Friday, 17 July 2015

What a wonderful world

What do Spider-Man, the Loch Ness Monster and German Opera have in common?

I have a large collection of hardback books which, when we finally have our much-discussed living room shelf unit built, will never be allowed to abide there.  And this isn't an issue of age-restricted material (unless you count the barely fettered decolletages of the Hammer ladies) but more one of minor embarrassment to my wonderful wife.  Yes, she'll watch any old tosh with me if I pick my moment, but to have shelves full of books devoted to horror, science fiction  and fantasy films and television in full view of visitors who might have otherwise thought we're normal, seems to be a bridge too far.

So solid, respectable tomes about gardening, travel, history, handicrafts and, if I'm lucky, astronomy will make the living room bookshelves creak instead, while my extensive but slightly worrying collection will remain fittingly hidden away from sunlight.

Like the creatures within their pages, these books might be sometimes shunned and misunderstood, but my Mum actually started this collection, buying me my first 'coffee table book' about monsters when I was still having single digit birthdays.
And what a book it was, becoming a treasured possession all through my life. Despite being a clumsy and often absent minded person I somehow manage to take incredibly good care of my books, and my copy of this particular volume: The Horrific World of Monsters, still looks as if it could have been bought yesterday.

I've been to Bran Castle, alleged by this book to be the birthplace of
Vlad Tepes, and it really is as pretty as it looks in this inset.
I've amassed many books on the same subject since but this one remains a curiosity, in the best possible way.  First of all, the creatures within are arranged alphabetically, an unusual move which you think might spell disaster when you reach less fertile letters.  But not this book. Not only did it cover the expected Universal and Hammer monsters but also creatures born of every old world mythology - from the British Isles, through Scandinavia, Europe and the ancient Mediterranean, Egypt and the Middle East, Asia and then into Russia. As an introduction to classical and medieval myth and legend alone (illustrated with art from the likes of Goya, Tibaldi and Bosch), this book was worth its weight in golden Fleece.

But this was just the beginning, true believers.  In my last post I 'came out' as someone who prefers to 'make mine Marvel', and that might stretch all the way back to this book.  Because also within its pages were Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk and numerous Stan Lee spawned super-villains. It seems insane, but page 86 for example gives us this bewildering spectrum of subjects: Redcap and the Roc from British and Islamic folklore respectively, The Reptile from Hammer, Spider-Man's minor nemesis the Rhino and Tolkien's Ringwraiths. How wonderfully bonkers is that?

The 'Horrific' Four (coming to a cinema near you soon), sharing a page with the Fly,
Frankenstein, a Wagnerian Opera and an Irish feathered cyclops.
Still want more? Well, dinosaurs obviously, all photographs of 'life-like' models, as many of the books from the mid-seventies liked to use. But possibly the best was still to come: Television wasn't to be neglected, with Quatermass and Star Trek touched upon, but Doctor Who's big three: the Daleks, Cybermen and Ice Warriors were  each given lavish picture spreads. This officially made The Horrific World of Monsters The Best Book Ever.

Good luck spotting this scene from the  Doctor Who story the caption says it's from. 
I think it might actually be a publicity shot from a BBC exhibition - but it's still brilliant.
From it's atmospheric cover painting, with 'likenesses' of Lee, Karloff and Chaney just the right side of copyright infringement and a devil tail on the bright yellow title lettering, to the distinctly '70s typography throughout, this book was patient zero of my life-long disorder regarding books, monsters and books about monsters.

I'll be disinterring many other volumes never to be seen in our Living Room in posts to come.

No comments:

Post a Comment