8.7.16

DISCOMFORTING CREATURES

Theresa Bane. Encyclopedia of Beasts and Monsters in Myth, Legend and Folklore. McFarland, 2016.
Theresa Bane. Encyclopedia of Giants and Humanoids in Myth, Legend and Folklore. McFarland, 2016.
Theresa Bane. Encyclopedia of Spirits and Ghosts in World Mythology. McFarland, 2016.

To use a tired old phrase, these three books do exactly what it says on the tin. They are comprehensive alphabetical encyclopedias of creatures of vision and belief, taken from an extraordinary range of societies and historical periods. The largest of the books, Beasts and Monsters, contains over 2,200 entries, the two smaller books probably half that, so we have a set of encyclopedias containing the names and description of about 5,000 legendary and folkloric entities. All the entries are well referenced, and each title has an extensive bibliography. Also, unlike some alphabetical encyclopedias, the books each have a separate comprehensive index to topics include within the individual entries.

In reviewing encyclopedias like this it is impossible to check every entry for accuracy, so the reviewer is forced to check particular subjects on which they are fairly well informed; but in trying to do this it reveals one of the problems with this collection. The division of topics between the three books can sometimes seem quite arbitrary, and users may often have to check all three volumes before alighting on an appropriate entry. Although the Beasts and Monsters title largely covers non-human entities such as dragons, mythical horses, water creatures, etc., there are also entries for humanoid figures such as the mareikura, “a species of supernatural female beings from Polynesian mythology”. The description of these creatures suggests that they would have fitted more comfortably into the Spirits and Ghosts volume.

The encyclopedias cover a very wide range of cultures, well beyond the Western Classical and Oriental belief systems and folklore which seem to limit many other compilations. Australian Aboriginal, Native American, Oceanic, African and South American creatures and spirits are referenced, as well as the beliefs and folklore of smaller European ethnic and linguistic communities. There is particularly good coverage of North European and Scandinavian mythology as well (although I wish the proofreaders had got their P’s and รพ’s sorted out; with Iceland beating England at football this is urgent!). 

It is also interesting to see more modern folkloric traditions being incorporated, such as that of the American lumberjacks in the nineteenth century; creatures such as the gillygaloo, the hoop snake and the whapperknocker, which seem to exist in a debatable land between joke, campfire tale and you-never-can-tell semi-belief.

But these seems to be one very strange and very major omission. In none of the books, either in the main text or the index, have I been able to find any reference to our old friend the Yeti or Sasquatch, except in a brief description of the abnaanya, a semi-humanoid creature from the Caucasus, which is described as “yeti-like”. I can only conclude that Ms Bane considers our favourite hairy humanoid as being totally real and more appropriate for an entry in a zoological encyclopedia than one devoted to mythical and legendary beasts!

As a reference tool, these books seem very useful, and I would recommend them for a personal library but for one problem; the legendary, but unfortunately not mythical, prices in the £30 to £40 range for ‘trade-format’ paperbacks. This puts them surely out of reach to most Forteans and libraries. – John Rimmer.



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