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Book Review: The Impossible Zoo by Dr Leo Ruickbie

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Encyclopaedias of any kind excite me. Call me a nerd all you want, but a compendium of information is thrilling. More so when the topic is equally exciting, as is the case with The Impossible Zoo – An Encyclopaedia of Fabulous Beasts and Mythical Monsters. Ah, I see your interest was piqued at ‘Fabulous Beasts’, but don’t be fooled – for as the author expresses himself, “This isn’t Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them, this is the ‘real’ thing”.

Dr Leo Ruickbie isn’t just a kook listing the impossible. He has a PhD in modern witchcraft and magic, and calls this collection parazoology; a study of those beasts born of the paranormal.

From myths to horror stories and greatly exaggerated fishing trips, Dr Ruickbie catalogues many well-known monsters and legends, and many that are baffling and foreign. What unites the entries is not that they do not exist, but that at some stage, it was believed that they did. The twenty-first century, ladies and gents, home to Google and Mythbusters – what a time to be alive!

From huge beasts such as the Kraken to tiny entities like the Gigelorum (which is so tiny it nests inside the ears of a mite!), this book covers them all. There are werewolves, sphynxes, kelpies, basilisks and griffons, gold-mining ants, as well as some others whose titles I honestly cannot pronounce (with regard to the Celtic names, my Scottish grandmother would cringe to hear that).

The Impossible Zoo documents the evolution of the beasts, not literally, but through their documentation (for example, the dragon started off as a water snake and ended up being a fire-breathing winged beast we now know and love to see in films).

It truly is a unique and thoroughly enlightening book, merging histories and myths from across the globe (which seems to emphasise that across the world, scary black dogs and horses feature quite a bit) to give the reader a neat run-down of monsters and how they evolve with those who see them. Give it a read; you know you want to.

The Impossible Zoo by Dr Leo Ruickbie is published by Robinson, an imprint of Little, Brown Group, and is available in South Africa from Jonathan Ball Publishers.

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