I love a good monster. I love books about monsters just as much.
I’ve mentioned in a few places how much I dig Borges’ Book Of Imaginary Beings, and have used it as inspiration for some of the creatures in the Red Sun series: notably garudas and banshees in the first book, and more to come. It’s certainly useful to have as a fantasist’s handbook, and wades through mythologies from across the world, traversing the heavens and dredging the most aphotic places, to present to the western world an inspirational book of monster pr0n.
And what should I stumble across on the interwebs this morning, but a medieval bestiary. Although it covers mostly common fauna, it’s the descriptions which get exotic. For example, here’s one for the eagle.
When an eagle is old, its eyesight dims and its feathers and wings become heavy. To rejuvinate itself, the eagle flies up to the region of the sun, which burns away the mist over its eyes and burns off its old feathers. The eagle then plunges three times into water, and its youth is restored. Also as a result of age, the eagle’s beak grows until it can no longer eat; by striking it against a rock, the eagle breaks its beak which then grows back.
And more: an online mythical bestiary. This should keep me going for a while.
Very nice! Found a piece of paper in my old dictionary the other day – a list of monsters I’d wanted to investigate, from around 14 years ago. Medieval bestiaries are great – though they’ve left me with a long-unsated desire to work blemmyes into a story.
That’s great, thank you Mark! Have to say that the fearsome Esquilax is probably my favourite medieval beastie by the way.
‘The Book of Imaginary Beings’ is an amazing resource – not just for inspiration but also because every time I pick it up I recognise something new from somewhere else (e.g. Judah Loew in the ‘Golem’ section – see ‘Iron Council’, or that the ‘Fish of the Mirror’ from the ‘Fauna of Mirrors’ section strongly resonates with parts of the ‘Book of the New Sun’ and Mieville’s ‘The Tain’).
My first encounter with bestiaries was when I was about six or seven – a family friend bought me a copy of ‘The Tolkien Bestiary’ for my birthday and it was an absolute delight. Something about the sense of it presented as a reference material rather than fictional narrative brings a pleasing illusion of reality – at times it seems less cryptozoology than zoology. At least it did at the time!
Blemmyes sound great. I should steal them… 🙂
Alex, the Esquilax looks a tad… weird. Horse-rabbity thing? Surely you could find something more fearsome…!
You know, I really want to get the Tolkien Bestiary. I might just hit Amazon now. I can feel a big LOTR binge coming on. Easier with the DVDs these days.
It’s actually not a real (well…) beast but rather a silly Simpsons thing taking the mick out of medieval chimeras: it is a horse that hath the head of a rabbit but the body of a rabbit!
As a kid btw did you ever collect ‘Monster In My Pocket”? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monster_in_My_Pocket
I’m sure I must have a small plastic Manticore and Cockatrice lying around somewhere…
My Simpson’s-fu is weak tonight.
I didn’t, no – but that looks amazing. And possibly rather collectable. I bet there are some on eBay…
Monster in my pocket were great! I had the entire first series collection and my brother and I would always fight over who got to have “Hydra” or the “Great Beast” as they were the “25 pointers”. The Invisible man was much hated though. Just goes to show how good kids’ imaginations are as they were really little more than cheap monochrome blobs of rubber but I can still remember having epic battles with them.
Of course, I created my own beastiaries out of He-man figures once I discoverd it was possible to remove arms and reattach them on other figures eg He-man with a lobster claw. It may explain how I became a geneticist…
Great Beast & Hydra were indeed two of the most sought after! I always liked Behemoth most though. There’s a monster I’ve been working on for a while now and only just realised that, in my mind, I’ve always been returning to that little purple figurine.