The Runes of Elfland
Words by Ari Berk
Images by Brian Froud

Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
ISBN-10: 0810946122
ISBN-13: 978-0810946125

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VOYA (Vol. 26, No. 6))

"Runes are ancient Celtic or European shapes whose origins and meanings are still debated. Here professor of literature Berk teams with award-winning illustrator Froud to create a synergy that is itself a form of magic and inspiration, as they explore the runic alphabet as both inspiration and conduit for poetic, artistic, and mythological storytelling of that most magical realm, Faery. Presented with each rune is The Charm, to be "spoken, chanted, sung, or whispered"; The Telling, a story of Elfland; and The Gift, the wisdom of the rune. "All storytelling is a form of travel. . . . The Charms will open doors to strange and wondrous lands." Within these pages are doorways to old wisdom, new perceptions, and foreign worlds. As The Gift for the Rune of Joy tells readers, "The opening of doors is always an act of will. We always have a choice." Accompanying each rune are illustrations and marginalia, "filled with symbols, many of them related to artifacts of the ancient and medieval worlds." Elven creatures carry the runes, as well as forming the runes with their bodies. A full-page painting faces each rune's Charm. Lavishly illustrated and impeccably written, this book cannot be entered into lightly. It requires a commitment to the "travel tips and runic etiquette" of, among other things, "listen[ing] as if your life depended on it." For those aficionados of Faery, this book will be treasure indeed."

- From School Library Journal:
"If runes are the keys to Faery, this book is an Open Sesame." Reader Reviews

M. Secara "maggiros"

"What can I say? On one page I held my breath. On another, I lost it. One page left me in tears, the longing and the recognition were so poignant. When I went to look for that page again, I couldn't find it, like the gold under the rainbow. It will happen to you. At some point you'll discover the page that haunts your dreams, describes your world, or makes you smile.

  Ari Berk's exquisitely informed text and Froud's always extraordinary pictures combine to open the world you know is there but have forgotten how to see. The runes, charms, and stories delineate the bargains, the sorrows, and the treasures of the journey.

  Get this book. Get copies for your friends. If you've ever heard the voices under your bed and wanted to know their names, or wept at a sunset for no reason, or considered walking through the door at the back of the wardrobe, just in case--get this book. They're playing your song."

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Justin E. Jacobson "silent bombadil"

"The word "rune," once, a long time ago, could refer to anything from a single letter to a whole poem, or to an object inscribed with these letters. Ari Berk knows this, and each elfin letter in this book grows or hatches or blooms or fractals out from a letter to a poem to a legend.

  I got this book as a present, on the longest night of the year, and found warmth in those stories, found inspiration and magic, found myself feeling restored and refreshed from watching those stories grow.

  The illustrations are wonderful and often reminiscent of art from "Good Faeries/Bad Faeries" or "Faeries" more than "strange stains and mysterious smells," but this is a good thing, as they aren't pictures to accompany silly stories: they're paintings to convey, with the help of Berk's retellings of old legends, the importance of stories, since stories have long been a window to Elfland if not a road.

  If you like folklore, buy this book. If you like Brian Froud's art, buy this book. if you like stories that are on par with Neil Gaiman's in terms of creating the sense that these things are going all around us but we generally don't take notice, buy this book."

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A Few Words From The Author

When I began working on Runes of Elfland my wife was pregnant with our son, and I was still writing parts of the book well into the first year of his life. I would write late at night, and often gave Robin his 3am bottle-feeding before going to bed myself. A lot of this book was born in those early hours, me holding Robin and thinking, "I will write this book for my child and I will hide inside it everything I know about magic."

When Brian and I were working on The Runes of Elfland, at one point we realized that we'd have to decide on an order for placement of the runes in the book. I remember we took all the original paintings and stood them up on the medieval flagstones of his living room floor. We kept moving them around, swapping one for another, trying to listen to what the people in the paintings, in the stories, had to say to us and to each other. Finally a rhythm began to rise and we stood there in the middle of the circle of the paintings and heard the music of Faerie.

   The first rune tells the story of a child who walks into the woods; the last one tells the story of a child who flies out of the forest to create the dawn. In between we visit worlds of wonder, hope, and deeply rooted feelings, all connected to the most basic forms of nature: water, stone, wood, flesh, and fire.  Each rune is separate and self-contained, but read in order (and perhaps in a single sitting) they can create a rhythmic cycle of coming and going, gain and loss, joy and sorrow, past and future.  You end where you began, and my hope in writing these stories was that a sense of rhythm and return would help make the "Tellings" in The Runes of Elfland deeply comforting.  Not because they reassure us that everything will be OK; sometimes things just aren't, and death and suffering are as integral to the fabric of life as joy and pleasure.  But they do comfort us by showing that we are not alone in time or in space.  Other people have walked our paths before us. Other people have lived our stories.  Other people have felt joy and sorrow. Most importantly, other communities have flourished and faded, and new ones have taken their place. Yes, it's sad that whole peoples have lived and died many times over (the Rune of Arrival that refers to the vanished glory of the Tuatha de Danaan is  one such example), and the emptiness of ruins is almost unbearable, at least to me, not because they are merely empty, but because it's so palpable that they are abandoned, that something was there and is no more. But such lonely places on the land also imbue a feeling of peace when you visit them, a sense of long and deep presence as well as melancholy absence.  Such sadness is softened by the knowledge that those peoples are not completely gone. Their stories echo through our own history; their music pulses under our songs; their wisdom shines from the eyes of our children.  

My hope is that the book will encourage readers to let their own imaginations touch the earth, to see the living worlds around them as storied landscapes, filled with spirit, beauty and humor. To see themselves as part of tradition. To know -- whether they read this book in England or Escondido -- that the land around them is alive, imbued with rich inspiration for their life's journey.