Apr 20, 2007

The Book of Dragons and other Mythical Beasts by Joseph Nigg

This lovely little book is divided in four sections: one concerning dragons, and the others concerning mythical beasts of the earth, of the air and of the seas. Furthermore, every other page is a full illustration, so it really is a very fast read.

This book establishes the differences between dragons in the western and eastern cultures quite clearly – while in the West the dragon symbolizes evil, in the East it’s seen as a patient and sapient being.

Beyond this major distinction, the book shows how dragons are portrayed in different mythological and folkloric traditions: Chinese, Indian, Babylonian, Classical, Christian, etc.

The other sections of the book contain some well known fantastic creatures, like the Unicorn, the Gryphon or the Kraken, but also some lesser known ones, like the Cinnamon Bird, the Corocotta or the Rukh. I’d never heard of some of these creatures before, and I was fascinated.

Of course that, this being a small book, there isn’t that much information in it – each creature has one page devoted to it. But the book works really well as an introduction to the world of fantastic beasts, and it also tells you where you can go if you want to know more. There’s a wonderful bibliography at the end of both primary and secondary sources, where you can learn that the Cinnamon Bird was first described in Herodotus, for example, or that Pliny the Elder describes the Yale, the Basilisk and the Manticore. It also gives you a list of Medieval and Renaissance sources.

The many illustrations are quite wonderful, and there’s also a map at the start with the geographical distribution of these beasts, and a genealogical tree mapping their possible origins.

So, even though this book is not very good if you’re looking for detailed information, it's still something I would recommend if you want to spend a couple of pleasant hours having your imagination stimulated.

4 comments:

  1. Looks like a nice little book. I like the cover illustration.

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  2. Herodotus is coming up on my reading list. I'll be looking for the Cinnamon Bird now. Thanks for the review.

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  3. What a fun list of books you have. The one on dragons looks fascinating.

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  4. I have never heard of this book before, it looks like something I should keep my eyes open for. :)

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