Who doesn’t love bestiaries? My own fascination with them began with the the first edition Monster Manual (1977), which might not fit the definition of one in a technical sense, but close enough. School was all about structure, grammar, math... Here in the MM there was something similar but fun, with very practical application - studying and memorizing the descriptions and abilities of the creatures could well save your life, in a manner of speaking. The mildly titillating artistic depictions of certain entries were a bonus, and I suspect their inclusion made my fellow players and I feel just a little more grown up.
There were similar books I enjoyed near the same time period. They weren’t as comprehensive, and they weren’t game material - but they stoked the same youthful imagination and wonder for things fantastical, and did so while encouraging suspension of disbelief. A few of these stood out in my memory enough for me to want to recently reacquire them.
Rien Poortvliet and Wil Huygen illustrated and wrote a series of books about gnomes that I’m sure just about everyone reading this will be familiar with... Although many of my peers despise both gnomes and hobbits, there’s no doubt that they’ve managed to penetrate the popular culture more thoroughly than their cousins the dwarfs. These books were very popular when I was a kid, flying off the bookstore shelves every Christmas as gifts for adults and kids alike. I only had the first, but I gladly admit to liking it - the artwork was great and the descriptions of the dwellings and lifestyle of gnomes were good fun. There was brief mention in these pages of elves, goblins, trolls, and others. The Monster Manual was always the authoritative work for me, so when I read in Gnomes that dwarfs could easily be distinguished from them based on the fact that dwarfs had no beards, it became clear that Huygen had not done his homework.
Giants (by Julek Heller, Carolyn Scrace, Juan Wijngaard, and David Larken 1979) seems inspired by the success of the Gnomes books. Great illustrations in this one, and it was more to my liking since it was more monsterly. There was of course another book in this vein, called “Faeries”, put together again by David Larkin. I knew it was decent, having flipped through its pages in the mall, but neither myself nor my friends ever owned a copy (AFAIK or that anyone will admit).
I loved reading my dad’s subscription to the digest sized Isaac Asimov’s magazine and his old copies of Heinlein, Clarke, and Frank Herbert books. One Christmas morning he gave me Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials (by Wayne D. Barlowe, Ian Summers, and Beth Meacham 1979). We also played GDW’s Traveller and this seemed a worthy addition to my other books, but it became apparent that I had a lot of reading to do if I wanted to have any real sense of the aliens depicted and described in this book. Thirty years later and I’m still not even close. The artwork is very good. Here’s a picture that accompanies the entry for Jack Vance’s “Dirdir”, from the third book in the Planet of Adventure series:
A couple of years ago I picked up Thomas Keightley’s The World Guide to Gnomes, Fairies, Elves, and Other Little People originally published in 1880. It was reprinted in 1978 (and again, later I believe). It’s very academic but I highly recommend it if the subject interests you. You might also want to check out the online medieval bestiary at Bestiary.ca - especially with the Cooliris extension in Firefox...