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Mediaeval Monsters, by Damien Kempf and Maria L. Gilbert

Reviewed by John Rimmer

The various monsters and mysterious creatures described in this book need not detain cryptozoologists using Brian Parson’s excellent guide to monster hunting that was recently reviewed in Magonia, as these mystery animals exist only in the pages of medieval manuscripts, mostly from the British Library.

But in mediaeval times monsters also lurked in the far places of the earth. Writers like Pliny the Elder described the creatures which dwelt just beyond the edge of the map. Quite literally in the case of the British Library’s Psalter World Map, where the edge of Africa is lined with a slide-show of the imagined inhabitants of the end of the world: headless men with faces on their chests, people with four eyes, one-legged men, and a race known as the Panotti with ears so large they used them as blankets on cold nights!

Although totally fictitious, The Travels of Sir John Mandeville was one of the most popular books of the fourteenth century, and Columbus even took a copy of it on his voyages. Mandeville describes ‘pygmies’ who had no mouth or tongue, just a hole through which they sucked in food through a pipe.

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