* When a Chinese Farmer, wants it to rain, who do they call?
* What Scared the Scylla so much she threw herself into the sea?
* Why should you follow an Alicanto, But with caution?
* What can you use a Gillygaloo’s egg for?
* Why is alcohol the best deterrent against a Hidebehind?* And finally, Why we should thank the Lamed Wufniks for our continued survival? ( although we can’t directly)
For your answer to these questions and much, much more, I bring you – Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Book of Imaginary Beings”. This pocket sized book from those purveyors of fine literature - Penguin modern classics, could one day save your bacon. Need to pull up a Mandrake root? this book will show you how, Wondering why you’re always running out of ink? this book has the answer.
In fact this could be the only book you ever need – You’d be a Mermecolion to think you could live without it!!!.
Cerberus, watercolour by William Blake
Jorge Luis Borges “ The Book of Imaginary Beings”Jorge Francisco Isidoro Luis Borges Acevedo, born on 24/8/1899, best known as Jorge Luis Borges was an Argentine writer, essayist and poet. He was born in Buenos Aires and in 1914 he & his family moved to Switzerland, where he went to school, he returned to Argentina in 1921 and began publishing his poems and essays. In 1955 he was appointed director of the Biblioteca Nacional (National Public Library) and held the professor of Literature position at the University of Buenos Aires. In 1961 he received his first International Publishers Prize (Prix Formentor), which brought him international acclaim & led to his work being translated and published throughout the world.
He wrote and edited the Book of Imaginary Beings in 1957 as the Handbook of Fantastic Zoology (original Spanish title Manual de zoología fantástica), further expanding it in 1967 and again in ‘69 with the title “ El libro de los seres imaginarios” ( The Book of Imaginary Beings). This, the English version, was created in collaboration with the translator Norman Thomas di Giovanni, and contains the descriptions of 120 mythical beasts from the folklore and literature of most of the nations on this planet.
In the preface to the 1967 edition, Borges states – “ The title of this book would justify the inclusion of Prince Hamlet, of the point, of the line, of the surface, of the n-dimensional hyper planes and hyper volumes , of all generic terms, and perhaps of each one of us and of the Godhead. In brief, the sum of all things – the Universe.”
He then goes on to say that in compiling this compendium it was limited to creatures immediately suggested by the words “Imaginary Beings” and that the handbook is compiled from fauna conceived by the human imagination through time and space.
“We are ignorant of the meaning of the dragon in the same way that we are ignorant of the meaning of the universe, but there is something in the dragon’s image that fits man’s imagination, and this accounts for the dragon’s appearance in different places and periods.”
Jorge Luis Borges also stated that this book, like all miscellany, shouldn’t be read straight through; he would rather the reader should dip into the pages at random - “just as one plays with the shifting patterns of a Kaleidoscope.”
* Feed him honey cakes, literally - “ a sop to Cerberus” The ancient Greeks suggested that you take a small bag of honey cakes along - as a "sop," or cake dipped in honey - to assuage the appetite of the snarling monster. Cerberus would gobble up the sop and let you climb aboard the boat to the underworld* The Shang Yang – long ago, children hopped up & down on 1 leg, wrinkled their brows and repeated “It will thunder, it will rain, cause the Shang Yang’s here again”.
* the easy answer here is herself. Usual tale God falls in love with beautiful nymph, Goddess gets jealous, turns nymph into hideous monster
* The Alicanto, is a mine shaft dwelling bird that feeds upon gold. If you can follow the bird without being caught, you can find silver or gold. But, if you’re discovered, the bird will guide you off a cliff to certain death.
* Gillygaloo- is a bird which nests on mountain slopes and lays square eggs, when boiled they can be used as dice.
* The Hidebehind, is a strange nocturnal woodland creature, that preys on humans. As the name suggests it is noted for its ability to conceal itself. When an observer attempts to look directly at it, the creature hides behind an object or even the observer themselves & therefore can't be directly seen. The best known deterrent is alcohol which it has a string aversion to.
* There are precisely thirty-six Lamed Wufniks in existence. It is said that, without knowing it, they support the universe and affirm God. Mystical Hasidic Judaism as well as other segments of Judaism believe that there is the Jewish tradition of 36 righteous people whose role in life is to justify the purpose of humankind in the eyes of God. Tradition holds that their identities are unknown to each other and that, if one of them comes to a realization of their true purpose then they may die and their role is immediately assumed by another person: