Pity the second-tier monsters of ancient myth. “Ethon, no one’s heard of him,” laments mythology buff John Harris. “And what about the little-known Teumessian Fox? He was way cool.”
B-list beasts might finally win your love with My Monster Notebook, the newest monstrous creation from John, former editor at Getty Publications and author of Greece! Rome! Monsters!. That book introduced the big guns of Greek mythology, from Basilisk to Unicorn, and featured pictures by mad illustrator-genius Calef Brown.
Some of the monsters in My Monster Notebook you’ve probably heard of—like Argus with his 100 eyes, or Circe who turned men into animals. But have you spent quality time with Ethon, the eagle who tore out Prometheus’s liver to start the morning? Or the Teumessian Fox, a ravening beast sent to punish ancient Thebes for its collective crimes?
As concocted by illustrator Mark Todd, whose überwacky drawings you might have seen in the New York Times, and designer Jim Drobka, My Monster Notebook poses as a scrapbook put together by a tweenage monsterologist. It combines found objects (tufts of beast fur, torn pages of research) with John’s snappy monster synopses, which go something like this:
THE TEUMESSIAN FOX
Bet you’ve never heard of him…I know I never had till I wrote this book!
He was a fox—a HUGE, HUGE fox, and—guess what?—yet another offspring of the dreadful Echidna.
The Teumessian Fox ran around the great city of Thebes, terrorizing everyone. And no one could figure out how to get rid of him, because his destiny was never to be caught. By anyone. Ever.
The King of Thebes thought and thought about this terrible problem. Finally he had a brainstorm. He would turn lose the magical dog Laelaps, whose destiny was to catch every single thing he chased after.
Zeus, king of the gods, was now faced with a tricky situation, fate-wise: if you have a fox who can never be caught being chased by a dog who catches everything he runs after, who is going to win?
Thinking about this gave Zeus a major headache, and so he turned them both to stone. Which is one way to solve a problem.
John, who also wrote Strong Stuff and Pop-Up Aesop, crafts monsters that, while not exactly cuddly, aren’t completely terrifying, either. “I wrote the books in a wise-guy, smart-alecky voice that kids seem to like,” he told me. Ancient myths can be “gross and violent”—organs plucked out, flesh devoured. “The jokey voice makes the violence seem goofy rather than horrible. Otherwise, you’d end up with an awful lot of heads being cut off.”