Book of Imaginary Beings

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Book of Imaginary Beings
First edition
AuthorJorge Luis Borges with Margarita Guerrero[1]
Original titleManual de zoología fantástica (later El libro de los seres imaginarios)
TranslatorNorman Thomas di Giovanni (1969)[1] and others
CountryArgentina[citation needed]
PublisherFondo de Cultura Económica (1957); Dutton (1969)[1]
Publication date
1957, 1967
Published in English
June 1969
Pages159 (1967); 256 (English)[1]
LC ClassGR825.B6; GR825.B613[1]

Book of Imaginary Beings was written by Jorge Luis Borges with Margarita Guerrero and published in 1957 under the original Spanish title Manual de zoología fantástica.[1] It was expanded in 1967 and 1969 in Spain to the final El libro de los seres imaginarios.[citation needed] 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.

Although a work of fiction, it is situated in a tradition of Paper Museums, bestiaries, and natural history writing.[2]

Á Bao A Qu
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.
Abtu and Anet
Two identical fish that according to Egyptian legend swam in front of the prow of the sun god's ship on the lookout for danger.
A mine shaft-dwelling bird that feeds upon gold. It is pursued by miners.
Ammit the Devourer
Most commonly associated with Egyptian myth, Ammit attends to the "wicked". It is described as having the head of a crocodile, the midsection of a lion, and the hindquarters of a hippo.
A two-headed snake, with one head being where its tail would normally be. It is venomous and, if chopped in half, its two parts can reunite.
An Animal Imagined by Kafka
A kangaroo-like animal with a flat, human-like face and a very long tail.
An Animal Imagined by Poe
A small, flat animal with pure white fur and bright red claws and teeth. Its head is feline, except for its canine-like ears.
Animals in the Form of Spheres
At the time of its writing, some believed that planets and stars were actually living beings, and that the movement of the heavenly bodies was voluntary.
Antelopes with Six Legs
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 Ass with Three Legs
This massive creature is said to stand in the middle of the ocean. It has three legs, six eyes, nine mouths, and one golden horn.
Axehandle Hound
A dog with the face of an axe, with the normal body of a dog. Its diet consisted of axe handles that are left unattended. It is a nocturnal creature that travels from camp to camp.
A huge, measureless fish which is often used to describe the spaces between heaven, earth, and hell.
Also known as Soon-Another, these creatures can assume many shapes. It appears to have a human head and torso, the tail of a fish, the leg of a goat, and the wings and claws of a bird.
The "woman of the fairies" does not have a distinct shape, but is instead described by her keening wails.
This "animal" is actually a plant in the shape of a lamb with golden fleece.
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.
A massive creature that is often likened to an elephant or a hippopotamus.
Small brown-colored men that often visit homes while the inhabitants are asleep to perform various chores.
A horse-like creature with long ears and the wings and tail of a peacock. It may also have a man's face.
An animal that is black coloured.[clarification needed]
A small animal alleged to have been seen in 16th Century Latin America by Spanish Conquistadors. Legends say the Carbuncle has some sort of shining mirror or jewel on its forehead, reminiscent of the gemstone by that name. Many explorers supposedly searched for it, hoping to secure the precious stone—but without success.
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.
Celestial Cock
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.
Celestial Stag
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 well-known beast with the torso of a man and the quarters of a horse. Most are portrayed as savage beasts, but others can be well learned in many arts.
A three-headed dog known to guard the gates of the underworld in Greek mythology.
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.
Cheshire Cat
A rather mischievous cat with a large, grinning face. It can also make itself invisible, leaving behind only its disembodied smile.
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.
Chinese Dragon
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.
Chinese Fox
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.
Chinese Phoenix
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.
A legendary Chinese creature with a head both front and back.
Chronos or Heracles
This dragon-like creature is often known by two names. Like the chimera, it is made of three heads: a bull's head at its front, a god's head at its middle, and a lion's head at its rear.
Crocotta and the Leucrocotta
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.
A Crossbreed
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.
The Denizens of Ch'uan-T'ou
Creatures with human heads, beaks, and bat wings.
Also known as the Double, the Doppelgänger is best described as a man's exact counterpart.
Eastern Dragon
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.
Eight-Forked Serpent
A massive serpent with eight heads and eight tails. Its eyes are a deep red, and trees are said to grow along its back.
The Elephant That Foretold the Birth of the Buddha
