Title: The Book of Ballads.
Author: Neil Gaiman, Charles De Lint, Jane Yolen, Jeff Smith, Emma Bull, Sharyn McCrumb and others.
Artist: Charles Vess.
Genre: Fiction, graphic novel, fantasy, folk tales, mythology, poetry, faerie tales.
Publication Date: (This collection 2004). **Dates of interpretations only, dates of originals unknown.
Summary: The book contains 13 ballads, being some of the great songs and folktales of the English, Irish, and Scottish traditions, re-imagined in sequential art form and mostly current English in collaboration with various fantasy writers. The graphic interpretation is always followed by the original ballad. The False Knight Upon the Road is a British ballad about a young boy who is confronted by a "false knight" in the road, but stands firm against temptation and anger. The interpretation by Neil Gaiman (1995) ties the boy's meeting with his father's demise and failure to stand firm as his son does. King Henry is a British and Scottish ballad about a king who, when accidentally stumbling across a hunter's lodge inhabited by a horrible giantess, treats her with nothing but kindness and courtesy, and get an unexpected reward for the horrible tasks she asks of him. The interpretation by Jane Yolen (1993) includes a narrative that reveals that the king's kindness and trust towards his new queen doesn't last, also making an allusion that Henry is Henry VIII, and the "witch" is Anne Boleyn. Thomas the Rhymer is a Scottish ballad about a young man who meets a fairy queen on the road, who takes him into her service in faerie land for 7 years. The interpretation by Sharyn McCrumb (1994) has the faerie queen make a promise to Thomas, which she comes many years later to fulfill. Barbara Allen is a Scottish ballad about a young woman who rejects a heartbroken young man, causing his death, but is unable to live without him. The interpretation by Midori Snyder (1996) expands the legend by making the young man cursed, and the only way for a curse to be lifted is to be rejected by a woman, and though she loves him and cannot live without him, she sets out to liberate him. The Three Lovers is a British ballad about a young man who chooses a dark-skinned girl for her land and wealth, but kills her and then himself when his new bride attacks and kills the fair young lover he loves but refused to marry for her lack of money. The adaptation by Lee Smith (2004) keeps true to the original, only putting the young man and his mother in dire financial straits, making it a necessity to marry the richer but less beloved girl. In Tam Lin, a Scottish ballad, a fair maiden named Janet is impregnated by a knight in the service of the Queen of Fairies, Tam-Lin, who then tells her how to win him as her own on Hallowday. In the adaptation by Elaine Lee, Tam-Lin becomes a fae through an ancient Pagan human sacrifice, and lies to Janet a thousand years thence that he was once a Christian man entrapped by faeries, to regain his mortal soul by fathering himself and being reborn through her into a human form. The Daemon Lover is a Scottish ballad in which a man long away (implied to be the Devil) returns to his beloved, who had married someone else and bore a son by this time, and convinces her to go off with him, for a price. The adaptation by Delia Sherman (1996) keep almost identical to the original, though making the Devil abusive and cruel to his "beloved." The Twa Corbies is a Scottish ballad that see two scavenger birds converse of where they should have their next meal, deciding on a newly-slain knight who is not guarded by his hounds and unmissed by his cheating wife. The adaptation by Charles de Lint (1996) has a young woman in present-day Toronto come across a dead homeless man whose spirit is conversing with "crow girls," the spirits come to take him onward, as he recounts his life as a questing knight, under which lies a tale of lost job, divorce, and failure. Sovay is an English folk song about a young woman who dresses up as a man and holds up her beloved, testing his manhood and loyalty by demanding the diamond ring she had bestowed on him. The interpretation by Charles de Lint (1996) additionally has Sovay kill a random rider whom she supposes was going to attack her beloved when she finds him, before she puts her lover to the test. The Galtee Farmer is an Irish ballad about a man who gets tricked at the fair to buy back the horse he had just sold, for a lot more money. The interpretation by Jeff Smith (1996) is identical to the original. Alison Gross is a Scottish ballad about a very ugly witch trying to seduce a young man by offering him gifts and gold, but when he refuses, turning him into a worm. In the adaptation by Charles Vess (2001), the witch turns the man into a dragon and keeps him as a pet, until a Fairy Queen and her entourage free him and make him one of their own, allowing him revenge. The Black Fox (with words provided by Graham Pratt (1974)) is an Irish ballad about a hunting party who jokingly calls upon the Devil when they don't encounter any prey for hours, but the Devil answers their call as a black fox. The adaptation by Emma Bull (2004) is faithful to the original, making the hunting party a group of gentlemen and ladies in turn-of-the-century Britain. The Great Selchie of Sule Skerry is about a young woman who gets impregnated by a selchie (of the Seal Folk), who comes back to take the child away, but with a dark prophecy for them both. In the adaptation by Jane Yolen (2004), the selchie abandons the woman, unmarried and with child, and comes back to take the child some time late, though warning that if the woman doesn't go back to her native village a great doom would befall both the selchie and his son.
My rating: 8/10.
♥ Let never a man a-wooing wend
That lacketh thingis three:
A store of gold, an open heart,
And full of charity.
♥ "Take off your clothes now, King Henry,
And lie down by my side."
