The Art of Monsters

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.

The Night Mare by Henry Fuseli 1781

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.

Siegfried Slaying Fafner by Konrad Dielitz 1880

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.

Princess Takiyasha Summons a Skeleton Spectre to Frighten Mitsukuni by Utagawa Kuniyoshi 1844

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.

A Letter: The British Edition

Long time readers know that me, letters, and Zimbabwe have a complicated history. For over two years now I have been following the exploits of Zimbabwe, all the while writing letters that have essentially been ignored. It starts with letters I sent to then President George Bush, Senator John McCain, Senator Charles Schumer, and then Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. I never heard anything from any of them. Then there’s the letter I sent to President Obama on Inauguration Day. In response, I got a truly lame postcard. Not even a form letter, a form postcard. I also sent a letter to Secretary Hillary Clinton, to which I never received a response. Feeling my time lobbying United States politicians had run its course I turned my attention to United Nation’s Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Again, not even a form letter in response. By May of this year I had abandoned hope of ever writing a letter to politician again. There was nothing left to do but to apologize to all those noble letters that tried valiantly, but in the end failed.

But wait! What’s that I’m hearing on BBC America’s World News? “The Home Office says it will resume enforced returns of Zimbabweans with no legal right to be in the UK, after a four-year moratorium.” The Minister for Immigration, a Mr. Damian Green, is saying stuff like, “The courts have found that not all Zimbabweans are in need of international protection and given the improved situation on the ground in Zimbabwe since the formation of the Inclusive Government in 2009…” and then Matthew Coats, Head of Immigration of the UK Border Agency, is saying things like, “There is no doubt that political persecution and abuses of human rights persist in Zimbabwe. However, these abuses are more targeted than previously and not all Zimbabweans are equally affected.” I’m an amateur Zimbabwe pundit, and an American no less, and I think these highly qualified guys are missing something.

To the computer! There are letters to write!


Dear Matthew Coats,

I write you today out of concern of learning that your country may soon resume enforced returns of failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe. I appreciate that your country had been offering blanket asylum to Zimbabweans in the past due to the violence and political unrest in their home country. You offered support, stability, and safety to our friends from Zimbabwe when they needed it most and your country should be commended for your generosity.

However, I find statements such as, “The courts have found that not all Zimbabweans are in need of international protection and given the improved situation on the ground in Zimbabwe since the formation of the Inclusive Government in 2009….” (Mr. Damian Green 10/14/2010), and “Zimbabwe is for many people a safer and better place to live today than in 2008. There is no doubt that political persecution and abuses of human rights persist in Zimbabwe. However, these abuses are more targeted than previously and not all Zimbabweans are equally affected.” (Mr. Matthew Coats 10/14/10), to be alarmingly ill-informed and not suitable justification to send a single asylum seeker back to Zimbabwe.

Only five months ago The General Council of the Bar issued a report stating that, “The mission received a number of reports from persons it interviewed in Zimbabwe. The overwhelming weight of the reports was to the effect that rule of law issues had not in improved in the course of the year since the signing of the Global Political Agreement and many interviewees expressed the view that the position had grown worse.” They went on to add, “Incidents of extra-judicial killings, kidnappings, torture, and other serious human rights abuses have been pervasive in Zimbabwe for years but assumed epidemic proportions during the Presidential run-off elections of June 2008. Such human rights abuses continue to occur. These abuses remain un-investigated by authorities.” They end by saying, “The mission concludes that there has been no improvement and quite possibly a further decline in respect for the rule of law since the signing of the Global Political Agreement.”

Of course, that was five months ago. So let me instead bring to your attention to an article released by Human Rights Watch less than a month ago. They say, “Increasing violence in Zimbabwe during community meetings leading up to a constitutional referendum and new arrests of civil society activists highlight the lack of progress in ending human rights abuses and implementing urgently needed human rights reforms.” They state, “Human Rights Watch has received reports of violence in Harare, Bulawayo, Masvingo, Mashonaland West, and Mashonaland East during the outreach process. On September 18 in Greystone Park, Harare, a group of war veterans, and ZANU-PF youths reportedly barred white residents from participating in the outreach program, contending that the white residents were not Zimbabweans. One resident in the area was assaulted when he tried to intervene on behalf of the white residents.

The following day in Mbare, Harare, ZANU-PF supporters attacked MDC supporters and prevented them from attending an outreach meeting, which ended when the violence broke out. ZANU-PF supporters and uniformed police assaulted 11 residents and MDC supporters from Mbare with blunt objects as they left the meeting. One resident, Chrispen Mandizvidza, died from his injuries on September 22. Medical reports indicated that he died as a result of complications from a ruptured bowel, which he sustained after being hit in the abdomen with blunt weapons.

Human Rights Watch received similar reports of violence and intimidation by ZANU-PF supporters and war veterans in the Harare suburbs of Budiriro, Chisipite, Glen View, and Glen Norah.”

When it is said that “these abuses are more targeted than previously and not all Zimbabweans are equally affected’, what you’re politely saying is that if a Zimbabwean returns to their country they’ll be fine as long as they support President Mugabe and his party ZANU-PF and have no intention or inclination to participate in any attempts at democracy in the country. I find that a disappointing message and an unacceptable way of life that you intend to send these failed asylum seekers back to.

Since you have a head count of Zimbabweans who have sought asylum on record, 13,000, I can only assume that they have not been working illegally and thusly have been productive members of British society. Living and working within their new communities, perhaps participating in your culture (i.e., X Factor contestant Gamu Nhengu). With an estimated population of 62,041,708, have these mere 13,000 done something so wrong, so heinous in nature, that the only recourse is to pack them up and send them back to Zimbabwe, a country where people are being killed at the equivalent of a town hall meeting? Zimbabwe is scheduled to have another presidential election in 2011. Do you truly think there won’t be widespread violence during the process given that there are already many instances of “targeted” violence now, when the fate of the ZANU-PF presidency isn’t on the line?

On behalf of those asylum seekers who aren’t ready to return home, who do not feel strong enough to face what awaits them there, I ask that you reconsider your position on this issue.


Rebecca Elson

Cc: Damian Green

And just like that I am back in the letter writing saddle again! What kind of response will I get from England? Who knows, but I really hope they use the word “cheeky” to describe me.