A Pre-Columbian Bestiary

Fantastic Creatures of Indigenous Latin America

By (author) Ilan Stavans Illustrated by Eko

Hardback - £14.95

Publication date:

30 October 2020

Length of book:

116 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271087870

An encyclopedic collaboration between award-winning Mexican American scholar Ilan Stavans and illustrator Eko, A Pre-Columbian Bestiary features lively and informative descriptions of forty-six religious, mythical, and imaginary creatures from the Nahua, Aztec, Maya, Tabasco, Inca, Aymara, and other cultures of Latin America.

From the siren-like Acuecuéyotl and the water animal Chaac to the class-conscious Oc and the god of light and darkness Xólotl, the magnificent entities in this volume belong to the same family of real and invented creatures imagined by Dante, Franz Kafka, C. S. Lewis, Jorge Luis Borges, Umberto Eco, and J. K. Rowling. They are mined from indigenous religious texts, like the Popol Vuh, and from chronicles, both real and fictional, of the Spanish conquest by Diego Durán, Bernal Díaz del Castillo, and Fernando de Zarzamora, among others. In this playful compilation, Stavans distills imagery from the work of magic realist masters such as Juan Rulfo and Gabriel García Márquez; from songs of protest in Mexico, Guatemala, and Peru; and from aboriginal beasts in Jewish, Muslim, European, British, and other traditions. In the spirit of imaginative invention, even the bibliography is a mixture of authentic and concocted material.

An inspiring record of resistance and memory from a civilization whose superb pantheon of myths never ceases to amaze, A Pre-Columbian Bestiary will delight anyone interested in the history and culture of Latin America.

“The imaginary and real beings described by Ilan Stavans with whimsy, wit, irony, and, most of all, wonder, emerge from the pre-Columbian and colonial Americas to remind us that even in our own decolonial times, the imaginary and the nonimaginary, the fantastic and the historical, the speculative and the real continue to coincide in the Americas on the elusive line between fact and fiction, where ‘what is known and what is hoped for intermingle.’”

—Ramón Saldívar, author of The Borderlands of Culture: Américo Paredes and the Transnational Imaginary