In the world of Mythology, the legendary name Arthur Cotterell pops up everywhere. We have started 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.
World MythologyPAUL HAMLYN PUBLISHING brought out a series of books as part of their Library of the World’s Myths And Legends series. They are well worth searching for. We are still seeking a few but so far have:
CHINESE MYTHOLOGY by Anthony Christie (Hamlyn, 1968)
INDIAN MYTHOLOGY by Veronica Ions (Hamlyn, 1967)
JAPANESE MYTHOLOGY by Juliet Piggott (Hamlyn, 1969)
NEAR EASTERN MYTHOLOGY by John Gray (Hamlyn, 1969)
NORTH AMERICAN INDIAN MYTHOLOGY by Cottie Burland (Hamlyn, 1965)
OCEANIC MYTHOLOGY by Roslyn Poignant (Hamlyn, 1967)
ROMAN MYTHOLOGY by Stewart Perowne (Hamlyn, 1967)
SCANDINAVIAN MYTHOLOGY by Hilda R Ellis Davidson (Hamlyn, 1969)
SOUTH AMERICAN MYTHOLOGY by Harold Osborne (Hamlyn, 1965)
How many books are there devoted to Egyptology? They proliferate monthly. If you put two or more on a bookshelf they breed. There must be enough around to build a pyramid.
Due to an emphasis in scholarly circles on creaking along in Greek, and with so much literature being available for translation along with classical sculpture, Greek Godchecking is a relatively simple task. Everyone has heard of the major Gods. Or have they? Not only romanticised they also became Romanised. Who came first - Venus or Aphrodite? Zeus or Jupiter? Fret not. Godchecker does all this for you.
Books proliferate. Just too many. We have trawled through the major deities and are at the nitty-gritty stage of digging out the dirt on the lesser Gods. Our ultimate test for a Greek Mythology book now is to whisk straight to the index and look up Morpheus. If he is not there we can close the book and have an early night. In this respect Robert Graves, the sage of much Greek geekishness, has proved a grave disappointment so far. But his two-volume THE GREEK MYTHS (Penguin, 1955) is still one of the best.
Also you can’t judge every book by its title. DAWN OF THE GODS by Jacquetta Hawkes (Random House, 1968) is not about a Goddess called Dawn but is a very good look at Minoan, Mycenaean and Classical Greek Culture.
Folklore and Fable
You pays your money and you takes your choice. Do you want there to be fairies at the bottom of your garden? A DICTIONARY OF FAIRIES by Katharine Briggs (Penguin 1976) is an outstandingly wonderful work which covers all the bogies, ghoulies, elves and goblins you’ll ever hope to meet. Good luck finding a copy, we’ll never part with ours. Her compendious DICTIONARY OF BRITISH FOLK TALES (Routledge, 1991) is also much sought-after. The two-volume set (2,640 pages) is currently $300 on the second-hand market, not including the truck you’ll need it delivered in. We only have the cut-down [URL=https://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0415286026/compeideas-20] sampler[/URL] version which makes us eager for more.
THE DICTIONARY OF PHRASE AND FABLE by Ebenezer Cobham Brewer (Cassel, Petter and Galpin, 1894). “Derivation, allusions and origins of words that have a tale to tell.” Brewer’s Dictionary was one of the initial inspirations for Godchecker. We also have a more recent version (Harper-Collins, 16th Edition, 2000) with a foreword by TERRY PRATCHETT. Now we know where he went on his way to Discworld.
ARTHURIAN MYTH AND LEGEND by Mike Dixon Kennedy (Blandford, 1995) is an A to Z encyclopedia that apparently took 15 years to reach fruition. He’s also produced a large number of similar works, including RUSSIAN AND SLAVIC MYTH AND LEGEND, NATIVE AMERICAN MYTH AND LEGEND and EUROPEAN MYTH AND LEGEND. If all of these took 15 years to write he must be about 120 by now.
Merlin: This amazing character has whole books devoted to him. We have two excellent ones: ON THE TRAIL OF MERLIN by Deike Rich and Ean Begg (Aquarian, 1991) and the somewhat controversial MERLIN by Norma Lorre Goodrich (Harper-Collins, 1988).
We also came across THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THINGS THAT NEVER WERE (Dragons World, 1985) written by Michael Page and illustrated by Robert Ingpen, which is most entertaining.
Geography and Archeology
In the 1980s and 90s Time-Life produced a Cultural Atlas Series. We have:
ANCIENT AMERICAS by Michael Coe, Dean Snow and Elizabeth Benson (1986).
CHINA by Caroline Blundy and Mark Elvin (1983).
JAPAN by Martin Colcutt, Marius Jansen and Isao Kumakura (1988).
MESOPOTAMIA AND THE NEAR EAST by Michael Roaf (1990).
VIKING WORLD by James Graham-Campbell, Colleen Batey, Helen Clarke, R.I. Page and Neil S Price.
WONDERS OF THE WORLD is a treasure trove in two volumes dating back to the 1930s, with very good illustrations for the time. Edited by J. A. Hammerton (Amalgamated Press, 1933), it’s long out-of-print, and even the 1986 reprint is much sought-after if the $500 price tag is anything to go by. It covers all the archeological and historic sites of the time and has contributions by all the leading luminaries of the day. Such as Sir W. M. Flinders Petrie, Lewis Spence, E. Royston Price, Jessie Mothersole, S. G. Flaxland Stubbs, Sir Bertram Windle, T. Eric Peet, and many others. They don’t make names like that any more.
The Bible, Religion and Theology
The Bible is a never-ending source of quotations and inspiration. The NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION (International Bible Society, 1984) is allegedly the most accurate translation and is highly recommended. The IBS has recently produced a more politically-correct version of the NIV which also looks promising. We also have the New Testament translated into Cockney Rhyming Slang (“Cor strike a light!” sayeth the Lord). But you can’t beat the old King James Bible for sheer majesty and power.
The LION ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE BIBLE (Lion Publishing, 1978) is quite handy; also their PICTURE ARCHIVE OF THE BIBLE (1987).
For a complete and utter description of mainstream Christian belief, there is only one place to turn: SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY by Louis Berkhof (Banner Of Truth, 1958). This scholarly but highly readable tome delves into every detail of Reformed Christian Theology and answers all those awkward questions such as ‘How big is Heaven?’, ‘What does God look like?’ and ‘How many angels are there?’
Books on Buddhism abound. We battle through bewildering batches of Bhodisvatas trying to lighten up enlightenment. We must admit that our shelves are currently devoid of THE TORAH and THE HOLY KORAN, but we’re always playing catch-up in the books-which-must-be-read department. Our copy of the Mormon Bible has been awaiting scrutiny for years...
To be honest, we don’t get too involved with organized religion as such, but we do have THE INTERNATIONAL DICTIONARY OF RELIGION by Richard Kennedy (Crossroad Publishing, 1984) and THE WORDSWORTH ENCYCLOPEDIA OF WORLD RELIGIONS (Wordsworth Editions, 1999) which seem to meet most of our requirements.
Spirituality and New Age
There seem to be a spate of books devoted to Goddesses to the exclusion of Gods. Which seems rather a bizarre exercise. Maybe it is some sort of revenge against the few Monogods which do seem to be exclusively male. We don’t approve of this segregation. Our full title should be Godandgoddesschecker.com but we would never get any e-mails.
THE GODDESS by Shahrukh Husain (Little Brown & Co, 1997) is a well balanced delve into the feminine side of things without being bolshie.