Giants, Monsters, and Dragons:
an encyclopedia of folklore, legend, and myth
Carol Rose (2000)
What lay within the bounds of human knowledge and was relatively familiar could be reasonably and comfortably accommodated, no matter what its size. But that which lay outside the bounds of human knowledge was monstrous and awesome. Explanations for the chaotic, precreation nature of the world and the universe, the vast fissures, the threatening geographical features of the earth, the unexplored regions, and the disappearance or transformation of those who ventured into the unknown were accommodated in the concepts of the monstrous. Those beings that existed beyond the human realms of order were the constant threat that challenged the human world and had to be appeased, controlled, banished, or defeated.
– Carol Rose, “Giants, Monsters, and Dragons” (2000), pg xxv
I can’t remember when exactly I got this book, or from where, but it’s been sitting on my shelf for a few years. My partner says I received it as part of my Children’s Literature class when I was in university, which isn’t impossible since I received a huge box of books for that one class alone!
In any event, I finally pulled it out to consult it. Originally, I was looking to get some ideas for one of the flash fiction stories I’m working on, Shift. The intention was to obtain a little extra information on werewolves. While I found it, there was more. I came out with the idea to explore the ideas of a were-bear in another flash fiction story, Burden.
And then I couldn’t stop looking. It’s been hanging around my desk while I’ve been working on these short stories and every couple of days, I can’t help but pick it up and skim over it.
I love this book.
Other than discovering that “were-bears” are a thing (despite the fact that I giggle because it’s way too close to sounding like Care Bears), this book is packed with useful information, names, geographical references, and other info. In the introduction, Rose reveals that material was drawn from a variety of sources: encyclopedias, dictionaries (of mythology), ancient and medieval texts, classic literature, folktales and folklore, chronicles and annals of historic events, fables, chapbooks, nursery rhymes, and surveys (genealogical, heraldic, anthropological, topographical). Way cool. It makes me want to have been there writing it with her. Then again, I’m a sucker for research projects … especially any that include ancient texts. YAY!
Reading it reminds me of watching the TV show, Charmed, or Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (the Robert Tapert/Sam Raimi version with Kevin Sorbo and Michael
Hirst Hurst) – which is cool because I enjoy those shows. And there’s gorgeous artwork included, taken from a variety of sources, just to give your eyes a break from the text. It’s also easy-to-read and accessible, good for everyone.
It’s a big book and offers a little on everything, including monsters like Champ, a cryptid who is said to live in Lake Champlain between Québec, Canada and Vermont, USA. (A fun little tidbit for me, since I live in the province next door.) And I’m happy to see the likes of Grendel (and Grendel’s Mother) from the ancient tale Beowulf included. Tolkien‘s Ents and Shelob are in it, too, along with Lewis Carroll‘s Jabberwocky!
In the back are a “Selected Bibliography” for further reference and Appendixes categorizing the beings, including “Beings associated with weather”, “Beings from literature”, “Heraldic beasts”, “Beings by country, realm, or people”, and a long list of others. Useful.
Though I think my favourite thing is how it touches on so many different areas of interest and subjects. History, anthropology, linguistics, geography, religion, spirituality, mythology, literature … it’s a little bit of a lot of things rolled up in one nice, pretty, neatly bound volume that fits well on any shelf without feeling like a brick. It has an international feel, taking the reader on a journey to peek inside all of the different human cultures. This book is one that ties us all together; for as different as we may seem, our monsters aren’t all that different. Dragons, giants, shifters, and similar creatures are everywhere! They might have different names but they share a lot in common. It’s a gentle reminder that while we fight each other and believe we’re completely different, we’re actually very much the same.
Now, I might be terribly biased because I fell in love with cryptozoology as a teenager, but I’d recommend this book to anyone – everyone – in the speculative fiction world who writes about creatures and beings, whether you pen fantasy, horror, paranormal, science fiction … whatever. You know, just in case you need a little help or inspiration. Or if you just like looking at the pictures and awesome names.