I don’t remember when I got this book, probably not many years after its 1978 publication, yet until recently I’d hardly ever cracked it, much less sat down to read it. My loss, absolutely.
The book has two components: the artwork and the prose. The prose is surprisingly academic, very readable but a straight-up discussion of the various stories and legends about the many varieties of faeries. Most come from the British Isles, but there are a few from northwestern Europe: Iceland, Scandinavia, and Germany. Authors Brian Froud and Alan Lee relate some of these legends without themselves becoming too mystical or too analytical. They even kindly provide pronunciation guides to the Gaelic terms sprinkled throughout the work. (If you’ve never learned Gaelic, you wouldn’t know that “sidhe” is pronounced “shee.”)
The real strength of the book, however is Froud’s and Lee’s artwork. There are nearly 200 pen, pencil, and charcoal drawings and watercolor paintings, and many are simply spectacular. While a few of the beings portrayed are beautiful (but dangerous) and a few are whimsical, many are grotesque, even disturbing, yet the artists make each distinct.
My one complaint has to do with the “handwriting” style type face used for some of the material. While it does provide a visual break from the standard font used throughout the rest of the book, it is sometimes hard to read.
“Faeries” is a must-have resource not only for those interested in northwestern European myths and legends but for anyone interested in fantasy beyond the usual swords-and-magic stories. I myself mined it for potential characters for a planned novel in which the fey will likely play an important role.