Posted on February 16, 2008 by Monica Valentinelli
The ultimate A to A of fantastic beings from myth and magic.
Written by John and Caitlin Matthews
Whether you’re a gamer, a fiction writer, or you enjoy the fantasy genre, sometimes there are resources available that gather together everything you’re looking for in one place. The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures is one such book.
Spanning worldwide myths, this well-researched encyclopedia has monsters from A Bao a Qu to the creature called “Zu.” Like most well-respected reference works, there is a series of essays in the introduction, as well as at its conclusion. The copy I picked up from Barnes & Noble was in hardcover, and is a hefty book at over 650 pages of dense material covering unusual creatures I had never heard of to “common” monsters like the zombie.
Unlike other research materials, there is a definite and intentional desire in this work for you, as the reader, to easily reference and understand where the origin of these “creatures” began, from both a location and a mythological perspective. I found the stylistic entries to be exceptionally useful; creatures are cross-referenced throughout the work by being “bolded,” and their multiple names are included as separate entries.
Let’s look at an example of an entry, so you can see what I’m referring to:
Erqigdlit A group of blood-drinking monsters in the legends and traditions of the people of Greenland and Baffin Island. Among the Inuit people of Labrador and the Hudson Bay coastline of Canada they are considered the most fearsome and terrifying monsters of which they have knowledge. They are also known as the Adlet.
If this reference book could be improved, I would recommend the inclusion of a world map to cross-reference mythic locations – especially since my geography isn’t as good as what it used to be. I also found the packaging of this book to be quite amusing; this is not a reference work of fiction rather, this is a well-researched compendium of creatures, fairies, monsters, and other mythic gods and goddesses that have taken the form of an animal or hybrid. Published by Barnes & Noble this is one of those “overlooked” reference guides because, in my opinion, the title, the cover art, and its “occult” categorization do not represent the accuracy and the time it took to create this book that is only “magical” because it covers mythic creatures.
Of the other reference guides out there, I would highly recommend The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures; this is not a guide of how to summon, attract the attention of, or tame a magical creature like many works within the occult section claim to do. Instead, this is a thorough work (complete with a full bibliography) that spans global myth from African to East Asian and South American, shedding light on the beliefs and fears that unify us all. The book is not filled with pictures, so you’ll have to use your imagination if you want to see what the Peri look like or if, when you come across the Fei Lian, you’ll treat this commander of winds with kindness.
Great for writers and game designers, I’ve never come across a more thorough and massive work detailing creatures so rare you may not recognize them. There are two, other books in the series entitled, The Element Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells and The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft. If either of those two books are as down-to-earth and fact-filled as this one, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy either one to add substance to my fantasy stories.