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The Book Of Imaginary Beings (Vintage Classics) Paperback – 5 Sep 2002
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"It's a book I look forward to as research, but even more as a kid-at-heart fan of the unnatural, the impossible, the feared" (Andrew Pyper)
"He is one of the giants of twentieth-century literature who has vastly enriched the textures of vocabulary of our fantasies and speculation. Only Borges could dream the world with such intellectual rigour" (Ian McEwan)
"Borges is a genius of the first order" (Martin Amis)
"One of Borges's great creations... The Book of Imaginary Beings tosses stone after stone into the subterranean caverns of the reader's mind. It takes us along passageways and turns corners to reveal strange shapes and images, some of which may precede and outlast anything conceived by man" (Guardian)
"Jorge Luis Borges, the century's most flagrant, ingenious and industrious compiler of manuscripts that fall short of reality" (New York Times)
The incomparable imagination of Jorge Luis Borges runs wild in this kaleidoscopic miscellany of fantastical creatures.See all Product description
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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.
Also, a distinct lack of illustrations.
Small size and thin book its easy to store.
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