Brain Pickings

Stunning Illustrations for Irish Myths and Legends

by

“I have wished to become a child again that I might find this book.”

Irish folklorist and dramatist Lady Augusta Gregory penned some of the most memorable and timeless retellings of tales from Irish mythology. Recently, the Folio Society — makers of such exquisitely crafted books as The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook illustrated by Natacha Ledwidge– resurrected Lady Gregory’s tales in a lavish slip-case edition of Irish Myths and Legends (public library) featuring stunning art by Brooklyn-based illustrator and cartoonist Jillian Tamaki.

In the preface, W. B. Yeats, with whom Lady Gregory’s co-founded the Irish Literary Theatre and the Abbey Theatre, writes of the stories’ mesmerism:

One must not expect in these stories the epic lineaments, the many incidents, woven into one great event of, let us say, the story of the War for the Brown Bull of Cuailgne, or that of the last gathering at Muirthemne… The men who imagined the Fianna had the imagination of children, and as soon as they had invented one wonder, heaped another on top of it. Children — or, at any rate, it is so I remember my own childhood — do not understand large design, and they delight in little shut-in places where they can play at houses more than in great expanses where a country-side takes, as it were, the impression of a thought. The wild creatures and the green things are more to them than to us, for they creep towards our light by little holes and crevices. When they imagine a country for themselves, it is always a country where one can wander without aim, and where one can never know from one place what another will be like, or know from the one day’s adventure what may meet one with to-morrow’s sun. I have wished to become a child again that I might find this book, that not only tells one of such a country, but is fuller than any other book that tells of heroic life, of the childhood that is in all folklore, dearer to me than all the books of the western world.

Tamaki’s drawings — reminiscent of Kay Nielsen’s Scandinavian fairy tale illustrations from the early 1900s and the late Yan Nascimbene’s art for Italo Calvino’s short stories — envelop these age-old tales in a new layer of enchantment:

Complement Irish Myths and Legends, which is exquisite in its entirety, with Alice and Martin Provensen’s stunning vintage illustrations for 12 classic fairy tales and Pixar’s Ancient Book of Myth and War. You can see more of Tamaki’s breathtaking work on her site.

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