BOOK RECOMMENDATION: Mythical and Fabulous Creatures: A Sourcebook and Research Guide

The last time I put up a book recommendation, I said that when researching mythical creatures, you usually had to pick between a book that covered many topics shallowly, or covered only a few but with more depth. The Carol Rose books I mentioned were probably about as good as you’re going to get in the first category, but this week I thought I’d give you an example of the second.

Mythical and Fabulous Creatures: A Sourcebook and Research Guide is really just a collection of essays. Sure, in the first part there are some assorted pictures of mythical creatures, along with an alphabetic list of different monsters and beasts who each get a sentence or two, but the bulk of the book, in the second part, is essays. Each essay is written by a college professor versed in a related field, and each has an extensive bibliography for further research. The book is more in-depth than the works of Carol Rose, though it is still split up amongst a number of topics. It is something of an intermediary book, between Rose’s general reference on the one hand, and more focused books on a single subject on the other.

There are twenty essays in total, and most are quite good. If you want to incorporate a minotaur into your writing, for example, the essay in question not only relates the original myth and its sources, but also its evolution through history, art, and literature. That’s one of the best things about this book, in that it shows you how these ideas have been utilized by creators of the past, which can help jump-start your imagination when it comes to new ways to use them now. It also helps provide you with a variety of interpretations, from which you can craft something of your own. The essay on dragons is particularly good, ranging from the origins of the western dragon on the shores of the Mediterranean up to modern movies, games, and books.

Still, the book is not without its faults. One issue is that the book focuses more on some types of mythical creatures more than others. The largest number of essays are about fantastic animals and human-animal hybrids respectively, while the remainder are about vampires, werewolves, fairies, and giants. The other major problem with the book is that the essays are not all of equal quality. The one about vampires is sub-par and shows a lack of familiarity with the folklore (it mainly focuses on literary depictions), while the one about manticores is short and cursory. There are only five or so essays like this, though, and the book is worth its price for the others.

Unfortunately, the book is out of print. There are a number of used copies on Amazon, but don’t pay much more than twenty dollars for the books; there’s a few that go up to $100 or more, and the book isn’t quite that good. I think the absolute highest I’d go is for a copy in the forty dollar range, and even then only if I had money to spare, the copy was in very good condition, and the seller was reliable. If you can get a copy for a reasonable price, though, it will be a valuable addition to your library.

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