"Griffins, the Phoenix, dragons, unicorns, and other traditional animals of the imagination are all around us in words and images. But when you delve into the histories of these creatures, you'll find an incredible wealth of cross-cultural lore intertwined with history, myth, religion, art, literature, science, and specialized areas such as alchemy and heraldry. While looking beyond the popular presence of mythical beasts, you'll discover as much about the history and dreams of the human race as about our animal creations."
–– Joseph Nigg

Iguana and Brazilian edition of How to Raise and Keep a Dragon. See the article in Selected Works.

Following Fabulous Beasts

"[Joseph Nigg] has done for the world of fantastical animals
what Joseph Campbell did more generally
for the world of myth."
–Jeff VanderMeer
The New York Review of Science Fiction

Since publication of The Book of Gryphons in 1982, Joseph (Joe) Nigg has explored the rich cultural lives of mythical creatures in a variety of styles and formats for readers of all ages. His books have garnered multiple awards, and his international bestseller, How to Raise and Keep a Dragon, has been translated into more than twenty languages. His newest book on fantastic beasts, Sea Monsters, has recently been published by the University of Chicago Press in the United States and Ivy Press in the United Kingdom.


The University of Chicago Press cover

From the University of Chicago Press
"Smart phones and GPS give us many possible routes to navigate our daily commute, warn us of traffic and delays, and tell us where to find a cup of coffee. But what if there were sea serpents and giant man-eating lobsters waiting just off course if we were to lose our way? Would there be an app for that? In the sixteenth century, these and other monsters were thought to swim the northern waters, threatening seafarers who ventured too far from shore. Thankfully, Scandinavian mariners had Olaus Magnus, who in 1539 charted these fantastic marine animals in his influential map of the Nordic countries, the Carta Marina. In Sea Monsters, well-known expert on magical beasts Joseph Nigg brings readers face-to-face with these creatures, alongside the other magnificent components of Magnus’s map.

"Nearly two meters wide in total, the map’s nine wood-block panels comprise the largest and first realistic portrayal of Northern Europe. But in addition to these important geographic elements, Magnus’s map goes beyond cartography to scenes both domestic and mystic. Close to shore, Magnus shows humans interacting with common sea life—boats struggling to stay afloat, merchants trading, children swimming, and fisherman pulling lines. But from the offshore deeps rise some of the most magical and terrifying sea creatures imaginable at the time or thereafter—like sea swine, whales as large as islands, and the Kraken. In this book, Nigg provides a thorough tour of the map’s cartographic details, as well as a colorful look at its unusual pictorial and imaginative elements. He draws on Magnus’s own text to further describe and illuminate the inventive scenes and to flesh out the stories of the monsters.

"Sea Monsters is a stunning tour of a world that still holds many secrets for us land dwellers, who will forever be fascinated by reports of giant squid and the real-life creatures of the deep that have proven to be as bizarre and otherworldly as we have imagined for centuries. It is a gorgeous guide for enthusiasts of maps, monsters, and the mythic."

Inside the fold-out cover of Sea Monsters is a laminated poster-sized reproduction of Olaus Magnus's famous 1539 Carta Marina.

Sea Monster cover and jacket text © 2013 The University of Chicago Press; photograph of fold-out map © 2013 Ivy Press


The Boston Globe
'Sea Monsters' by Joseph Nigg, by Jan Gardner

“Joseph Nigg, the inventive mind behind How To Raise and Keep a Dragon, has immersed himself in the lore and history of imaginary animals for 30 years. His newest book, Sea Monsters: A Voyage Around the World’s Most Beguiling Map (University of Chicago), is itself a neat trick. Unfold the book jacket to reveal a poster-sized reproduction of a richly detailed map of Scandinavia that dates to 1539. The seas on the map are littered with fantastic creatures, such as a sea unicorn and a giant worm that wraps itself around a big ship. Nigg is an extremely capable guide through the treacherous waters.”

Kraken and Owl Whales: Take a Dip With History's Most Terrifying Sea Monsters, by Matt Simon. With illustrated descriptions of 10 of Olaus's sea beasts.

“In a beautiful new exploration of the Carta Marina, Sea Monsters: A Voyage Around the World’s Most Beguiling Map, scholar Joseph Nigg dives deep into the history and wide influence of Olaus' bizarre creatures.”

Here Be Duck Trees and Sea Swine, by Joseph Nigg. An interactive tour of the Carta Marina's sea monsters.

The New York Review of Books
Here Be Monsters, by Marina Warner

"Nigg shows a juic[y] interest in the myths and stories, and provides a useful, gleeful “sea monster key.” (“ZIPHIUS, a horrible sea monster that swallows a black seal in one bite…. ROSTUNGER…somewhat like a sea calf. It goes to the bottom of the sea on all four of its feet, which are very short.”) He also quotes most entertainingly from the anonymous 1568 English translation of Olaus’s commentary, which reads like a cross between Thomas Browne’s Pseudoxica Epidemica, an invention from Borges’s library of Babel, and a recovered gnomic relic of Middle Earth."

The Bookbag
Sea Monsters: The Lore and Legacy of Olaus Magnus's Marine Map by Joseph Nigg
, by John Lloyd. Review of the Ivy Press edition.

"Ducks being born from trees, a monk-fish that isn't anything like a monkfish but more like a horrid '80s Doctor Who enemy, and so much more are scattered through the lovely pages, and this is something to relish in that it shines a light on a completely unknown subject with unforeseen pleasure."

Dive deep with Joseph Nigg's Sea Monsters Tonight, by Alan Prendergast

"The book is a handsome, coffee-table exploration of Magnus's work, a voyage from one end of the map to the other, explicating each crazy beast found on it and offering some informed speculation on Magnus's sources and the real-life counterparts, if any, of the creatures."

Denver Public Library
Local Author Joseph Nigg Explores Nordic Sea Monsters, by Lisa Flavin

"In Sea Monsters, Nigg guides the reader through the intricacies of the map and the times of its creator. It's a voyage that delves into the mythology behind many fabulous sea creatures but also explores their connections to real-life whales, squids and other behemoths of the deep."

Copyright© 2013 Joseph Nigg

Selected Works

An imaginary voyage up the northern seas of Olaus Magnus's renowned 1539 Carta Marina, with Olaus himself as the guide.
New expanded second edition of the whimsical blend of dragon lore and animal-raising guide. Lavishly illustrated.
"To anyone wishing to learn more not only on Dragons, but also other creatures, this is a great start."
"Joseph Nigg's The Book of Fabulous Beasts is the definitive work in this field."
--David Leeming
"It's hard to imagine a more complete treatment of these amazing creatures."
--The Story Bag Newsletter
". . . both good mythology and good fun. . ."
--The Houston Chronicle
A history of the most majestic of all mythical creatures.