What could be a more appropriate distraction from my newfound fear of flying than The Faerie Handbook, a volume dedicated to winged creatures? It was with this logic that I toted this gorgeous, enormous tome in my carry-on luggage to Europe and back this past winter, hoping its lush pages might soothe my anxiety mid-flight. I waited in the terminal clutching it behind my boarding pass, too afraid to leave the book in my backpack and risk loosing access to it after the captain had turned back on the fasten seatbelts sign.
I shouldn’t bury the lede: my air travels are less relevant than my general adoration for this book by the creators of Faerie Magazine. Still, its detailed, whimsical contents did indeed prove a panacea to some of my turbulence terrors…so that’s saying something!
The Faerie Handbook is the sort of book that you’ll want to display – except perhaps not on a “coffee table” where it could run the risk of spilled-tea damage! I keep mine very visible but well-protected amid my collection of Victorian fairy painting texts.
While I was on the plane to Italy, I took my time enjoying every detail: including leisurely explorations of each floral swirl on the endpapers.
The contents are divided into general, blog-category style headings: touching on folklore and fashion, tales and tea parties alike (you can imagine that I discovered much in the way of inspiration for my own upcoming fairy tea party wedding!).
Of course I was most intrigued by the chapter on fairy art and its requisite inclusion of Joseph Noel Paton, the current subject of my MA research. His Quarrel of Oberon and Titania received a full page spread – fitting for a monumental painting that contains just under 170 fairies (thanks, Lewis Carroll, for keeping track of them back in 1857!).
(I am hesitant to turn this into the “Talking About My Scholarly Fairy Interests” blog, but I must admit that I’m so excited to be continuing my study of Victorian fairy painting, which a fascinating, surprising, and often-eerie little subfield of my art historical world.)
What I love most about this book is that it’s a complete sensory experience–it’s the full combination of text, photography, design, and iridescent embossing that conjures elaborate fairy dreams for the reader (or anxious airline passenger).
Though art history isn’t the primary focus, The Faerie Handbook features high-quality reproductions of such seminal nineteenth-century fairy paintings as Dadd’s The Fairy-Feller’s Master-Stroke and Titania Sleeping and my landscape love Turner’s Queen Mab’s Cave. (Of course, if this whets your appetite for Victorian fairy art, I recommend the stunning exhibition catalogue called…what else?…Victorian Fairy Painting, also pictured above.) It’s enchanting escapism at its finest: and certainly, in my case, worth the extra carry-on weight.
Obligatory disclaimer: I purchased this book with my own money and am reviewing it simply because I will take any excuse to talk about fairies. Come on, you know there’s no denying that.