Saturday, 22 October 2011

Post Victorian or Contemporary Faerists

W.H. Auden (1907-1973) was born British, but later became an American citizen.  Bill's perception is that he ran away to the US in 1939 to escape WWII and that he was  consequently not held in very high esteem here in Britain.  His Wikipedia entry addresses the question of military service briefly, but I'm not sure what to think about it.  Never mind.  He was a brilliant poet and if you have ever seen the film Four Weddings and a Funeral, you're familiar with one of his most famous poems, Stop all the Clocks.   If you've never read it - as I had not until today - his other most famous poem certainly captures a sense of the time for which it is named, September 1, 1939.   In it I can read about his present, his past and his quiet patriotism.

So what has Auden to do with faeries?   He believed himself to be of Icelandic descent and was always fascinated with myths and sagas from that part of the world.  He was a student at Oxford and studied under J.R.R. Tolkien.  He later wrote a critique of the Lord of the Rings.  He has written at least one poem about fairies and is quoted as saying
“The way to read a fairy tale is to throw yourself in.”    
Even if you're not big on poetry - and I generally am not, but I could possibly make an exception in Auden's case - his quotes make for fascinating reading and really make me wish I'd known the man.

Right, now there are a few other names that cropped up at the museum exhibit who are quite modern, so much so that I couldn't find out a great deal about them. 

Charles Van Sandwyk (1966 - ) at least has a Wikipedia entry.  Born in South Africa, but now Canadian, he appears to be a well known illustrator author of children's books.  You can see some of his pictures here.

Sean Jefferson (?) simply has too ordinary a name for me to be sure, but perhaps there are not too many by that name who are artists of the faerie world.

Danuta Mayer (?) has a more Googleable name and her art is more affordable, but a little modern for my taste.  I will say it does seem a bit more wholesome and suitable for a child's room than some of the eerier work I've seen.

So now we come to the last of the names I wanted to share with you,

Brian Froud  and Alan Lee, both (1947-).  If you are familiar with the films The Dark Crystal or Labyrinth, these are part of Froud's 'conceptual work'.   As well as collaborating with Brian Froud, Alan Lee was behind the more recent Lord of the Rings films.   Froud has also done work with Terry Jones (1942-) of Monty Python fame.   Froud's official webpage links to a Faerieworld's website and an amazing trailer for an event that happened last summer involving Celtic music and the wearing of costumes, in some Mount Pisgah or other.  Personally, I think I'm happier just admiring the books and pictures.

Even a signed poster is very affordable (not that I need to own one, mind).   It is the ethereal nature of his work that really gets to me.  Having seen some of his actual paintings at the Sunderland museum, I'm not sure a poster would suffice.

Dreamweaver by Brian Froud

Froud has a number of illustrated books on offer and if I had a child on my Christmas list, I'd be tempted to give one:

Good Faeries, Bad Faeries

From the exhibit and from the 'look inside' option on Amazon, Froud gives a classification system of faeries (and of course I took notes).  His classifications don't always agree with Wikipedia, but I thought they were fun all the same.

Sylph - Flying faeries
Gnome - Earthy elves that live
Nymphs - Water faeries
Salamanders - Willo-the wisps (either Froud implies they are the same or my notes aren't legible)

The museum also made reference to 'Lady Angelica Cottington', the infamous faerie squaster'.   Investigation of this was initially quite confusing, given the - deliberate, I'm guessing - similarity to the name Cottingley.  The story also makes reference to the 'famous story' published in 1907 (not 1917) in a magazine.  So, Cottingley, but not at all.

Lady Cottington's Pressed Fairy Book was published in 2005 and there are newer versions published since.  This story is not that some young girls were photographed with faeries, but that this young lady decided to capture the faeries she saw in her album, sort of like pressed flowers, to prove to others that they existed.  The illustrations are quite cute, if you're not big into faerie rights activism or anything.  It does say that no actual faeries were harmed in the making of the book...'s complete list of Brian Froud's books (many with the opportunity to look inside!) can be found here.  You'll either be relieved, disappointed, alarmed or indifferent to the fact that this concludes my series on faeries, but I'm not quite done with the Sunderland museum. 

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