Folks like me, and by like me I mean always curious to learn a little bit about everything, are bound to have quite the collection of books about mythological creatures, magical creatures, etc. Some personal favorites of mine are “A Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels, and Other Subversive Spirits” by Carol K. Mack and Dinah Mack, “The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures” by John and Caitlin Matthews, and the single creature specific “The Unicorn” by Nancy Hathaway. (This was the book that converted me into a unicorn fan. Prior to this book I may have been the only little girl to have had zero interest in unicorns. Once I read stories about unicorns killing people, I warmed up to the little fellows.) Those favorites, on top of shelves full of others, means that I’m not really in the market for a new collection about mythological creatures. That changed when I received a copy of “Monsters: A Bestiary of Devils, Demons, Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Magical Creatures” by Christopher Dell from Inner Traditions.
As per usual, Inner Traditions has found an inspired route towards the subject matter. Much the way they had Claude Lecouteux, a professor of medieval literature, take on the subject matter of the paranormal, this time around they have Christopher Dell, who holds a degree in art history, turn his eye towards monsters of myth. That art history degree makes “Monsters” one of the most beautifully illustrated books on the subject matter in my possession. Thick, glossy pages showcase close to 200 full color illustrations from artists of varying time and place.
Anyone with an interest in the subject matter is going to be familiar with many of the creatures discussed in “Monsters”, and the information on the individual subjects is fairly light, but the range of monsters covered is wide and varying. Usual suspects like dragons, water monsters, and sirens are discussed, but in the same book you’ll also find American classics like the Pennsylvanian squonk and the hoax hodag.
I also appreciated the inclusion of Asian culture, a perspective that is a little light in some other books I own. Dell covers oriental dragons (verses western dragons), the kappa, and The Night Parade of 100 Demons (A subject I was entirely unfamiliar with and found the related “gathering of one hundred supernatural tales” even more intriguing.). The inclusion of Asia also means that Asian art features heavily in the book, which since I like it, I find to be a very good thing.
Christopher Dell’s “Monsters” doesn’t reinvent or redesign the mythical creature overview book format; however with it’s fascinating variety and inclusion of fantastically beautiful artwork “Monsters” should be a must have for anyone serious about the subject matter. It would also make a solid, and surely treasured, introduction to the subject matter for those looking for a place to start.
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