Monsters, Beasts, and Chimeras Reading Themes

Of Bestiaries and Imaginary Beings: A List of Possible Reading Materials

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When we launched our bimonthly theme Monsters, Beasts, and Chimeras: Spooks and Spectres, I had every intention of reading these books. However, as is often my excuse, life got in the way, and I know that despite my desire and best intentions, I would not be able to read through most of them. However, that does not mean that I shouldn’t share these titles with you all.

Here is a list of my recommended titles if you want to learn more about monsters, bestiaries, chimeras, spooks and spectres from academic reading to fantasy novels. If you’ve read any of these titles, I’d love to hear what you thought about them.

The Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges and illustrations by Peter Sis

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I borrowed this a few times from the library but just couldn’t get to the rhythm of it. I do think it’s a valuable book that looks at various creatures and monsters from around the world from something as unfamiliar as A Bao A Qu to something quite literary such as An Animal Dreamed by Kafka to An Animal Dreamed by Poe, to something quite familiar to most people such as Gnomes, Golems and Gryphon.

The book functions like a detailed glossary of sorts with a one-two page description of each imaginary being. The first edition of this book was actually called An Anthology of Fantastic Zoology. Think of an encyclopedia of monsters with a few black and white Peter Sis illustrations thrown into the mix and Borges’ beautiful writing, carefully researched with minute detail.

An example of Peter Sis' illustration from The Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges.
An example of Peter Sis’ illustration from The Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges.

Personally, I would have liked more illustrations – page-like portraits of each imaginary beings, if you will. And in full color if possible. The creatures are also arranged alphabetically. I would have wanted a themed approach perhaps to the presentation of monsters quite similar to Christopher Dell’s A Bestiary of the Bizarre. However, Borges might have his own reason for arranging the creatures in this fashion – kind of like an equal opportunity thing for monsters. Do grab this book, if you find it.

The Mark of the Beast: The Medieval Bestiary in Art, Life, and Literature edited by Debra Hassig

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This book is more like an academic treatise on beasts and monsters and how they have been portrayed in “art, life, and literature” over the years. It is a collection of essays divided in four major parts. The first part looks into Social Realities (notions of bloodlines, lions and kingship and owls and medieval anti-semitism). Part Two is about Moral Lessons as authors touch on Phoenix and Resurrection, Bestiary Lessons on Pride and Lust, as well as Sex in the Bestiaries. Third Part deals with Classical Inheritances by tackling existential questions such as the existence of imaginary animals and ideologies in medieval bestiaries. Part Four talks about Reading Beasts – an exhaustive analysis of text and image in two important illuminated manuscripts. The chapters are also riddled with actual photographed images such as this one:

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Perfect for those who would like to do a more scholarly investigation and research about monsters and beasts and how they have been depicted through centuries.

The Bestiary: A Novel by Nicholas Christopher

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I really had every intention of reading this book as the book cover and its summary intrigued me. Let me just quote directly from the jacket flap:

From “a writer of remarkable gifts,” “Borges with emotional weight,” comes a tale that is at once a fantastical historical mystery, a haunting love story, and a glimpse into the uncanny – the quest for a long-lost book detailing the animals left off Noah’s Ark.

Xeno Atlas grows up in the Bronx, his Sicilian grandmother’s strange stories of animal spirits his only escape from the legacy of his mother’s early death and his stern father’s long absences as a common seaman. Shunted off to an isolated boarding school, with his father’s activities abroad and the source of his newfound wealth grown increasingly mysterious, Xeno turns his early fascination with animals into a personal obsession: his search for the Caravan Bestiary. This medieval text, lost for eight hundred years, supposedly details the animals not granted passage on the Ark – griffins, hippogriffs, manticores and basilisks – the vanished remnants of a lost world sometimes glimpsed in the shadowy recesses of our own.

Xeno’s quest takes him from the tenements of New York to the jungles of Vietnam to the ancient libraries of Europe – but it is only by riddling out his own family secrets that he can hope to find what he is looking for. A story of panoramic scope and intellectual suspense, The Bestiary is ultimately a tale of heartbreak and redemption.

The book also comes with a Glossary of A Selection of Fabulous Beasts from the Caravan Bestiary and includes unfamiliar creatures to me such as the amemait and the amphisbaena just to cite several. A few also came with illustrations such as this one:

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I hope to get back to this sometime in the future. It really does sound fascinating. Have you read this book?

John Gregory’s Bestiary or The Spook’s Bestiary by Joseph Delaney illustrated by Julek Heller

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I have a few novels from Joseph Delaney’s series in my bookshelf waiting to be read. When I searched for books with ‘bestiary’ titles in our library archive, this one was among the recommended titles. There is a message to the reader (see photo below) and a section on how to deal with the dark.

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I have a feeling that this bestiary might make more sense to those who are avid readers of the series.  It is divided into pretty discernible themes: Boggarts, The Old Gods, Witches (and various Witch Groupings, Witch Powers and how to deal with dead and live witches), Mages (and shamans and grimoires), The Unquiet Dead, Daemons, Water Beasts, Elemental Spirits, and Mysterious deaths in the County. I was particularly intrigued by a section on The Faustian Pact and “my first attempt to deal with the bane.” I think this would be more meaningful to me if I am familiar with at least a few of the novels from the series. And from the looks of it, the series looks like a riveting read.

Guide to Tolkien’s World: A Bestiary by David Day

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I thought I have finally found the perfect excuse to read this book I got from Barnes and Noble a few years back in the States. Tolkien’s world is simply brimming with so many unforgettable creatures and beings, it would be a delight to go over this richly-illustrated tome of a book. Here are a few illustrations found in the book:

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Dragons! This photograph shows the Death of Smaug the Golden and Bilbo Baggins’ Quest.

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Spiders do figure quite a lot in the Lord of the Rings series.

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This book is beautifully illustrated – some of the images are also in full color – vivid rendering of the creatures found in Tolkien’s world.

Do you have any other recommended titles you think should be included in this list?

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