Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Book of Imaginary Beings


My latest search through the library database for urban fantasy reference material brought to light an interesting text from before I was even born. It's called The Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges, and it has been an informative and highly entertaining read.

The copy I found is a 2nd printing from 1970 and seems to be exactly the same as the original 1969 edition. However, a new version was released in 2006 that includes updates and illustrations. From what I can tell, it contains a few additional monsters, as well as the most current information and even new spellings of some creature names. Hopefully the modern printing addresses some of the confusing references and omissions from the original, and I'd love to see an artists' interpretation of the creatures.

These wonderful beasts come from stories, myths and cultures all over the world, as well as a few plucked straight out of some well-known novels. Many of the classics are mentioned in their various forms: unicorns, dragons, fairies, etc. Some are particularly unique and often quite funny. Here's a few of my favorites:

Peryton - Apparently these strange folk are basically large birds with blue or green  feathers and the head and legs of a deer and are "mortal foes of the human race", according to the 16th century rabbi who translated the information from an ancient Greek scholar. Their original home was Atlantis, and they spent their time flying around the Columns of Hercules, attacking ships and killing men. At least one oracle predicted that they would wipe out Rome, but they were last spotted in Ravenna...

Garuda - A creature that is half vulture, half man and sometimes ridden by the Hindu god Vishnu

Kujata - A great bull of Muslim mythology with 4,000 eyes, ears, nostrils, mouth, and feet. If that's not enough, this guy has a giant ruby on its back, then an angel, with the earth on top. Kujata then stands on top of a fish named Bahamut above an abyss and will possibly swallow all of creation one day.

Eight-Forked Serpent - From Japan, this maiden-eating snake has 8 legs and tails, shining red eyes, and is covered in trees and moss.

Amphisbaena - A lizard found in Africa which has two heads (one on each end of its body) that can bite you with both. It had flaming eyes and was very quick, and Pliny praised its medicinal properties.

Mermecolion - This bizarre fabrication seems to be the result of a wildly botched translation which resulted in an animal that is a lion in front, an ant in the rear, with the "organs of its sex the wrong way". Don't ask me exactly what that last part means, but it sounds awful (in the funniest way).

If you get a chance to flip through this book, you'll discover some really cool urban fantasy (or other) possibilities.

Cheers!
Ella

2 comments:

Terri Rochenski said...

Ooooo I love it when I find books like this!

Thanks for all the insider info on this one.

Ella Gray said...

Me too, Terri! Hope you get a chance to check it out :-)

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