Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Back to the Bestiary

I was reading the Children's Writer newsletter the other day, and the very first article I read was about going back to the bestiary.

You all know what a bestiary is, right? If you don't, here is the definition kindly provided by

bes·ti·ar·y [bes-chee-er-ee, bees-]
noun, plural -ar·ies.
a collection of moralized fables, especially as written in the MiddleAges, about actual or mythical animals.

A bestiary really is a fantastic source of inspiration for the fantasy writer. I suppose it could be inspirational for the fiction writer as well, though they'd have to do something really inventive to make a cockatrice compatible with real life. However, the article I read kind of gave examples of how to do that, such as making the monster something inside you, an insidious dark aspect of your character that the protagonist has to defeat in order to grow and conquer.

One of the best things about the bestiary is that it is full of real and fantastical beasts. You can take those you like and adapt them to your needs. You don't have to stick to one set diagram. You can use what the bestiary gives and perhaps put a little twist on the creature's character. Why does the manticore sup on human flesh? Why can't you cut off one of the hydra's heads without causing two more to grow in its place? What happens if you cross a centaur with a gryphon? Kind of interesting, isn't it? I thought so.

You can access the Children's Writer article here. It was really fantastic. While you're at it, why not take a trip through the whole newsletter? It's a brilliant newsletter, full of tips, insight, and inspiration... sort of like a bestiary. :)


  1. Oh no, you caught me, I didn't know what a bestiary was.

    Fantasy is such an intriguing genre. These days, beasts are more often metaphorical. Real or otherwise, it's always interesting to know about more beasts and the realm they belong. Thanks for the link, Cat. Checking it out now ...

  2. Cat, have you been reading my WIP? Just kidding. I do something similar to what you mentioned though. ;)

  3. I've always found bestiaries fascinating, Cat. It's such a jolt to the imagination - what would THIS one do in my story?

  4. I adore fantasy, so bestiaries are my FAV'RITE kinds of books to browse through. Other books I love are things like The Thesaurus of Imaginary Lands, which I found for sale at my library. Fun!

    Kelly, I haven't read it yet! Soon I shall though, right? (Which beasts have you used?)

    Ellen, isn't it fantastic? I love the really unusual beasts, the ones that rarely appear in books. Those are the kinds I want to write about.

  5. Well of course I knew exactly what a bestiary was. NOT!! But I do now thanks to you Cat. I even read that same article in the Childrens Writer but didn't remember that name. Anyway, I love fantasy too of any kind! And I need to remember that tip of taking one beast that may have already been created by someone else and just tweak it to make it different and my own twist of uniqueness. I need to go now and get started!!


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