Les Animaux Fantastiques
Claude-Catherine Ragache and Marcel Laverdet
I seem to be stuck on sumptuously illustrated books recently. I mentioned this some time back and I thought I’d talk about it here. Les Animaux Fantastiques (LAF) is one of the first books on the subject of mythical creatures that I’ve read (came out 1997). It is also out of print, and has the misfortune of sharing a name with Fantastic Beasts in French. An English translation exists but I’ve never seen it. What’s so special about it then? Let’s find out.
You can purchase the book at extortionate prices from here. Hopefully elsewhere at better prices and/or in English as well.
LAF is a children’s storybook, to sell it short. It’s a collection of short stories that can be read by or to children, and they are all illustrated in beautiful color by the underrated Marcel Laverdet.
It also happens to be part of a myths and legends storybook series, each centered around a type of legend – Arthurian, Celtic, Egyptian, Greek… In this case, all the stories are about fantastic beasts in one way or another.
This is not a compendium of creatures, does not claim to be one, and is not being reviewed as such. But it does have a wide variety of worldwide creature stories.
Random. Creature stories all over the place. There’s no real organization to the book.
Easy reading in French, and presumably in English as well. The stories aren’t that startling or spectacular, but they read well and are nice retellings. Some of them are quite obscure too. They range from retellings of stories (Bellerophon and the Chimera), dramatizations of creature accounts (Boongurunguru), short accounts of various creatures, and so on.
The paintings are the main selling point of LAF, and they deliver in spades. They’re colorful, detailed, sometimes cartoony… In fact, I’ll break with ABC review tradition and let a modest sample of illustrations do the talking.
Tiddalik the frog (not explicitly named as such) about to explode.
An underwater lion of Africa. Incidentally, this tale inspired some research into odd-colored lions in folklore, but the original folktale collected by Frobenius and Fox in African Genesis (1999) makes no mention of the lions being blue. The blue color is an authorial addition, sorry to say.
The dreaded Boongurunguru of the Solomon Islands and its demon horde of boars.
A Ziph (Ziphius) attacking a sea serpent.
A Trolual, with a giant Scandinavian lobster lurking off-camera.
Creature overload! Phoenix, Unicorn, Vouivre, and… Chipique? Chipekwe, maybe? Odd spelling, and even odder artistic license employed – the text describes it as having the head of a crocodile on a snake’s body!
The Malebete or Troussepoil, getting, erm, what-for.
There’s a lot of obscure creatures in there, but no literature cited. Which means that I had to grow up knowing those things but not where they came from, and which led me in turn to finding a lot of great sources. There are also some strange interpretations (blue lions, tengus as firebirds…)
Good for a children’s book, less so for research.
Lovely, lovely, lovely. I love the pictures in this, I would definitely rate it as one of the creature books that got me into creatures. But it’s not particularly academic, does not cite sources, and makes some errors. I give it 4/5, commutable to 3/5 or 5/5 depending on how strict or generous I’m feeling. Great introduction to the world of fantastic beasts though.