BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A small collection about fantastic animals and whether Jews could eat them.
PROS: A diverse bestiary featuring both the familiar and the unfamiliar.
CONS: The “Evil Monkey” part of the dialogues gets a bit repetitive.
BOTTOM LINE: A little stocking stuffer for fantasy fans.
The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals shares an animating spirit with The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases (2003, ed. Jeff VanderMeer and Mark Roberts). They both provide an alphabetical series of entries, each of which provides a sort of flash fiction piece related to the organizing theme. In the Lambshead Guide, this yielded a normal sized hard back book that you could happily dip in and out of over a week or two. I was absolutely charmed by it. The Kosher Guide is the little brother of that book, being easily flipped through in an hour or two. This makes it a fun little book to pass around to friends and family.
Each entry in Kosher consists of a sketch of the animal under consideration, a description, and then a short debate between Ann VanderMeer (speaking from the Jewish perspective) and Evil Monkey (Jeff VanderMeer’s online alter-ego, speaking from the totally random perspective) about whether or not the animal might be Kosher. This involves Ann trying to parse out the animal’s similarity to other animals which are actually covered by the Torah, while fending off Evil Monkey’s smart-ass comments.
The best part of this collection is the wide variety of animals–many I’d never heard of. The very first entry is an Abumi-Guchi: “Taken from Japanese folklore…a furry creature formed from the stirrup of a mounted military commander, typically a fallen soldier. The old stirrup forms its mouth and the rope from the saddle forms its limbs.” In fact, the uncommon is more common here, as the entries include things like: Aitvaras, Baku, Camahueto, Jaud, Pollo Maligno, Shedim, and Ziz. These live comfortably next to standards such as the Dragon, Manticore, Phoenix, and Sasquatch. Actually, I would’ve liked to see a bit more meat in the descriptions, but in this day and age it’s easy to look up more info on any critter that piques your interest. The brevity and flip quality of the descriptions stems from the origin of this book as Passover post on Jeff’s blog. A pleasant lagniappe at the end of the book is a conversation between Ann and Duff Goldman, the chef star of Ace of Cakes. In that interview they discuss the Kosherness of Wookies, and how to cook Mongolian Death Worm.
All in all this book is less than 100 small pages of light entertainment for the fan of the fantasy bestiary. You’ll probably find out about some fantastic critters you’d never heard of before, and you’ll think about them in a whole new culinary light. And don’t forget that the Lambshead project will be revived shortly: word has it that Ann and Jeff VanderMeer have been evaluating submissions for The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities which will also lean more towards microfiction.