When The Encyclopedia of Things That Never Were by Robert Ingpen and Michael Page came out in 1987, I didn’t know what redcaps were, or alchemical salamanders, or Quetzalcoatl. But Santa Claus thought I should, so for Christmas that year I received the hardback book. It was HUGE. Thirteen inches tall and ten wide, it had a beautiful cover and was filled with creepy, beautiful, wondrous information.
I read it front to back over the course of the year. Some of it made my seven-year-old self furious – what did they mean, putting mermaids in there, and witches? Obviously, mermaids were real, and black cats were magic (I had one, so I knew!). The entries ranged from Loki to the Cheshire Cat, Unicorns to Avalon. This was the first place I encounters Red Caps and Kelpies and other flesh-eating spirits.
The book is still on my shelf. The slip-cover is long gone, and the forest green cover is tattered like the books in this icon. Well loved, and well read, I’ve kept this encyclopedia for twenty years. It’s still the first place I go when I need quick information or a trip into the youngest parts of my imagination. The book isn’t as historically accurate as Katherine Briggs, or as detailed as more academic folkloric texts. There are editorial problems with the alphabetizing and some creatures you’d expect to find are missing. But for me, it was the place to begin, the starting point for so many of my wildest theories and imaginings.
I hope it survives another twenty years.