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A Chinese Bestiary

Richard E. Strassberg

The Shan Hai Jing is the seminal Chinese bestiary, in fact one of the most creature-packed creature books in existence! (It’s also where Borges got his Chinese fauna from) And if you’re in the unfortunate position of being unable to read Chinese, like myself, you’re going to need a translation. This is where Strassberg’s A Chinese Bestiary (ACB) comes in, and it delivers in spades.

You can get your grubby mitts on it here and here.

Scope

It’s the Shan Hai Jing. Need I say more? I do? Oh. It’s an English translation of the Guideways, with ample commentary and the original illusrations.

Once more, this is not a complete compendium of mythical creatures nor does it pretend to be. Its narrow focus is what makes it good.

Organization

Introductions and Notes frame the Shan Hai Jing translation, which is the meat of the book. The text is broken up by region and by creature, with each notable creature having its own number to identify it in the illustration and (in most cases) commentary. Straightforward and easy to use.

Text

It’s a translation of a classic Chinese text. And I don’t read Chinese, so I can’t comment on how good of a translation it is (Chinese-reading ABC readers should feel free to chime in with opinions, if any). But it’s written clearly, thoroughly referenced and footnoted.

Images

Black and white and simple enough, but most importantly they are the original illustrations. So what you’re seeing is what people at the time (or at least, one artist at the time) thought those creatures look like. As opposed to, you know, some teratologist with delusions of competence presenting a subjective interpretation…

Research

As mentioned above, there are references and notes for just about everything. As the Shan Hai Jing is itself an ur-reference, there is little need for more – but there is more! These range from folklore notes to Guo Pu’s commentaries and everything in between.

If it’s not academic enough for you, there’s always the massive Mathieu translation, which is extremely academic. Also it’s in French.

Summary

I can’t really sing the praises of this book enough. It’s good. Like Meeting with Monsters it has a (relatively) narrow subject and it uses that to excellent effect. Another must-have book for anyone with a passing interest in Chinese teratology.

5

Good news! I got the inside scoop on this ṣafat malarkey. I’d save it for the final ABC product, but I need to nip any misunderstandings in the bud before they get out of hand and people start labeling their giant sky cruisers with that name.

First, some breadcrumbing. The ṣafat bird (note the dot under the s – that’s a ص) seems to have originally come from (where else?) Rose’s Giants, Monsters, and Dragons, which in turn got it from Barber’s Dictionary, which itself obtained it from Lum’s Fabulous Beasts. I do not have that last book. Impasse.

I do, however, have access to the most powerful search engines known to humanity, and hey presto – looks like the ur-reference for the ṣafat is Hanauer’s Tales Told in Palestine.

Going by the title alone, it’s clear that the ṣafat is not an “Arabian” animal. In the text Azrael – the Angel of Death himself – shows off ṣafat eggshells as something that is a cause of death . He describes the ṣafat as a wonderful bird that never lands (no mention is given as to its size, so I can only assume it’s normal-sized and not huge). It even lays eggs in flight, and the young hatch before they reach the ground. But then they are often eaten by a shibah (described as resembling a badger-hyena cross. Zorilla? Aardwolf?), which then becomes rabid, goes mad, bites things, and gives Azrael more customers.

There you have it. Far from being a mere permaflier like the allerion or bird of paradise, it’s literally the cause of rabies.

Clarfication: the eggshells are eaten and cause rabies. The shibah/shibeh is the leopard (!).

For your entertainment and general reference, here is a complete list of ABC entries thus far. Note that Fearsome Critters was an entry without a picture, and also that I have Illhveli written up but not as an official entry.

