What a gem! What a delight! How To See Fairies was a great find. John Matthews, I have missed you.
I have long been a fan of John Matthews’ scholarly work, counting (written with his wife Caitlin) The Western Way as one of the favorites on my bookshelf, and oft consulting their The Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom as a resource. The Arthurian Tradition is irresistible. John Matthews writes on all the weird, folk, esoteric topics I adore. I was a children’s librarian in 2006 when his Pirates came out, and was pleased (and startled—I remember researching if it was the same John Mathews) to see his work getting wider attention (and hopefully, for his sake, greater financial remuneration.)
How To See Fairies, illustrated by the illustrious Brian Froud, is almost everything a book about faerie should be. It’s classified as a “toy book” with pop-ups, tabs, hidden panels and other paper gimmicks, but these features add to the childlike wonder of this book. The thick cardboard cover features a round cutaway with a holographic image shimmering between a portal and a faerie creature.
I wasn’t sure at first if the introduction was a letter from the author or a narrative voice beginning to tell the story, and as Mathews writes about seeing faeries as a child and young man, I wondered if it could possibly be true. So few books convey an anticipatory numinosity, and when I got to the line “Because we believe anyone can see faeries” I was truly engrossed. I was pleased that Matthews could cut through my mature adult jadedness.
The book’s weakness—and to be sure, it is a significant weakness—is its amateur verse narrative. Stick to prose, Mr. Matthews. Midbook, the reader gets to ‘listen in’ on a dialogue between faeries, and that section reads more strongly. Froud’s illustrations feature his recognizable faerie style, additionally adorned with Celtic triskeles, a Cretan labyrinth, the Green Man, and other delightful details. You can see the influence of Matthews’ other books in these artistic designs.
A lift-the-flap old one mesmerizes, but the true finale is the sumptuous double-page pop-up four-leaf clover.
That’s a design I would wear on a t-shirt or hang as a tapestry in my spare bedroom. After properly cautioning readers of the tendencies of faeries to mischief, the book’s final prize is a ‘take away’ folding portable portal for readers to use when looking to see faeries on their own.
Bravo, gentleman. Using mixed media, they have managed to recreate the wonder of Faerie. As the final page reminds: “The real journey is just beginning.”
Note: I reviewed a library copy, which has held up remarkably well (dare I say magically) amid multiple uses by numerous patrons. Double bonus.
Matthews, John (author) and Brian Froud (illustrator). How To See Faeries. N.Y.: Abrams, 2011.