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The Book of Imaginary Beings

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  7,353 ratings  ·  495 reviews
In a perfect pairing of talent, this volume blends twenty illustrations by Peter S.' with Jorge Luis Borges' 1957 compilation of 116 "strange creatures conceived through time and space by the human imagination," from dragons and centaurs to Lewis Carroll's Cheshire Cat and the Morlocks of H. G. Wells' The Time Machine. A lavish feast of exotica brought vividly to life with ...more
Paperback, deluxe, 236 pages
Published September 26th 2006 by Penguin Books (first published March 30th 1957)
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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt ScamanderGnomes by Wil HuygenFaeries by Brian FroudA Tolkien Bestiary by David DayThe Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges
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One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García MárquezLove in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García MárquezThe House of the Spirits by Isabel AllendeLike Water for Chocolate by Laura EsquivelFicciones by Jorge Luis Borges
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Average rating 4.09  · 
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 ·  7,353 ratings  ·  495 reviews

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A fascinating compendium of incredible beasts from world mythology, folklore and fiction. The entries are generally from one to three pages in length. There are illustrations, too, by one Peter Sís; stylish intaglio etchings. The format is that of an encyclopedia with the entries in alphabetical order. My favorite entries include the "Banshees," "The Celestial Cock," "The Chinese Dragon," "The Western Dragon," "The Hydra," "Lilith," "The Golem," "The Unicorn," "The Chinese Unicorn," etc. etc.

Apr 07, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays, fantasy, mythology
Though this is yet another one of those books made superfluous by the internet (seriously - if you want to know the specifics of a manticore, would you use google or look it up in a book?), it's a lovely and intriguing little volume to use for perusing, AND, as a reference. Borges provides alphabetical descriptions of both biblical beasts, and mythological monsters, with a few literary creatures dumped in, as well.

Most interesting to me was the tale of The Squonk. Though I've lived in Pennsylva
Jack Tripper
Here's the 1970 E.P. Dutton & Co. hardcover I have (3rd printing, 256 pages), which isn't listed here on Goodreads. I see others have their copies tagged as "illustrated," though mine's not, unfortunately.

Full review to come.

3.5 Stars.
Oct 04, 2017 rated it it was ok
I can't say I'm surprised by the fact that it's so highly acclaimed. That said, I can't say I found much interest in it, either. Truth is, it kind of made the already long hours of the night shift at work a tiny bit longer. All in all, The Book of Imaginary Beings is an admittedly big literary achievement that simply didn't touch me.
Shit happens, I guess.
May 22, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: nearby bookshelves.
Borges explains at the beginning that the book is not intended to be read through, but opened at random and skimmed. Well, I read it through, and I don't regret it. But that's because I'm interested by very unusual things. Borges has here compiled from what is essentially a set of utterly trivial facts something with meaning. His selection is bizarre, pretty and humorous, and he describes each beast with great variation in tone. The reason for each voice only becomes clear after several beasts a ...more
Aug 01, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: summer-12
This book is great! Unlike Rowling's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them or Holly Black's Arthur Spiderwick's Guide to the Fantastical World Around You, which provide authoritative portraits of magical creatures in a particular fantasy world, The Book of Imaginary Beings compiles interesting stories and details about a diverse array of imagined beasts, drawing from both Western and Eastern mythologies. Borges's aim is not simply to delight his readers with whimsical stories couched in a sati ...more
তানজীম Rahman)
May 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Reading this again because I'm in the middle of translating it, and it's still as beautiful as ever. The creatures described in this book have been a major influence on all my horror work.
Nov 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
Like much of the Borgesian oeuvre, The Book of Imaginary Beings exists on the peripheries of the make-believe. On a certain level, the work does indeed function as an honest-to-goodness encyclopedia—albeit one that deals almost exclusively with the fantastical. But as one might expect, things aren't quite what they seem, and the astute reader should also view the legitimacy—even the sincerity—of its various mythological claims with a grain (or two) of salt.

One of history's most prolific readers,
Akemi G.
Aug 31, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-fiction
I really don't know how JLB makes such exciting topic sound so boring.

