I AM taking time out from my usual blogs on Lake District events to review one of the most exciting books I've come across in many years: Strange Lands by Andrew L Paciorek. I have a great love of folklore (hence my website www.strangebritain.co.uk) and Andrew is a fellow member of the Cumbrian folklore group on Facebook. He is well known as a first-class illustrator and this book is resplendent with his work. But it's more than pretty pictures - it's also a detailed account of the "Celtic Otherworld". I thought I knew my Celtic mythology quite well but Andrew's 400-page catalogue of the strange and wonderful creatures that hide in Britain's shadows feature many I had not come across.
Take for example the Fir Darrig, a figure barely one foot tall with pointy ears, long dirty beard, straggly hair and a nose resembling a rodent's snout. They wear tall hats and spend their time playing rather scary practical jokes on humans. Completely bizarre and yet also completely bewitching (and Andrew's drawing will ensure they'll enter your dream world for many nights to come!).
Or how about the Fachan - also known as Peg-Leg Jack. As his name suggests, he only has one leg but can "hop considerable distances at a surprising speed". He also has just one arm in which he carries a spiked club or mace. He's very ugly and a plume of blue feathers sprouts around his neck.
Each section of this book could provide enough material for a dozen episodes of Dr Who! It's also nice to see that modern creatures such as Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the tooth fairy are included. We should not forget that the creatures of dreams and nightmares continue to evolve.
Perhaps it's Andrew's artistic outlook, but he shows an instinctive understanding for each of these creatures and where they fit in the worlds that lie parallel to our own. He's effortlessly drawn back the curtain to reveal even the shyest fairy folk.
I'd always been puzzled by the Whitehaven boggle (or rather one of them) as it's description is usually given as an extremely tall female shadowy figure that wanders the streets of this Cumbrian town. But in Strange Lands is a description of Giant Ghosts known as Thyrs which immediately puts this ancient spectre into a context. With Thyrs, as with most other characters, Andrew describes them in detail, giving their physical characteristics and geographical locations. You just won't find this stuff on Google!
In this age of blinkered scientific thinking it's just fantastic that Strange Lands celebrates the dozens of supernatural species that for so many centuries have walking alongside mankind. Just as Charles Fort led his procession of The Damned 100 years ago, so Andrew unleashes this army of fays, giants, ogres, bogies, dragons and night terrors upon an unsuspecting world in 2011. And may God have mercy on us all!
* Strange Lands is available online.
* For those of a technical disposition, you may wish to know Strange Lands was published via online book publisher, Blurb. You'll be impressed by the high quality hardcover book that results. The printing is of good quality (though I suspect it handles drawings better than photographs). Blurb's software is easy to use. The layout and typography sometimes needs tweaking but for those who want to publish a book and don't have the technical skills to use QuarkXpress or similar programs, this is a fairly idiot-proof system.