoy it!
There are references to termites here that I definitely will have to research!
       When I was asked by Lorinda to do a folklore segment on insects, I didn't really know where to start. I know a few scattered beliefs about insects. For example, a single cricket chirping in a house where a cricket has never been heard before is a sign of an impending death, and Vampires are associated with the death head moth ( But, folklore involving insects is varied and widespread.  
       Consider the fact that these creepy crawlies live all around us, and whether we realize it or not they impact human activity on a regular basis—competing for resources, carrying disease, serving scholarly scientific pursuits, and even providing resources. It's no wonder that some of them have captured our imaginations. In fact, a field of study, cultural entomology, is targeted specifically at studying the role of insects in human affairs.
       Most people who have read widely or watched movies or television are familiar with the use of insect behavior as a surrogate or symbol for human relationships. The literary use of insects as subjects of entertainment or bugfolk includes humanized insects that talk or dress like humans. Bugfolk appear in nearly every literary and art form and include Jiminy Cricket, as well as the characters of A Bug's Life and The Ant Bully. This mechanism allows writers to use insects in human-like roles, usually to make a statement about the human condition and to teach people something about themselves.
       These representations are nothing new, throughout history, insects have symbolized important aspects of the world, provided teaching examples through their behavior and traits and have been objects on which humans have projected qualities essential to the framework of human ideology and social structure.
       The most famous insect used in mythology is the scarab—Egyptian symbol of the sun god Khepera and also associated with the creator god Atum. The scarab was believed to be responsible for moving the sun across the sky, as well as representing the soul emerging from the body, which lent to its association with mummies. The scarab likeness was found almost everywhere in Egyptian art and jewelry.

Many creation myths involve insects:
The Hopis explained the origin through the Spider Grandmother
Yagua Indians of Peru attributed Amazon River to wood-eating insects
Jicarilla Apaches of New Mexico attribute fire to a mythical campfire ignited by fireflies
Cherokee and Cochiti creation myths include beetles
Hindus represent the force that created the transient world with a spider in the center of a web (a spinner of illusion)
Papago and Pima Legends mention termites in their creation stories
The mantis was a god of creation in Bushman legends

Insects played a major role in many important legends around the world:
Insects were mentioned throughout the Popul Vul—Yellowjackets were used as weapons by the Quiche and Fireflies were used by Hunahpu and Xbalanque who later became the sun and full moon. They used the insects as false lights to deceive sentries of the underworld.
The guardians of the four cardinal points in Warao cosmology include arboreal termites, 2 kinds of bees, and wasps
Xochiquetzal the Aztec goddess of beauty love and flowers; patron of domestic labor; and symbol of the soul and dead was represented by the swallowtail butterfly
Itzpapalotl the Aztec mother deity and goddess of human sacrifice, war, and travelers was represented by the saturniid moth
TschunWan was the Chinese insect lord over crop pests
Babylonian legend included scorpion men
The Hopi had several insect spirits which were personified in the form of Kachina dolls

       Observations of insect metamorphosis led many cultures to equate such changes to the life cycle usually equating an adult insect with the soul. Some believe this association led to the imaginings of beings in the afterlife with wings.
       Through other observations, cultures found other traits among insects that they admired or scorned. Some insects were adopted as totem animals, forging a strong link between the organism and human kinship.

Social insects like ants, termites, and bees represent desired qualities—unity, cooperation, and industriousness
Butterflies and moths are very commonly used, but in varied contexts—sometimes they symbolize spirits and souls
Moths are often used to represent the soul's search for truth because they are attracted to light
Flies most frequently play negative roles, symbolizing evil, pestilence, torment, and disease; as a result they have come to be associated with evil entities and devils
The emblem of the Roman city Ephesus was the honey bee—their "Great Mother" was also known as the "Queen Bee"
42 states currently have an official state insect—17 states use the honey bee
Insects have played an important role in almost every culture. Because of their wide usage and varied associations, it is difficult to adequately summarize their roles. If you're interested in learning more on the subject, the Cultural Entomology Digest ( is a wonderful resource.
About the Author
Fel Wetzig is a paranormal writer and folklore enthusiast who spends most of the day arguing with the “Peasants,” with whom she shares her blog, aptly named The Peasants Revolt (

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Woe Is Me! Giveaway Is Over! But ...

