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"The Book of Imaginary Creatures" seems like kind of a flimsy book for a great author like Jorge Luis Borges -- a bestiary of creatures from myth, religion and literature. But the book becomes deeper and more intriguing as it goes on, tapping into philosophy and common imaginings around the world.

There are several religion-based creatures -- the Biblical Levithian, Swedenborg's angels and demons, Mohammed's heavenly steed Buraq, Judaical golems (which aren't quite the same as other creatures, since people have to make them), and supernatural versions of real animals, like the white elephant that appeared before the birth of Buddha or Chinese foxes.

But even more numerous are the mythic creatures, from the usual (centaurs, unicorns, hellhounds, gryphons) to the obscure (the A Bao A Qu, an insubstantial little thing that follows people up the stairs). These are a more colourful bunch, especially since many of them -- dragons, the hare in the moon, the basilisk -- recur in different countries, and Borges told readers of most of those.

And to round it off, Borges included creatures invented in literature -- Homer and Dante's mythic creatures, Poe's Antarctic creatures, Kafka, Lewis Carroll's version of a Cheshire cat, and C.S. Lewis's alien creatures from the "Space Trilogy." These authors all created creatures that were almost too weird, but which also seemed relatively likely (as invented animals go).

"The Book of Imaginary Beings" is actually very well-rounded, with lots of bizarre or relatively unknown creatures. You'd expect a bunch of typical mythic creatures just tossed together, but fortunately Borges goes way behind the call of duty, from the A Bao A Qu to the Zaratan (a carnivorous living island).

Borges obviously had great respect for these various legends, since he treats them as seriously as if they were scientifically proven. And he did his research, including duplicates and variations from across the world (not all of them, though), such as the Guardians of the four directions: for the Chinese, it was four tiger spirits, while it was four angelic beasts for the kabbalists.

Borges writes this in a solemn, scholarly manner, but it's still very easy to read ("It is a monster of form, inspired by the devil of symmetry in the imagination of sculptors, potters and ceramicists"). He also includes translations of the beings' names, and quite a few snippets of text and poetry that describe them. Even ancient nonfiction, such as Lucretius insisting that a creature like the centaur couldn't exist. Okay, whatever.

"The Book of Imaginary Beings" seems like a rather minor work for a legendary author. But taken on its own, this little mythic bestiary is a solid little read.
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on 10 October 2012
This is a fascinating small book, with much to amuse and much to muse on. However, be aware that the 2002 vintage paperback does not have the rather attractive cover illustrated. This might be important if you are buying for a present.
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on 4 December 2000
By turns amusing, intriguing, poignant or just plain absurd, Borges trawls the Biblioteca Nacional for examples of imaginary beasts, and summarises what is known (or believed) about them. Odd, but lovely. One to dip into.
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on 24 November 2012
For Borges fans, this is essential. It is a fascinating little book and full of interest. BUT why is the illustration shown not the same as the book which I have just received? A trivial point, but it is the trivial points that are often irritating. Hence 4 stars and not 5
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on 6 June 2015
Disappointed at the lack of illustrations.
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on 31 January 2013
Happy enough with this version. bought it for research on imaginary creatures for a uni project. Does not contain images, some may miss it being text based only. Chapters define the short stories.

Small size and thin book its easy to store.
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on 2 August 2014
Good book. thanks.
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on 5 February 2016
Wonderous!
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on 25 August 2014
great buy
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on 24 May 2003
A curious little book. Many of the entries are interesting, notably the one about the Lamed Wufniks, who are the real powers in the world but don't realise it! Many are funny, my favourites being the creatures imagined by lumberjacks, such as the hidebehind and the pinnacle grouse (which lays square eggs). I feel though that fans of Borges would be better off reading his fiction, and the true market for this book is more likely to be found among players of fantasy role-playing games.
88 comments|11 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse

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