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Fascinating Folklore: A visual journey exploring ancient and arcane stories and customs

I have, throughout my life, been fascinated by religious stories, mythology and folklore. And though I have read all manner of books on the topic over the years, my early interest was nurtured and expanded upon greatly through the luck of having a number of ‘illustrated’ editions that made parsing and understanding sometimes complex or confusing stories a whole lot easier (I’m looking at you, Christian Bible).

So it’s no wonder that the recently released book Fascinating Folklore: A compendium of comics and essays immediately took me to my happy place. The joint creation of writer John Reppion and illustrator PJ Holden, Fascinating Folklore immerses readers in the heady, magical world of folklore through a series of short essays, each accompanied by a beautiful page-length comic.

The book has its origins in the popular #FolkloreThursday hashtag on Twitter, to which people would post interesting nuggets of folklore-related information. John Reppion and PJ Holden went above and beyond just simple tweets though – they created a mini-comic for each based on a short piece of text provided by John that would inspire PJ’s art. And now that the comics have been published in this book, every topic has now been further expanded upon into a page or two’s worth of contextual information.

The genesis of the book means that the subjects covered vary across a wide gamut of folklore from all ages, ancient to modern (so you will find essays on ancient topics like Beowulf beside the modern folklore of Vrillon), and are thus grouped for convenience into ‘chapters’ to which they are most closely aligned: plantlore, creatures and cryptids, figures of legend, gods and spirits, festivals, objects of mystery, and places of wonder.

Though the essays on each topic are short, John manages to cover the history of each concisely, beautifully mixing reverence for the cultural influence of the folklore with some occasional cheeky and humorous asides. For example, in discussing the magical mythology surrounding mandrake, he writes:

The scream emitted by a mandrake root when prised from the soil is said to be so ear-splitting and so terrible that it may kill anyone who hears it, or else render them forever insane. One ancient solution to this was, apparently, to tether a dog to the leaves and stem of the plant. The dog would then be called to its master, and the mandrake subsequently uprooted remotely. Sadly, some sources record that the root’s terrible cry was, nevertheless, fatal to any dog thus employed. Exactly why a longer leash was not used, or why the mandrake harvester didn’t simply uproot the plant from a safe distance themselves using a sufficient length of rope, remains unclear (to me, at least).

While John’s writing on the topic stands alone, PJ Holden’s comic artwork is truly a thing of beauty. He immerses the reader in each topic by utilising a wide range of styles, each evoking a suitable emotion or ‘placing’ the reader within the story. So when reading about the Japanese Yokai of the ocean, the Bakekujira, the accompanying graphic is reminiscent of the Japanese Ukiyo-e art style (most obviously, Hokusai’s “The Great Wave off Kanagawa”); meanwhile, for the entry on the Wandjina spirits of Indigenous Australians, simple silhouettes and choice of colour palette places the reader in the Australian outback. Additionally, once again, the respect for each folkloric topic is evident, while at the same time sprinkling humour in occasionally (such as the image of the internet stalker under the entry for Anteros).

Fascinating Folklore will appeal to readers of all ages, with each particular folkloric topic explained simply, but not dumbed down (no mean feat!). In this day and age where we are all lacking in long stretches of time to focus, the format of the book affords a convenient way of learning about these topics at your leisure, being able to read a few topics at a time whenever is suitable – and whatsmore, provides a fun and accessible way for parents to engage in reading with their kids. I have no doubt all will enjoy the book, and come away with a much greater depth of knowledge on subject matter that continues to sit within the soul of cultures all around the world.

Fascinating Folklore by John Reppion and PJ Holden is available from Amazon US/Amazon UK and other online booksellers, or direct from the Liminal 11 webstore.

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