Faeries have always had a special place in my heart. I grew up with Cicely Barker's Flower Fairies, had my own faery name and even a faery "language" (of sorts), and the inevitable floaty dress with silver shoes and a sparkly wand. I've always been aware of flickers of energy in the edges of my vision in the bluebell woods, and the feeling of being watched amongst the New Forest oaks. For a while I wrote this off as an over-active imagination; but after a recent excursion deep into Faeryland, and the discovery that several of my friends have faery-like qualities, I decided that it was about time I had a "grown-up" faery book to help me understand more about the hidden world of Faery.
Brian Froud's "Good Faeries - Bad Faeries" stood out a mile on the shelf in my local bookshop. The book first fell open to show me Helpful Hob, which immediately made me laugh: just such a faery had been a little over-enthusiastic with my husband's bread-making the previous night, and the beautiful illustration seemed to capture the essence of this flour-throwing, milk-spilling creature. When I eventually got home I spent the rest of the evening gazing at the beautiful pictures - some funny, some grotesque, some peaceful, but all with an incredible vibrancy to them, as if they really have caught a little piece of a faery on paper. Even the rough sketches that skip and tumble around the text are gleaming with magical light.
I had half-expected the text at the beginning of the book (both of the beginnings; there are two, but no end) to be either heavy on folklore or sickly sweet, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that it is intelligently written, highly personal, and with a quirky humour that can only come from the faery influence itself. Froud's discussion of folklore is brief but informative, and the philosophical sections left me nodding my head with a faint smile rather than totally bewildered, as is so often the case. I was particularly impressed by the author's knack for explaining the paradoxes of Faery without really explaining them at all, and was left with a strong sense of how it all worked, although I couldn't describe a word of it if I was asked!
What struck me about the book more than anything else was that these faeries are very, very real. Computer Glitch, for example, wreaked havoc whilst I was writing my Master's thesis - juggling text on the page when I wasn't looking, reconfiguring huge chunks of data, and making the screen flicker pink just because he thought it was funny. A friend of mine has a small faery which follows him around and places objects just where he is about to tread - cups of tea, ash trays and Chinese take-outs regularly go flying across the room thanks to this mischievous creature. Many of the faeries are instantly recognisable; and I found the book so inspiring that I have since discovered many more (like the Duvet Thief, who lives under our bed and yanks the duvet onto the floor in the middle of the night. I presume this is because he is cold, because the chillier the weather, the more the duvet disappears. I am planning on making him a blanket of his own so that he no longer needs steal ours).
Overall, I have found Froud's book a joy to look at and a delight to read. The text and the pictures are each beautiful enough to be worth having on their own; together they are amusing, inspiring, and thought-provoking all at once. I would recommend the book to anyone who has even a flicker of belief in the Faery realm. After reading it you will probably find that the flicker has grown, your tea has gone cold, and that someone has spirited away that biscuit you forgot to eat because you were so absorbed.