"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 have been translated into more than twenty languages.

His most recent book, featured below, is a cultural and unnatural history of the mythical bird that Roman poet Claudian hailed as one that "hast beheld all that has been, /​ hast witnessed the passing the ages." The story of the figure's transformations through time is the most comprehensive and definitive to date.


From the University of Chicago Press
[416 pages | 27 halftones, 17 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2016]

"Arising triumphantly from the ashes of its predecessor, the phoenix has been an enduring symbol of resilience and renewal for thousands of years. But how did this mythical bird become so famous that it has played a part in cultures around the world and throughout human history? How much of its story do we actually know? Here to offer a comprehensive biography and engaging (un)natural history of the phoenix is Joseph Nigg, esteemed expert on otherworldly creatures—from dragons to gryphons to sea monsters.

"Beginning in ancient Egypt and traveling around the globe and through the centuries, Nigg’s vast and sweeping narrative takes readers on a brilliant tour of the cross-cultural lore of this famous, yet little-known, immortal bird. Seeking both the similarities and the differences in the phoenix’s many myths and representations, Nigg describes its countless permutations over millennia, including legends of the Chinese “phoenix,” which was considered one of the sacred creatures that presided over China’s destiny; classical Greece and Rome, where it can be found in the writings of Herodotus and Ovid; nascent and medieval Christianity, in which it came to embody the resurrection; and in Europe during the Renaissance, when it was a popular emblem of royals. Nigg examines the various phoenix traditions, the beliefs and tales associated with them, their symbolic and metaphoric use, the skepticism and speculation they’ve raised, and their appearance in religion, bestiaries, and even contemporary popular culture, in which the ageless bird of renewal is employed as a mascot and logo, including for our own University of Chicago.

"Never bested by hardship or defeated by death, the phoenix is the ultimate icon of hope and rebirth. And in The Phoenix: An Unnatural Biography of a Mythical Beast, it finally has its due—a complete chronicle worthy of such a fantastic and phantasmal creature. This entertaining and informative look at the life and transformation of the phoenix will be the authoritative source for anyone fascinated by folklore and mythology, re-igniting our curiosity about one of myth’s greatest beasts."

Alberto Manguel, author of The Dictionary of Imaginary Places
"Nigg’s The Phoenix is as singular as its subject. With intelligence, grace, and sound scholarship, he has restored this extraordinary beast to its rightful place in the universal library.”

Boria Sax, author of Imaginary Animals: The Monstrous, the Wondrous and the Human
“Nigg tells the intricate story of the phoenix in human culture with the most meticulous thoroughness, from its origins in ancient Egypt, Greece, and China to its use as a symbol of resurrection of New York City after the bombing of the World Trade Center. The tale of this mythic bird is so ubiquitous, multifaceted, and evocative that it seems to merge with the story of humankind.”

See http:/​/​press.uchicago.edu/​ucp/​books/​book/​chicago/​P/​bo19085081.html.

Copyright© 2017 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.