You might have noticed that I haven’t been posting new creatures on ABC in a while. I did say I was going on hiatus for the summer, but this one’s been going on for a suspiciously long time.

And you’d be right.

ABC was planned to as a book right from the start – I mean, it’s A Book of Creatures, for Pete’s sake. And while it’s been a wonderful few years writing and illustrating and posting on WordPress, I’ve realized that sooner or later I’m going to have to stop updating.

So the creature entries are going to stop.

“B-b-but why?” you may well ask. That’s a perfectly reasonable question! I will no longer add new creatures online to make ABC more attractive to potential publishers and, more importantly, to you. Yes, you, good readers, are the reason why I write and paint and research. And if I want to make a book, I will not have you pay cash for a physical copy of what you’re getting on this site for free.

Regardless of whether it ends up printed by an established publishing house or if I go the route of crowdfunding, you can rest assured that, in addition to what you see here, you will be getting a lot more entries in the final book. I’m foreseeing more than twice what’s already online. And you can sleep easy knowing that it will all have the ABC Seal Of Approval that guarantees Quality of Research, Writing, and Art.

The other question is – what will become of this site? I do intend to continue updating this. There are plenty of book reviews and modern monster appreciations to be done, and now that I’ve committed myself to getting the book rolling, I will be adding new developments here as they happen.

This is a major new chapter for ABC. The fun’s just starting, so hang on and watch this space!

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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.

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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

Okay, I’m cheating a little. Those aren’t exactly obscure or modern – in fact, they’re some of the best-known, oldest, and most enduring mythical creatures. But they are unique renditions of those creatures, and have influenced modern views of them in surprising ways, including providing the answer to a mystery that has plagued DnD scholars.

In its April 23, 1951 issue, LIFE Magazine ran a short (4 pages) article titled “Mythical Monsters”, subtitled “These Beasts Existed Only In Man’s Imagination”. It featured seven mythical creatures illustrated by another of my favorite illustrators, Rudolf Freund (I really need to do an effortpost on LIFE artists including Lewicki and Freund). They are beautiful, detailed, and feature some… unusual design choices.

Su

The depiction of the su is representative of Freund’s approach. Reading a mustached woman’s face, palm-frond tail, tiger stripes, frog babies, and ample udders into the description is definitely a first.

Griffin

The griffin, on the other hand, is standard, although modern artists would give it eagle’s forelimbs. Pedants would argue that this isn’t a griffin but an opinicus. They’re wrong.

Yale

The yale in particular looks like it could actually exist, and I love the dynamic pose it’s in.

Basilisk

Going to go out on a limb here and claim that this here is the reason why so many basilisks today are drawn as lizards instead of little crowned snakes or freaky reptochickenmutants. Nothing in the text suggest anything lizardy either, so Freund may have been elaborating here.

Disclaimer: the break in its middle is because it’s spread across two pages.

Gorgon

Looks familiar? That’s right, LIFE used Topsell’s gorgon (itself a renamed catoblepas). In turn, I humbly suggest that this was the inspiration for Dungeons and Dragons’ gorgon. You can stop worrying about where Gygax got his gorgon from and start sleeping easy.

Manticore

Freund’s manticore is scarier than anything else. It’s also the most dapper of manticores. Check out that handlebar mustache and the slicked hair! I suspect the manticore in Page and Ingpen’s encyclopedia of Things That Never Were was based in part on this. References to this manticore pop up in odd places, including…

JLA manticore

… that one JLA comic where a manticore and a griffin double-team our heroes. The manticore is yellow, of course.

I always thought that was a cop-out weakness too.

Unicorn

The last and best is this spectacular unicorn. I love the different colors and the mismatched elephant feet. This is exactly what unicorns should look like – garbled third and fourth hand accounts of rhinos.

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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.

Scope

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.

Organization

Random. Creature stories all over the place. There’s no real organization to the book.

Text

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.

Images

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.

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Tiddalik the frog (not explicitly named as such) about to explode.

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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.

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The dreaded Boongurunguru of the Solomon Islands and its demon horde of boars.

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A Ziph (Ziphius) attacking a sea serpent.

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A Trolual, with a giant Scandinavian lobster lurking off-camera.

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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!

IMG_8320

The Malebete or Troussepoil, getting, erm, what-for.

Research

 

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.

Summary

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.

4

Who remembers TORG? I do but I never played it. I remember this RPG because one of the primary gamebooks – The Living Land sourcebook – somehow found its way into a second-hand bookstore in my third-world country, so of course I had to go forth and talk about it.

The premise is that Our Earth has been invaded by bad guys from various realities, and they’re forcing their realities on ours. North America has become a lost world of religious dinosaurs. France has become an alternate history version of itself where the Avignon Popes won, developed cyberware, and turned the place into a Catholic cyberpunk dystopia. Egypt is now run by pulp pharaohs and weird science. Southeast Asia has become a new Victorian England populated by Gothic nightmares. California is a cyberdemon-infested hellscape. More than usual. It’s a really cool concept but the only thing I know about it is what I could get from the books. I have no idea how it plays out. If you’re interested the current holders are kickstarting an update.

