The British Library have done it again! This delightful little book on Medieval Monsters by Damien Kempf and Maria L Gilbert is the perfect introduction to all those fascinating creatures which delighted the mediæval mind as much as many of us today. Sometimes the monsters are familiar – the one on the right is the devil waiting for death when the soul leaves the body. In mediæval times this was believed to be through the mouth, hence the devil’s hands ready to make a timely catch!
And here the devil has been successful. The soul is often depicted as a newborn baby, so this poor chap, having left this mortal coil, is off to spend eternity in hellfire as the devil drags his soul there.
The devil was often at work in other ways too. Here is St John the Evangelist, with a couple of completed books behind him, writing the Book of Revelation on the island of Patmos – a place known for its dangerous criminals, scary bears and lions. None more so dangerous and scary than the devil who is here stealing the saint’s inkpot to prevent him writing the word of God.
But it is the invented animals and grotesques which are often so intriguing. What about Panotii (which means ‘all ears’ in Greek) who had such big ears that are so large they act as scarves or blankets? Others have slightly smaller ears, but pointed, wizened grey faces and hands that are claws, with bodies wrapped in a long cloak. Now some of you may have thought that the creatures in Star Wars were completely invented, but no, here is Yoda on the right, the legendary Jedi Master, instructor of Luke Skywalker (NB I am getting this info from the internet!).
And if you don’t believe me, there is the ‘real’ Yoda on the right.
What mediæval imagination would have thought of Blemmyae? They were harmless, without heads with their faces on their chests.
This little book covers a number of fantastical monsters as well as dragons, unicorns, mermaids, werewolves and very many more. Many of the images are full page which means that you really can see the details and the print quality and design make it a delightful book to read.
If you want to see more mediæval creatures, here’s the top ten monsters of the middle ages here