This week's edition to our Olympia Extracts is a thrilling children's book, A Dictionary of Monsters and Mysterious Beasts by Carey Miller!
From the Abominable Snowman to the Hippogriff to the Yale, here are hosts of mysterious monsters fair and foul, fascinating and frightening – real monsters and monsters that don't exist – or do they…?
Everything anyone could possibly want to know about monsters is contained in the pages of this book but it is not for the faint-hearted! The monsters produced by the human imagination on all five continents haunt these pages from Japan to Greenland, from Africa to Borneo. Hours and hours of fascinating reading on this most popular of subjects.
'Monster' comes from the Latin word Monstrum, meaning 'omen', for the appearance of strange and sinister creatures was thought to herald unusual and disturbing events.
A MESSAGE FROM THE AUTHOR
We all love monsters – from the child who imagines weird and wonderful creatures lurking in the shadows of his bedroom to the adult who spends money to sit in a darkened cinema to be terrified by the man-made monster on the screen. It's a strange fact, but at some time or another we all enjoy being frightened. To some it is merely being hurled around too fast on a fairground ride that makes us scream with fearful delight, but to most of us the prospect of a strange, unknown creature is endlessly fascinating. Particularly if we are unlikely to meet it face to face! This enjoyment of fear was probably not common to the people of earliest civilizations and it is easy to understand how their fears started – groups of primitive people huddling around small flickering fires and surrounded by a great darkness and a lot of eerie, inexplicable noises. If you thought about it - and at that time of night, there was little else to think about - there could be absolutely anything out there just waiting for the right moment to come and snatch you away!
Perhaps there really were gigantic, scaly, fire-breathing, two-headed monsters waiting in the shadows, perhaps the dead could come to life and haunt the living, maybe the sea was full of evil, writhing things just waiting to drag you under. Who could say? The tales they told each other to explain away their fears were passed down from generation to generation. If someone told you today that they had seen a Hippogriff in the High Street or that their Auntie May had been swallowed by a Kraken whilst paddling, you would probably be very amused. Certainly, you would not take it seriously even for a second. Yet it was no joke to primitive man – these sorts of occurrences seemed highly likely!
When people were able to travel from one country to another they brought home even more amazing tales of creatures who lived in foreign lands. Apparently, in these faraway, mysterious places, there were creatures like gigantic lizards with glittering, needle-sharp teeth and jaws that could break a man in two (crocodiles); and wild-eyed cat-like creatures, but a hundred times bigger with vicious teeth and claws that could tear you apart before you could shout 'Help!' (tigers); and serpents as wide as the trunk of a tree that could swallow a whole cow without difficulty (pythons). When these stories were embroidered a little here and there they were enough to scare anybody who had not actually seen the creatures out of their wits!
Many of the monsters in this book are based on real animals with human exaggerations making them quite unrecognizable. For instance, could the Kraken or the Hai Ho Shang really have been a sort of giant squid? It's quite possible. Other sorts of monsters could be totally imaginary beings invented by frightened humans to explain away natural things that they didn't understand, like storms and earthquakes.
On the other hand, it is only recently, probably within the last fifty years, that it has become fashionable to dismiss monster sightings as the evidence of easily frightened people misrepresenting clues, or as intentional or unintentional hoaxes. Can this be the explanation of one hundred per cent of all monster reports, or does it, perhaps, account for only ninety-eight per cent of them? If so, what about the other two per cent?
In the latest edition of this book I have discovered several new monsters and more spine-chilling evidence on the old ones. Afterwards readers may well decide that it is better to be an armchair participant than an eye-witness when it comes to monster hunting. If you do decide to hunt, begin with the shelves of your library or bookshop, looking first in the Folk Tales section. And always remember to check under your bed before you get into it. Don't bother to lock your bedroom door, though - the monsters that aren't strong enough to break it down will probably ooze in through the keyhole.
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