Pulp and Dagger

Book Review


A Field Guide to Monsters

2004 - available in soft cover

Written by Dave Elliott, with C.J. Henderson, R. Allen Leider.

192 pages

Published by Hylas Publishing

Cover price: $19.95 USA



2004 - available in soft cover

Written by Phil Scott, Peter Engelman.
192 pages
Published by Hylas Publishing
Cover price: $14.95 USA

Normally at Pulp & Dagger we do Graphic Novel reviews...but here's a bit of a change of pace...

Two quirky new books from Hylas Publishing are A Field Guide to Monsters and Deadly.

As the title implies, A Field Guide to Monsters ($19.95 US), by Dave Elliott with C.J. Henderson and R. Allen Leider, is done in the manner of, say, a bird watcher's handbook, with a full colour illustrated listing of various significant (and plenty of rather obscure) monsters, complete with physical descriptions, comments on their powers, weaknesses, etc. All delivered very much with tongue in cheek including, for those who like a little political satire with their monsters, a few amusing jabs at Republicans along the way (there are also some swipes at Democrats, just to be balanced). The "monsters" in question range from the obvious, "safe" monsters like Godzilla and Frankenstein, to more contemporary, and grisly ones like Freddy Kruger, to heroic creatures like Hellboy and Angel (of TV's Buffy spin-off), to the quirky (the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man), all sub-divided into categories (plant-based monsters, man-made monsters, etc.) Very occasionally the images selected probably are a bit grisly or shocking for the younger reader.

Padding out the book are additional pieces, such as a Frequently Asked Questions page (including what to do if bitten by a vampire) and a list of necessary equipment to protect yourself from monsters (and the caution to keep such weapons away from children...since, you know, kids are easily corrupted by the forces of evil and turned against you).

For those old enough to remember, the book might conjure up memories of Forrest J. Ackerman's popular Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine from days gone by. Part of the point of A Field Guide to Monsters is its nostalgic appeal for monster movie buffs who can flip through the pages and come upon an entry detailing a creature from some old, long forgotten flick where you find yourself going, "Oh, right, I vaguely remember that."

The fact that I'm familiar with as many of these creatures as I am is a truly frightening comment on a misspent life!

Another appeal will be for more modern horror movie fans who might be intrigued by a listing for an unknown entity and be inspired to seek out the source (the original movie appearances are referenced in the entries).

As part of the gag, the premise is that this is a revised, updated version of a survival guide written by Abraham Van Helsing (of Dracula fame) over a hundred years ago, and Van Helsing's original introduction is included (though the current authors assure us the book has been expanded and updated, as Van Helsing was a little too obsessed solely with vampires).

For general horror fans, the down side to the book is that it's cinema-centric -- this is a guide to monsters of the movies. Even in the case of creatures originating in novels, their first appearances are credited to whatever movie adaptation it was in which they first appeared. That also means this is more fun as a breezy indulgence, than necessarily as a reference book for aspiring writers (since most of the monsters are copyrighted).

There are subjective aspects to the book (such as listings of intelligence and strength) that might cause fans to quibble ("What? No way is ___ smarter than ___."). There are also a few technical errors that crop up. When detailing the human fly monster of the 1950s The Fly movie, his geographical location is listed as being in the USA...but the movie was actually set in Montreal, Canada. While the entry for the Greek mythological creature, Cerberus ("originating" in the 1963 movie Jason and the Argonauts), lists the pup as being called Cerebus -- actually the name of Canadian Dave Sim's indie comic book aardvark/Conan parody).

Still, such short comings aside, A Field Guide to Monsters is an amusing book for aging nostalgists and horror flick fans alike.

Deadly ($14.95 USA), by Phil Scott and Peter Engelman, too, has its tongue firmly in cheek, though this time dealing with reality. It's a collection of oddball statistics and trivia relating to death and mayhem, ranging from the most dangerous city in which to live to sections about notorious killers throughout history, or the creature with the most lethal venom. One can easily suspect it was inspired, at least a little, by the popular "Worst Case Scenario..." books that, likewise, impart arguably useful information, but in a tongue-in-cheek way.

Although the book will appeal to rubber neckers, and at times, strays into questionable taste by cheekily focusing on more contemporary tragedies, the book also has an appeal to would be writers who might gain an idea or two from its pages, and its listing of statistics can be helpful in solving dinner table disagreements or during a game of Trivial Pursuit. Also fun is the occasional quote that's tossed in at the bottom of the pages (such as Voltaire's alleged dying words when asked by a priest to renounce Satan: "This is no time for making enemies.")

With Christmas coming up, either volume might find favour with the more macabre-minded members of your family.

Reviewed by D.K. Latta

Got a response?  Email us at lattabros@yahoo.com

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