Book of Imaginary Beings was written by Jorge Luis Borges, published in 1957 under the original Spanish title Manual de zoología fantástica, and expanded in 1967 and 1969 to the final El libro de los seres imaginarios. The English edition, created in collaboration with translator Norman Thomas di Giovanni, contains descriptions of 120 mythical beasts from folklore and literature.
In the preface, Borges states that the book is to be read "as with all miscellanies... not... straight through... Rather we would like the reader to dip into the pages at random, just as one plays with the shifting patterns of a kaleidoscope"; and that "legends of men taking the shapes of animals" have been omitted.
A creature that lives on the staircase of the Tower of Victory in Chittor. It may only move when a traveler climbs the staircase, and it follows close at the person's heels. Its form becomes more complete the closer it gets to the terrace at the tower's top. It can only achieve this ultimate form if the traveler has obtained Nirvana, otherwise it finds itself unable to continue.
According to Siberian myth, these six-legged antelopes were far too fast for human beings to catch. A divine huntsman, Tunk-poj, cut off the animal's rear-most legs to make the animal easier for humans to hunt.
The basilisk's appearance has changed over the ages, but it is most often considered a chicken-like serpent with anywhere from four to eight legs. It is extremely venomous, and its gaze can turn anyone into stone.
Described as a black buffalo with a boar's head, this creature's head is so heavy that it constantly hangs low to the ground. It is also believed that, like the basilisk, looking into its eyes will kill you instantly.
The Celestial Cock, also known as the Cock of Dawn, has three legs and makes its home in the Fu-sang tree, a mile-tall tree that grows in "the region of dawn." It is said to crow three times each day: once at dawn, once at midday and once when the sun sets.
No one has ever seen a Celestial Stag. They live in underground mines, searching for the light of day. They will attempt to bribe, speak to, and even torture miners in their quest to reach the surface, where they turn into a deadly liquid form.
A sea monster. Once a beautiful naiad and the daughter of Poseidon and Gaia. She takes form as a huge bladder of a creature whose face was all mouth and whose arms and legs were flippers and who swallows huge amounts of water three times a day before belching them back out again, creating whirlpools.
Although it may have several different forms, the chimera is most often described as a three-headed beast. Sprouting from its back is the head of a goat, a lion's head at its front, and a snake's head as its tail.
Compared to the Western Dragon, this dragon is considered divine and holy. It is often seen with antler-like horns and protrusions running along its spine. The Chinese dragon is often pictured with a pearl: the source of its power.
These foxes appear like average foxes, but may sometimes be seen standing on their hind legs to walk. They presumably live about a thousand years, and are bad omens for their mischievous ways. They are known to shapeshift and are able to see into the future.
Two basic creatures are described as a symbol of eternal love: the male Feng and the female Huang. They are described as very beautiful birds similar to a peacock, have three legs, and live in the sun.
A mythical bird from the Mapuche Religion and Chilean and Argentinian folklore. It has the shape of a human head with feathers and talons; its ears, which are extremely large, serve as wings for its flight on moonless nights.
The crocotta is described as a hybrid of a dog and a wolf, and may be able to imitate the voice of a person. The leucrocotta is similar, but described as an antelope and hyena hybrid.
An animal described by Kafka in "Description of a Struggle" that is half cat and half lamb. Its fur is woolly and soft, yet it has a cat's face and claws. It does not make any sounds, and refuses to chase after rats.
Quite similar to the Chinese dragon of the same region, the Eastern dragon takes roughly the same form, but may be lacking wings. The pearl is also the source of its power, and they can make themselves invisible if they so wish.
In the setting of H. G. Wells' The Time Machine, it is suggested that humans evolve (or devolve) into two distinct species. The Eloi are thin and fragile artisans, living on fruits. The Morlocks are blind laborers, living underground and rising to the surface on moonless nights to feed on the Eloi.
Little is known about the actual appearance of elves, but they seem to be very small people, and are often portrayed as having pointed ears. They are known for causing all sorts of mischief, such as tangling hair and stealing cattle.
This creature was created for the purpose of doing menial chores, and was controlled by a magic tablet placed under its tongue. Normally apathetic and unaware, if uncontrolled the creature enters a wild frenzy.
