Monday, February 6, 2012

My First Bestiary

I don't know exactly when.  Probably somewhere between the ages of 5 and 7, my family found the need to go shopping late at night.  This was quite unusual in my family during my younger years.  I remember maybe a handful of times that we found ourselves in need of something that couldn't wait, forcing us out into night to some store that kept late hours.  I figure that most of these times, the trip involved some sort of home or automotive repair project in which my father found himself in need of something we didn't have to bring said project to completion.  This night, we went to our local KMart, which was off the a major route with its back against a range of large hills, facing a bit of valley with hills on the other side.  I was excited by this unusual outing of the entire family -- my father usually wasn't with us when shopping -- and it came with the feeling that I was venturing into another, nighttime world that was usually closed to me.  Inside, I passed by a large bin of books, which I do not doubt had above it a sign reading "Bargain Books" or something similar.  In the bin, I spied the cover above, and talked my mother into including it in the evening's purchases.  It became one of my most treasured volumes, filled as it was with classic movie monsters, B-movie monsters, science fiction monsters, monster of mythology and of literature and Marvel comic book creatures and crypto-zoology and things from British TV shows I had never heard of, with many photographs and illustrations.  Published in 1974 and 75, it came at an excellent time, summing up a world of monsters that had come before me in 219 entries, and informing my young mind just before another flood of imaginary creatures was to be released in popular culture.

My second bestiary, pictured with it below, was still a good number of years in my future, so this was a formative influence on me of a subject that had always been dear.  It is one of the books of my first library that survived for my adult reclamation.  I later gave it to my nephews, hoping it would be of interest to them, but on a recent visit I borrowed it so that I could look through it again.

Almost exactly the size of the Monster Manual, alas the dust jacket is long gone.

I made a listing of all the entries in it and perused them.  Not a page looked unfamiliar to me, I had spent so much time staring at the pictures over the years.  Clearly, this book helped populate my imagination's monstrous contents.  What surprised me were the entries that I did not remember.  Invariably, they were the ones that were squeezed between the illustrations belonging to the other entries.  It just goes to show first how visually oriented I was (and basically, still am), and how, to be successful, a bestiary must have an illustration of every monster.  Creatures with poor or no illustration are likely to be ignored (another lesson of the first AD&D MONSTER MANUAL, which has been thoroughly learned by its descendents).  A monstrum, after all, is a warning or omen.  By its essence, it must be seen.  In my mind's eye, when I think of the earliest monsters I encountered, they are Ray Harryhausen monsters, a Universal Studios classic monster, an alien from Star Trek, one of the Wild Things from Where the Wild Things Are, or something else from this book.

Thanks for sharing this Mythopoeic Monday with me as I rambled through one the early, dark passages of my imagination.  What were your early inspirations?

Bad things herein...bad things!


  1. I loved books like this on all sorts of esoteric topics when I was kid, though I don't think I ever came across this particular one.

  2. I almost posted that I'd read that book to shreds, but then I thought I should check the library. It's still there!