Classic Celtic Fairy Tales

celticreviewTitle: Classic Celtic Fairy Tales
Publisher: Sterling
Author: John Matthews
Illustrator: Ian Daniels
Pages: 192 pp
Price: Varies (out of print)
ISBN: 9780713727838

Don’t be put off by this tome’s slenderness — though its spine might be thin, this book is packed full of Celtic fairy tales, each bordered and illustrated page bursting with legends and myths retold by a modern bard and historian. Classic Celtic Fairy Tales is a great book to keep on the shelf for anyone who likes fairy tales, Celtic lore, and all things that smell of must and magick.

The book contains a massive collection of stories, each one retold by the author in a manner that borders on the modern yet remains distinctly and flavorfully in the past. Mr. Matthews, a prudent storyteller, retains the arcane touch of an old bard in his deliverance of lines such as “I have come hither to obtain this cup,” and “Since thou hast brought home all my daughters,” but tells the stories with the lilt and alacrity of any New York Times bestseller. The stories he covers are varied and all uniquely different; many of them are so ancient that perhaps only the most well-versed person in Celtic lore would already know them, a nice change from most other books on Celtic lore, which retell the same stories over and over again. In this tome, we hear the story of “Kil Arthur”, “The Battle of the Birds”, and “The Stones of Plouvinec”, among others: stories of love, magic, war, and great deeds done. Each one is delved into with such detail it could be a novel unto itself to be enjoyed over long nights with a goblet of mead.

The book is also superbly and beautifully illustrated. Even if Celtic lore isn’t your thing, you might consider picking up the book just for the sake of its art. Many pages come equipped with full-size illustrations, done up in gorgeous washes of watercolor. The illustrations are as haunting as they are beautiful. They are not what could be called traditional Celtic art. In fact, they are hard to categorize at all: they blend modern art techniques with what appears to be Asian motifs, ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, traditional realism, and the artist’s very own touch of mindbending fantasy. Definitely, however, the pictures are gorgeous, and extremely colorful, well done, and thought-provoking, like the fabric of dreams.

In all, I would recommend this book to Wiccans, Pagans, historians, bards, fantasy writers, and people who love anything to do with all those topics. This book deserves to be kept on the shelf for reference and inspiration, for it is a tome of Celtic language, history, and culture. That said, a brief warning: though this book appears to be a children’s book from its small spine and neatly illustrated cover, it is most certainly not a children’s book. The stories are not always suitable for children, nor are the illustrations. (You’ll see some brief nudity, among other things.) But teenagers and adults will both enjoy this book and its stories immensely.

[Belle DiMonté is an avid reader of fantasy and linguistic texts.]

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