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The Book of Ballads    by Charles Vess order for
Book of Ballads
by Charles Vess
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2004 (2004)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This very unusual graphic novel showcases traditional English, Irish and Scottish ballads, reimagined by modern fantasy writers (including Neil Gaiman, Jane Yolen, Sharyn McCrumb, and Charles de Lint) and presented in enchanting graphic sequences by artist Charles Vess. The words of the originals are included. At the back of the book are Discography and Performer Notes and general folk-music resources.

In his excellent Introduction, Terri Windling explains what a ballad is and how they have been preserved. He shares folk tales that explain 'why music is capable of wringing our hearts' and why traditional musicians sang 'songs of merriment, songs of sorrow, and songs of supernatural enchantment.' Windling also quotes Delia Sherman on what she likes best about ballads, 'they're plots with all the motivations left out'. All three types of ballads are represented in this delightful volume, with textual motivations filled in by masters of fantasy.

I especially enjoyed Sharyn McCrumb's take on 'Thomas the Rhymer', Charles de Lint's re-telling of 'Twa Corbies', Jeff Smith's funny perspective on 'The Galtee Farmer', and Jane Yolen's tragic account of 'The Great Selchie of Sule Skerry'. But they're all intriguing. If you enjoy old ballads and/or fantasy, then don't miss The Book of Ballads, a most unusual combination of the two.

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