Apparently, Charles Godfrey Leland, author of Aradia, the Gospel of the Witches, collector of folklore, and lifelong magician, may have had a hobby of producing fine handmade books, according to the introduction by Professor Mathiesen, which is a quite detailed and readable introduction to Leland, to the process of creating the book, and to the collection of Leland’s papers from which he worked. There is also, be warned, a section on “How to Read This Book and Not Get Too Confused.”
The present volume contains a complete, nicely photographed facsimile of Leland’s fantastically illustrated text, plus a complete transcription to save the reader from bogging down in Leland’s odd punctuation and flowing handwriting. One lovely feature of this edition is that it comes with two fine ribbon bookmarks, so that one can mark the same place in each part. I am a sucker for books with built-in bookmarks anyway.
Although this purports to be a report of the Witchcraft of the old wise woman of York, it is frankly acknowledged to be a fabrication, based on Leland’s research and imagination. There are descriptions of spells and so on, but the bulk of the book is a catalog of various types of Fays and other spirits, with charmingly archaic names and very “realistic” stories. Spelling is crabbed throughout to make it seem old and rustic. This, and the phenomenal number of names introduced, make the book hard to index, so it is not; but there are extensive references provided by Professor Mathiesen.
The stories are charming and original, and the artwork is skillful, fascinating the eye and leading to who knows what sort of dreams. Besides, if you read carefully, you will find out what a Dobby is.
If you are a student of the history of Witchcraft, or of Leland, you clearly must have this book. You probably want it if you are a bibliophile of esoteric interests (but then, you can be tempted by the two even more sumptuous editions on offer). Many readers will buy it simply because it is unique and amazing. The only reader who should look elsewhere is the one in single-minded pursuit of a grimoire, as this is not likely to serve that purpose (certainly, if anyone should work magic out of this book, drop me a line about it and I’ll revise my opinion accordingly!)
This is a pricy title, but it has to be. With any luck, it will go out of print and become an investment!
The Witchcraft of Dame Darrel of York
Charles Godfrey Leland
Intro by Robert Mathiesen
7 x 9
January 1, 2011
Review copyright 2011 Freeman Presson, all rights reserved.
Complimentary review copy from Red Wheel/Weiser gratefully acknowledged.