It was a dark and stormy night.
On an unlit road…
On a small island in the Philippines…
I can’t explain it exactly, but the setting involves rain, volcanoes, darkness, and being stuck on a road in the back of a truck in the Visayas region of the Philippines. This is when someone told me about the manananggal.
Beautiful woman by day, half-bodied, bat-winged, fetus-sucking apparition by night, the manananggal lands on the roof of a house, sticks her hollow tongue through the thatched grass and into the room until it reaches the belly of a pregnant woman who is, of course, fast asleep, and sucks up her innards. The other half of her body is hidden somewhere for safekeeping, so that in the pre-dawn hours she can fuse back together and resume life as that beautiful older woman who lives down the road.
I wanted to know what the manananggal looked like. But I had no internet, and nothing was open. So I drew the manananggal myself. I asked the storytellers if I was anywhere near the truth. They made some encouraging sounds. But who knows? Drawing a mythical creature was much harder than I thought it would be.
The manananggal plays off some familiar archetypal anxieties. But however familiar, this did not take away from my visceral thrill at the fact that one body becomes two, or that one of them was a torso-less bottom half waiting in the dark.
Then I heard that there was a 2005 illustrated reprint of Borges’ Book of Imaginary Beings (the Manual de zoología fantástica). Someone borrowed the book for me from a library. But my edition had no pictures!
Now I feel condemned to draw them all.
But first, I got lost in all the prefaces. Borges explains (Figure A)*:
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