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The Book of Imaginary Beings

4.3 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0670891801
ISBN-10: 0670891800
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The master, writing with sometime collaborator Guerrero, compiled 82 one- and two-page descriptions of everything from "The Borametz" (a Chinese "plant shaped like a lamb, covered with golden fleece") to "The Simurgh" ("an immortal bird that makes its nest in the tree of science") and "The Zaratan" (a particularly cunning whale) in An Anthology of Fantastic Zoology in 1954. He added 34 more (and illustrations) for a 1967 edition, giving it the present title, and it was published in English in 1969. This edition, with fresh translations from Borges's Collected Fictions translator Hurley, and new illustrations from Caldecott-winner Sís, gives the beings new life. They prove the perfect foils for classic Borgesian musings on everything from biblical etymology to the underworld, giving the creatures particularly (and, via Sís, whimsically) vivid and perfectly scaled shape. "We do not know what the dragon means, just as we do not know the meaning of the universe," Borges (1899–1986) and Guerrero write in a preface, and the genius of this book is that it seems to easily contain the latter within it. (On sale Nov. 7)
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Review

Of all the Latin American authors in this century, [Borges] is the most universal. (Harold Bloom) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (November 3, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670891800
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670891801
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #181,789 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Format: Paperback
Borges has compiled a zoology of the imagination under the title The Book of Imaginary Beings. He arranges these fantastical creatures from world literature alphabetically, but urges the reader to skip around, looking for subjects of interest. Some are familiar creatures: centaurs, nymphs, harpies, sirens, banshee, phoenix, hippogriffs, minotaur, mandrakes, and unicorns. Others I failed to recognize: A Bao A Qu, lamed wufniks, kujata, nagas, odradek, catoblepas, and others.

Ctesias, physician to the Persian emperor Artaxerxes Mnemon, compiled a deficient description of distant India in the fourth century B.C., in which he mentions the crocotta, a blend of a dog and a wolf. The Roman writer Pliny expands on this work by describing a cross between the hyena and antelope.

Kafka tells about an unnamed creature, that is half cat and half lamb, not only in appearance, but also in behavior. C. S. Lewis describes chilling monsters in his fantasy fiction Perelandra. Dante paints a vivid, horrifying picture of Cerberus, a creature with clawed hands that rip the skin of the souls of the damned as they file past him. In The Time Machine H. G. Wells predicts the future split of mankind into the weak, aristocratic Eloi living on the surface, and the carnivorous Morlocks, a race of underground proletarians that feast on the Eloi.

While I enjoyed perusing The Book of Imaginary Beings, this little collection is not among his best works. Perhaps, his structured approach, that of assembling accurate depictions of creatures from literature, unduely prevented Borges from freely exercising his own uniquely creative imagination. Nonetheless, the reader familiar with Borges will find this little book an interesting addition to a larger collection of his works.
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Format: Hardcover
Other reviewers have commented that Borges is too far removed here, or that it's a "minor work from a major author" -- all of which is true. If you're looking for serious *Borges*, this may not be of much interest. But if what you're looking for is a bestiary in the medieval tradition (with roots going back even further, to the 2nd Century Greek Physiologus), this is a great addition to the literature.

Wry and clever on some pages, deliciously ambiguous and foggy on others, Borges' compendium of curious creatures makes for enjoyable perusal. The only thing missing, of course, is more creatures. Borges himself begins the work with a disclaimer that any such undertaking can never be complete, yet there was plenty of room for more here. Some omissions are surprising. But in any case, for what it is (and not for what it's not), I can recommend the book without reservation.
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Format: Paperback
A much more full and informative review of this book is made by a Mr.Wischmeyer on the Amazon site. I recommend it.

I remember reading this book with disappointment. It seemed to me as dictionary- like works often do constructed in a formula- like fashion. Of course it has Borges tremendous learning, and his capacity to search through literatures no one else gets to , to find for the reader certain treats and insights. Yet on the whole like the fantastic creatures themselves the work does not have real life, and the deepest kind of human feeling. A minor work of a great master.
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Format: Hardcover
I flipped out when I first picked up this book, being a huge fan of pretty much everything Borges has done, plus the whole idea of the book sounded fun...but really Borges is a bit too far in the background for me to really enjoy this.

He compiles a fantastic group of creatures, but it lacks a lot of his clever writing and ideas.

It could have been put together by almost anyone honestly.

...while it's still a good book, it's not as amazing as it could have been if Borges would have let himself run a bit with it.
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Format: Hardcover
In addition to being a brilliant and talented author, Jorge Luis Borges also had a strong interest in mythology, fantasy and philosophy. It shines through in this book, a field guide, of sorts, to the imagination. While it may not be amongst his best works, it IS a fun read, and one gets the feeling it was really a labor of love for Borges. Spanning the realms of folklore, mythology, theology and literature, this volume winds up being perhaps one of the closest modern equivalents to a medieval bestiary. While not quite like Carol Rose's 'Spirits, Fairies, Leprechauns and Goblins,' or Mack & Mack's 'Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels and Other Subversive Spirits,' I thoroughly enjoyed reading through this little book. And, as Borges himself says in the introduction, this really is meant to be a book one flips through occaisonally as any good volume of miscellenea.

Lurking in the pages of this book, one finds such familiar beasts as dragons (of east and west), lamiae, harpies, the minotaur, satyrs, Valkyrie, manticores, golems, kami and the Lernaean hydra. Yet we also find more obscure and exotic things, like the Chinese ink monkey, Lamed Wufniks, creatures from American folklore (like the Hide-Behind and goofus bird) and a strange hairy beast seen in France. While werewolves and other shapeshifters were intentionally excluded, Borges also includes a great number of beasts from literature, ranging from the Behemoth of the Bible, Homer's scylla and the roc from the 1,001 Nights, to stranger things imagined by Poe, Kafka, H.G. Wells and C.S. Lewis. All in all we get well over a hundead beasts mentioned, each with a short story and description, and some with cute little cartoon illustrations.

The end result is quite a fun read.
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