Let's take Scylla as an example. She is one of the weirdest monsters--a girl with the heads of six barking dogs coming from her waist. The story behind her transformation (from Ovid's Metamorphoses) is equally twisted -- a guy named Glaucus falls in love with Scylla (lovely girl at this point), she scorns him. Desperate, he seeks help from Circe, the sorceress. (He is probably hoping for some love potion to change Scylla's mi
Yigal Zur
Nov 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
hard to resist this amazing modern bestiary which surpass so many shallow creatures in now days films or books. what a vivid imagination this great writer had.
Jul 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
If you’re a mid- to light-weight fantasy fan, you should stay away from this one. If you resent or are suspicious of the validity of the fantasy genre or just hate it, this is absolutely the book for you. Either way, The Book of Imaginary Beings is a lethal takeout of the intellectual validity of Modern Western Fantasy. I’m talking about Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, all of them flipped over and bellies exposed. Of the three, I’m fondest of Game of Thrones, but less because i ...more
Douglas Summers-Stay
Aug 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy, non-fiction
One of my favorite books when I was about 15 was the AD&D Monster Manual, the original one printed in 1977. I read it cover to cover. (Well, I skipped the demons and devils, I was a good kid.) There was something really appealing about a world where everything from ethics (How does Lawful Evil differ from Chaotic Good?) to resistance to poison (saving throws) could be quantified and understood. It was a game, but it was at least as large as real life in what it could describe. The Monster Manual ...more
Rebecca McNutt
Jun 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, fantasy, classic
Full of creatures and entities from fantasy and mythology, from unicorns to griffins to characters from classic fiction, The Book of Imaginary Beings is a brilliant, sensational book.
This is a brilliant book. It's great to read a literary (rather than historic) exploration of imaginary animals coming from myths, stories and books from all over the world. None is more important than the other, they are all equal. Refreshing.

The most interesting chapters to me were the non-mythological ones, like the animals imagined by Kafka - most mythology I'd heard of, and reading about fauna eponymous people have come up with is fascinating.

But it's such a shame Borges didn't take the op
Apr 29, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
this is very interesting, but really nothing more.
this could really help if i somehow decide to write a book with magical creatures in it (but i'm also too lazy for any real worldbuilding so that's probably not gonna happen).
to no one's surprise i enjoyed the greek mythology creatures the most bc i actually knew some things about them
Feb 28, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dragons, fantasy
I think the experience of reading this would've been much improved if my edition had illustrations. It's an interesting miscellany, but it really is more of a book to dip in and out of than to read right through. Maybe interesting for reference, particularly if you're a fantasy writer.

I found myself constantly wondering how much of this was Borges' own writing, and how much was quotation/repetition of sources. I think I'll have to read something else to see what I think of Borges' work.
Ανδρέας Μιχαηλίδης
If you are looking for possibly one of the main sources of the most dubious D&D monsters (such as the Barometz, the Catoblepas, the Leucrocotta, the Peryton and the Zaratan), look no further. Yes, all of those can be traced to far more ancient sources, but it is safe to assume that this compilation of some 120+ monsters some of which are Borges's creations, must have been a treasure trove for Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. ...more
A neat and entertaining book of imaginary beings from fiction, mythology, and legends, with a great variety from all across human myth and history. A bit uneven and strange, though, as some descriptions are curiously vague, short, and devoid of any real interesting information on the creature, while others will be nothing but quotes taken from the original source, making their inclusion in the book unnecessary if Borges doesn't wish to expand on any of it. I frequently wondered what point it ser ...more
Chad Bearden
Mar 01, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: fantasy
This was totally an impulse buy at HalfPrice Books a little bit ago, a short book I thought I could toss off in little snippets as I went to bed each night. I've read Borges in short-story-form, and assumed this odd little beastiary would be similar in tone to his other whimisically-magical realism work.

It wasn't quite what I expected. There is some whimsy in these pages, but it is hidden amidst a series of almost-encyclopedic descriptions of various mythological and legendary creatures from a w
To be fair, this is a drop-into-drop-out-again book, rather than a read-cover-to-cover book, so it was my choice to read straight through - probably to the detriment of my enjoyment.

