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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.

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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.

Whew! Looks like I bit off more than I could chew. I had a megapost on bogeys planned for today but I ended up overshooting my deadline by underestimating the size of said post.

So with that I shall segue into my undeserved holiday hiatus. I will probably still update the tumblr but there won’t be official creature entries until I’m back from vacation. Happy holidays everyone, and try not to get impaled by the Trotte-vieilles.

anotuw

A Natural History of the Unnatural World

by Joel Levy and the Cryptozoological Society of London

 

The world of teratological books can be a minefield at times. It’s hard to extricate serious research from complete fabrication, and sometimes supposedly serious books (Borges and Dubois’ works notably) have bogus myths that then get parroted by other works as true. Then there are cryptozoological books which generally are separate from myth and folklore… except in this case.

A Natural History of the Unnatural World (ANOTUW from now on) has a special place in my heart for being one of the first books that really got me into mythical entities. Presented as a cryptozoological book written by the ersatz “Cryptozoological Society of London”, it is actually more of a tongue-in-cheek book that treats legendary beasts as cryptids. Oh, and there’s some actual cryptids in there like apemen and the Loch Ness monster, but otherwise ANOTUW is neither fish nor fowl nor alectrocampus. In fact, even the publishers seem to have realized that and reprinted it under the name Fabulous Creatures and other Magical Beings. A much more sensible name, if you ask me, but as I have the original version I will be reviewing that. If you don’t trust my judgement and want to buy it for yourself, you can get it here and here.

Scope

Going by the title you’d think this was a book about cryptozoology, but no self-respecting cryptid manual that I know of has sections on chimeras, simurghs, fairies, basilisks, and griffins. Instead this book covers the wide range of legendary creatures you’d expect from a mythology book. The only actual cryptids are giant invertebrates, lake monsters, the chupacabras, and apemen. Also included are various spotlights on mythical characters who encountered those creatures: Atalanta, Jack the Giant-Killer, Sindbad, and so on. Definitely very broad in scope, which may not be what you’d want as an advanced teratologist. On the other hand, a cryptozoologist would find little in the way of useful knowledge, as the cryptids covered are merely the best-known ones. Besides, lumping them with mythical creatures might be a bit insulting.

Organization

ANOTUW is laid out somewhat haphazardly. The creatures are divided by morphology: Invertebrates, Reptiles, Birds, Mammals, Hybrids, Manimals (that’s human/animal hybrids), and Hominids. The entries themselves are in several different styles: CSL Reviews (magazine entries, the most “serious”-looking ones), Field Reports (field-note style papers and sketches), Letters (correspondence sent to the CSL), assorted document clippings, and large double-page spreads of mythical hero art.

Text

The text makes it clear that the book is not meant to be serious, with plenty of jokes, puns, and stereotypes. The Thunderbird entry is a newspaper clipping from the “Hangman’s Gulch Herald”, complete with an ad for “Dr. Boardman’s Patent Tonic Remedy” and “Pastor’s Dog Has Fleas” in local news. The Phoenix entry is titled “C’mon Baby, Light My Pyre”. The Gremlin entry is especially memorable – I don’t know who started the trend of making gremlin entries seem like they’re falling apart, but I fully condone (and have added to) it. The Black Dog entry is adorable. Other entries offer rational explanations for irrational things – retrovirus origins for lycanthropy, for instance.

It’s all great if the book was a lighter look at mythology, but it’s not billed as such. It would be fine if the book pretended to be mythical creatures explained in a believable way, but it doesn’t claim to be. It’s certainly not a cryptozoological book – at least, I don’t think so. It’s all over the place, and it depends on whether you find it funny or not.

The glossary at the end is a two-page infodump of  loads of mythical creatures, many not covered in the book, which makes a good springboard for further reading.

Images

Images are mostly stock photos and archival images, with relatively little original illustration. I do like the sketches sprinkled throughout. The main goal was to try and depict mythical creatures as plausible animals, and ANOTUW largely succeeds. The catoblepas stands out as an image The manticore, chimera, harpy, basilisk, kelpie, chupacabras… all look believable, as though they were field sketches of actual animals. There is all too little of those sketches, which is a shame really.

Various photos of actual animal anatomy are labeled as belonging to mythical creatures. A turtle skull is an amphisbaena’s, shark jaws are a manticore’s… it kind of falls flat if you know your anatomy, but it’s cute none the less.

Research

Pretty good. Almost all the creatures are “actual” mythical creatures, taken and then embellished upon. The book is not meant to be taken seriously and so hasn’t been copied by others repeating the same mistakes. So, for instance, with the kelpie described as a giant salamander, it’s not so much of a problem because it’s easy to tell that that’s interpretation. At least, I think so…

One problem is that the actual information can be hidden under all the extra stuff. Field notes, for instance, could have just one paragraph with legendary information in it, with the rest being accounts of the expedition across two pages.

The other major problem is the reference section. Namely, there is none. Nada. Nil. Zip. Zilch. Not a sausage.

Summary

ANOTUW is a fun, silly book that I have fond memories of, but teratologists will find themselves wanting actual information, while cryptozoologists may well be offended at the treatment of cryptids. I give it 3/5 gigelorums for creativity, design, illustration, and general quantity of creatures, most of which I hadn’t heard of when I first read it. The rating can be raised or dropped one gigelorum, depending on your tolerance for the jokey style.

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