A white elephant with six tusks that appeared in a dream to, as its namesake suggests, foretell the birth of Buddha.
The Eloi and the Morlocks
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.
Fairies are described as beautiful, tiny people that like to meddle in the affairs of humans.
A massive whale that many sailors often mistake for an island.
Fauna of Mirrors
It was believed that another world existed behind all mirrors, inhabited by a wide amount of unknown and strange creatures. Luckily, our worlds are now cut off from one another.
This beast is the mount of the god Vishnu. It is half man and half vulture, with a white face, deep red wings, and a golden body.
A bird which nests on mountain slopes and lays square eggs, which lumberjacks use as dice.
A fish ("about the size of a sunfish but much bigger") which swims backwards to keep the water out of its eyes.
Goofus bird
A bird that builds its nest upside down and flies backwards.
Sprites of the earth and hills, gnomes are often shown as bearded dwarves, often with rough features. They often watch over treasure as well.
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.
The griffin is best described as an eagle with the body of a lion, and is very strong.
Haniel, Kafziel, Azriel, and Aniel
Sometimes referred to as angels, these four beasts also possessed four faces: those of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. They also possessed four wings.
Haokah the Thunder God
He appears as a man with large antlers, using the wind to beat his thunder drum.
Creatures with a vulture's body, a woman's face, and an insatiable hunger. They are described as having filthy genitalia and a foul smell about them.
Heavenly Cock
Also known as the Bird of Dawn, this Chinese rooster has three legs and crows three times a day, to signal dawn, noon, and dusk.
A many-eyed octopus-like creature shaped like an animal's hide.
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.
An owl-like creature with a man's face, an ape's body, and a dog's tail.
A headless creature with eyes on its chest and its mouth on its belly.
A flying snake/fish that foretells drought.
A swift-moving dog with a human head, which laughs maliciously.
An amphibious sheep-like animal, which can mate with cows to produce deformed offspring; if a pregnant woman sees one, her child will also be deformed.
A giant in the Sumerian epic Gilgamesh 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.
The Hydra of Lernaea
A multi-headed snake monster. When one of the Hydra's heads is cut off, two more grow in its place.
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.
An Insect Imagined by C. S. Lewis
A strange, jointed insect consisting of a cylindrical body and many thin legs.
Jewish Demons
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 spiritual creatures created by Allah in Muslim tradition, Jinn are formed from air and 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.
Kilkenny Cats
These cats often fight with each other, devouring everything but the other's tail.
A King of Fire and his Steed
These were beings formed completely of the constantly changing flames of fire.
A sea monster that is often described to resemble a giant octopus or a giant squid.
A giant bull with thousands of eyes, nostrils, mouths, and feet, which helps to support the world (perched atop Bahamut).
The Lamed Wufniks
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.
Half woman and half serpent, these creatures are said to have sprung from one of Zeus's varied love interests. They are thought to be sorceresses, and although they cannot speak they whistle sweetly.
Laudatores Temporis Acti
Translates to "One who praises past times."
The Lemuri were the souls of the evil dead, created by Romulus to subdue the restless spirit of his brother Remus.
The Leveler
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.
The Lunar Hare
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.
In myth, mandrakes or mandragoras are familiar demons who appear in the figures of little men without beards.
A monster that has the face of a man, the body of a lion, and the tail of a scorpion.
An ant/lion hybrid which inevitably starves because it cannot eat either meat or grains, although its lion half craves the former and its ant half craves the latter.
A monster with the head of a bull and the body of a man.
The Monkey of the Inkpot
An extract from Wang Tai-Hai describes a small creature with black fur and scarlet eyes that sits by writers and drinks their leftover ink.
The Monster Acheron
A giant, taller than a mountain, with three mouths and all of Hell in his stomach, described in the Vision of Tundale.
The Mother of Tortoises
A giant tortoise made of water and fire, on whose shell is written the "Universal Rule", a divine treatise.
Musical Serpent
A four-winged serpent which makes sounds similar to those of the "Musical Stone".
A half human, half snake creature.
This beast is said to be a giant catfish that lives beneath the surface of the earth, and causes earthquakes with its movements.
A creature shaped like half a man, with one leg, one arm, one eye, and half a heart.
The Norns
Norse female beings who rule the destiny of gods and men. They roughly correspond to other controllers of humans' destiny elsewhere in European mythology, such as the Fates.
The Nymphs
A minor female nature deity typically associated with a particular location or land form.
A subject of The Cares of a Family Man ("Die Sorge des Hausvaters"), a short story by Franz Kafka
