Mythical Beasts

Edited by John Cherry

Illustrated by Neil Packer

Introduced by John Cherry

A fascinating history of the creatures that populate myths and folklore, John Cherry’s Mythical Beasts is beautifully reimagined as a Folio edition illustrated with archive images and Neil Packer’s striking new motifs and binding design.

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Mythical Beasts is not only a beautifully designed book but a magnificent idea-igniter for storytellers interested in fantastic lore. Erudite and mesmerizing’

  1. Guillermo del Toro

Mythical Beasts is a captivating and wondrous journey across the world, exploring the origins of unicorns, dragons, griffins, sphinxes and half-human creatures. This rich and colourful history spans Ancient Egypt, Africa, Mesopotamia and Imperial China, all the way to the work of Lewis Carroll and the fashionable and decorative sphinxes of the 1920s. Written by leading experts, the narrative draws on a wide variety of sources to illuminate the roles that mythical beasts have played in different cultures and show why they have retained their appeal through the ages. This new edition is printed in two colours throughout and is illustrated with 24 pages of beautiful researched images that bring together some of the world’s most incredible artistic interpretations of these beasts, from ceramics and sculpture to tapestries and oil paintings. The edition also includes newly commissioned artwork by Neil Packer; a beast to introduce each chapter and striking title-page, binding and slipcase illustrations.

Bound in printed and blocked cloth

Set in Centaur

216 pages, printed 2-colour throughout in black and teal

Title-page illustration and 5 part-title motifs

24 pages of colour plates

Metallic printed endpapers

Ribbon marker

Copper top edge

Metallic printed slipcase

10″ x 6¾″

Written by experts in their fields and edited by former British Museum curator John Cherry, this extensive history illuminates the roles that mythical beasts have played across cultures and reveals why they have retained their appeal from antiquity to the present day. This beautiful new edition is illustrated with archive images from museums around the world: paintings such as Raphael’s The Lady with the Unicorn and Rubens’s Two Satyrs; a detail from a casket from Tutankhamun’s tomb; Arthur Rackham’s illustration Alice with the Gryphon and the Mock Turtle from Alice in Wonderland; and a page from the beautiful 17th-century Shahnameh (Book of Kings) by the Persian poet Firdausi, depicting a dramatic slaying of a dragon. Each chapter is headed by a newly commissioned illustration from Neil Packer, who has also crafted elaborate figures and intricate motifs for the binding and slipcase. Finally, a glossary provides an easy alphabetical reference to many more beasts from art and antiquity around the world.

Born in the imagination, mythical beasts feature in the legends, myths and stories of cultures around the world, from prehistoric times to this day. Appearing in many forms, from ancient Chinese silks and carvings, to medieval tapestries and contemporary company logos, these commanding creatures are steeped in mysticism. In early Hindu mythology the cloud-dwelling dragon Vritra had an evil streak, while Chinese dragons were benevolent; both were linked to water, while the image of the fire-breathing dragon was more commonplace in the West. In Ancient Egypt the sphinx was a commanding status symbol, but over the centuries it changed sex and evolved into an enigmatic figure. And the unicorn, first depicted in Western art alongside the Virgin Mary, shed its religious connotations during the medieval period to become associated with youthfulness and innocence. Believed to contain purifying powers, the beast’s horn was used to cleanse rivers and streams and test for poison before great feasts. Now it has evolved once again to become a popular children’s fantasy character, reimagined for a new time and place.

John Cherry was Deputy Keeper in the Department of Medieval and Later Antiquities at the British Museum. He has written many books on medieval art and architecture, including Medieval Decorative Art (1991), The Holy Thorn Reliquary (2010) and Medieval Goldsmiths (2011).

Neil Packer was born in Birmingham in 1961. He trained at the Colchester School of Art before becoming a full-time illustrator in 1984 with the publication of his first children’s book. He has had a long career working in design, publishing and advertising, mostly in the United States. He has illustrated a number of titles for The Folio Society, including I, Claudius (1994), The Name of the Rose (2001), Catch-22 (2004), One Hundred Years of Solitude (2006), Foucault’s Pendulum (2016), Mythical Beasts (2021), The Divine Comedy (2022) and The Complete Plays by William Shakespeare (2023). Packer’s work has been exhibited in London, Singapore and the United States.


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