Monster Manual: bestiaries from 16th Century/1977/2014

Robert sez, "Dungeons & Dragons, now celebrating its 40th anniversary, is about to release its new Monster Manual -- the original Monster Manual was a watershed moment in human history, part of a history that includes a 16th century bestiary, the Augsburg Book of Miracles; bestiaries reveal our profoundly human desire for an enchanted, magical world."

A bestiary can both catalogue the threat of our demise and foretell the joy of a new world; it is a story of grotesque threats and glorious salvation. Indeed—as cartographers knew long before recent conspiracy theorists saw the Loch Ness Monster in Apple Maps—at the limits of our knowledge, at the frontiers of our imagination, here be dragons!

For many, The Monster Manual was a monster itself; it provoked fear among Christian conservatives and provided a locus for the kind of moral panic and public rhetoric that Dr. Leslie Smith has recently labeled “chaos rhetoric.” And perhaps those fears were, in some sense, well-founded; for like The Book of Miracles, The Monster Manual foretold a new world, not just a world of the imagination.

For the past decade or so, it has been obvious that D&D was not simply the idle play of disaffected teen boys; it was the game that launched a thousand careers—and ten times a thousand new worlds. Once ridiculed as the escape of disaffected teenagers, D&D is now revered for its influence on authors, technical innovators, and even humble academics. The Monster Manual was, for so many, not just the escape from mundane reality, but a dive into progressive dreams about what the world ought to be.

Monstrous Futures: Dungeons & Dragons, Harbinger of the “None” Generation, Turns 40 [Robert M. Geraci/Religion Dispatches]

(Thanks, Robert!)