cover image Squid


Martin Wallen. Reaktion, $19.95 (216p) ISBN 978-1-78914-334-8

Wallen (Fox), an Oklahoma State University professor emeritus of English, takes an educational but dry look at squids, in reality and fiction. Aiming for more than a “simple factual account” of the animal, he discusses both the scientific insights of marine biologists and, less successfully, exaggerated depictions perpetuated in the arts and folklore. The discussions of squids’ diet (they “prey on almost anything that does not eat them first”) and their “highly aggressive hunting behaviour” are especially intriguing. In later chapters, Wallen deals with representations of squid in literature. This begins well, with Wallen tracing the human tendency to see squid as monstrous figures back to early examples such as “the primordial squid monster” Scylla in Homer’s Odyssey and the fearsome Kraken that appears in the Norse text King’s Mirror (circa 1250). However, he bogs down in a welter of references to almost any squidlike creature imaginable and in abstruse reflections, such as that “in our scientific era, a direct encounter with Kraken can only be terrifying as the realization that the apocalypse is not a myth.” Despite some fascinating passages, this uneven treatment will leave readers wanting. With color illus. and photos. (Dec.)