"Oh, God forbid," said King Henry,
"That ever the like betide;
That ever a fiend that comes from hell
Should stretch down by my side."
When the night was gone, and the day was come
And the sun shone through the hall,
The fairest lady that ever was seen
Lay betwixt him and the wall.
"Oh, well is me!" said King Henry,
"How long will this last with me?"
Then out spoke that fair lady,
"Even till the day you die."
"For I've met with many a gentle knight
That gave me such a fill,
But never before with a courteous knight
That gave me all my will."
~~From King Henry.
♥ "Light down, light down now, True Thomas,
And lean your head upon my knee;
Abide and rest a little space,
And I will show you ferlies three,
"O see ye not yon narrow road,
So thick with thorns and briars?
That is the path of righteousness,
Tho' after it but few enquires,
"And see ye not that braid, braid road
That lies across that lily leven?
That is the path of wickedness,
Tho' some call it the road to heaven.
"And see ye not that bonny road
That winds about the fernie brae?
That is the road to fair Elfland
Where thou and I this night maun gae.
♥ Syne they cam' to a garden green,
And she pu'd a apple frae a tree;
"Tak' this for thy wages, True Thomas,
It will gi' ye the tongue that can never lie."
"My tongue is mine ain," True Thomas said,
"A guidly gift ye wad gie to me!
I neither dought to buy or sell,
At fair or tryst where I may be.
I dought neither speak to prince or peer,
Nor ask of grace from fair ladye."
"Now hold thy peace," the lady said,
"For as I say, so must it be!"
~~From Thomas the Rhymer.
♥ She went into her mother's house.
"Make my bed long and narrow.
For the death bell did ring for my true love today,
It'll ring for me tomorrow."
Out of one grave there grew a red rose.
Out of the other a briar.
And they both twisted into a true lovers' knot
And there remain forever.
~~From Barbara Allen.
♥ "They'll turn me in your arms, lady,
Into an esk and adder;
But hold me fast, and fear me not,
I am your bairn's father.
"They'll turn me to a bear sae grim,
And then a lion bold;
But hold me fast, and fear me not,
As ye shall love your child.
"Again they'll turn me in your arms
To a red-het gaud of airn;
But hold me fast, and fear me not,
I'll do to you nae harm.
"And last they'll turn me in your arms
Into the burning gleed;
Then throw me into well water,
O throw me in wi speed.
"And then I'll be your ain true-love,
I'll turn a naked knight;
Then cover me wi your green mantle,
And cover me out o sight."
♥ Tam-Lin (thought): The last my senses drink of earth: the red-gold rays pf a dying sun, the heat of a horse beneath me, the first frost on air that startles my naked flesh.
Air is denied me. It is my first death.
Second death... taken from earth, tempered in fire... death of fierce pain. The knife cut will be deep.
Third will be water. I welcome it... and She-of-the-Willow welcomes me, reaching to embrace me as the Elder, Rowan, and Holly tree look on.
I am the chosen... the Holy Sacrifice! My blood nourishes, my life makes fertile, and my soul... guards this place. For such as me, there is no hope of rebirth!
A thousand years pass by...
For more nights and days than mortal could imagine, I serve as the well's guardian, and always I long for the sun on my face... the taste of cooked meat... the feel of warm flesh against my own.
♥ "She had not pulled a double rose,
A rose but only two,
When up and spoke young Tam-Lin crying,
'Lady, pull no more.
'How dare you pull those flowers?
How dare you break those wands?
How dare you come to Carterhaugh
Withouten my command?'"
Janet: Carterhaugh, it is my own! My Daddie gave it to me! And, I will come and go by here... without any leave... of...
"He's taen her by the milk-white hand
Among the leaves so green,
And what they did, I cannot tell,
The leaves were in between!"
♥ Tam-Lin: ...With the touch of icy water, nerves catch fire, lung gulps air, and the scream, harsh death denied me, breaks from my newborn throat!
Naked I am, and human, as she wraps me in green. Once more will I feel the sun on my face... feel the warmth of woman's skin against my own...
As my own cheek rests on the white breast of my beloved.
~~From Tam-Lin by Elaine Lee and Charles Vess.
♥ I didn't think crows were nocturnal, but then they're a confusing sort of animal at the best of times. And there are all sorts of superstitions associated with them. Good luck, bad luck... It's hard to work them all out. Some say that seeing a crow heralds a death. Some say a death brings crows so that they can ferry us on from this world to the next. Some say it just means there's a change coming. One for sorrow, two for mirth. It gets so you don't know what to think when you see one. And no one says anything about seeing one flying at night. Or what to do when you stumble upon a pair of them that can take human form and hold a conversation with a dead man...
"It's funny. You forget that everyone's got their own movie running through their heads. He'd pretty much hit rock bottom here, in the world we all share, but the whole time, in his own mind, he was living the life of a questing knight."
~~From Twa Corbies by Charles de Lint.
♥ "Why do you blush you silly young thing? I thought to have that diamond ring:
'Twas I who robbed you of all on that plain.
So here's your gold, love, here's your gold, and your watch and your chain.
"I only did it for to know, if you would be a man or no
If you'd given me that ring," she said.
"I'd have pulled the trigger, pulled the trigger and shot you dead."