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Mythological Dictionaries and Encyclopedias


In the world of Mythology, the name Arthur Cotterell pops up everywhere. We have come to believe in him. Perhaps one day we shall be able to prove his existence. Meanwhile we regard his name as a trademark. His DICTIONARY OF WORLD MYTHOLOGY (Oxford University Press, 1979) and ENCYCLOPEDIA OF MYTHS AND LEGENDS (Oxford University Press, 1989) are very highly regarded - and the latter is not just a copy of the former.

Nothing is ultimate. The moment a title has this word in it, the first thing you seek won't be there. However THE ULTIMATE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF MYTHOLOGY (Lorentz, 1999) is by Arthur Cotterell and Rachel Storm so can be warmly recommended. It is a great book to dip into. Well laid-out and lavishly illustrated. Every coffee table should have one. But this ultimate book does not ultimately cover Africa, the Americas or Oceania.


Here is a man who gets his act together. Cavendish is regarded as an authority of Magic and Witchcraft. His MYTHOLOGY, AN ILLUSTRATED ENCYCLOPEDIA (Brown, Little & Co, 1998) contains the work of thirty eminent lecturers, professors, writers, archeologists and anthropologists in the field.

Some moons ago Purnell Publishing brought out MAN, MYTH AND MAGIC (Purnell, 1970-72), an enormous encyclopedia edited by Richard Cavendish. This was published in weekly instalments and is now long out of print. But thanks to a charity book sale we were able to purchase vols 1 to 6. We have never been able to find volume 7, which would also have the index and make life much easier. However, volume 1 does have a splurge on the list of contributors, which is quite impressive with over 200 contributors worldwide. The whole thing was also republished in the States (Marshal Cavendish, 1983).


His MYTHS AND LEGENDS OF THE WORLD (Facts On File, 1996) is very comprehensive (800 pages!). He published this in 1996, but sadly died in 1997 so this is quite a legacy. Sparsely illustrated in black and white but rich and rewarding in narrative.


Annotated Guides are published by Dorling Kindersley and there is one on MYTHS AND LEGENDS by Neil Philip (DK Publishing, 1988). As it says on the jacket blurb, more than fifty of the world's most dramatic stories are explored through paintings and artefacts. It is a brilliant idea carried out with great expertise. It leaves us wanting more. Much, much more. Even 128 large format pages are not enough.


EVERYMAN'S DICTIONARY OF NON CLASSICAL MYTHOLOGY by Egerton Sykes (J M Dent, 1952) is quite intriguing. Quite sparse and terse with no pics at all. Maybe there was a paper shortage. But it's now become something of a collector's item. However you can still get his WHO'S WHO IN NON-CLASSICAL MYTHOLOGY (Routledge, 4th Edition, 2001), which has 2,500 entries on Gods, heroes, monsters and other legendary characters. At only 256 pages we suspect this is quite terse too. But an ideal quick reference guide.


These good folk have a history of producing Encyclopedias and so forth on Art, History, Mythology and Folklore. Many, if not most, of these now seem to be out of print. But you could try THE LAROUSSE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF MYTHOLOGY (Bounty Books, 1996). The Gods nod their heads.