DISCLAIMER: The following work is a non-fiction textbook on the subject of Chimerology, the scientific study of monsters.
It is rare that a textbook must begin with such an unusual disclaimer. You’d be hard pressed to find a physics book that feels the need to assert that it’s not all made up by the author, despite many containing facts far more incredible than the contents of this humble tome. But in the field of Chimerology, it is necessary, as very few, outside of those who actively study it, are aware of its existence. Indeed, most consider monsters to be firmly rooted in fantasy, with no basis in reality. The purpose of this text is twofold: to convince the uneducated reader that this could not be further from the truth, and to serve as a reference for further educating the already educated reader. As an introductory text, the focus is more on the former than the latter; a plethora of detailed bestiaries and atlases of habitation already exist if you know where to look, so this book caters to those who do not. That said, the authors have taken pains not to sacrifice scientific rigor for the sake of accessibility. While A Modern Taxonomy of Monsters utilizes many illustrations and metaphors that newcomers to the field might find easier to understand, it rarely oversimplifies to the point where scientific accuracy is compromised (such simplifications are always described as such, with references to more advanced texts that can provide more nuanced details).
It is natural to begin a textbook of Chimerology with a definition of what Chimerology is. Strictly speaking, it’s the study of chimeras, also known as monsters, but this is rather tautological. A satisfying definition of Chimerology requires a satisfying definition of what a monster is. This is not easy to provide. Formally, a monster is an organism which sufficiently abnormal, i.e., one which displays traits shared by few or no other organisms. But the idea of what a monster is can be more easily conveyed by giving some examples and non-examples. The platypus is the archetypical example of a monster, and indeed the scientific term “chimera” was first used to describe it, for obvious reasons. Bullet shrimp, water bears, and venus fly traps are other common examples. Note from the last example that monsters need not be animals; monster taxonomy is parallel to so-called “traditional” taxonomy. That said, the term “monster” will generally refer to animal monsters in this text, unless otherwise specified. Some non-examples of monsters are pigeons, cows, horses, most bony fish, (anglerfish being a notable exception) almost all mosses, and wild wolves (although, rather counter-intuitively, domesticated dogs are, in fact, monsters).