The Golden Book of the Mysterious (1976)

Another book I frequently got out of the library, 1976’s Golden Book of the Mysterious, is an entry into the canon of kid books dedicated to “the unknown.” I devoured this kind of stuff as a kid and looking back, I kind of wonder what was in the water in the 70s and 80s that made this stuff so thick on the ground, but that air of mystery definitely dovetailed with my perception of Dungeons & Dragons. General interest in the unknown doesn’t seem so prevalent now, though my kid isn’t yet a year old and I’ve not needed to venture into the kid section too often so far.

This, and other books in the same vein, were sort of a print version of In Search Of…, the documentary TV series dedicated to mysterious phenomena hosted by Leonard Nimoy from ’77 to ’82. Golden Book covers everything from sea serpents to witchcraft to ESP to lost civilizations in just 140 pages.

What sets Golden Book apart is the art. It is fully illustrated by Alan Lee, who you probably know best for his work on Tolkien’s Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Lee here hasn’t quite transitioned into the melancholy, fog drenched style of his later work, so you get a lot of bold contrasts and less impressionistic compositions. He’s also not afraid to get menacing, as you can see in particularly in his ghost and Baphomet illustrations. There are a lot of weird, atypical Lee subjects in the book – my fave is the stranded spacemen surviving in a cave.

But let’s talk about that werewolf. How often to you see a depiction of the black magic version of a werewolf? 95% of the time, lycanthropy is a curse visited on some unlucky soul. Alan Lee’s werewolf, though, he chose the path of the fang and made dark pacts in order to get it. Seems like a good thread for a Ravenloft adventure…

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