... the 99 cent price on "Monster Is in the Eye of the Beholder" remains in effect through Friday, Nov. 16.  That's almost free!  After Friday, this particular piece probably will be set at $1.99 for a long time, so best to take advantage of this offer now!

       I also wanted to say that I'm working on a new post for this blog that will address how to go about writing a naming language for a work of fantasy or science fiction.  Actually, I've been so distracted by this promo that I haven't been able to get focused on the new post, but I promise I will!

       I'm also considering resurrecting a story I wrote back in the dark ages -- ca. 1978.  It's pure fantasy -- completely different from anything I write today.  But it's one of the best things I wrote back then.  It's only about 3800 words --  32 typed pages.  Yes, indeed, it's a typescript; those were pre-computer days.  Since I don't own a scanner, I'll have to type it into the computer, but for something that short, it's not a real problem.  It will require some editing.  The title is (unless I decide to change it) "The Blessing of Krozem."  (Hmm -- I just thought -- maybe "Gilzara's Blessing" would work better.)  I could envision publishing it on ebook only as one of those little 99 cent affairs.  Maybe I should try Kindle Select for it.  It'll probably sell better than my later, much more substantial and serious books!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Anniversary Special & Giveaway! "Monster" Is One Year Old!

My novella "Monster Is in the Eye of the Beholder" was published on November 11, 2011 (11/11/11 -- easy to remember!) So Sunday is its first anniversary and in celebration I'm mounting a special on Kindle and on Smashwords. Starting Friday (November 9) and running through next Friday (November 16), the price will be reduced to 99 cents! I'd love to give you a lower price on the paperback with its pretty new cover, but that can't be done. However, for people who still prefer print (and I know there are many of you), the price is only $5.49.


If you would like to have a free Smashwords copy
of "Monster Is in the Eye of the Beholder,"
send me a Twitter Direct Message at any time
on Sunday (the anniversary) or Monday
(since Sunday is Veterans' Day)
Tell me "Yes, I'd like a free copy of Monster"!
If you're one of the first ten messages I receive,
I'll send you a return message with a coupon for a

I tweet @TermiteWriter


Here is a description of the book:
In this dark and edgy first-contact story, a team of anthropologists discovers a species of truly bizarre intelligent lifeforms called the Kal. The team consists of the leader, an experienced, highly respected female Professor of Xenoanthropology and Linguistics; a young female biomedical specialist; and a still younger male, an expert in alien artifacts. Each team member reacts in a different way to the Kal, building toward a disturbing climax and a conclusion with an unsettling twist of perspective.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Bird Myths, Pt. 1: Garuda, King of the Birds

When I was writing "The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars," (see the Prologue and first three chapters here), I made Capt. Robbin Nikalishin a birder. What better qualification for the man who will head up the mission that encountered the first intelligent lifeform known to humanity -- and who happened to be big birds? During the mission out, there was a lot of boring downtime and one way the crew entertained itself was by telling bird myths, each crewmember telling tales from his or her own culture. Now, this section will be cut or drastically emended if I ever get that monster ready for publication, but I did too much research and had too much fun writing it to let it all disappear, so what better place to display it than on a blog devoted partially to myth in literature?
The following has been abridged.  I left in the Captain's preamble about Survivor because it ties in with the book’s “Prologue.”

