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Fabulous Beasts

Malcolm Ashman and Joyce Hargreaves

There are two kinds of modern bestiary (and by bestiary I mean books of fantastic creatures, as opposed to real bestiaries which are books of creatures as moral lessons): the visual and the textual. They aren’t set in stone but fit on a spectrum. I should make a sliding scale graphical representation of it someday. Where was I? Oh, right. Long before a certain bespectacled wizard kid showed up, this was a top hit for beast-related keywords. It fits far on the visual side of the scale. And it is quite the piece of eye candy. Let’s have a gander!

It can be bought here and here.

Scope

“[F]antastic creatures of myth and legend… from every corner of the world”. The focus is, however, Classical and Medieval European as expected. In fact about half of the creatures covered are Greco-Roman.

It’s a bit broader in scope than ABC, including things like gods (Pan, Quetzalcoatl), transformed humans (Blodeuedd, Werewolves), transformed gods (Zeus in swan and bull forms), and ghosts of sorts (Herne the Hunter).

Organization

Some 50 creatures are divided into four sections: Birds, Dragons and Serpents, Half Human, and Animals (meaning Mammals). The divisions are basic but with a smaller number of creatures they do fine (even if you could argue that some creatures go in different categories; fabulous beasts always did defy classification).

Text

The text is by Joyce Hargreaves, and it’s serviceable. Does a good job of retelling classic tales, as well as things like Borges’ creatures.

There are some parts where there’s some disconnect between text and art – Typhon has a body covered with feathers apparently, but it’s not shown there (unrelated but this book seems to be the origin of the Typhon-with-a-donkey’s-head meme?).

Images

If you’re buying this book, you’re buying it for the illustrations by Malcolm Ashman. And oh, what illustrations they are. The Simurgh, the Nile Goose, the Lambton Worm coiled around rolling hills… they’re all colorful (pencil drawings excluded) and evocative. They’re definitely worth the price of entry, and stand up to repeated viewing.

There are some interesting takes on things. The Cyclops is made completely monstrous – I’m talking crocodile osteoderms on the legs here. The Lamia follows classic snake-tailed conventions but shares the book with a full-color Echidne. Two snake-women in one book? Why not? The Heavenly Cock, Rainbird, and Phoenix are all done up as golden pheasants and birds of paradise and are beautiful to behold. The Roc looks like an Andean condor, which bothers the ornithologist in me, but it looks awesome.

I’m also going to take the brave stance of saying that nobody, but nobody draws pervy animals like Ashman does. Check out his Europa’s bull and Leda’s swan. Zeus isn’t even trying to hide how lecherous he is for hot mortals. Seriously, they’re scary. Gah.

Research

No references, but as mentioned it visibly draws on Borges’ Book of Imaginary Beings as well as the usual stable of giants, monsters, and dragons. Things like the Rainbird are practically illustrated Borges entries. The Peryton tale is retold with a straight face (again). The Simurgh follows Borges’ favored description, itself from Flaubert and originally not applicable to the Simurgh!

The main problem is that there really isn’t anything new to learn for the advanced teratologist. If you’re a regular reader of ABC, then you probably already know about things like the Nemean Lion and the Erymanthian Boar and the Manticore.

Summary

A beautiful, beautiful book that takes familiar creatures and makes them look good. Definitely recommended for the stellar illustrations, but don’t expect to learn anything new or find novel references. A solid rating of 4 in my opinion.

4

Who remembers Atari? That’s a rhetorical question because, despite being in the right age bracket for it, for a number of reasons I’ve never actually played on it. But I knew it existed. And I knew some ads for Atari games. One of them really fired up my imagination. That’s right, I’m here to talk about Space Cavern.

Images from Atarimania.

Space Cavern ran an ad in magazines that looked a little something like this.

How awesome is that? Judging by the description that thing is a marsupod. Does it have four eyes or are those spots of bioluminescence? Is that its brain? Is it a demon sauropod that zaps you with lightning? Who knows, it’s metal as all hell. And it scared me somewhat too – I didn’t want to become a skeleton!

Electrosauri are nowhere in sight though. I always though they must look something like pterosaurs. Electric pterosaurs.

The official description calls marsupods “shaggy”. That… thing… up there does not look shaggy. Unless you’re being charitable about its chin danglers. Still no visual representation of an electrosaurus (?), which makes me sad.

Of course there was a bit of artistic license taken in the art. Actual gameplay looks a little something like this.

The electrosauri are the Space Invader things floating over the horizon, while the marsupod is the evil Pacman emerging from the right-hand side of the screenshot. I don’t know how they got a demon sauropod out of that, please don’t ask.

You know the gag would have worked with just one swordfish, but Dr. Seuss had to go and draw over 20 swordfishes, each one of them different. Now that’s what I call creature-based dedication (crebadication?).

Found in The Tough Coughs as he Ploughs the Dough (pronounced “the tuff cuffs as he pluffs the duff”).

