When I was a little girl, my parents had a large bookshelf in the dining room. On top was an enormous fish tank, but on the lowest shelf was a line of books I have never forgotten in all my days. In that line of books, I had three favorites: Nancy Hathaway’s The Unicorn, Brian Froud’s Faeries, and The Annotated Sherlock Holmes, two volumes of the worlds most beloved detective, in epic detail. I adored these books, and I adored them for a very specific reason:
I believed in them.
Hogwash fairy tales? Nay!—I told myself as a young child, that these weren’t just mere works of fiction!—but the truth. Faeries were clearly real – look at all the evidence! Unicorns existed, or perhaps had existed some time ago, for observe! All the proof throughout history! Artifacts! Stories! Paintings! And Sherlock? Well, mayhap he was fictional, but clearly this Sir Conan Doyle knew his stuff, and obviously everything Sherlock stated was gospel. Gospel. These books were scholarly epics, showing me the way; I’d flip through the pages of The Unicorn (my favorite) day in and day out, on the floor, the gigantic tabletop book set in my lap, my little body snuggled up to the heater, hungry for magic. Hungry for proof of magic. And right there, rested on my skinny legs, was the evidence. The facts.
As a woman, I’ve learned to cherish and respect those moments, and those pieces of me linger on: Full of belief, full of openness, always ready to let the magical and unbelievable pour in. This is most interesting, because as I grew older, I became quite the skeptic, even cynical (Sherlock clings on?), but never has the true believer of my palette gone cold. Of my friends I find I am always the first to raise doubts and questions, yet just the same the seeker in me strives forward, eager to find the unreal. As children, it is necessary to believe; that urge of trust in the fantastical and ungraspable is what propels us to find out who we are, why we are, what to build our foundations upon. It also keeps the creativity churning and our minds roving, probing all the corners of the world for the hole that shall let us see out, and peer into majesty.
Books are a great place to start.
Here is a wonderful list of artistic books, that push the boundaries of imagination, and are great-haves for any fae child to keep on their shelf. Some are simply reads that blur the line of fantasy and reality, and some invite you into another world, to take an active part in it; all are great family reads and are beautifully crafted and rendered towards the true believer in all of us.
For as humans, believing is what we do best, isn’t it? Every day we trust; we go out into an unknown and have some kind of faith in the universe that we will come out all right, that perhaps we will find what we’re looking for, or something completely new. Or, even maybe, just maybe, we are passing something over—just atoms away from us—that is not-of-the-known, mysterious, strange and irrational…
If only we had guides, to show us the way…
In this beautiful volume, Hathaway invites the reader not-so-much on an adventure of sheer fantasy, but on a scholarly voyage, seeking a communion with the purest one—the unicorn. With 100+ illustrations, many pulled straight from the folds of history and with esteemed artists such as Hieronymus Bosch and Susan Seddon Boulet gracing its pages, The Unicorn is a fabulous undertaking of folklore, fairy tale, and literature, pushing our imaginations to the max, revealing bounty upon bounty of this most elusive and beloved creature of myth and legend.
“Then God told Adam to name the animals. All the creatures gathered around: those that crawled and those that flew and those that swam in the rivers; creatures with four legs and creatures with two, those with bushy tails and those who could see in the dark. They were all equal, and Adam had always been one of them. Yet as he began to name them, he drew himself apart. And the first animal he named was the unicorn.”
Touching a variety of cultures and lore—Japan to China, India to Europe, the Mediterranean womb—Hathaway’s The Unicorn is a treasure trove of wonder, bringing the magic down from the heavens and the ancient spheres, and setting it into our palms, asking us the question: Do we dare to believe? It is a fantastical book, good for both adult and child, and survives the turbulent transition time of adolescence. A steady guide for any true believer, and a great thing to have around for the escapist in any household.
“Seeing is not believing. Believing is believing.”
Has there even been a statement so pure? All over the world, James Gurney’s illustrated classic, Dinotopia, has captured the imaginations of old and young believers for decades. My grandmother on my father’s side owned this book, and as a girl few things ignited my little daydreamer-brain quite like the treetops of Treetown and the majesty of Skybax Riders; the Code of Dinotopia still lives in me to this day:
CODE OF DINOTOPIA
Survival of all or none.
One raindrop raises the sea.
Weapons are enemies even to their owners.
Give more, take less.
Others first, self last.
Observe, listen, and learn.
Do one thing at a time…
Written from the viewpoint of Professor Arthur Denison in the form of journal entries and sketchings, Dinotopia is a classic that will captivate well into age and across generations. If you become a devout fan, I also recommend you look into the following volumes, The World Beneath and Journey to Chandara. (There are many more books and television programs associated with the Dinotopia franchise; I have not looked into them, but that’s not saying you shouldn’t! Give ‘em a try!)
LADY COTTINGTON’S PRESSED FAIRY BOOK
(Or just about anything by Brain Froud)
Though perhaps a slight grotesque to some readers, Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Book is the delightfully strange dairy of a certain famous Lady Cottington, who’s connection with the Fae Realm is so overwhelmingly strong, she is able to capture proof!
