The Atlas of Monsters by Stuart Hill and Sandra Lawrence
|The Atlas of Monsters by Stuart Hill and Sandra Lawrence|
|Category: Children's Non-Fiction|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A book to love for its depth and detail, but one with too much that wasn't called for.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 64||Date: October 2017|
|Publisher: Big Picture Press|
|External links: Author's website|
There are monsters and mysterious characters, such as trolls, leprechauns, goblins and minotaurs. They're the stuff of far too many stories to remain mysterious, and every schoolchild should know all about them. There are monsters and mysterious characters, such as Gog and Magog, Scylla and Charybdis, and the bunyip. They are what you find if you take an interest in this kind of thing to the next level; even if you cannot place them all on a map you should have come across them. But there are monsters and mysterious characters, such as the dobhar-chu, the llambigyn y dwr, and the girtablili. To gain any knowledge of them you really need a book that knows its stuff. A book like this one…
I've loved books like this – the bestiary of the impossible or at least mythological – for as long as I can remember, but as I indicated above, this has an incredible depth. It's a great shame you don't get more than a couple of sentences for each entity, but what you do get is that huge scope, and everything on a map so you can easily see where the entities were supposed to be found. But that's not all that is on these pages.
Rather spuriously, it's dressed up as a long-lost book of charts created then hidden away by a failed Elizabethan poet, a contemporary of Drake and Raleigh that would have been deemed one of the world's most broadly travelled explorers if news of his findings had come out. So you get an introductory letter and interrupting little index card notes from a modern-day editor. You get annotations by the man himself as he scribbles notes on his maps, and begins and ends every chapter-cum-chart with a fraction of the main narrative of his voyage. You also get odd bits of coded text – just one more element that makes this encyclopaedia more of a fictional work.
Yes, there's no doubt this book is heavily layered, but this millefeuille has been allowed to crumble under the weight of over-egging. The fact we get the fiction imposed on proceedings is one reason why we get the maps, with the little key illustrations on, on one page, only to have the text descriptions relegated to a different one. You're flapping to and fro like, I don't know, a kreutzet. The fact is that not only the fictional journey here-and-there zigzags like, I don't know, a yacumama – for the keys to the maps don't follow any searchable pattern either. The fact I found the whole mystery a little bit disposable, and the modern editor thoroughly ignorable (even when she had factoids of her own to deliver) is proof this style is not a hundred per cent success. Finally, some of the fonts are awful – such an antiquated hand-written style where the h and the b are impossible to tell apart.
But the fact remains that you would have to be a serious student of this kind of thing to know all the entities herein, and whether it's Sussex legend, famous European myth, or Kyrgyz folklore of all things, they're all present and correct. I could never have expected such riches – so it's a shame there is so much else here that I found intrusive and unnecessary. The folly of the coded messages will be worked on – and then dismissed, for I don't think it will stick in the mind. What I can cherish this volume for, however, is the introduction to a whole world of the unknown – a real five-star-worthy achievement. The fact we're not giving this book five stars is a disappointment to us as well.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
The same author has given us other looks at the world's arcana, such as Myths and Legends by Sandra Lawrence and Emma Trithart. For a real life map of the monstrous, you have to turn to Sea Monsters: The Lore and Legacy of Olaus Magnus's Marine Map by Joseph Nigg.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Atlas of Monsters by Stuart Hill and Sandra Lawrence at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Atlas of Monsters by Stuart Hill and Sandra Lawrence at Amazon.com.
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