06.May.2012 The Element Encyclopaedia of Magical Creatures by John & Caitlin Matthews (Sterling)

When I was growing up I used to dip in and out of Funk & Wagnall’s Dictionary of Folklore, Myth and Legends. A hefty tome bereft of images, it used to sit on the shelf beside the other dictionaries and encyclopaedias. And I always thought Funk was a cool surname, even when one of my high school science teachers was also called Mr Funk.

I popped into Strand Books today with the children in tow, giving them an opportunity to spend their pocket money on something other than sweets laced with high fructose corn syrup. And there sitting amongst a frightfully small ‘mythology’ section, was this – The Element Encyclopaedia of Magical Creatures.

I am bit surprised that there aren’t more of these sorts of books around – especially in the wake of Harry Potter and the recent wave of teenage pulp undead fiction. Of course, there’s a lot of single species books designed to look like ‘faux-olde-worlde’ tomes with puffy covers (the -Ology series) or cheaply produced paperbacks full of badly Photoshopped stills from recent movies. But there’s certainly not the wealth of well-illustrated hardcovers that I had as a kid.

Anyway, back to The Element Encyclopaedia of Magical Creatures.

Pitched at upper-primary readers and beyond, I was pretty impressed by the diversity of creatures contained within, and their histories. There’s plenty of global beasts drawn from lesser known mythos, as well as the obvious choices. Some woodcuts keep the illustrations appropriately restrained, no 12 year old’s fantasy fiction drawings in this one fortunately. On the downside, it would have been good to have had a bibliography with at least a few of the entries for further mythological investigations.

Nevertheless it is a good go-to-book anytime you get asked “Dad, why is the basilisk in Harry Potter different to the basilisks in other stories?”.

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