A

A-mi’-kuk

Abúhukü

Agrippa

Aíǰe

Aksar

Alicanto

Aloés

Alp-luachra

Ambisiangulo

Amphisbaena

Animalito

Apep

Araǵanaqlta’a

Arragouset

Atui Koro Ekashi

Auñ Pana

Az’-i-wû-gûm Ki-mukh’-ti

B

Bakunawa

Balbal

Barcädžy Calh

Basilisk

Baxbakwalanuxsiwae

Beathach Mòr Loch Odha

Behemoth

Beisht Kione Dhoo

Biasd Na Srogaig

Bigorne

Binaye Ahani

Bingfeng

Bitoso

Bo

Bocarin

Bogey

Bonnacon

Boongurunguru

Bosch

Brethmechin

Bruch

Bulgu

Butatsch Cun Ilgs

C

Caladrius

Calopus

Camacrusa

Camphruch

Carbunclo

Carcolh

Caspilly

Catoblepas

Cenchris

Cerastes

Cherruve

Chicheface

Chimera

Chipfalamfula

Chonchón

Codrille

Colôrobètch

D

Danghu

Davalpa

Davy Jones

Devil-jack Diamond-fish

Devouring Gourd

Dijiang

Dipsas

Dodo

Dulhath

Dungavenhooter

Duphon

Dwarf

E

Each Uisge

Eintykára

Eloko

F

Falajitax

Fayette

Fearsome Critters

Fei

Flyðrumóðir

G

Gigelorum

Gold-digging Ant

Gremlin

Guariba-boia

H

Haakapainiži

Haemorrhois

Hidebehind

Hrökkáll

Hrosshvalur

Huayramama

I

Impundulu

Indombe

Indus Worm

Isiququmadevu

Isitwalangcengce

It

Ix-hunpedzkin

J

Jaculus

Jetin

K

Kăk-whăn’-û-ghăt Kǐg-û-lu’-nǐk

Kamaitachi

Kamikiri

Katthveli

Kayeri

Khodumodumo

Kori

Kranokolaptes

L

Lakúma

Lamia

Lange Wapper

Lavandière de Nuit

Lavellan

Lebraude

Lilyi

Llamhigyn y Dwr

Lolmischo

Lupeux

Lushu

Lyngbakur

M

Malebête

Mantabungal

Margot la Fée

Marool

Mastopogon

Mbielu-mbielu-mbielu

Melalo

Mi-ni-wa-tu

Mi’raj

Minceskro

Mourioche

Muirdris

Munuanë

Múshveli

N

Nauthveli

Númhyalikyu

Nunda

Nurikabe

Nyuvwira

O

Odontotyrannus

Okpe

Ompax

Onchú

Oókempán

Orabou

P

Păl-raí-yûk

Palis

Pareas

Peteu

Pilou

Polevik

Poreskoro

Prester

Puaka

Pyrallis

Q

Qasoǵonaǵa

Qinyuan

Qiongqi

Qiqirn

R

Rahara

Raiju

Rauðkembingur

Rolling-calf

Romŝiwamnari’

Roperite

Rukh

S

Sachamama

Sāmm-abraṣ

Ṣannāja

Sapo Fuerzo

Saratan

Sarmatian Sea Snail

Scarbo

Schilalyi

Scytale

Selamóðir

Seps

Serra

Shādawār

Shahmat al-Ard

Shoo Fly

Sinad

Sirānis

Skeljúngur

Skoffín

Skötumóðir

Stella

Stökkull

Stray Sod

Stymphalian Bird

Sverðhvalur

Swan Valley Monster

T

Tabib al-Bahr

Tapirê-iauara

Taumafiskur

Tçaridyi

Tçulo

Teelget

Tiddalik

Tlilcoatl

Tosetáx

Traîcousse

Trolual

Tsemaus

Tsenahale

Tsuchinoko

Tuyango

U

Umutwa

Usilosimapundu

Utelif

V

Vatnagedda

Vodyanoi

Vouivre

W

Whowie

X

Xi

Xicalcoatl

Xuangui

Y

Yakumama

Yamabiko

Yara-ma-yha-who

Yedua

Yeitso

Yohualtepoztli

Yuanat

Z

Zabraq

Zhubieyu

Ziphius

Zitiron

Wow! Thank you! Response to my Big Question has been overwhelmingly positive, so I’m working on getting the ball rolling for the ultimate version of ABC! I still have a few questions that I would like to ask you, dear readers, so bear with me.

