Controversy Rages Over “New” Book

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Filed under: Urban Legends

Guest Post By John Leonard

In the year 1882, famed naturalist and cryptozoologist Angus Willoughby created the definitive guide to the unusual in nature. Willoughby’s World of Wonder, A Field Guide to Strange Beasts & Curious Creatures became a classic text in the fields of cryptozoology and xenomorphology, studied in universities worldwide for almost half a century.

At least, that’s what it says on the back cover.

The truth behind this unusual book, however, is a matter of some debate. Its title page clearly states that the author is Angus Willoughby, and that it was originally published in Edinburgh by Bayne & McKay. Further, there is a “Note From the Publisher” which states that this edition was assembled from restored fragments of old copies from the 19th century. The new publisher, Stephen Barnwell, said he was proud to bring this classic text back to a modern audience through his publishing company, Antarctica Arts.

The confusion seems to arise when you search for the book with online retailers, such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Book Depository, where the author is listed as Stephen Barnwell. I contacted Mr. Barnwell to ask him why he didn’t list Angus Willoughby as the author. “It appears to be a glitch in the database. Once one online retailer makes a mistake, it propagates across the web all by itself. I’m working to fix the issue,” states Barnwell, “I blame Amazon.”

Amongst the book’s reviewers, there appears to be a raging debate. While some reviewers described Willoughby’s simply as “a wonderful collection of fairytales and fables” and “the most beautiful work of art I’ve ever seen,” others disagree. One Amazon reviewer asserted, “I firmly believe the accounts of the giants mentioned within the book, among a few others.” He added, “It is up to the reader to discern what is fact and what is fiction, for everything in there surely is not fiction.”

A Goodreads reviewer was even more explicit: “This is the first non-fiction book that I have ever accepted. I am glad I did. The illustrations and the history behind this book are so interesting and unique. It’s fun to see what people used to think was actually real.” Clearly, for this reviewer, the truth was plain to see. She recognized the unique history of Angus Willoughby’s work and its place in history. A writer herself, she continued, “Will definitely be using this book as a reference when I write fantasy or supernatural myself.”

Further evidence of the cultural importance of Willoughby’s World of Wonder was this Amazon reviewer’s comment: “Ever wonder where the inspiration for some of the fantastical creatures in Percy Jackson, Clash of the Titans, The Hobbit, Harry Potter and many other fantasy series could have come from? Quite possibly, the authors were inspired by the writings of one Mr. Angus Willoughby circa 1882.” How can one doubt the historicity and cultural importance of a book that influenced JK Rowling and JRR Tolkien?

When asked about the controversy, Barnwell said, “I am so glad that there are some reviewers out there who really understand the book and its historical significance to the scientific and literary worlds.” He added, “This is why I restored and republished this book, to remind people of this classic field guide and its profound influence on our culture. I think Angus would be proud.”