Beasts of the Ancient World
144pp., hbk., RRP $A37.99
The myths, legends and folklore of civilisations, generations and destinations are peppered with stories of brutal beasts and mysterious monsters, and, on the surface, this is a collection of those stories from around the globe. There are stories about fantastic creatures such as the Japanese baku, which had the power to devour nightmares, the wise Egyptian Sphinx, and the fearsome Minotaur who went head-to-head with Theseus in Greek mythology, and a map that shows just how widespread the stories are. Stories are collected under the headings of Our Worst Fears, Battles with Monsters, Kind Beasts and Harnessing the Power of Beasts, and accompanied by colourful illustrations that are not too scary.
But there is also an analysis of why people believe in these creatures, why they evolved and what they actually represent that can persuade the reader to read them through a different lens, seeing the similarities between the stories and the differences in how the beasts were vanquished – if indeed they were. The concept of a monster has been used over time to represent the unknown, dangers and even feelings, particularly fears, often serving as a warning. There is also the suggestion that rather than defeating the beasts that we could perhaps learn to live with them as we begin to understand the origins and purpose of the stories, because “things are never really as simple as brave human defeats monster.”
Thus, while younger readers can learn the stories surrounding the monsters so often associated with mythology, more mature readers can start to analyse the back story – what circumstances might have promoted the invention of such a creature, how it might be similar to other stories and why the imagery persists today. Are today’s generations very different to those who have gone before?