Friday, March 28, 2014

Review: 'The Ashgate Encyclopedia of Literary and Cinematic Monsters'


You know you’re not reading a typical encyclopedia when it starts with a quote from Bugs Bunny. Nevertheless, The Ashgate Encyclopedia of Literary and Cinematic Monsters earns its name, covering an array of fantastic creatures in a single, monstrous 625-page volume. Editor Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock whittled his initial list of 1,000 monsters down to about 200, but because some of those entries are very wide-ranging (Animals, Monstrous; Bible, Monsters in The; Women, Monstrous) Weinstock’s contributors check a lot more than 200 off the list. With that multitude of contributors comes a multitude of approaches, some more successful than others, to studying creatures from Angel to Zombie. Some of the most pervasive monsters— Demon, Extraterrestrial, Ghost, Witch/Wizard—comprise a sizeable chunk of the book with multiple contributors exhaustively detailing how they have been portrayed in books, films, TV shows, comics,  and games throughout world history. Some get more attention than they deserve (Brownie is a slightly longer entry than Devil, The, Dracula, or Frankenstein’s Monster). At least one of the most essential and influential monsters—Hyde, Edward—is absurdly short-changed, the most essential and influential of his films—Rouben Mamoulian’s 1931 adaptation— not receiving any mention at all. Some entries are little more than lists of books and films with microscopic synopses and little in the way of historical background or analysis (Death, Personified, for example).

Most entries, however, strike a strong balance between the histories, insightful analyses, and lists of examples we expect of an authoritative encyclopedia. There are no significant absences and plenty to discover in the way of relatively unfamiliar creatures, such as Devil-Bug, the monster doorman from George Lippard’s The Monks of Monk Hall, the soothsaying Donestre of the Middle Ages, the child-killing Empousa of ancient Greek folklore, the world-creating ocean goddess Tiamat, a big Kosher bird called Ziz, and Kappa, a goofy-looking Japanese swamp monster that pulls kids’ internal organs out through their butts.

Get The Ashgate Encyclopedia of Literary and Cinematic Monsters at Amazon.com here:


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