An entire world of invisible of beasts burst to life in the fields of Wood County.
Well, actually they came to life in the imagination of writer Sharona Muir, inspired in part by conversations with colleagues at Bowling Green State University. That imaginative menagerie comes to life in her novel "Invisible Beasts," which is on Oprah Magazine's List to Pick Up Now.
Robert Huber and Moira Van Staaden, who teach in the life sciences on campus, were "resurrecting a prairie" near the home of Muir, who teaches creative writing at BGSU, and her husband, Thomas Muir, a metalsmith whose work is also influenced by nature as well as a wildlife photographer and avid birder.
Conversations involved a game. "I began making up these imaginary animals based on real sciences," said Muir, who has written memoir and poetry. She'd find "intriguing scientific facts," and shape an animal around it, and then asked Huber and Van Staaden: "Did I could up with anything new and original, or is there something out there that's really like this?"
Coming up with a unique animals proved difficult, until finally one evening Muir posited "a creature that lives off energy created by cold fusion reactions."
Huber said it was feasible, though he didn't know of any creature like this.
"This made me realize how amazingly inventive nature is," Muir said. "This is what four million years of life will do."
That social game, she admits, is just one stream that fed the book's creation story. It goes back to high school biology, the first subject she was excited about growing up in Brookline, Massachusetts, and to volunteering for the Toledo Area Humane Society.
The novel is in the form of a bestiary, an ancient literary form that predates the novel. Muir found these bestiaries for all their wild inaccuracies "very enchanting." In 2008 she read Pliny's "Natural History," The book "is full of bestiary stories," she said, "some quite lunatic, but quite poetic."
With their mix of fact and fantasy "they appeal to our imagination and heart" and connected people to the natural world.
"Now we live in a world where we want to keep that connection through wisdom and imagination to the natural world," but that comes in the context of our knowledge of the vast world explored by science.
"We really need to make knowledge of the world we live in part of our normal imagination," she said. That's especially true at a time when species, possibly not yet discovered, face extinction.
(See BEASTS on 7)
In "Invisible Beasts" Sophie is the reader's guide. She comes from a line of people who are able to see animals no one else can see. Only one seer in each generation has this power.
Each chapter is devoted to a different creature. That menagerie includes the humanoid Keen-Ears, invisible dogs and the Antarctica Kraken, a continent-size glass sponge.
There's also truth bats, creatures who reside in your hair - a play on the old myth that bats fly into people's hair - and their humming gives the ring of truth to their host's voice.
If someone lies - as Sophie does to her scientist sister, they depart and the host's voice sounds false.
"I wanted to create animals that appeal to the imagination, that had a message to convey, perhaps some wisdom."
Appropriately the book is published by Bellevue Literary Press, a firm that specializes in "books at the intersection of the sciences and the arts and humanities." Muir described her relationship to the press as "a love match."
"They've supported in every way an author could hope for," she said. "Smaller presses can get behind the books they really want to push."
Which is good because "Invisible Beasts," Muir said, "violates every rule of the literary market."
Principally it doesn't fit into any recognized modern genre - bestiaries are a form unto themselves.
"Invisible Creatures" is a modern extension of that tradition. "Everything (Sophie) tells you about the world is a revelation about what it is to be human. .... What it is to be human is to be an animal among animals."
Muir said "human beings are the most invisible beasts because we do not see ourselves as beasts. Every single aspect of our lives... is in some way an animal aspect."
We can learn from out fellow creatures, she said. "If you look at the creatures around you, they'll teach you how to think. That's the mission of the book."
She pursues that mission in an entertaining way. "The purpose of entertainment," Muir said, "is to change the way we think, the way we feel, the way we dream."