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250 × 190 × 26 mm
278 pages
194 illustrations, 100 in colour
01 Oct 2013
  • £30.00

  • This edition is currently unavailable

Imaginary Animals The Monstrous, the Wondrous and the Human Boria Sax

Medieval authors placed fantastic creatures in the borders of manuscripts, since they mark the boundaries of our understanding. Tales throughout the world generally place fabulous beasts in marginal locations – deserts, deep woods, remote islands, glaciers, ocean depths, mountain peaks, caves, swamps, heavenly bodies and alternate universes. According to apocalyptic visions of the Bible, they will also proliferate as we approach the end of time. Because they challenge our conceptual powers, fantastic creatures also seem to exist at the limits of language. Legends tell us that imaginary animals belong to a primordial time, before we had encompassed the world in names, categories and elaborate conceptual frameworks.

This book shows how, despite their liminal role, griffins, dog-men, mermaids, dragons, unicorns, yetis and many other imaginary creatures are socially constructed through the same complex play of sensuality and imagination as ‘real’ ones. It traces the history of imaginary animals from Palaeolithic art to the Harry Potter stories and robotic pets. These figures help us psychologically by giving form to our amorphous fears as ‘monsters’, as well as embodying our hopes as ‘wonders’. Nevertheless, their greatest service may be to continually challenge our imaginations, directing us beyond the limitations of our conventional beliefs and expectations.

To download some sample pages from Imaginary Animals please click here.

‘Author Boria Sax argues that monsters help us by giving concrete form to our fears, whilewonders incarnate our hopes. Enlisting cultural support, whether from Hieronymus Bosch or PT Barnum, this teacher at Sing Sing prison shows how mermaids and dragons, even superheroes and Tamagochis, help us measure what it means to be human. A well illustrated and philosophically sophisticated book.’ — World of Interiors

‘A thought-provoking analysis of bestial creations, this illustrated compendium by Boria Sax scrutinizes artistic and literary models, ranging from Chauvet cave art from 36,000 BCE to political cartoons, graphic Japanese novels, and postmodern robotics. Conclusions about the nature and purpose of fantasy animals draw on scripture, anthropology, medicine, myth, and psychology . . . An intriguing, highly readable reference work at a low price, Saxs multifaceted work covers a host of reference needs. Recommended.’ — Choice

‘Speaking as someone fascinated by all animals from earliest childhood, I found Imaginary Animals to be an intriguing and thought-provoking discovery. Scholarly and well-researched, without being either ponderous or condescending, it is written with real wit, and with a contagious delight in its subject rare in such a study. I would recommend it enthusiastically to anyone interested in the astonishing range of folkloric, religious, cultural, philosophic and political symbolism with which human beings have regarded and ceaselessly recreated real animals in our time together on this planet.’ — Peter S. Beagle, author of The Last Unicorn

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Boria Sax teaches at Sing Sing prison and online in the graduate literature program at Mercy College. He has published many books including City of Ravens (2012), Imaginary Animals (Reaktion, 2013) and Dinomania (Reaktion, 2019).

1. The True Unicorn
2. Animal Encounters
3. What is an ‘Imaginary Animal’?
4. Every Real Animal is Imaginary
5. Every Imaginary Animal is Real
6. Monsters
7. Wonders
8. Creatures of Water
9. Creatures of Fire and Air
10. Creatures of Earth
11. Shape-Shifters
12. Mechanical Animals

Further Reading
Photo Acknowledgements