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The Book of Imaginary Beings [Hardcover]

by Jorge Luis Borges, Peter Sis, Andrew Hurley
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)

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Book Description

November 3, 2005 0670891800 978-0670891801
The Book of Imaginary Beings is Borges’s whimsical compendium of more than one hundred of the "strange creatures conceived down through history by the human imagination." This unique contribution to fantasy literature ranges widely across the world’s mythologies and literatures to bring together the fantastical inventions drawn from the Kabbalah, Homer, Confucius, Shakespeare, Lewis Carroll, and Kafka, among others. Here readers will find the familiar and expected dragons, centaurs, and unicorns, as well as the less familiar and altogether unexpected Animals That Live in the Mirror, the Humbaba, the Simurgh, and other undeniably curious beasts. Throughout, Borges’s cunning and humorous commentary is sheer delight.

Andrew Hurley’s brilliant new translation is perfectly paired with original drawings from award-winning illustrator Peter Sís. The result is a wonderful gift book—an Alice Through the Looking Glass menagerie, which should appeal not only to Borges aficionados but also to fantasy fans of all stripes and ages.

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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Of all the Latin American authors in this century, [Borges] is the most universal. (Harold Bloom)

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (November 3, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670891800
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670891801
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #251,525 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Addition to a Grand Tradition December 22, 2006
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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35 of 41 people found the following review helpful
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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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not the best Borges but still Borges January 11, 2005
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Modern Day Bestiary December 2, 2007
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lots of fun December 28, 2005
By A. Hart
Yes, this is a minor work from a major author of literature, and no, this is not Borges' best, but if anyone wants an encyclopedia of fantastical creatures, especially little-known ones as well as creatures found in modern-day literature, why not get get your information from this fun little book by one of the most influential and highly-revered Latin American writers of our time? All in all, I wouldn't have bought this book if Borges' name wasn't on it, but I wasn't disappointed.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Nice book for all ages from Borges.
This is a well-written bestiary for readers of all ages. Borges wrote a great deal magical realism fiction novels, and this non-fiction bestiary based on research he performed as... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Tim H.
5.0 out of 5 stars Whimsical and Delightful
I've always loved Borges for his minute scrutiny of big and little wonders. This book is a collection of short revelations about various monsters and creatures from myth and... Read more
Published 9 months ago by S. Higley
4.0 out of 5 stars A Decent Bestiary
Most of the entries are quite short. The list is not inexhaustible, and this book could easily be read in one sitting. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Piglet2
5.0 out of 5 stars Imaginary Beings
This book is amazing. You really learn where all of these imaginary beings originate and what they are considered to be and to symbolize. Some are even illustrated. Great book.
Published 20 months ago by Jennilee Garcia-green
5.0 out of 5 stars Borges is Always Unique...
One of Borges' excellent books to really enjoy. Fantastic by all aspects. The best writer of Spanish America. A treasure.
Published on September 12, 2011 by AdeP
3.0 out of 5 stars A letdown
I just finished Borges's Ficciones, and found it filled with thoughtful, intelligent fantasy - a brilliant experience. Read more
Published on August 14, 2010 by wiredweird
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning book...truly a must-have!
A collection of mythological creatures, written with Borges' wit and charm. Great for when you don't have much time to read, but you want something interesting to think about or... Read more
Published on October 1, 2009 by Erica Anderson
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic reference book on Imaginary Beings
This book may not have all of the imaginary beings ever known, but it tries. A terrific book to read and use as a reference.
Published on July 31, 2007 by Beaker 63
3.0 out of 5 stars Literary Compilation by Borges - A Zoology of the Imagination
Jorge Luis Borges was a remarkable linguist, familiar with several modern European languages as well as Latin, Anglo-Saxon, and medieval Italian; this unusual zoological... Read more
Published on May 19, 2007 by Michael Wischmeyer
4.0 out of 5 stars Bestiary of the imagination
"The Book of Imaginary Creatures" seems like kind of a flimsy book for a great author like Jorge Luis Borges -- a bestiary of creatures from myth, religion and literature. Read more
Published on February 3, 2007 by E. A Solinas
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