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Inventorum Natura

Una Woodruff

Inventorum Natura (IN from now on) is a strange and wonderful book. It is a coffee-table book with ancient pseudoinformation that has in turn been treated as genuine. Half of it is in Latin. It translates an ancient document that never existed. It has a tri-triceratops kraken. Confused? Read on.

You can purchase the book from here and here.

Scope

IN falls firmly on the “Pretty Pictures” axis of Bestiary Classification. Purportedly a translation of a lost manuscript by Pliny the Elder, it covers the animals, plants, cultures, and places encountered by the Roman historian. It is not a comprehensive creature encyclopedia, but provides a broad selection of creatures from across the world, including an economical description of horse-unicorns and rhino-unicorns within the same page.

Organization

The text follows Pliny’s travels around the world. As such it’s narrative and not clearly divided, but can be roughly separated by region, such as Africa, India, China, and Hyperborea. If you’re looking for something in particular, there is a table of contents.

Text

Readable both in Latin and English, the text is a joy to read through, especially for Latin scholars brushing up on their skills.

This is where I need to issue a disclaimer. The text of IN is entirely fictitious and written by the author. Pliny never visited China, or sailed to Hyperborea, or encountered krakens. This may seem obvious, but the text is written and treated as though it were a genuine never-before-seen discovery being revealed for the first time, and kayfabe is maintained all through the book. To avoid repeating myself, I’ll address further issues under the “research” heading.

Images

All of the journal entries are illustrated by at least one gorgeous full-page color painting. Una Woodruff is a talented artist who excels at painting plants, and it really shows – a lot of the most memorable creatures in the book are plants. The animals on the other hand have a strange not-quite-realness to them, a sort of uncanny valley that makes them even weirder.

In fact, even if you don’t read Latin, and even if you don’t want another reference for your bestiary bibliography (bibestliography?), the art alone makes it worthwhile for teratologists of all stripes. Besides this is the only book I know of that gives the kraken three triceratopsian heads.

Research

Here’s where my main beef with IN comes in. There are no references whatsoever, but it owes a lot to Borges’ Book of Imaginary Beings. In fact, I’d argue that more creatures are from IN than are from anything Pliny wrote! It’s great for an entertaining read, but anyone looking for scholarly research should look elsewhere.

Some of the fabricated information has been used (without citation) in other books. Information laundering, if you will. The description of the pyrallis as a dragon-insect comes from IN. Page and Ingpen’s Encyclopedia of Things that Never Were uses the description of Hyperborea, especially with the two-headed frogs. And of course the Peryton’s in there…

Summary

A beautiful book, written and illustrated so skillfully that it has fooled a nonzero amount of people. I like the book, and I love the art, but its scholarship problems give me pause. 3/5 if you’re like me and get irrationally annoyed by teratological embellishment, 4/5 if you don’t mind.

3

Dear readers of ABC, once again the time has come for the author to take a brief sabbatical that is entirely unrelated to ABC and entirely related to things happening in the Real World (TM). Don’t worry, it will be for two weeks only (this is a promise!) and when I get back you’ll have your regular fix of creatures as scheduled.

Parting is such sweet sorrow, etc. etc.

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The Book of Beasts

Angela Rizza and Jonny Marx

Today’s book review was suggested by Nick M., and it’s an unusual one compared to what I usually cover. It’s called The Book of Beasts (TBB henceforth), subtitled Color and Discover (or Colour and Discover on my copy… #oldworldthings) and it’s a coloring book if you hadn’t figured it out yet. Apparently coloring books are all the rage these days, even where I live, and this is the only coloring book I know of that doubles as a bestiary. Well, okay, there’s Crayola Color Alive: Mythical Creatures which was xmas-gifted to me by one of the most awesome people in existence, but that doesn’t count.

It can be bought online here and here.

Scope

TBB is first and foremost a coloring book, meant for the reader to fill in with colors of their own choosing and colorize their worries away. It is not a comprehensive encyclopedia of mythical creatures nor does it claim to be. It does have “over 90 creatures”, which is pretty impressive, and while they include the usual suspects from Classical/European mythology, there are still a good amount of worldwide creatures: Impundulu, Ahuizotl, Kongamato, Baku, Ifrit, Mongolian Death Worm… Even if you’ve given up on “mainstream” teratology books, TBB makes its own niche by being a DIY bestiary.

Organization

Earth, Wind, Water, Fire – these were the ingredients chosen to make the perfect little girl four broad chapters, with creatures sorted based on the classical elements. It’s an arbitrary classification scheme but it works. TBB doesn’t have to worry about categorizing hundreds of massed monsters, and the elemental division makes it tempting to hew to specific color schemes. Besides classifying things as “fairies”, “demons”, “spirits” etc. is arbitrary anyway. No complaints here.

