stuff about imaginary beings
November 26, 2009 1:14 PM   Subscribe

Help me find wonderful books about demons, angels, and other beings of the fantastic.

I have this conception of a book, or books, that detail the histories, personalities, mythoi, genealogies, etc., of various classes of imaginary creatures.

This book would be very factual and dry, but maybe it has family tree type diagrams, or beautiful sketches.

Do books like this exist? Have you seen them -- what were they like?

Also, extra points if the book is about demons, because I especially like to think about demons.
posted by past to Writing & Language (18 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
The Silmarillion.
posted by cmgonzalez at 1:23 PM on November 26, 2009

Not quite what you're looking for but it might be of interest - Witchcraft, Magic and Alchemy by Grillot de Givry (on Amazon) is a sort of compendium of occult illustrations and accompanying explanations from medieval books, architecture, art etc. It's worth buying for the images alone and might feed your imagination ;)
posted by cardamine at 1:26 PM on November 26, 2009

There are a bunch of great bestiaries out there:

Book of Imaginary Beings

The Book of Beasts


For books specifically about angels and demons:

A Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels and Other Subversive Spirits

Dictionary of Angels: Including the Fallen Angels
posted by Paragon at 1:32 PM on November 26, 2009

Less obvious but how about Ben Okri's The Famished Road? It's kind of like Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Hundred Years of Solitude, but with more magical realism and set in Nigeria.
posted by pick_the_flowers at 1:48 PM on November 26, 2009

It's fiction, but I loved Prospero Lost by L J Lamplighter, which includes angels, demons, elves, magicians, etc.

If Dante's Inferno -- all about Hell and its inhabitants -- is a bit much, may I recommend the modern retellings by Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven, Inferno and Escape from Hell.
posted by angiep at 2:05 PM on November 26, 2009

Montague Summers (1880-1948) was, I guess you'd say, an eccentric and a man of letters who presented himself to the world as a kind of 20th-century scholarly Catholic witch-hunter. He is the author of many excellent and informative books about the occult, written from the perspective of someone who believes in it, is educated about its history, and wants to see it destroyed.

His books aren't big on diagrams but they have lots of reproductions of nice old engravings, woodcuts, etc. Try:

Witchcraft and Black Magic
History of Witchcraft and Demonology
Vampire: His Kith and Kin

There's also a really excellent book, which I think is now out of print, by Rossell Hope Robbins: "The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology". It seems to be easy to get on Abebooks.
posted by stammer at 2:28 PM on November 26, 2009

Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft, by Sir Walter Scott.
posted by Iridic at 5:19 PM on November 26, 2009

Check out Emanuel Swedenborg and his writings - specifically Heaven and Hell.
posted by scodger at 5:45 PM on November 26, 2009

I'm a huge fan of The History of the Devil by Arturo Graf.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:22 PM on November 26, 2009

Not sure if this is entirely what you are looking for, but I highly recommend Carlo Ginzburg's The Night Battles.
posted by mattbucher at 8:37 PM on November 26, 2009

It's not about angels and demons, but Gnomes is almost exactly what you're describing. It's a beautiful, wonderfully detailed book.
posted by EarBucket at 9:08 PM on November 26, 2009

Heaven and Hell by the appropriately-named Mara Faustino.

This page about John Dee might also lead you to something.
posted by homelystar at 10:09 PM on November 26, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for the suggestions. Some of this stuff is really incredible. This makes me really happy.
posted by past at 3:10 AM on November 27, 2009

My childhood favourite Out of this World by Michael Page and Robert Ingpen is differentiated by the breadth of the material and the illustrations.
posted by evil_esto at 5:32 AM on November 27, 2009

This one was pretty dry and "factual": Dictionary of Demons by Fred Gettings
posted by evil_esto at 5:41 AM on November 27, 2009

For an alternate fictional take on the ways and wiles of angels and demons, get the hilarious Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 6:48 AM on November 27, 2009

On the 'other beings of the fantastic' side, The World Guide to Gnomes, Fairies, Elves & Other Little People is a large book that delves into the history of the folklore quite a bit (over 600 pages, covering several time periods and locales) and has good reviews.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 7:18 AM on November 27, 2009

Try some Dungeons & Dragons books. I haven't looked at them in a long time, but the Monster Manual might be what you're looking for. An alphabetical listing of imaginary monsters, their statistics and proclivities. Also see if you can find a copy of the old Dieties and Demigods. Like the monster manual, but for gods of various real and imaginary mythos.
posted by jefftang at 6:48 AM on November 29, 2009

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