“The monsters in this collection are huge, hideous and ugly; they are hated and feared and people run screaming at the sight of them. Most of them are bad and brutal: their one wish is to eat as much as they can – especially tasty humans…”
How could any child resist?
Ruth Manning-Sanders (21 August 1886 – 12 October 1988) was a prolific British poet and author who was perhaps best known for her series of children’s books in which she collected and retold fairy tales from all over the world. All told, she published more than 90 books during her lifetime. It is difficult to substantiate whether the stories she told were indeed in existence before she published them or this was actually part of the charm she wove into their mystique. Occasionally she recounts the gestation and birth of the original tales, other times they are oddly curious in their origin. Born in Swansea, her family relocated to Cheshire whilst she was still young and her childhood interest in books and family holidays to remote countryside locations, clearly fuelled her imagination.
From 1962 to 1984 she published a wide-ranging series of ‘Book of…’ titles, covering stories of the fantastical and wonderful to odd and peculiar. The entire list is as follows:
- A Book of Giants, 1962
- A Book of Dwarfs, 1963
- A Book of Dragons, 1964
- A Book of Witches’, 1965
- A Book of Wizards, 1966
- A Book of Mermaids, 1967
- A Book of Ghosts and Goblins, 1968
- A Book of Princes and Princesses, 1969
- A Book of Magical Beasts, 1970 (editor)
- A Book of Devils and Demons, 1970
- A Book of Charms and Changelings, 1971
- A Book of Ogres and Trolls, 1972
- A Book of Sorcerers and Spells, 1973
- A Book of Magic Animals, 1974
- A Book of Monsters, 1975
- A Book of Enchantments and Curses, 1977
- A Book of Kings and Queens, 1977
- A Book of Marvels and Magic, 1978
- A Book of Spooks and Spectres, 1979
- A Book of Cats and Creatures, 1981
- A Book of Heroes and Heroines, 1982
- A Book of Magic Adventures, 1983
- A Book of Magic Horses, 1984
As we can see, 1975 saw the arrival of A Book of Monsters, perhaps her best-remembered work. Comprising of twelve tales from different countries, each had one evocatively illustrated representation of the monster by her long-time work colleague, Robin Jacques who spent most of his career illustrating childrens’ books utilising the stippling technique (his fame was outstripped by that of his sister, Hattie, beloved of many a Carry On film).
The stories and countries of origin were as follows:
- Ubir – Tartary. Siblings are constantly pursued by a huge, ravenous she-monster
Monster Copper Forehead – South Russia. A promise-breaking mother and father see their offspring snatched by the bullet-deflecting-headed ogre
The Golden Valley – Sicily. A royal power battle ensues when a monster tests the Princely claim to his land with a series of almost impossible riddles
Lu-Bo-Bo – West Africa. A story which does have its roots in legend – grumbling stomachs lead to explosive consequences
Prince Lindworm – Sweden. Borderline perverse story where a beautiful Princess and a vile lizardy beast challenge each other to ‘shed layers’ until one of them is left with nothing at all
The Monster in the Mill – Macedonia. A dog, a cat…a little cock. And a monster.
Dunber – Bohemia. A bear-headed monster may not be quite as bad as first appears
The Story of the Three Young Shepherds – Transylvania. Porridge and mayhem in a country that already had its local issues.
The Great Galloping Wolf – Russia. A talking wolf torments a woodcutter (an occupation which seems to attract bad news)
The Seven Monsters – Africa. Namely, Monsters Slobber, Snaggle Tooth, Goggle Eyes, Dish Face, Blue Nose, Short Shanks and Yellow Belly.
The Singing Leaves – Tyrol. The leaves weren’t the problem – ‘a monster so hideous that nothing more hideous has ever been seen on earth’, was.
Pentalina – Macedonia. Monster Horisto, a dragon/wolf hybrid clearly points the finger at Macedonian authorities doing little to sort out the nation’s monster issues.
Manning-Sanders died in Penzance, England, in 1988. Published originally by Methuen, then Magnet, the books are now out-of-print but easily collected second-hand.
Daz Lawrence, moviesandmania