       Robbie, coffee cup in hand, stood up at a vacant table at the front of the assemblage and banged his spoon for order.  “Your Captain cooked up this get-together today so he could inflict his fascination with birds on all of you.  It’s show-and-tell time, children! – and I’ve got the visual aids to prove it.”  He opened the big port hidden in the bulwark behind him and displayed a short vid of a martial eagle soaring over the savanna and swooping down to land on a branch and mantle fiercely.  “Later we’re going to hear fantastic tales of mythological birds, but I don’t know any of those, so I’m going to tell a tale that really happened – it’s become for me almost mythical in its implications.”
And he proceeded to speak of the martial eagle Survivor and how he was brought to the Islands for breeding purposes, only to escape and be shot in both wings for attacking newborn lambs in Kent.  And he told how a small boy had viewed that crippled but unbowed eagle in the Lunden Zoo and been spiritually drawn to him, and how, when his own wings had been clipped, an older version of that boy had re-experienced that kinship.  “And the odd thing is,” concluded Robbie, “two years ago, while I was visiting the Zoo right before I left Britan for the Phenix Project, I ran into the ornithologist who had rescued Survivor and he introduced me to the vet who had been involved, who now teaches avian surgery at NWQC.  I’ve become fast friends with both of those fine men.  If that’s not a strange coincidence, I don’t know what is!”
And Robbie added, “That’s the end of my own presentation …  please, please – no applause necessary!  But I have another visual aid … ”  And he tapped the remote programmer and displayed a scanned image of his Garuda picture.  Most of the crew stared in befuddlement at the bizarre representation.  “Lt. Cmdr. Das, the floor is yours!”

I have no idea if I'm violating copyright, since
I copied this some years ago from a Japanese website that's
no longer available.  However, since this is the picture
 on which I based the description, I'm presenting it here!
       The Captain handed the remote to his Ops Officer and took a seat.  A shyly smiling Nani sat down on the edge of the table.  “All of you know I’m from Ind, and some of you know I was brought up with remnant traditions of the Indu religion.  One time the Captain asked me if the Indus had any bird gods and one thing led to another until he found the picture you’re looking at here ...
“The bird-man on the port there is named Garuda and the blue chap with the four arms who’s riding on his back is Vishnu.  Vishnu is one of the three principal Indu gods and Garuda is his vahanam, or mount.  When I was home over the Midwinter holiday, I talked to my grandmother and one of my uncles, who are both more into Indu culture than the rest of my family.  They helped me work up my tale and they got me into what we call in Ind the Data Basement, certain underground links that EarthGov knows exist but chooses to overlook.  From that I got these additional pictures that I’m going to show you now.  Depictions of Garuda are quite common wherever Induism influenced the culture over millennia.  How do you like this one?”  And Nani flashed up a frontal view of a sculpted figure squatting on clawed feet, with a loincloth, impressive spread wings and man-arms, and a huge head with an intimidating beak.  He also had pointed ears adorned with large, round earrings and he was painted a fiery orange and red.

This work has been released into the public domain
by its author, GourangaUK at the wikipedia project.
 This applies worldwide.
 There was astonished laughter and Robbie exclaimed, “Holy cry, Nani!  That’s Garuda?  He doesn’t look a thing like the pleasant little fellow in my icon!”
“Well, Garuda can be benevolent, but he can also be really fierce – in fact, he’s considered the very symbol of fierceness and speed and martial ability.  Here’s another interpretation – a painted miniature from the 18th century.  The female figure there is Lakshmi, Vishnu’s wife, riding on Garuda along with her husband.”

