Friday, November 7, 2008

The Book of Ballads

I first heard about this book through Chris and Rhinoa's blogs, and when I read that here are stories inspired by traditional ballads (which I find fascinating and evocative) illustrated by Charles Vess (one of my favorite artists) in graphic novel format (what fun!), with stories written by many of my favorite writers (Charles de Lint, Neil Gaiman, Jane Yolen, Midori Snyder, Emma Bull) - how could I possibly resist?

The fascinating introduction by Terri Windling is not to be missed. Did you know that, if a certain bishop hadn't chanced to rescue an old manuscript that was being used to light a kitchen fire back in 1765, the ballads on that paper would never have been published - the same ballads that were an enormous inspiration to authors such as Coleridge, Keats, Shelley, Southey, Goethe, and Sir Walter Scott? That story, and many more, are told in the introduction.

Each ballad of the collection is highlighted in its own separate tale - and these are stories inspired by the ballads, not simply illustrated retellings, so there are lots of fun surprises and interpretations that offer food for thought. At the end of each story is the text of the version of the ballad that inspired it. Some are funny, many are dark and violent, and in each one the illustrations are perfectly paired with the tone and atmosphere of the story.

Here are the stories and authors included in this wonderful anthology:

The False Knight on the Road by Neil Gaiman
King Henry by Jane Yolen
Thomas the Rhymer by Sharyn McCrumb
Barbara Allen by Midori Snyder
The Three Lovers by Lee Smith
Tam-Lin by Elaine Lee
The Daemon Lover by Delia Sherman
Twa Corbies by Charles de Lint
Sovay by Charles de Lint
The Galtee Farmer by Jeff Smith
Alison Gross by Charles Vess
The Black Fox by Emma Bull
The Great Selchie of Sule Skerry by Jane Yolen

The only negative thing I can say about this book is that I wish the illustrations could have been in color! Not because the black-and-white artwork isn't effective - it absolutely is - but because I know how gorgeous Vess's work is in color.

This wonderful collection is sure to appeal to readers who enjoy graphic novels, folktales and legends, fantasy stories, and ballads.

The Book of Ballads by Charles Vess (Green Man Press, 2004)

Also reviewed at:
Rhinoa's Ramblings: "Such a stunning collection, highly recommended to anyone with a love of the arts in any form."
Stuff as Dreams Are Made On: "a book that I think should be in the collection of any lover of folklore, fairy tales, ballads, myths, legends, and fantasy."


  1. I love anything that Terri Windling is a part of! My long-term read at the moment is an anthology called The Faery Reel that she helped edit with Ellen Datlow. I'll have to add this ome to my list too.

  2. I totally agree with you that it would've been even better had the Vess illustrations been in color. That man is magical when it comes to art. He has The Blueberry Girl coming out soon with Neil Gaiman! Can't wait for that one.

  3. Ladytink - Me, too! I have a few of the Year's Best anthologies she edited, and I love rereading those stories.

    Chris - I am very excited about The Blueberry Girl, too!

  4. I so have to read this!

  5. Nymeth - yes, you do! :-)

  6. I love fairy tale adaptations and re-tellings; I can't believe I haven't heard about his book until now. Straight to the wishlist!

  7. Fyrefly - I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I did!

  8. I'm glad you enjoyed it as much as I did (blame Chris for me buying my copy). I can only hope he does a second collection one day.

  9. A second collection would be great, wouldn't it?! And you're right, Chris has a LOT to answer for! LOL!


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