This illustrated fictional reproduction of a Victorian field guide helps identify imaginary and legendary creatures.
According to the Introduction, said to be written by Angus Willoughby, “CRYPTOZOOLOGIST AND NATURALIST,” this volume contains truthful accounts “of the strange and unusual in the world of nature” so that readers may be best prepared to encounter, propitiate, or avoid them. The beings are grouped into four kinds of Folk (Fey, Wee, Great, and Wyre) and five types of Creature: those that live with people and those of the land, sea, air, and night. Each entry includes an illustration with size, habitat, and description. A Banshee, for example, is 4 to 6 feet tall; its habitat is “Houses; Dark and stormy nights”; and it “appears to those who are to suffer the death of a family member.” Many entries include helpful information: “Upon finding a Land Kraken in your barn or stable, it is recommended that you drive it out as quickly as possible.” While some beings are familiar from folklore (such as Elf, Sasquatch, and Goblin), others are humorous inventions (Thinking Cap, Newsie, and Jackalope). An appendix provides an alphabetical index plus Folk calendars, a bibliography, and an advertising section (for example, “Dr. Pythagoras’ Patented Pixilation Cure”). Barnwell (Oneirognosis, 2015, etc.) is a professional artist, printmaker, and illustrator whose work has been exhibited internationally. The book’s images are perhaps the stars of this show—a brilliantly successful pastiche of Victorian engravings in their exquisite detail, subtle tonal and shading techniques such as hatching and crosshatching, and moodiness (romantic, whimsical, solemn, or eerie as suitable to the Creature or Folk described). The Victorian style offers some especially amusing images; Cyclops, for example, is a prosperous-looking, bearded gentleman with a better claim to his monocle than most. But the text, which describes absurdities in all Victorian seriousness, has a delightfully wry undertone and sometimes veers from the expected. Cyclopes, for example, “are cultured and civilized….Sadly, to date, elected office has eluded them.”
A fanciful guide to nature’s wonders; beautiful, clever, and appealing in every way—a fine achievement.