[Book review] The Kraken and the Colossal Octopus


Dec 16, 2002
Reviewed in Forteam Times, October 2003, page 61, by Bob Rickard.

The Kraken and the Colossal Octopus by Bernard Heuvelmans (1916-2001).
333p. ISBN 710308701

"...The volume in review here focuses on the identity of the legendary kraken and other tentacled marine monsters...with the luxury of space to indulge his curiosity, Heuvelmans begins, as you'd expect, with the early evidence of squids and octopuses, how they entered the general cultural awareness in the classical past, in medieval times and during the 18th century "Age of Reason", providing the foundation of the study in terms of its images and legends, early zoology and nomenclature. The weirdness of squids and octopuses kicks in with chapter 2, which is a wondfully fortean essay on octopus behaviour, which undoubtedly contributed to legends of its size and aggression. Now in his stride, Heuvelmans devotes heavy chapters to the astonishing varieties of cephalpod types and the medieval legends of beasts so huge they were mistaken for islands.

The main part of the book turns the focus on squids, devoting a whole section each on the idenity of the legendary Kraken and the giant squids, beasts big enough to leave their tentacle marks and claws (mistaken for teeth) in the bodies of huge whales. Nearly all the questions we still ask today about such monsters were debated by the early pioneers of marine biology, including the Norwegian bishop Pontoppidan, the map maker Olaus Magnus and the systemiser Linnaeus, from whose acculumulation of lore and fact the serious study took off.

One frenchman stands out as Heuvelman's particular hero: Pierre Denys de Montfort (1764) who risked his reputation as a naturalist by describing giant squids in 1802. He was inspired by a description from 1783 of an eight-metre long tentacle found in the mouth of a sperm whale, and it was clear this was only part of the whole arm. By including in his book the now famous ex voto image of a monsterous cephalopd attacking a ship (from the church in St Malo) Denys-Mortford endured years of riducule from his academic peers.

The final chapters bring the who;e subject up to date with the study of previously unknown species of giant squids, such as Architeuthis - the discovery of which vindicated Denys-Mortford -and the more uncertain evidence for giant octopuses with its profusion of trantilising carcase fragments found on beaches, in nets and the stomachs of huge whales..."

Emperor said:
krin: Yep its the long awaited proper English language version - its £85 but sounds well worth it.

So, lets see, that would be about A$170 - I think I'll just hold off buying it at the moment! I'll just look around and see if any Australian libraries will buy it - there are some advantages to working in a library.


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