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Monsterology (Ology Series)

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The cover may have some limited signs of wear but the pages are clean, intact and the spine remains undamaged. It's a guidebook by a fictional natural historian who traveled around the world to observe monsters in their native habitats. It's an exciting and innovative way of getting someone interested in the subject and I, for one, would have been totally absorbed by it as a boy. Monsterology, the study of fabulous beasts other than Dragons, was originally considered a branch of Wizardology rather than a field in its own right.

In a case such as Mythology, the book is based around the published and private papers of a fictional lady traveller with notes from an equally fictitious man, but the book is a beautiful - one might even say visually stunning - introduction to the deities and myths of ancient Greece. It’s like a field guide to select creatures with notes, diagrams, illustrations and even “skin samples”. The purple, man-eating, burrowing giant worm known as the Mongolian death worm," for example, is fake according to Dr. Dugald Steer was born in 1965 and grew up in Surrey, where his love of books and reading led him to study English Literature and Philosophy at Bristol. In 1985, her final year at Brighton, Helen was awarded the first Walker Prize for Children's Illustration.The conceit of the book is that it's a facsimile of one published in 1904 but - to my untrained eye at least - the illustrations of the fantastical beasts themselves do nothing to evoke the period. The latest in a series which has seen Pirateology, with its built-in compass on the cover, Dragonology, Egyptology, Wizardology and Mythology (each embedded with its own variety of plastic gems) is Monsterology. My only regret is that because of how many species there are and how short the book is, it couldn't go into greater detail about the races.

While the 15 monsters profiled come from the Western tradition, their homes range from ancient Egypt to Russia to Haiti, with an occasional nod to Asian and North American native traditions as well. This book is as detailed as any of the previous installments and is a must for any fan of the series.For those of us over a certain age, the word "ology" will forever conjure up the image of Maureen Lipman, playing the character of Beattie in the telephone ad, saying: "You got an ology? A fabulous tome for those who love legendary beasts that still wander among us, this lush and luxurious look at an astounding array of creatures offers everything a true believer would want to know.

To a younger generation, however, I imagine that "ology" will instantly bring to mind Dugald Steer's series of extraordinary books. There is a lot of "samples" from the creatures that the author finds especially in the back, there is a section dedicated to the samples found. Ernest Drake was determined to bring the subject of dragons under the burgeoning umbrella of the nineteenth-century natural sciences.Helen Ward trained as an illustrator at Brighton School of Art, under the direction of well-known children's illustrators such as Raymond Briggs, Justin Todd, Chris McEwan and John Vernon Lord. It's a fun book on a fun subject, but in a series where production values are extremely high, it's certainly not one of the finest.

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