Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Element Encyclopedia Series: A Shoutout

I enjoy many things of which the average Joe has no knowledge. Music by Medwyn Goodall or by Herb Moore, art by Brian Froud, and much obscure literature from thrift stores or annual library blowout sales. Exotic dishes, studies of foreign martial arts. Pagan religions, both in practice and as an educational or historical discipline. Forgotten sciences.

Some of the best books, both for reading and for aethetically inspiring paintings, are often found in Barnes & Noble's bargain rack. While I'm glad for their relatively cheap prices, I cannot help wondering why they ended up on sale, or in some cases, out of print. Myth and Magic by John Howe was among these when I purchased it.

Also waiting on the cheap shelves are any number of the Element Encyclopedia series. They're so vastly informative that I can thumb through one all day and still not know all that there is to know about a particular topic. These include the psychic world, magical creatures, vampires, spells, magical herbs and roots, secret societies, the significances of birthdays, Celts, Native Americans, ghosts and hauntings, and the interpretation of dreams. All of the entries I have read have been fascinating, and many subjects are still largely unknown in the world.

For instance, who knows of the jidra? the guivre? cherufes, lampaluguas, the Lambton worm? (All of these are mythical or mystical organisms, by the way.) Has anyone heard of the Bell Witch, aeromancy, oneiromancy? I believe I might be capable of the last one: dream divination.

Occasionally something will make its way into mainstream culture, such as a black shuck (A.K.A. the Churchyard Grim, a massive shaggy dog used in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban). I was pleased to read about a malevolent spirit from Native American mythology known as the Wendigo, which was used as an antagonist in Stephen King's novel and screenplay Pet Sematary.

John and Caitlin Matthews wrote some of these encyclopedias, and Theresa Cheung did other ones. I believe there are other contributors, but I really do wish to give a shoutout to anyone who reads this blog: these books are amazing. Were they to disappear from print, I would consider it a great loss.

A word of caution, though: the big, heavy versions tend to be poorly bound, and pages detach quite easily from the spines. The smaller, more compact paperback ones are the way to go...although the fragile ones are more likely to contain indexes.

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