The Book of Faerie
A Guide to Elves, Faeries and Goblins
by Michael Howard
Reviewed by Judith Hewitt (co-manager of the Museum)
I remember when a copy of this book was donated to the library by the author last year. Hannah read it and loved it. We then decided to stock in the Museum shop. It has been winking at me on the shop shelves for quite a while and I finally got round to reading it!
I had completed this book within a day of starting it - it was so fascinating and engrossing. It is one of those books that you keep wanting to share with people and I found myself reading out lots of bits.
The book starts with an essay overview/introduction on the meaning of the word faery (put simplistically it means otherworldliness) and then a look at the origin of the faery folk. It contains everything you could want to know - from where they live, what they look like, their connections with the Wild Hunt and the spirits of the dead to their associations with ancient sites and ley lines. One of the most interesting parts was the divide among writers in the past when it came to explaining the existence of faeries - were they demons or angels? The connection between faeries and King Arthur was also explored. The faery origins of Merlin and Morgan Le Fay were particularly fascinating.
The book then moves on to a gazetteer of different types of faeries/otherworldly beings. Ones that stand out are descriptions of the Queen of Elfhame, Dame Holda and Bucca. But there are also descriptions and tales of encounters with the boneless one and also a washer woman with webbed feet. The places associated with faeries are also explored such as the Burrow Mump - known locally as Mole Castle (the palace of the King of the Moles) and for the nearby River Parett which "is supposed to be inhabited by a rather nasty spirit which demands a human sacrifice every year. It is also said that "Willows do walk if you travel late" and there is a story of a young woman...who went missing and her body was found in the river. It was said she had been strangled by one of the willow trees that grow on the river bank."(page 52)
Ways of seeing and perceiving faeries were also discussed. Many accounts tell of faery ointments, chance encounters and looking through hagstones. One recent account tells of a husband and wife who saw something. He saw a ball of light and she saw a small man. They encountered something but saw it with different eyes and therefore saw the same being in different ways. Entrances to faeryland are numerous with many accounts telling of a place where oak, ash and thorn grow together or maybe a marsh or lake could be the entrance. One gets the feeling that they could be all around us!
If you want to know more about faery cattle, funerals, marriages, children or anything faery related then this is the book for you. Just remember "anyone...expecting a New Age work on cute, gossamer winged flower faeries...will be disappointed." (page 5)
I loved this book and raved about it to Peter (my husband and co-manager of the Museum). He has now read it and we both raved about it to Simon (the Director of the Museum) who has now purchased his own copy to read. A totally fantastic little book.