Thursday, June 28, 2018

Book Report: The Lost Words

13. Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris, The Lost Words (2017) (6/28/18)

This book arrived today. I bought it because I enjoy Macfarlane's writing—for example in this article from the Guardian, "The Word-Hoard: On Rewilding Our Language of Landscape"—and I figured that, even though I have another couple of books of his that I (ahem) haven't yet read (The Old Ways and Landmarks), well, you just can't have too much Macfarlane. Especially when I saw how highly recommended The Lost Words was.

Little did I know it was a book of spells. For children. In oversized format and exquisitely illustrated by Morris in amazing watercolors. (Yes, I can be a rather impulsive book buyer . . . —and in this case, I am very glad I am.)

Here's the introduction:
Once upon a time, words began to vanish from the language of children. They disappeared so quietly that at first almost no one noticed—fading away like water on stone. The words were those that children used to name the natural world around them: acorn, adder, bluebell, bramble, conker—gone! Fern, heather, kingfisher, otter, raven, willow, wren . . . all of them gone! The words were becoming lost: no longer vivid in children's voices, no longer alive in their stories.
 You hold in your hands a spellbook for conjuring back these lost words. To read it you will need to seek, find and speak. It deals in things that are missing and things that are hidden, in absences and in appearances. It is told in gold—the gold of the goldfinches that flit through its pages in charms—and it holds not poems but spells of many kinds that might just, by the old, strong magic of being spoken aloud, unfold dreams and songs, and summon lost words back into the mouth and the mind's eye.
The spells are presented in triplet: an introductory page of jumbled letters and pencil sketch, in which the creature or plant to come is spelled out, as here (can you see it? d a n d e l i o n?) (click on the images to see them larger)

Then the spell, with its illustration (each poem also spells out the word in the initial letters of the stanzas):

And finally a full-spread illustration:

The spells are incantatory, absolutely demanding to be read out loud. And the illustrations are lushly, gorgeously alive.

I follow Macfarlane on Twitter (to the extent that I "follow" anyone on Twitter . . .) and was delighted to see this exchange between him and a primary school teacher who was having his students use the spells to make their own poems. His response underscores what a generous soul he is. Having his druidic spirit in the world gives me hope.

And now that I've been reminded of his word-of-the-day practice on Twitter (amid much other tweeting), I might actually start to follow him without the quotation marks. Oh, and pick up one of those two books that sit unread on my shelves . . .

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