An Offspring of Leviathan
A creature of medieval legend, "a dragon that was half beast and half fish".
Ocean Men
Merman-like creatures of Chinese legend, who cause storms.
One-Eyed Beings
A member of a primordial race of giants, each with a single eye in the center of his forehead.
The Ouroboros
An ancient symbol of a serpent or dragon eating its own tail.
The Panther
A creature in ancient legend that resembles a big cat with a multi-colored hide. The ancient Greeks believed the panther was one of the favored mounts of the god Dionysus.
A hybrid creature that resembles a winged stag.
A type of firebird.
Ping Feng
A black pig with a head at each end.
Pinnacle Grouse
Has only one wing, and flies in a continuous circle around the top of a mountain.
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.
Queer Arm People
People with a single arm and three eyes, who build flying chariots.
The Rain Bird
Also called the shang yang, this bird creates rain by carrying water from rivers in its beak.
An existing fish sometimes called a suckerfish. In ancient times, the remora was believed to stop a ship from sailing. In Latin, remora means "delay".
A pony-sized animal which uses its lariat-like beak to ensnare rabbits.
A giant bird.
The legendary salamander is often depicted as a typical salamander in shape, with a lizard-like form, but is usually ascribed an affinity with fire, sometimes specifically. elemental fire.
A male nature spirit with ears and a tail resembling those of a horse.
A maiden with a kētos tail and dog heads sprouting from her body.
The Sea Horse
An aquatic horse, which sometimes surfaces to mate with land horses.
The Shaggy Beast of La Ferte-Bernard
This creature was said to be a beast that was invulnerable except for its tail.
A winged, bird-like creature that is gigantic enough to carry off an elephant or a whale. It appears as a peacock with the claws of a lion, and the head of a dog or, occasionally, a human face.
Singing Beast
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. This creature was imagined by C. S. Lewis in Perelandra.
In Greek mythology, these are dangerous creatures who lured nearby sailors with their enchanting music and singing voices to shipwreck on the rocky coast of their island.
The Sow Harnessed with Chains
Also called the Tin Pig, this creature is heard rattling its chains on railroad tracks by night, but is never seen.
A riddle-giving monster with the head of a woman and the body of a lion.
Reputed to live in the Hemlock forests of northern Pennsylvania.
Strong Toad
Distinguished from other toads by its turtle-like shell, the Strong Toad glows like a firefly, cannot be killed except by burning, and can attract or repel anyone nearby with its stare.
Swedenborg's Angels
The perfected souls of the blessed and wise, living in a Heaven of ideal things, each reflecting the perfection of this realm.
Swedenborg's Devils
These are people which, after dying, choose to go to hell rather than to heaven. They are not happy there, but they are reputed to be more content in hell than they would have been in heaven.
A mythological air spirit.
A bronze giant.
The T'ao T'ieh
A dog with one (often monstrous) head attached to two bodies, which symbolizes the sins of gluttony and greed.
It is said to resemble a small, stubby-legged dog with the ears of a cat. Its name comes from the sound it makes, which is akin to that of a boiling tea kettle. It only walks backwards, and steam issues from its mouth as it makes its whistle.
Thermal Beings
Entities composed solely of heat, from an earlier stage of the world's creation.
A faceless, supernatural bird with six feet and four wings.
The Tigers of Annam
Tigers who rule over the four cardinal directions, with the Yellow Tiger commanding them from the world's center.
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.
Two Metaphysical Beings
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.
A horse with a horn.
The Unicorn of China
An animal that is similar to a unicorn.
Upland Trout
Flying fish which nest in trees and fear water.
"The chooser of the slain" from Norse Mythology.
Western Dragon
A tall heavy serpent with claws and wings.
The Wonders of God's Creation Manifested in the Variety of Eight
A mysterious creature that lives in the world of Bliss. Allegedly, all sounds, sights, and smells to this creature are divine. Drawn from The Enochian Walks with God: Found out by a Spiritual Traveller, Whose Face Towards Mount-Sion Above was Set; with an Experimental Account of What was Known, Seen and Met withal There (1694) by Jane Lead.
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.
A sea creature of such immense size as to be confused for an island, attested to by sources in Anglo-Saxon, Irish, Persian, and Greek literature and folklore, among other cultures.

Cultural references[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "The book of imaginary beings" (first ed., 1969). LC Online Catalog. LCCN Permalink. Library of Congress ( Retrieved 2016-09-23.
      "El libro de los seres imaginarios" (1967). LC Online Catalog. See also OCLC 963993 (Buenos Aires: Editorial Kier, 1967).
      See also OCLC 581678 (Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1957).
  2. ^ Nappi, Carla (2009). The Monkey and the Inkpot: Natural History and Its Transformations in Early Modern China. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. p. 1. ISBN 9780674054356.