From Wikimedia Commons
“Oh, so your gods are like the Griek ones,” said Robbie, “with spouses and families and all that.  In this one, Garuda doesn’t have the claws, but his head is pretty impressive.”
“Not all the iconography depicts exactly the same characteristics,” said Nani.  “I’ll show you one more – it’s a favorite of mine.  It’s from some ancient temple – I’m not sure which … ”
I copied this some years ago from
but the specific link is no longer available. My notes say,
"Picture source not given."  So I have no way of knowing
if it's copyrighted, and I don't know where the sculpture is
located.  But it's too great a depiction to pass up!
This image was a relief carving of a husky man-bird, with thighs like barrels, heavily girded loins, clawed feet, and a beaked head that resembled a snapping turtle more than an avian.  The figure’s huge arms were hoisting a giant snake above his head.  The wings and feathered headdress were intricately engraved. 
       "Yeah, that one really projects a sense of power!” said Robbie.  “Why is he shown with a snake in some of these?”
“You’ll find out as I tell my tale.  You understand, the story of Garuda has a lot of variations, so I synthesized my version out of elements my grandmother and uncle provided.  I’ve never really studied any Indu literature.  I can speak and read a little Indi, but Sanskrit is way beyond me.
 “Garuda came from an impressive family.  His father was Kashyapa, who was one of the great Sages and a grandson of the Creator-God Brahma.  Kashyapa had many wives – in fact, he married a set of thirteen sisters – but the two that concern us were named Kadru and Vinata.  Kadru asked the gods to give her many offspring, but Vinata wanted only a few as long as they were more powerful than her sister’s.  Now, it happened that instead of bearing live children, these two females laid eggs … ”
“Really?” interrupted Robbie.  “So they were birds, too?”
“Well, I don’t think so,” said Nani, obviously perplexed, “but as mythical beings, I suppose they wouldn't necessarity have to be like humans … ”
  “Anyway, however it was, Kadru hurried to lay about a thousand eggs, while Vinata laid only two.  Kadru’s soon began to hatch, and what came out of them were snake creatures.  We call them … ”
“The Nagas!” cried Lt. Chay in amazed recognition.  “I’m a Kampucheean – a Kemer – and we believe ourselves to be descended from a Naga king!  The Seven-Headed Naga was the symbol of our nation in the days before Unification!  The seven heads represented the seven races of Kemer.  Did you know that, Lt. Commander?”
“No, I didn’t,” said Nani.  “Like I said, I’ve never studied this very extensively.  And, yes, we call the creatures who emerged the ‘Nagas.’  They are sort of a serpent-human mixture.  They can be good or evil, depending on the story.
“Vinata was jealous of how fast her sister’s eggs were hatching while hers were still incubating, and she thought she would hurry things along by breaking one of them open.  And out came a shining, red-colored bird whom they named ‘Aruna,’ or ‘reddish.’  But there was a problem.  Because his egg had hatched prematurely, his body hadn’t completely developed and he had deformed legs.  Some say he had no feet and others say he had no thighs.  But just the same, he could fly, and in a whole different story he went on to become the Charioteer of Surya, the Sun God.
“When he first hatched, Aruna was very upset at what his mother had done to him and he cursed her, predicting that she was doomed to be enslaved.  But then he relented and said that if she would allow the second egg to develop for the proper length of time, the being who would spring from it would save her.  And Vinata was wise enough to follow his advice.
“Now here is how Vinata came to be enslaved.  Her evil sister Kadru engaged her in an argument over whether the celestial steed that had sprung from the churning of the primeval Ocean of Milk (and that is yet another tale) was completely white or had a black tail.  And Kadru made a bet with her sister – whichever one of them was wrong would be enslaved to the other.  Vinata had seen the horse before and she was positive its tail was pure white, and yet when they went to look, it did indeed have a black tail!  The truth was that Kadru had ordered her black Naga children to intermingle themselves in the tail and make it appear black.  And so Vinata became Kadru’s slave through deceit.
“In the meantime, Vinata’s second egg had hatched into an astonishing creature.  It was, of course, Garuda.  Some say he burst forth as a lightning flash and others say he showed himself as a raging conflagration big enough to consume the world.  It scared even the gods themselves, and so Garuda obligingly made himself smaller and took on a milder form.  Then he was seen to have a golden body, a white face, and red wings.  The beak, wings, and talons were those of an eagle but the body and arms were those of a man.  He was so large that men could hide in his plumage and he blocked out the sun when he flew; his wingspan was measured in kilometers.  He could fly faster than the wind; indeed, when his wings flapped, they made winds of cyclonic force, and his strength was such that he could tear up trees by the roots and carry them off!”
