Hello. Fats here.
Before the launch of our theme, Monsters, Beasts, and Chimeras: Spooks and Spectres, I was busy packing for my cross-country move. Neil Gaiman’s Unnatural Creatures was one of the few books I wanted to read before I had to ship them away. Alas, I didn’t get a chance. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks after my move that I finally picked up the book.
In his Introduction, Neil Gaiman wrote,
“I liked real animals. But I liked the animals who existed in a more shadowy way even more than I liked the ones who hopped or slithered or wandered into my real life, because they were impossible, because they might or might not exist, because simply thinking about them made the world a more magical place.”
When Unnatural Creatures found its way into my hands, I thought it fits our theme perfectly. Snugly, to be more precise. There are sixteen stories in this collection, each featuring the sort of creature you would not want to wake up next to or spend an afternoon tea with. Or perhaps the kind you would.
The Nature of Short Stories
Short stories are not for everyone. Some people prefer novels, while others like text with illustrations. There are others still who would rather read poetry than narratives. Unnatural Creatures is a short story collection that might as well be a lyrical novel divided into “monster” chapters with simple yet beautiful artworks drawn by Briony Morrow-Cribbs.
Because this is a selection of short stories, you’re not expected to like every single one of them. I did not. Yet, I still find Unnatural Creatures beautiful and engaging to read. I loved seven of the sixteen stories in the book, and it didn’t make the book less readable or enjoyable. Unnatural Creatures is one of my most treasured books.
Beyond Your Wild Imagination
If you like to read spine-tingling tales, stories that give you goosebumps and nightmares, or listen to accounts of the strange, the queer, the sinister, and the macabre, then Unnatural Creatures is the book for you. The creatures described in this short story collection range from the “familiar” to the “bizarre” to the “whimsical.” Briony Morrow-Cribbs brilliantly creates an amalgam of these so-called unnatural creatures in the book’s “Table of Creatures.”
The book is filled with extraordinary creatures such as a werewolf, a griffin, a manticore, a mermaid, a forest beast, a dryad, and a sunbird. Others are as normal as an inkblot, a bicycle, and a safety pin, but just as fantastical as those previously mentioned. I left out a few on purpose because it is your task to find out what they are or how they came to be.
Stories That Make Us Remember
“What we remember from childhood we remember forever – permanent ghosts, stamped, inked, imprinted, eternally seen.”
— Cynthia Ozick
One of the reasons why I enjoyed reading this book is how I was reminded of mythical creatures in Philippine folklore. We have our fair share of unnatural creatures. In reading the book, images of Bathala (creation god), Kamatayan (death), Sarimanok (mythical bird), Sirena (mermaid), and Tikbalang (demon horse)—just to name a few—came to mind.
One unnatural creature leads you to think of another, and I find it fascinating how these creatures have been part of our lives for centuries. They live among us, and we live among them, whether we like it or not. (Maybe I shouldn’t have used the word “mythical” earlier. Heh.) What unnatural creature/s from your culture are you familiar with? I’d love to hear about them!
Just a Few More Things
As much as I want to go over each story, I would prefer if you get a copy – either buy your own or borrow from the library – and discover for yourself. While my love for Neil Gaiman never falters, you might find it interesting that some of the stories in this collection date as far back as 1885! Imagine that!
Also, if you would like to see more unnatural creatures, The Unnatural Animals of Abby Diamond might tickle your fancy. I accidentally stumbled across the website while browsing for images of monsters and beasts.
“Where there is a monster, there is a miracle.”
— Ogden Nash, American poet
P.S. If you buy Unnatural Creatures, you are supporting 826DC and literacy. And children, of course. Lots of children.