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Book Review / Kay Nielsen. East of the Sun and West of the Moon

This book is utterly beautiful, and clearly a labour of love. Though it was based on the original printing layout from 1914, it's the little touches added by the editor that really make it something lovely.

The editor has added a nice little biography of the illustrator, Kay Nielsen, whose work is similar in atmosphere to that of Arthur Rackham, as well as some history about the original compilers of the Norwegian folk tales and their journey getting it published in England. It also includes a fairly short but fascinating overview of how the advances in colour printing finally made it possible for work of such detail and colour could be rendered into a printed work.

Even at the back, there's a little rundown of how this book came to be, and what was envisioned for its layout. The cover, the endpapers, the high-quality paper and the beautifully printed illustrations all make this a little gem fo those interested in folk or fairy tales. That's even before you get to the tales themselves!

I had heard of one of the tales inside before - The Three Billy Goats Gruff. And it's just as hilarious as I remember. All of the others were a mixture of hilarity and inspiration. According to the editor, the recurring themes of trolls princesses and the fight against good and evil (that is pagan and Christian) were all allegory for the introduction of Christianity into Scandinavia. They're not overbearing themes at all, and the stories are written in that very fanciful, and fairly comeidic tone, that the kinds of tales have. That and entirely matter of fact. A salmon asking for help, and the guy's like, oh sure, I'll help. The princess is like, yeah so the troll has six heads, and the guy's like, oh, meh, I'll deal with that. Drink some mysterious matter from some random horn to gain strength here, use a whistle to call a giant speaking eagle there. All in a day's work. These folk tale folk do not sweat it!

Maybe one day I'll be privy to an original copy of the book this version is based on, but until then, an utterly enjoyable and enchanting addition to my collection and entirely recommended.


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