BOOK REVIEW: “Faeries” by Brian Froud & Alan Lee

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“What does it matter if something is old? Charles Dickens said any book you haven’t read is a new book. What does it matter whether it’s old?… I don’t understand what this lemming-like dementia is about constantly having new stuff. When was the last time you read the totality of Steinbeck or Faulkner or Katherine Anne Porter or Shirley Jackson? Everybody always wants something new, new, new – and that’s what’s killing life for writers. This dementia for ‘new’ is ridiculous. It turns everybody into a back number… We’re dealing with a more and more illiterate and amnesiac constituency. It’s impossible to get a readership that will follow you, because all they know is what they knew yesterday… And so when I hear this what-are-you-doing-lately thing, or that the Edgeworks books are bringing back all of my older books, I say, ‘Yeah, they’re real old books – like five years old!’ See, I do go off on these things. And if you ask the wrong question, I get real cranky.”
- Harlan Ellison
 

Faeries by Brian Froud is unique among any books I’ve ever read. The book is part reference manual, part artist sketchbook, part short story compendium, and some would dare say, part anthropological fieldguide. Faeries isn’t a book that can be neatly tucked into a tidy description. Like the author Brian Froud, Faeries is truly in a class by itself.

Written and illustrated by Brian Froud and Alan Lee (mostly known for his conceptual design work on The Lord of The Rings films and his uncredited design of Legend by Ridley Scott), Brian is a world-renown fantasy artist and author of several books featuring his second-sight hypnogogic images of the realms of faerie. In addition to his wonderful illustrative talents, Brian Froud is also responsible for the conceptual design of timeless films such as Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal. He also worked on the wonderful Jim Henson television series The Storyteller.

During the summer of 2003, I had the great honor of meeting Brian Froud, two days in a row. The first time we met was at the illustrious Labyrinth Masquerade Ball (which took place in Santa Monica that year) and the next time we met was at a little curio shop where he was doing a book signing, I believe somewhere over in Brentwood.

Wonderful gentleman. At the Masquerade Ball, I hung out with Brian, and his lovely wife Wendy, and I chatted with their son Toby for a time as well. Wendy is an incredible artist in her own right, helping design characters such as Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back and the gelflings Jen and Kira in The Dark Crystal. Wendy and I discovered that I actually used to take family vacations up near the little town in Michigan where she was born, Traverse City. We reminisced about that for awhile and had a great chat. We hung out for a good hour or so, just talking. That was when they told me about the signing the next day and invited me to come along. Strangely enough, no one seemed to recognize Brian or Wendy Froud, so they weren’t being swarmed by people pleading for autographs or anything. We were kicking back in a little lounge area, all by ourselves, overlooking a wrought-iron balcony onto hundreds of people who were milling about on the dancefloor and socializing in other parts of the ball.

The next day, I arrived at the book signing about 2 hours early, because I wasn’t interested in getting anything signed, but I simply wanted to hang out with Brian and Wendy again. And it was wonderful because, once again, no one had shown up yet. We had the shop all to ourselves on a quiet Saturday morning and we sat around having a charming conversation in this quaint and lovely little store for a good hour or so. And that was it. I never kept in touch with the Froud family. I never saw them or met them again. On two unassuming summer days in 2003 in Los Angeles, I just had one pleasant evening and one serene morning of hanging out with some of the greatest fantasy artists of my time.

I know what you’re thinking.

You’re wondering why the hell I’m talking about hanging out with Brian Froud when this is supposed to be a review of his Faeries book. What does my stupid Hollywood namedropping have to do with the book? Right? But talking about hanging out with Brian Froud does make for a legitimate review of the Faeries book, because his visionary talent ties into who he is as a person, as well as the artwork of the book. When an author like myself is writing a novel, that’s a makebelieve story that may only reflect a fractional facet of my own personality. Faeries is the type of book that reflects an integral part of who Brian Froud happens to be. So, telling you that he and I shared a delightful discussion during a magical moment is very relevant to reviewing Faeries.

Faeries has been in print for over 20 years and for good reason. Faeries is an endless well of inspiration, influencing the imagination of tattoo artists and novelists alike. Brian Froud images have ended up on the hips of beautiful women and the Celtic legends have imbued novels like my own. The stories and faerie tales contained in Faeries are dreamy and compelling and stand as an enchanting combination of newly invented fiction combined with age old folklore. The artwork is enrapturing and every pencil-line, every brush-stroke promises to reveal new secrets each time the book is opened. You will constantly find yourself discovering a treasure trove of images and imaginings you never saw before. Imbued with the magic to constantly unveil itself to you, the book is something you will return to again and again. Because the images hold such richness and detail, everytime you read the book, it will feel like you are opening up to pages you had never noticed before.

Movies like Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal and Legend are loathed and derided by most of the world because most of the world is filled with zombies and devils and those who are dead to all magic. The few of us who love these movies and these worlds are of a different breed. Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal and Legend speak to a very particular and peculiar type of person. Those films are still cherished as the favorite movies of certain people, even 30 years after they were made. To me, that kind of ageless appeal correlates directly to the spirit imbued into those motion pictures though the magic of Brian Froud’s vision. Brian Froud sees the world in a way that all of us instinctively understood as children, yet we soon forget. Brian has never forgotten. Brian never lost sight of how the world looked when we were still young enough to know that magic truly exists. Only when we become older do we become stupid and uneducated and robbed of our wisdom. As children, we are still insightful enough to recall what the world really looks like. That is why all of Brian Froud’s artwork looks so familiar. From movies to television to books like Faeries, we have all seen these worlds before. We know them. We remember them. Somewhere in our collective subconscious, we remember when The Crystal cracked. We were there when the Skeksis and the Mystics appeared. We have been lost in that very same labyrinth before. We know those walls. We can still feel their texture.

How is it that we know those things?

Why do we remember that stuff?

How does Brian Froud recall enough to reconstruct those dreamscapes on movie sets and in the pages of Faeries?

Pick up a copy of Faeries for yourself and you’ll start to find the answers. I’m willing to bet the images will all look a little familiar to you. You’ve seen these seelie and unseelie courts before. In dreams. In nightmares. In childhood memories you’re not sure really happened or did you make them up? You know you’ve seen these creatures somewhere before. For some of us, you’ll love a book like Faeries, because it always reminds you of home.