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Fairies, Faeries, Fay & Fae

I was emailed last night and asked to do a review of all the Froud books I had on my bookshelf and to be honest, I couldn’t think of anything better to do. It also gives me something to post for Zuly’s Book Club as well as BlogCritics.

Brian Froud is well known in movie circles for his work in Jim Henson’s stunning “muppet” piece, Labyrinth (staring the effervescent duel-colour-eyed David Bowie and a young and gorgeous Jennifer Connolly) and puppet design for The Dark Crystal where he met his lovely wife, Wendy.

In literary circles however, he is probably most famous for his ground-breaking work with Alan Lee (who did concept design and much of the art in the Lord of the Rings movies directed by Peter Jackson) in what has become probably what has become the most cherished and referenced authority on fairy lore ever – Faeries.

Published originally in 1978, Froud and Lee brought myth and legend to life with delightful sketches and watercolour paintings which ceaselessly defy the bounds of what we know and understand to be fairy (or faery). The style of the book is also unique, published in large format and much of the text is written by hand which compliments the illustrations and illuminations on each page.

Froud and Lee have pulled many stories, legends and folklore from around the world, concentrating mostly on Celtic Lore (encompassing Welsh, Irish, Scots and English). The reader is taken through everything from benign mine knockers to the carnivorous water spirits.

Faeries has recently been re-released in a special 25th anniversary edition featuring extra art and a forward by Froud and Lee, though if you have already got the original book you don’t need the new one, there’s only a couple new pages.

In Good Fairies/Bad Fairies, we’re taken through Froud’s personal experiences with the fairies that have manifested themselves through his artwork. In the book he explains that he does not start to draw with a picture already in mind, but rather watches as a scribble turns to a figure and that figure to a painting practically all of it’s own (which could be likened to ghost-writing). Regardless of how the art came to fruition, it is simply beautiful. I leaned more towards the bad fairy section rather than the good due to the bolder colours used and the expressions of the fairies themselves. They didn’t seem so vague as the more benign good fairies and frankly, some of the fairies seemed too cute to be bad – but with all things fay, looks can be decieving.

Then we come to the Lady Cottington books. We have Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Book and Lady Cottington’s Fairy Albumn. In the first is the diary and captured images of Lady Cottington whom we follow throughout her life as she slams her journal shut to preserve an image of the fairies. This results in comical impressions and artworks that range from cheeky to downright naughty.

The second book continues the story and adds a twist as Lady Cottingtons younger sister finds and reads another journal and makes comments along with the notes and pictures left by the original Lady Cottington. To enjoy the book, you really need to read and view everything as it evolves (ie, don’t skip pages).

It’s a delight to read for those who are children at heart – but not actually children. The style of the fairy art is more adult than what any children under the age of at least twelve should be looking at as most of the artwork depicts nudity, tasteful nudity but nudity all the same. Unfortunately many bookshops I’ve been to in the past have had the book in the children’s section. While the artwork is beautiful – it’s really not appropriate for the youngin’s.

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  • Eric Olsen

    I love Faeries – hard to believe it’s been 25 years. We got it for my oldest daughter when she was about 5 in the late-’80s (she was mature, I agree that the book is really for adults) and she was mesmerized, frightened, enthralled all at the same time. I love the design and atmosphere.

  • James


    We know you will love this book.

    This is a book that always has something exciting happening.

    A FAIRY’S JOURNEY by Teresa Preston

    This is a wonderful fairy tale. One that you will remember for a long time.

    It is a book for all ages.

    It’s an awesome tale about knights, fairies, wizards, and battles between good and evil.

    It’s about a young lady named Elizabeth who runs for her life and discovers that she is a human fairy that has been assigned to save the fairies and the world. She must go on a quest and visit many mystical places to gain powers to fight an evil wizard. There is action, excitement and wonderful places you will visit as you follow Elizabeth along in this wonderful tale. The battles are awesome! The friends she meets are wonderful. This is a great and wonderful book.

    I have recommended this book to my friends because it is rare to find books like this one.

    ISBN 1418496189
    Publisher – Author House

  • Nancy

    Gotta say Froud is one of the greatest illustrators & watercolorists ever, IMO; I’ve never seen anything he’s ever done that wasn’t exquisite, and I will admit freely I’ve cadged extensively from his works in learning how to draw and paint myself. Any book about his art is well worth the expenditure. It’s an investment in pleasure, art, and sheer virtuosity of technique.

  • Dave Nalle

    If you like Froud there are other fairy illustrators you should check out if you get a chance.

    Among contemporary artist Amy Brown is very popular, especially with the young folks. Her art is more contemporary and IMO much inferior to Froud’s, but it’s kind of fun.

    Much better, IMO and much more traditional that Brown or Froud is Charles Vess who’s best known for his collaborations with Neal Gaiman. He has also done much fairy-oriented illustrating and his work is very evocative and he draws on traditional styles to produce some great results.

    The tradition of fairy illustration is also worth looking into. If you’re ever in an old book store, look for books illustrated by Arthur Rackham (the Froud of the last century), Willy Pogany (more commercial, but very talented) and Fanny Railton. Rackham is pretty much the standard by which all subsequent fairy art has to be judged.

    For more on fairy art check out this (somewhat out of date) page: Faerie Lands Forlorn


  • DrPat

    It’s hard to look at the airy, lovely creatures Froud and Rackham designed, and remember that for much of history, fairies were dire and dark. Tom O’Bedlam knew; so did Shakespeare’s Bottom, ensorceled or not. Men messed with Faerie at their peril!

    It is only in the nineteenth century that we get the “Tinkerbelle” fairy, bright and loving.

    The contrast is between the Muppet Ghost of Christmas Past, gentle and floating – and Carol Kane’s spiteful, more than slighty nasty Ghost of Christmas Present in Scrooged.

  • Nancy

    Thanks, Dave! Good steer to another source of excellent art & illustration I didn’t know about.

  • Dave Nalle

    Froud has done some very dark fairy stuff. He has a book or a pair of books one of which is all light happy seelie court faeries and the other is all dark, nasty unseelie court faeries.