My copy is a VINTAGE BORGES copy (published 2002, 1967 edition), with a cool cover, but i have to admit I prefer the original title of Manual de Zoologia Fantastica. Regrettably, my edition doesn't come with illustrations - I see from other reviews that some do - that might have made it all the better.

The book itsel
Nate D
Feb 20, 2017 rated it liked it
Of course Borges would have felt compelled to create a bestiary -- a perfect meeting of Borges and his double, Borges the librarian and Borges the fabulist (but which doubles which?!). Much of this is lovingly, exhaustively assembled as an actual reference work, compiling various literary, historical, and traditional references to familiar and unfamiliar creatures, but the finest bits are the ones that I suspect were invented by Borges on the spot, Borges stories with fictitious references masqu ...more
This is nonessential Borges, but Borges being an essential author, Beings is worth a browse.
Kyriakos Sorokkou

4 decades before J. K. Rowling wrote "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them", the great Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges wrote "The Book of Imaginary Beings"

While Rowling wrote it as a Hogwarts' textbook with beings we find in the world of Harry Potter, Borges wrote about beings we find in the mythologies of every culture.

And because folklore, mythology, fantasy, and literature are influenced by one another, I found in this book many creatures that existed in Rowling's book, such as: Basilis
Joseph Hirsch
Jun 21, 2018 rated it liked it
This book comes with the caveat from the author that it is not meant to be read straight through, that it is meant to be sampled and savored in stages, at random, or perhaps just when the whim strikes. I'm of too obsessive a bent, though, to heed Mr. Borges warning, which puts me at a bit of a disadvantage, and probably marks me out as not the ideal audience for his method (though I do remain fascinated with the monsters in the book).

"The Book of Imaginary Beings" provides an alphabetically arra
haton. (ibookowl)
3.5 I really enjoyed it but skipped the second half bc I wasn’t interested.
Aug 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a reference book really and not one to be read from cover to cover. It is the kind of book that it is best to dip into from time to time. And that's the way I have treated it for the past 30 or so years that it has been in my possession. But I have changed my attitude to the books I own. Instead of keeping them once they have been read, I now read them and give them away when I have finished. As I no longer need this particular book (it has proved very useful in the writing of various of ...more
Leah Rachel von Essen
May 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
The Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges is a compendium of mythological creatures that is not meant to be read all in one go. I’ve been dipping in and out of it for a couple months now, enjoying the absurdist illustrations and the baroque descriptions of each creature.

The book is a little haphazard. Some of Borges’s humor is a bit off, and he can make Orientalist comments that are a bit off-putting. I wish he’d been a bit more creative with how he added his own distinctive voice of mys
Nov 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
This book has taken me months; in fact, I'm still not quite done with it. But that's how it's meant to be read, I think. A few pages at a time, and then weeks to dream of the beasts you've met. It's written like an encyclopedia for imaginary beings. Every entry is a new creature of fancy, beautiful or terrifying, religious or secular, philosophical of entirely whimsical. The book is written beautifully and simply, although "simple" here means not one word too many- the contents are certainly not ...more
I think this is one book that every so-called fantasy hard-core fans must read or have in their library. All those amazing creatures and bestiaries are alive here.

My favourite is Garuda:
"...Garuda is half vulture and half man, with the wings, beak, and talons of the one and body and legs of the other. His face is white, his wings of a bright scarlet, and his body golden...
... Garuda expounds at length on the beginnings of the universe, the solar essence of Vishnu, the rites of his cult, the gen
May 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
I used this book as a reference for a sketchbook project ( Borges' descriptions are beautifully evocative in all kinds of directions and were for me very visual. I actually first looked at this edition because of Peter Sis' spare illustrations, but soon became intrigued by the way my mind created very different images from his mysterious and delicate renderings.

At first I grazed the text, but in the end I read from start to finish and then grazed again.

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Jorge Francisco Isidoro Luis Borges Acevedo, usually referred to as Jorge Luis Borges (Spanish pronunciation: [xoɾxe lwis boɾxes]), was an Argentine writer and poet born in Buenos Aires. In 1914, his family moved to Switzerland where he attended school and traveled to Spain. On his return to Argentina in 1921, Borges began publishing his poems and essays in Surrealist literary journals. He also wo ...more

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