Tag Archives: Bestiary

The Book of Barely Imagined Beings, Caspar Henderson

The Book of Barely Imagined Beings, Caspar HendersonThe Book of Barely Imagined Beings: A 21st Century Bestiary by Caspar Henderson
Illustrated by Golbanou Moghaddas

First Published: 2012
Pages:
427 (Hardback)
Form: Non-Fiction, Science, Natural History, Zoology, Bestiary

Rating:

From the Axolotl to the Zebrafish, our planet contains a host of barely imagined beings: real creatures that are often more astonishing than anything dreamt in the pages of a medieval bestiary. Ranging from the depths of the ocean to the most arid corners of the land, Caspar Henderson captures the beauty and bizarreness of the many living forms we thought we knew and some we could never have contemplated, inviting us to better imagine the precarious world we inhabit.

A witty, vivid blend of cutting edge natural history and meditative reflection, The Book of Barely Imagined Beings is infectiously celebratory about the sheer ingenuity and variety of life.

The Book of Barely Imagined Beings is subtitled ‘A 21st Century Bestiary’ and that’s what it is; not a natural history book, not an encyclopedia of animals, a bestiary – an odd fusion of science and navel-gazing. While in a medieval bestiary real and mythological animals were used as symbols for human virtues or vices, in this book real animals are used as starting points to examine wider issues about how human’s relate to both the world and each other. So the Axolotl entry looks at the Spanish conquest of Mexico, the Gonodactylus examines the scientific evolution of the eye, and so on. It’s a unique and very interesting approach, but one that doesn’t quite hit the mark in every entry. In the spirit of mimicking of medieval bestiaries the book has also been gorgeously designed; there’s gilding on the cover, a full-page illustration and illuminated capital letter for each animal that incorporates the major themes of the entry, and (best of all) marginalia. It is, quite simply, a beautiful book. And not only beautiful on the outside but unique on the inside. Continue reading

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The Book of Imaginary Beings, Jorge Luis Borges

The Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges

Illustrated by Peter Sís

Publisher: Penguin Classics Deluxe  (Penguin)
Translator:
Andrew Hurley
Pages:
236 including notes  – plus introduction (Paperback)
Form: Non-Fiction, Mythology/Folklore, Bestiary/Encyclopedia

Rating:

“We do not know what the dragon means, just as we do not know the meaning of the universe, but there is something in the image of the dragon that is congenial to man’s imagination. . . . It is, one might say, a necessary monster.”

The Book of Imaginary Beings is Borges’s whimsical compendium of more than a hundred of “the strange creatures conceived down through history by the human imagination.” Imbued with Borges’s characteristic wit and erudition, this unique contribution to fantasy literature ranges widely across the world’s mythologies and literatures to bring together in one delightful encyclopedia the fantastical inventions from the Kabbalah, Homer, Pliny, Confucius, Shakespeare, Lewis Carroll, Kafka, and C.S. Lewis, among others. Here, readers will find the familiar and expected Dragons and Centaurs, Unicorns and Gnomes, as well as the less familiar and altogether unexpected Animals That Live in the Mirror, The Elephant That Prefigured the Birth of Buddha, the Lamed Wufniks, and the Hairy Beast of La Ferte Bernard. Throughout, Borges’s cunning and humorous commentary is sheer delight.

For this new, illustrated edition of The Book of Imaginary Beings, Penguin has paired Andrew Hurley, the acclaimed translator of Borges’s Collected Fictions, with award-winning illustrator Peter Sís, whose original drawings appear throughout the book. The result is a wonderful gift – an Alice through-the-Looking-Glass menagerie, which should appeal to fantasy fans of all stripes and ages.

Phew, and if you’ve got through that massive blurb you’ll see I barely need to write a review for this one! But I will anyway, just a few quick thoughts on my personal opinions because that description basically does my job for me. Continue reading

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Filed under Non-Fiction, Reviews