I don’t pretend to be a connoisseur of RPGs, but I do pretend to be a connoisseur of creatures, and TORG has plenty from different areas. There’s the standard Tolkien-ripoff fantasy world (yawn), but I do appreciate this adorable muppety Cockatrice.

cockatrice

As well as this kelpie.

kelpie

The Living Land was my introduction to TORG, so you can imagine my dismay when I found out it was the least popular setting. But… dinosaurs? TORG came out pre-Jurassic Park so the dinos are all inaccurate lumbering lizards (and unfortunately, the remake has stated “our raptors don’t have feathers either”. Gah!) But it has so much potential! It’s like Stephen King’s The Mist except it’s dinosaurs. And they could easily have advanced biotech instead of nonliving weapons…. but I digress. One of the coolest sapient races of all are the stalengers, which are flying stained glass fuzzy starfishes. Yes.

stalenger

“You okay there buddy? Speak to me, bro. Speak to me.”

Then you get things like cyber-enhanced hunter-killer insects like these adorbs little things.

liquefier
nanodeth

That’s right, if you hadn’t guessed by now, Tharkold and the Cyberpapacy are the cosms of METAL. \m/

tar pit ghul

Undead subfossil La Brea creatures? Why not?

I don’t know about you but one of my life’s goals has been to become a flying disembodied brain with cyber enhancements. I’m glad TORG has made this a reality. I want to be a ziggit. Called Stardust. I can see it happening.

ziggit

The gamemaster’s paradise is surely Orrorsh, where anything and everything is a disguised Horror ready to kill you. Children’s toys? Medical instruments? Household objects? They’re all Horrors, and they will make you Die Horribly. Have I mentioned how much I love anything OF DOOM?

pop weasel
doctor's little helper
TEDDY BEAR OF DOOM

Of course I saved the best for last. This is it. Unironically my favorite of all creatures. Nothing I do will ever compare to this image of perfection.

ROTARY MOWER OF DOOM

I love everything about this.

What I’m saying is that if you can’t appreciate how wonderful a ROTARY MOWER OF DOOM is then you’re a shriveled joyless husk, thank you and good evening.

The Unprecedented Discovery of the Dragon Islands (or TUDDI for short) by John Kelly and Kate Scarborough is a book which I remember very fondly. I first saw it as a child in a bookstore that no longer exists, and my memories of it got so fuzzy that I eventually became convinced I had dreamt it up. Searching for “realistic dragon book”, “living trap monster”, and similar terms led nowhere. Eventually, by some quirk of fate I searched Amazon for “dragon island” and checked the results for the 90s… and there it was. I hadn’t imagined it after all. And since it’s mostly pictures, I’m covering it under Obscure Modern Monsters rather than ABC Reviews (needless to say I give it 5 gigelorums).

You needn’t search for it as you can buy it here and here.

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TUDDI is a big, colorful coffee-table book for children of all ages. It presents itself as the illustrated diary of young Lord Nathaniel Parker as he and his ship get lost at sea, and end up finding a fabulous archipelago where dragons and sea serpents exist. Lord Parker writes to Belinda, his main squeeze, and a lot of TUDDI’s humor comes from his stuffy aristocratisms. The book ends all too quickly and suddenly – sequel hook? It certainly feels like the authors could fill several more “episodes”, but sadly I don’t think they have (if you’re the authors and you’re reading this, take note).

The main reason you would want to read TUDDI as fans of ABC, mythical creatures, speculative biology, speculative evolution, and all-around great art, is the creatures. Some are new takes on old classics, while others are completely new organisms with no equivalents. Even speculative insects and plants are painted in loving detail.

Above you can see TUDDI’s take on the sea serpent. An enormous, sea-going reptile convergent on the whale, complete with baleen. Lord Parker and his friends find a dead one on the beach with ominous sucker markings on its body…

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I’ll just give a small sample of what’s inside. There are unicorns. There are griffons, which hunt in packs, feed on the unicorns, and make a go at our heroes. There are giant ratites with faces that look like the old duck-rabbit illusion. There are carnivorous plants. There are Cambrian relict arthropods. There are aquatic-adapted shrew-things.

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The gorgon is an all-original creation and one of the things I remember most from the book. It’s literally a living bear-trap, one that lies camouflaged amid tree roots and snaps shut on whatever steps on it. It’s a nasty piece of work, and I like that a lot of it is left to the imagination. We’re not even sure what it evolved from, but I’m guessing some kind of primate?

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Of course, it wouldn’t be the Dragon Islands without dragons, would it? The dragons themselves are marvelous organic balloons, big pink bloated floating translucent fire-breathing plankton-straining gilled soarers. They’re exactly as awesome as they sound.