A strong, nocturnal creature which feeds off the intestines of its prey. It captures and hides from wayfarers in the woods by sucking in its body so that it can hide behind the trunk of any tree, or the person trying to look at it. It is said they have an aversion to alcohol.
A creature invented by Ludovico Ariosto in the 16th century in his epic Orlando Furioso, based on an expression of Virgil's denoting the impossible, "to cross griffons with horses"; the griffon [see above] being a cross between a lion and an eagle believed by Virgil's commentator Servius to loathe horses.
A long-ago bushman who stole the animals' gift of speech. Borges links this to Descartes' idea that monkeys stay silent to avoid having to work, and to a story by Argentinian author Lugones about a chimpanzee killed by the strain of learning to talk.
A giant in the Assyrian epicGilgamesh that guards mountain cedars, he is scaly, with vulture claws, lion paws, bull's horns and a tail and penis with snakes' heads at the ends. Men-scorpions from the poem, which guard the mountain Mashu, are also mentioned.
The hundred heads was said to be a gigantic fish with many heads, each one that of a different animal. Legend holds that the fish was the reincarnated spirit of a monk who had often called others "monkey-head" or something similar. The karma of these insults had made him return as a monster.
From the waist up, this creature has the form of a man, but below the waist they have the fins and tail of a fish. Their forefeet are either in the form of a lion's or a horse's.
In Jewish tradition the world between those of the body and spirit is that of angels and devils, densely populated and including creatures from many other cultures. One of the devils is Keteb Mereri, Lord of the Noontide and of Scorching Summers.
One of the three kinds of intelligent creatures created by Allah in Muslim tradition, Jinn are formed from smoke of fire, have five orders, can be good or evil and of either sex and can appear as clouds or in various forms or be invisible. Borges mentions various legends about them, as well as Victor Hugo's poem "Les Djinns", and the possible link between the Latin genius and Jinn.
There are precisely thirty-six Lamed Wufniks in existence. It is said that, without knowing it, they support the universe and affirm god. If one comes to realize their purpose, they immediately die and are replaced by another unsuspecting man.
Reputed to live on the planet Neptune, this creature is 10 times the size of an elephant, and looks quite a bit like it. Its most remarkable features are its conical legs (which are flat on the bottom). Bricklayers employ the leveler to flatten hilly areas for construction projects. It is herbivorous and has few enemies.
A woman created before Eve, according to a Hebrew document. Dante Gabriel Rossetti imagined her as a snake in Eden Bower and the similarity of her name with the Hebrew layil or night produced the Middle Age idea of her as a creature of the night.
Ideas of the shapes seen in the moon range include the English "man in the moon", the legend of Cain eternally carrying thorns there, and the Chinese legend of the Lunar Hare: It jumped into a fire to feed the Buddha, who sent its soul to the moon, where it mixes the elixir of life.
27-inch dwarfs mentioned by Pliny and Aristotle who inhabited the mountains beyond India, waging war on the cranes that attacked them for three months a year. The Carthaginians also had a god called Pygmy who was used as figurehead on warships.
An animal that sits upon its haunches like a dog, but appears more like a horse. Its toes are camel-like and unable to produce its own milk, it raises its young by nursing them on the milk of other animals. It has an entrancing call that sounds almost like a glorious song.
Due to the arrival of Christianity in Scandinavia, pagan giants were diminished into small, malevolent, stupid, mountain-dwelling elves. The Elder Edda states that the giants would cross Bifröst, a great rainbow, at the Twilight of the Gods, breaking it with their weight and so destroying the world. Trolls figure in Henrik Ibsen's Peer Gynt as 'nationalist' creatures that view their squalour as luxury and suggest putting out Peer Gynt's eyes so he can avoid seeing the ugliness he is confronted with.
Condillac's sensitive statue inhabited by a new-formed soul which becomes human through sensory perception(starting with smell); a creature that can only sense the outside world through a moveable feeler.
The half-bird half-woman heroine of the 1751 novel "The Life and Adventure Peter Wilkins a Cornish Man‘’ by Robert Paltock, Youwarkee is one of the winged glumms that inhabit an Antarctic island. Peter Wilkins is a shipwrecked sailor who marries her and converts them to Christianity.