BOOK RECOMMENDATION: The Works of Carol Rose

Since I keep extolling the virtues of doing research when it comes to using myth and legend in fiction, I would be remiss if I didn’t try to point people towards useful resources for this purpose. So, one of the recurring segments on this blog will be book recommendations. I should note, I have no association with any author whose book I promote here; they are just volumes I have found to be particularly helpful or well-written.

When doing research on mythical creatures, I find that the available resources come in two forms: in depth essays and books focusing on just one creature, or broader reference books that try to cover a wide range. For a beginner, or for someone just looking for inspiration, I find it’s easiest to start with the second sort of book, figuring out what your options are and what’s out there, before moving on to the more in-depth books for detailed information.

With this in mind, I would like to introduce you to two books which are part of a larger whole: Spirits, Fairies, Leprechauns and Goblins: An Encyclopedia, and Giants, Monsters, and Dragons: An Encyclopedia of Folklore, Legend, and Myth, both by Carol Rose. These books, while they generally offer only blurbs and slight descriptions, are very comprehensive in their range. Pretty much all mythical creatures can be divided between “spirits” and “monsters,” with some overlaps, and this distinction informs a lot of the writing I do on this site. These two volumes are extremely useful for finding out about new mythical creatures from around the world and then doing further research upon whichever one catches your eye.

Aside from just being an encyclopedia that lists the creatures alphabetically, the appendices also group them by theme, culture of origin, associations with different animals or natural forces, and so on. For example, say you want to write a story and include a monster or spirit associated with the harvest. Just flip to the appropriate appendix. Then, perhaps your setting has Germanic influence. Cross reference the first appendix with another, and you can narrow your search down to beings like Frau Holle or the Kornwulf, and you can see if any of them jumpstart your imagination.

Now, to be fair, these volumes aren’t perfect. They include such a vast number of entries that you will find Ms. Rose made some mistakes, either not listing a creature in an appendix that isn’t in the text, or vice versa. It’s not a frequent problem, but you will notice it now and then. In addition, the books do have a narrow blind spot, where they don’t cover certain mythical creatures. In general, if the creature was originally human in origin, it might not be in there; the undead are particularly under represented.

Still, these minor flaws are greatly outweighed by the books’ strengths, and I feel confident saying that if you buy them you will get your money’s worth. Just keep in mind that they are a jumping off point, and for more detailed analysis you’ll have to move on to other works.


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