December 7, 2012

Creature Collections: For Young and Old

        It's high time for more reviews of books of mythical creatures.  Here's an assortment that includes introductory books for the youngest fantasy fans, through books for scholarly adults.  None of these books made it into our top tier of beloved favorites, but all have some fun or interesting traits to recommend them.  Perhaps one will be just what you were looking for!

        Magical Creatures, by Man-eating Meg and Loch Ness Lucy - With those authors, how could I resist?  The paragraphs about each creature are entertaining introductions, and the illustrations are very bright and primitive.  I wasn't crazy about the "messiness" of most of them, but a few were quite pleasing, and they had lots of details that would be fun for little kids to notice.  This is probably a great introduction for younger children.

       The Creature Catalog, Michael Berenstain - Yes, this is one of the Berenstain family of Berenstain Bears fame, and you can definitely see it in some of the illustrations, especially the werewolf, chimera, and Bigfoot.  The pictures are printed with black and white plus only one color per page, which gives the book a really dated look.  P wasn't very impressed, although oddly, one of his complaints was that it had too many "strange" creatures, which I see as a plus.  I also like the inclusion of space aliens, which most books on fantasy creatures seem to ignore.  But on the whole, I didn't find myself getting excited about either the illustrations or the written paragraphs describing the creatures.

        The Monstrous Book of Monsters, Hamilton, Bitskoff, Duddle, and Mansfield.  This is a large book in the style of the -ology books, lavish in the matter of pop-ups, fold-outs, and flaps.  Unfortunately it is also lavish in fart humor and poop jokes.  Although it was not without some clever ideas (I liked the idea of the flow chart for disposal of captured monsters), for the most part I felt that this book was counting on gross-out laughs to substitute for creativity.  My captive nine-year-old boy, presumably well in the target audience, liked it better than I did, but not as well as he's liked others.

        The Magic of Mythical Creatures, Colleayn Mastin, illustrated by Jan Sovak - On the plus side, some different creatures such as the Iceworm and Qallupilluk, and detailed traditional-style illustrations with interesting watercolor backgrounds.  On the minus side, I don't get the impression this book was very well proofread.  The punctuation and grammar make it a bit hard to read in places.  Fun fact: only female griffins have wings; males have spikes on each side instead.

        The Mythic Bestiary, by Tony Allan - Not for young kids, this volume includes the sexual aspect of many monsters and assorted nudity (the mermaid doesn't have the seashell bikini or carefully placed tresses, for example).  For young adults or adults, however, it's a really nice reference work with a pretty comprehensive selection from world myths and legends, and lots of illustrations from different sources.

        The Book of Imaginary Beings, by Jorge Luis Borges, illustrated by Peter Sís - This is not a book intended for children, and it's unlikely to interest them.  There are 116 entries in which Borges allows his erudition and lit-speak free rein to the point of stream-of-consciousness.  The Cheshire Cat and the Kilkenny Cats are lumped together in a single entry without benefit of segue, and proper monsters like harpies and hippogriffs share space with a "metaphysical animal" that's a thought experiment from a philosophical treatise.  I really enjoy the breadth of the creatures' origins, and that they're culled from modern literature as well as classical mythologies, but…  when it comes right down to it, a number of these "imaginary beings" really don't qualify as proper mythical creatures at all.  The illustrations by Sís are not plentiful.  (The front cover flap calls them drawings, but they look like stippled etchings to me.)  But fans of Borges's style and his wonderful free-range musings will get a kick out of his sly humor, including a few inventions of his own slipped in amongst the classical references.

[Pictures: cover of Magical Creatures, paintings by Lucy Clibbon, written by Meg Clibbon, 2006;
cover of Monstrous Book of Monsters, by Hamilton, Duddle, and Bitskoff, 2011;
Western Dragon, etching(?) by Peter Sís, from The Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges, 2005.]

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