Some things are more certain than others. Of note:

    • The final ABC product will have far more than what’s actually on the site. I’ve conspicuously left out a lot of big names (dragons, unicorns…) as well as lots more unknown creatures, so there’s no shortage of creatures to flesh out ABC.
    • Not only that, but the final version of ABC will have more artwork/sketches to supplement the ones that are already on the site. And, of course, all-new art for the new entries. I want even long-time readers to feel justified in making this purchase.
    • But based on the above two points, it will take a while to finish up the writing and illustration. The timespan depends on how much of my time I can afford to devote to the project.
    • As of now, my plans are for a physical copy. I do not have any current plans to make an ebook, but that might change with time.
    • As of now, I have been unable to secure a response from a literary agent (barring one painful experience) so it looks like crowdfunding is the way to go.

Other things are less certain, and here’s where I need your help. You don’t have to respond, I certain won’t think less of you if you don’t, but answering one or more of these questions will help me gauge how I should be attacking this problem.

  1. What size book would you want ABC to be, if it was physical? Options range from coffee-table to field guide and everything in between. Any book you can mention that approximates the desired volume?
  2. What kind of format would you prefer ABC to take? This ties in to the previous question – maybe you want a pocket-sized brick with entries in neat boxes. Or something, I’m not judging.
  3. Do you want a complete final ABC book, or a selectively incomplete book to expedite its creation and/or reduce its mass?
    1. What if I left stuff out (e.g. humanoids)?
    2. What if I made it in multiple volumes?
    3. What if I left out the illustrations? … nah, just kidding, but would a text-only Dictionary of Creatures be appealing to some readers?
  4. Would you want me to hire real illustrators and/or designers and/or technowizards to speed up the process?
  5. Do you have strong opinions on crowdsourcing? Any websites in particular you’d recommend (or recommend I avoid)?
    1. Reminder that I do not live in or belong to any of the Kickstarter-approved countries, so that’s definitely out.
  6. If crowdsourcing happens, anything you’d like to see as reward tiers besides increasing amounts of ABC copies?

As before, respond in whatever format seems fit to you, or not at all, and not all of the questions have to be answered either. All opinions are welcomed. ABC reserves the right to tactfully ignore select opinions.

Are you excited? I sure am!

Alright, so I said I was going to pause on new entries for the moment. And that I was working on something big. Or at least planning on working on something big. Working on planning on working on something big?

So here it is.

The big question.

Would there be interest in a printed book version of A Book of Creatures?

Just that. Further details forthcoming depending on response. Please answer and/or send feedback via your pick of email, tumblr, facebook, cell phone, word of mouth, Pony Express, telegram, and carrier pigeon. ABC values your opinion!

Once again, it’s time for ABC to take a well-deserved hiatus for new entries for the summer. But it’s not a complete stop, oh no! Just a pause on new content. Asides will come up sporadically. Wednesday “interludes” will still published. And I’m going to be working on something big… something that may change the face of teratology as we know it… stay tuned.

Nyuvwira

Variations: Inifwira

Nyuvwira

The Nyuvwira is an enormous snake restricted to the Chitipa District of Malawi. It is found in association with minerals, especially precious minerals of monetary value. It can also be found in the mines of South Africa. It is known as Inifwira in Sukwa.

A nyuvwira has eight heads and is the largest snake in the world. It generates electricity and lights at night. It lives underground, which is fortunate as it is extremely toxic. When it moves (about every 200 years) it causes death and disaster. Airplanes flying over a nyuvwira crash.

The skin of a nyuvwira, held in one’s pocket, prevents planes from moving and is a powerful charm for wealth. To kill a nyuvwira one must construct a spiral hut and line it with razors, then entice the snake in by ringing bells. It will crawl over the razors and cut itself to death.

References

Hargreaves, B. J. (1984) Mythical and Real Snakes of Chitipa District. The Society of Malawi Journal, Vol. 37, No. 1, pp. 40-52.