Everybody was hooting at this hyperbole, but Nani shook her finger at them.  “Well, it shouldn’t surprise you that myths tend to exaggerate things!  Besides, it’s said that before the hatching of Garuda Kashyapa was making a sacrificial offering for the purpose of increasing his progeny, and the King of the Gods Indra – another of Kashyapa’s sons – laughed at the assembled Sages, who were having trouble carrying in a log of wood that Indra could throw around like a toothpick.  So the Sages plotted to make a son of Kashyapa stronger and more powerful than Indra himself and, what’s more, to make him able to change his shape.  This scared Indra, who feared losing his kingship, and he begged his father to offer an apology on his behalf.  The Sages were mollified and decreed that the offspring should still be a King, but he would be King of the Birds.  And that is what we call Garuda today and why he is always depicted with a crown; and he was indeed born with a shape-shifter’s abilities.  And he had six sons himself, from whom all birds are descended. 
“Now, here is how Garuda came to be Vishnu’s mount.  Garuda sometimes didn’t have enough to occupy his spare time, so one day he flew up and seized the moon and hid it under his wings.  This act of vandalism annoyed the Gods and especially Indra, who still resented his sibling’s power.  The King of the Gods led an attack on the big bird-man, but Garuda was able to overcome them all except for Vishnu.  Now Vishnu had always admired Garuda’s power and speed in spite of the bird-man’s tendency to wreak mischief, and so after Garuda had agreed to restore the moon to its proper setting, Vishnu made him his steed.  After that, Garuda had no more problems with too much leisure!
 “Now I must return to the part of the tale concerning the curse on Garuda’s mother.  Even fearsome as Garuda was when he was first hatched, he emitted a loud, concerned chirp and ran immediately to his mother to see if there was any way he could help her.  She told him about how her sister Kadru had enslaved her through deceit and she asked him to help appease her.  Garuda agreed, but actually he was furious, and he resolved to do something to end this outrageous situation.
“Now I should make clear that this next adventure took place before the incident of the stolen moon.  It happened that one day Kadru wanted to take her serpent children for a holiday on an island, and she demanded that Garuda and Vinata carry them there.  Vinata carried Kadru while Garuda carried all thousand of the Nagas.  Yes, that does seems to imply that Vinata had wings, so maybe she was something like a bird.  But however that was, Garuda decided this was a good opportunity to kill all the Nagas and he flew up near the sun so that the cold-blooded snakes would be roasted to death.  But they cried out to their mother and she prayed to Indra for help, and the enemy of Garuda sent a torrential rainfall that cooled the Nagas and saved them.  Garuda was forced to set them down on the island.
“But once there, according to a prearranged plan with their mother, the Nagas seized Vinata and whisked her off to a demon-infested region called Patala.  There they imprisoned her and stood guard over her.  Garuda was enraged, but he could see that the curse was too strong for him to overcome the Nagas by physical power alone, so he decided to try negotiation.  He went to his Naga half-brothers and asked them what he had to do to free his mother from Kadru’s curse.  They told him that, if he would bring them a cup of amrita, they would release her in spite of their mother’s wishes.  Amrita is the elixir of immortality – what the Grieks call ‘ambrosia.’
“Garuda knew it would not be an easy ransom, because the gods jealously guarded this source of their own immortality.  But no amount of adversity could ever daunt the King of the Birds and so he set off for the celestial mountain where the amrita was kept.  The gods met him in full battle dress, but he scattered them all and arrived at the mountain’s gate.
“Garuda found this gate to be surrounded by a ring of flames that soared up to the sky.  He overcame this obstacle by taking the water of many rivers into his mouth and spitting it onto the fire to extinguish it. 
“Then at the gate itself, he discovered a great rotating wheel with sharp blades on its spokes that would cut to pieces anyone who tried to pass through.  Garuda solved that problem easily by exercising his shape-shifting abilities and making himself small enough to slip between the blades.
