The editors of Faerie Magazine have compiled The Faerie Handbook: An Enchanting Compendium of Literature, Lore, Art, Recipes, and Projects (2017), and its eye-catching lavender-and-silver binding and satin ribbon bookmark certainly seem appealing, but do the contents match the cover?
Faerie appreciation is nothing new — there was a big craze in the middle of England’s Victorian era, justified thusly:
Real life was stark and challenging for most Victorians, who faced a rapidly changing and increasingly less romantic world due to urbanization and industrialization, and many felt like the world of old — and all the magic that went with it — was gone for good.
With that frame of reference in mind, it’s easy to see why certain periods and social groups in modern history have found faeries and all they symbolize to be so appealing.
For those readers who aren’t familiar with the distinctions between kinds of fey folk (faeries, elves, goblins, trolls, etc.), the types of plants which they favor (apples, foxglove, hazel trees), or how faerie couture has influenced modern fashion, this compendium offers a wealth of small tidbits that will be a good launching-off point for more research into any interesting topic. For example, Carolyn Turgeon and the various contributing writers include brief biographies of Morgan Le Fay, Gloriana from Spenser’s epic poem The Faerie Queen, Galadriel from The Lord of the Rings, Titania from Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and many others, to educate readers about faerie queens in British literature.
The encyclopedic nature of this book, with short articles about “fairy terrariums” and suggestions for themed tea parties, means that a lot of ground is covered quickly, and sometimes without as much depth as could be provided. But every page of The Faerie Handbook is gorgeous (I’ve attached a few below), and it’s obvious that a lot of time and thought went into choosing high-quality photographs and prints of famous faerie-related artwork throughout the last few centuries. Artists like John William Waterhouse and Kinuko Y. Craft share space with full-page, full-color glamour shots of winsome young ladies cavorting through forests.
Where I think The Faerie Handbook fell flat was in the inspiration for people to take on crafting or cooking projects. There are innumerable examples of professional fairy-house builders, party planners, or art photographers, and I truly tip my hat to them, but I would have liked to see more beginner-level projects that are less daunting than the high-skill projects. The recipes were, in general, the most user-friendly, and items like “frosted cranberries” and “sugared violets” would make great additions to any special dinner. Wedding dresses adorned with living flowers, however, or exquisitely detailed faerie-house dioramas housed in teacups, might take a little practice.
The Faerie Handbook is a pleasing book to spend a few hours with, even if readers aren’t always of the craft-minded sort. It’s remarkable to see the intricately shimmering wings or elaborate flower-petal costumes people have been inspired to create, and to read about the different ways faerie-folk have influenced British culture for centuries — and the ways in which modern faerie culture attracts a wide, diverse group of fans. If you’re in the mood to appreciate photography or an artist’s attention to tiny details, or need inspiration for a special event, check out The Faerie Handbook.