Borges collects these 116 imagined creatures from various mythologies and writers, from ancient times to the beginning of the twentieth century. There are fantastical creatures from Kafka, C. S. Lewis and H. G. Wells, as well as Pliny, the Eddas and Ovid.
Each being warrants one to four pages of description from various sources;
the most famous of the creatures are probably the Sphinx, the Phoenix, the Unicorn and the Valkyries. Borges gives
the mythological origins of each, and also some indication of how they have been used and seen throughout the ages. There are also entries for the Chinese Unicorn and the Chinese Phoenix, which are quite different from their Western variants. Dragons
comprise three different entries: The Dragon, a short overview of different kinds of dragon legends, Eastern Dragons, and Western Dragons, along with their respective legends.
Many of the staples of modern fantasy are found here:
elves, fairies, satyrs, nymphs, even the Kraken. However, with sources in various mythologies, they come across very differently from the average fantasy book or movie.
The Book of Imaginary Beings also contains two creatures that aren't so imaginary at a first glance: the Panther and the Pelican. However, they have been described very imaginatively in medieval writings.
The Panther has a sweet voice and scent, while the Pelican can bring its dead hatchlings back to life.
If you are looking for stories from Borges' fertile imagination you are going to be disappointed. However, as a starting point
departing to different mythologies, this book is quite good. Many of the entries are just enough to whet your appetite for more.
Borges' translator, Andrew Hurley, comments that Borges wanted readers to dip into the book every now and then.
Indeed, that seems like a better way to read it rather than from cover to cover. Peter Sís' illustrations give the book an atmosphere all its own.