By smushing the poor creatures into the pages of her journal.
Now don’t fret. This book has the RSPCF (The Royal Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Fairies) seal of approval on it. Unfortunately, two casualties bit it in the early years, but afterward the fairies somehow figured out how to leave a sort of, psychic impression of themselves upon the book’s pages, as to avoid being smushed.
And it makes for quite the read!
Like all of Brain Froud’s work, this book is magical, fun, informative, and slightly frightening. Froud has a talent for blurring the line of reality and unreality (or, perhaps he just knows something we don’t?), and this is a great read to keep around the house, and is fabulous for getting “Ah!” expressions from grandma and grandpa and wide eyed looks from youngsters. Whimsical, wild, and of course full of nudity!—this book is a gem. Find it and be appalled and drawn in; Froud should always be on the shelf of any true believer, and is a must for faerie addicts everywhere.
The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black
More wonderful, wonderful grotesqueness! This is a more recent find of mine (most certainly because it is a more recent book) and there are few books more thrilling than a madman’s journals.
And Dr. Spencer Black is a madman. The Resurrectionist is actually two volumes in one, and it is the second volume, Black’s The Codex Extinct Animalia, that is surely the book to fascinate. Spooky and detailed, Hudspeth presents a Frankenstein-like mind, rendering a sort of Gray’s Anatomy mythical bestiary, and lures readers in with a macabre finger and a freaky pen.
In this book, E.B. Hudspeth himself seems to be the narrator through the first half of the reading, and drops a few lines of explanation here and there throughout the rest. The book is presented in such a way that Hudspeth is more of a historian than the creator of the volume; drawing on the scientific community and relying much upon Philadelphia’s Museum of Medical Antiquities, Hudspeth is simply a relayer of Black’s contorted genius, and for the young mind, I can imagine it would be utterly convincing.
The illustrations in this book are just fantastic; I didn’t even read The Resurrectionist the first time around, I was just too enchanted by the drawings. The story swirling around Dr. Spencer Black is twisty, disturbing, depressing, and just all around good. The typical tale for a mad genius. I’d recommend this volume to any true believer, and I hope that Hudspeth will bring us more creepy works in the coming years. It was certainly an intriguing read.
A favorite of mine when I was a teenager, Puzzle Island is a puzzle book, taking the reader on a journey of mystery and discovery through an unusual and wild land. And it’s tremendously fun!
I am in urgent need of your help.
You must travel at once to Puzzle Island.
Take this map as your guide. Go to my treehouse.
Your next instructions are written in the diary
which you will find there. Keep the map in the diary.
I dare not write more. If news of my discovery falls
into the wrong hands, it could spell disaster.
Do not delay!
Animals, lost ruins, dinosaurs, a mystery and time running out! Puzzle Island puts you in the capable but puzzling hands of adventurer and scientist, Ambrose Fogarty, an assumed named (for this is all very cloak and dagger stuff), and asks you to join him on an endeavor of great importance: To save a thought-to-be endangered species! But, what is it you ask? He can’t tell you. But he’s devised a plan, a puzzle, to help you find the creature and bring her to him at a secret location. It is all very intense and hush-hush.
And surprisingly time consuming.
For a children’s book, this is quite the challenge, and is perfect for any riddler child growing up in your house. The whole book in itself is a puzzle, from cover to cover, and will entertain you for hours. The story is well-written and fun, and wonderfully interactive; a perfect book to leave out on a coffee table for curious guests to pickup and have a go at. Though not as magical and mystical as the other books on this list, this is a great read, brilliantly enjoyable and adventuresome. Ambrose Fogarty needs you!
Don’t let him down!
DE HISTORIA ET VERITATE UNICORNIS
On the History and Truth of the Unicorn
(For Every Seeker of the Beautiful and the Wondrous.)
Last, but certainly not least. I have yet to find a read as beautiful and thrilling as Codex Unicornis.
I am not really sure what to say about this book, other than that I am quite certain it came from someplace very old and very faraway, and that it holds a special place in my heart, and that surely if there are gods out there, somewhere, that they would approve.
“Within the week, a thin, cowled figure was sitting before me, carefully holding a well-wrapped bundle. In grave, precise phrases and a hard-to-place accent, my visitor began by complimenting me on The Unicorn Notebook, which I had recently illustrated. To my puzzlement, he claimed that my drawings were ‘most faithful depictions’ and asked if I had ever actually seen the animal. I replied – appropriately, I felt – ‘Not yet!’ adding that my illustrations were strictly a work of imagination.
This answer seemed to satisfy him, and he studied me solemnly. ‘Would you like to see the Holy Beast?’ he asked, folding back the paper from his package to reveal a time-worn leather portfolio. As he untied the intricate knots that secured its covers, he recited under his breath a short litany that must have been Latin. Then, almost with a flourish of pride, he laid the covers open before me.”
What wonderful bounty lies in those pages? What magic is there, waiting to be seen, by curious, eager minds? Does the unicorn exists? Is she real?
I can’t tell you, for as James Gurney has said, “Believing is believing.”
You will have to find out for yourself.