“And finally he reached the amrita only to discover that it was guarded by a pair of monstrous fire-spitting serpents.  These he defeated by fanning his wings and blowing dust into the serpents’ eyes, then attacking them and cutting them to bits with his sharp beak. 
“Quickly, Garuda seized the amrita in his beak, being careful not to swallow any of it, although surely he must have been tempted, for who doesn’t desire immortality and the status of a god?  He then flew as quickly as possible back toward Patala.  On the way he met Vishnu, who didn’t attack him, having been favorably impressed by the bird-man from the moment of his hatching.  Instead, Vishnu made a bargain with him; because Garuda had refrained from consuming any of the amrita, Vishnu would give him immortality as a gift on condition that Garuda should become Vishnu’s mount sometime in the future.  Vishnu also warned Garuda that Indra and the other gods were lying in wait for him on his return path.
“Garuda flew on, prepared for the confrontation.  As soon as he came in sight of the gods’ army, Indra hurled a thunderbolt at him, but Garuda was able to dodge it.  Then he called out to Indra that he would like to negotiate a truce.  If he were allowed to deliver the amrita to the Nagas, he would contrive a way for the gods to get it back.  If the plot that he and Indra would concoct was successful, then in return the gods would have to allow Garuda and his descendents to take snakes as their primary food source
“Indra agreed to this and Garuda continued on his journey.  When he reached Patala and came into the presence of the Nagas, he laid the amrita on the grass in front of the overjoyed serpents, but he continued to hover over it, saying that he would release the amrita to them only after they had set his mother Vinata free.  Quickly the Nagas released their prisoner, who ran to take refuge among her son’s feathers. 
“At that moment, Indra, who had followed Garuda, rushed in with his warriors, seized the amrita, and made off with it.  Garuda flew away with his mother, leaving the Nagas wailing in despair behind him.
“However, a few drops of amrita remained on the grass.  The Nagas licked it up and this was enough to add them to the role of Immortals.  The substance was so potent that it split their tongues, and that is why to this very day all snakes have forked tongues.  And Garuda and his descendants became the implacable enemies of snakes; that is why so many of today’s birds are snake-eaters. 
“This was not the end of Garuda’s adventures, but it’s the last I’ll say about him right now.  I’ll add only that Aruna, the deformed charioteer of Indra, himself had two bird-sons – Garuda’s nephews – who performed great deeds in their own right.
“They were called Sampati and Jatayu.  When they were young, they would compete to see which of them could fly higher, but Jatayu overdid it and flew so near the sun that he seared his wings.  His brother saved his life by spreading his own wings between Jatayu and the sun, but in the process Sampati’s wings were destroyed and he was forced to live flightless for the rest of his life, like the eagle in your tale, Capt. Nikalishin.
“And later in Jatayu’s life, he performed a selfless act of courage that is narrated in my people’s epic the Ramayana.  When Rama’s wife Sita was abducted by the demon lord Ravana, Jatayu engaged the demon in battle in order to save her, but by that time he was old and although he fought with supernatural heroism, he couldn’t win.  Ravana tore off his wings and then escaped with Sita.  Rama soon arrived, but it was too late.  The mortally wounded Jitayu died in the hero’s arms and was deeply mourned.
“And that really is the end of my presentation.”  Nani looked self-conscious.  “I just hope I haven’t bored all of you too much.

You may have noticed that the tale of Garuda employs elements of the heroic epic as well as folklore.  Garuda is both noble hero and trickster, he makes a descent into the Underworld, and he’s a shape-shifter.
Here is one more picture that I didn't use in the text, but it has such a nice look to it that I thought I ought to share it with you, too!
This work has been released into the public domain by its author,
DoktorMax at the wikipedia project. This applies worldwide.
"I made this picture myself and release it into the public domain.
It is a photo of a 12th century sculpture in the
Thap Mam style of Champa. " 
I was going to add some bibliographical notes, but I find that a lot of my research notes (made several years ago) may not be accurate as to sources (this piece would never pass muster as a Master's thesis - LOL!)  If you want to learn more, I would suggest googling Garuda and various other names and allusions within the above text.