Turns out that magic isn’t necessary at all in dealing with dragons. They can be defeated in a number of ways, many of which are within reach for the average layman. Here at Dragonslayers Inc. we sell a complete line of equipment for the aspiring dragonslayer.

1. Lances

The original and best! Keep out of harm’s way with a pointed stick. Cheap, effective, and deadly, as Saint George proved. Watch out for venomous dragons, though, their poison can travel up the lance and kill you. Great for dragonslayers on a budget!

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2. Swords

Prefer to get up close and personal? Our line of swords, sabers, scimitars, claymores, rapiers, machetes, knives, and stilettos offers a range of options to fit any wallet. Our recommendation? If you’re going to engage in hand to hand combat, try subterfuge. Valued customer Sigurd killed his dragon by digging a pit and hiding in it, stabbing the dragon as it passed above.

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3. Arrows

Arrows work following the same principle as the lance – why come within range of a deadly animal when you can kill it from a safe distance? Our standard arrows require a certain dexterity, as shown by the seven pagan warriors who defeated the Bête de Rô at La Rochelle. They shot exactly seven arrows – two in its eyes, two in its ears, two in its nostrils, and one to nail its lips shut. What a display of marksmanship!

If you’re not as much of a crackshot, our line of Hercules brand poison arrows require only one shot on target to kill.

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4. Crucifixes

Even cheaper than swords or lances! Vanquish dragons with the sheer power of your faith. As creatures of evil, dragons will shrink from holy items. Saint Martha used her faith to great effect by taming the dreadful Tarasque. If you’re a bit of a showoff like our customer Saint Margaret of Antioch, you can let the dragon swallow you, then burst your way out of its belly. Hardcore!

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5. Spiked Armor

Slay dragons in style with our Lambton brand spiked armor! Guaranteed to make you impossible to squeeze or swallow, as well as giving you that dashing “Egyptian Porcupig” look. With added asbestos layers for flameproofing. Slip into one of these suits and watch dragons impale themselves on you!

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6. Deadly Food

We sell a line of dragon bait guaranteed to kill! Combine any number of ingredients including pitch, sulfur, hair, calfskins, and nails to create a lethal cocktail. Just leave in a prominent location, let the dragon eat it, and watch the fireworks! Leave out of reach of children.

7. Lions

Fancy yourself a bit of a beastmaster? Why not check out one of our hunting lions? Not only are they great dragonslaying allies, they make excellent companions and bodyguards. Valued customer Yvain aided a lion in battling a dragon, and they’ve been inseparable since. Adopt one of our lions today!

Yvain-dragon

8. Magic

When all else fails, why not resort to magic? Our exclusive line of Medea brand herbal mixes is guaranteed to put even the most resilient dragon to sleep.

All images from Wikipedia.

The glorious, stirring, edifying tale of the battle of Moore of Moore-hall with the Dragon of Wantley is told in a comic ballad and a later burlesque opera.

In them, the hero Moore of Moore-hall dresses in the time-honored bespoke spiky suit of armor until he looks like “Some Egyptian Porcupig”. He then defeats the dragon in mortal combat by kicking it in its weak spot, which, as can be clearly seen in the illustration by John June…

thou prickouch yes copy

References

Lampe, J. F. (1770) The Dragon of Wantley, A Burlesque Opera. Lowndes, Caslon, Nicoll, and Bladon, London.

Everyone loves a good monster for Halloween. How about the cute duck leech or nose leech, Theromyzon? Lookit the little eyes!

(http://www.ndfreshwaterinverts.vcsu.edu/php/detail.php?idnum=21&p=Annelida&c=Clitellata&gn=Theromyzon)

And here is one being a good parent~

(http://www.uniprot.org/taxonomy/13286)

But, of course, the real reason Theromyzon is being featured is because of its favorite place to hang out, which is, well, duck noses.

(http://wildlifedisease.unbc.ca/nasal_leeches.htm)

And that’s probably the tamest pic, you can find more gruesome stuff yourself.

Which brings me to one of my favorite expressions, one in French, which is tirer les vers du nez (“pulling the worms from the nose”). It means “drawing out information through questioning”, but why it is what it is is… well, no idea.

Nose leeches. I want one. :3

The Affair at 7, Rue de M- is a short story written by one John Steinbeck. You may have heard of him. It details the chilling encounter of the author and his son with a “gray tumorous lump”, a soulless monster possessed of “evil calculating wiliness”, a lifeless yet living fiend that possesses its victims and chews them… That’s right, I’m talking about what can only be described as a

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This sticky monster is capable of moving like an amoeba, forcing itself into the mouth of an unwitting child, and forcing its victim to chew ceaselessly. It needs to be chewed to survive, but it is virtually indestructible otherwise, surviving being burnt up, tossed into the Seine, flung into the countryside and run over by cars… Only by sealing it up in an airtight container can Our Hero cause it to die (if it was ever alive) of starvation over a week’s time.

It will find you. It cannot be bargained or reasoned with. And it will not stop, ever, until you’ve doubled your pleasure, doubled your fun.