Monday, January 18, 2021

The Lost Spells - Robert Macfarlane & Jackie Morris

This was a Christmas present from a friend who I have exchanged Jackie Morris and Robert Macfarlane inspired gifts with for a while now - we have bought each other books, posters, postcards and subscribed to journals based on a shared love of Morris's art and the natural world. We've been lucky that both Morris and Macfarlane have been so productive over the last few years - they are in themselves a gift that keeps on giving, as well as sending us down various byways to explore.

'The Lost Spells' is described on it's inside cover as the little sister of the phenomenally successful 'The Lost Words' - which I do not actually have. I'm a little bit torn about 'The Lost Spells'. It's really a children's book, and would have been a most cherished possession when I was around about 10 or 11. I was given the Dark is Rising sequence for my 11th birthday, and there are moments of homage to Susan Cooper's style in 'The Lost Spells' that remind me of the magic of reading those books for the first time (you can listen to both Macfarlane and Morris talk about The Dark is Rising on this Backlisted episode which is well worth the time). 

Both the word games that Macfarlane plays here, and the images that Jackie Morris creates manage to charm and inspire. If I can think of a child the right sort of age to give this to I really like the way it would probably expand vocabulary (unless I'm seriously underestimating the vocab of the average 10 year old) not so much because I assume the wild things it shows are unknown to children, but because of the ways it uses words, the occasional word that I think is likely to be new, and the allusions to other writers (Susan Cooper and Edgar Allen Poe being the most obvious, though I don't doubt that further and closer reading will reveal more).

What I don't like so much is the small format - normally something I'm a fan of, and this is a perfect pocket size which makes it a great book to take on a walk when the weather is a bit better and it's less likely to get hopelessly soggy or mud splattered. It doesn't do much for the illustrations though. A lot are double page spreads and far to much detail is lost in the crease of the page. It plays hell with the composition of the images too, sending them all off balance which I find really frustrating because as an adult it's the pictures I really want to look at.

Morris is spectacular with the watercolours, I want to appreciate her line and the way she handles paint and too often I can't do that. It's frustrating, especially when I look at the pages where the formatting works. It makes me feel cheated by the rest of the book which keeps the magic just out of reach. Basically, perfect if you'll primarily revel in the words - and it absolutely begs to be read aloud which I also love about it, not so good if the pictures are what really matter to you - which I think the video clip on the books web page shows here.

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