Text

Each page has creature images on one side and text explaining them on the other. Not too detailed, but just right for a coloring book. That also prevents the text from getting too egregiously inaccurate, but the Peryton is still in there as a “real” thing. Sigh.

I haven’t tried coloring anything yet (I’m sure my readers would much rather I stick to coloring creatures for ABC), but going by Amazon reviews marker coloring will bleed over and mess with the text side of the page, so stick with coloring pencils or other nonwatery media.

Images

Lovely line art by Angela Rizza, with plenty of detail and greebles to keep colorists happy for hours. Rizza’s work is excellent, with some really good takes on some of the creatures – I especially liked the footballfishesque Charybdis, the serpentine Cherufe, the bestial Ifrit, the various wonderfully reptilian dragons… I am, however, going to quibble about the Ziphius, which clearly looks more like a Trolual. The final quality of the images depends on how good you are with coloring pencils.

The cover is a very pretty foiled gold, but it seems to be coming off on my fingers as I hold it. Handle with care.

Research

No bibliography, no shoes, no service.

Summary

This is a book that will live and die as a coloring book. If you have no love for coloring books, then you should probably look elsewhere. If you are looking for a coloring book and like mythical creatures (and if you’re reading this, you probably do), then TBB is a fine addition to your collection. If ABC doesn’t kill me I’ll be coloring my copy in someday.

4

When I describe ABC as “my life’s work” and “years in the making”, I’m not even exaggerating. As mighty acorns grow from tiny trees, so the origins of ABC can be found in the humble doodles of an overenthusiastic kid determined to put knowledge to paper. In around 2nd or 3rd grade I decided to compile an “encyclopedia” of monsters. This encyclopedia took the form of a blank copybook which I filled with creatures, mostly from my imagination, with some springing from mythology or even movies, TV shows, and picture books. I then went on to fill about 7 more of those copybooks over the next few years. Turns out I had been working on the proto-ABC since I was 9, and I didn’t even know it.

Reproduced below for the first time are what 9-year-old me thought the 3 main Anaye looked like. I’ve come a long way and my art style has really deteriorated

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See, I only knew Teelget was a carnivorous antelope, I didn’t know it had no head as well.

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I apparently also did not know what the term for a lot of birds is, and I couldn’t spell Tsenahale to save my own life.

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And Yeitso looks like he crawled out of the Black Lagoon.

Today’s obscure modern monster comes from the pages of Thorgal, a fantasy/science-fiction BD series by Jean van Hamme and Grzegorz Rosinski. In it our titular hero Thorgal Aegirsson, a space-faring alien raised as a Viking (long story), and his long-suffering wife Aaricia face insurmountable odds and enemies like the brutal Viking chieftain Gandalf-the-Mad, the sleazy Volsung of Nichor, the sinister Shardar of Brek Zarith, Nidhogg the Serpent, and, of course, Kriss of Valnor. You get the idea.

In Géants (Giants), one of his many adventures, Thorgal finds himself on a journey to Jotunheim in order to recover the memories he lost in the Invisible Fortress (long story). His guide, a Valkyrie, drops him off at the border and warns him of the Guardian. So, for our purposes this story begins here, with Thorgal exploring the barren wastes surrounding the land of the Giants.

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That’s when he is hailed by an unfamiliar voice…

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… and he turns around to find a sort of fluffy shih-tzu type critter, clearly demanding that Our Hero show some ID and justify his existence.

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Naturally Thorgal is enamored of the cute doggo, and obligingly gives it head skritches on demand. He asks if the creature is the guardian, whereupon it responds that we are the guardian.

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That’s right, the little furballs are everywhere.

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“They’re so cute!” exclaims Our Hero. “I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting such a charming welcome…”

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D:

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D8

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Of course Thorgal manages to escape by the skin of his teeth and goes on to his exploits among the giants, which include befriending a not-so-little girl and escaping the clutches of a two-headed falcon (long story). For the return journey he benefits from the same cop-out ride home started by Tolkien, namely eagles a Valkyrie swan. The poor Guardian is left thoroughly nonplussed.

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I feel your pain, little head.

 

As we move into a new year and I bring my numbed brain back into gear, it’s time for you to remind me what you’d like to see on ABC since I’ve forgotten what you’ve requested last time.

No promises, since it’s random what I do and when depending on what I feel like and what I can find information on, but requesting things will definitely move them up the list.

As we transition into a new year, we can only hope it will be better than the last.

Where ABC is concerned, I resolve to produce more creatures and keep up the high standard you have come to expect from the internet’s best encyclopedia of fabulous beasts. In 2015 ABC had a total of around 102,000 views from 27,000 viewers… in 2016 ABC has had about 300,000 views from 65,000 viewers!

I couldn’t have done it without all of you. Join me in celebrating ABC’s 2nd New Year, and remember… omne ignotum pro terribili.

Thank you, thank you.