This is not just a book, it’s a Production Number!! Check out the video clip of the book (YES, I just found out now that there is a video clip, amazing!). It is actually embedded in the website devoted to the book and its authors: husband and wife David & Ruth Ellwand.
When I first saw the book on the shelves of the NIE Library, I knew I had to borrow it. There was something special about the book.
Here are a few of the elements which make the book stand out (and we’re not even talking about the unique storyline yet):
- The BLACK pages with white fonts (there are several that are printed out in white, but the black pages predominate and capture one’s fancy)
- Instead of your usual illustrations/colorful sketches, the book is riddled with photographs – black and white, sepia-toned, daguerreotype old-school kind of pictures, taken in parchment, the works
- The presence of the video in the website (see link below), the audio clips, and the book – make it multi-modal. For educators who advocate multiple modes of transferring information/knowledge, the auditory, visual, cinematic appeal of this book is, as I said, a veritable production number.
- It tests the boundaries of reality – leaves one questioning whether the strange and the supernatural are true, and makes one question what is truth? What is reality, anyway?
- The blend between science and the strange, the archeological approach to explaining phenomenon versus folklore – would make for very good classroom discussions.
At its core, the book is an embodiment of the scientific (or should we say photographic) attempts to capture (or dispute) the transient, the fleeting, the magical: the fae, the gnome, the elves. The jacket flap begins your journey of the book with a line that is sufficient to transport you into otherworldly imaginings:
I know of a special place on the Downs, a hill, and, if local legends are to be believed, it is haunted.
The first few pages are filled with eerie pictures of the Downs, the same exact place where Conan Doyle and Kipling supposedly walked in, with all their brilliance and strangenesses. The photographs are works of art in themselves – I suspect they would be as comfortable in a major exhibit/museum/show as they are in the black pages of this book.
In folklore the holed stone plays an important role. Known as a hagstone, witch stone, flint ring, gateway stone, faerie stone, pix stone, or devil eye, such a talisman is said to protect you from evil, especially the spells of witches. It is even said to let you see the fae if you look through the hole. The stone can also protect you from nightmares – just hang it on your bedpost or place it under your pillow. (p.12)
Even more peculiar is that David Ellwand took the role of the protagonist himself, taking pictures of this strange place, til he stumbled upon a chest, secured with a lock and a chain, covered in cobwebs. As Ellwand stated:
There are places you should not go, and inside that chest was one of those places (p.21)
The chest was part of the remains of an archeological dig during the 1800s (1889). Here the story took on the form of a journal-within-a-journal with Ellwand going over each of the diary entries of Isaac Wilde, who was also a photographer. What adds to the intriguing element of the book is that there are phonograph recordings of Isaac Wilde to go with his diaries, along with some of the strange contents of the wooden box. The website even includes a section on unseen evidence that supposedly showcases actual pictures of the pixies.
Listening to the audio recordings reminded me of The Blair Witch Project – the qualities of the surreal and the fantastical closely interwoven with dimensions of reality. And yes, I do not suggest that you listen to the audio files in the evening, alone, in a dark room with the full moon out. Who knows what would happen?
The book leaves you with a great many questions, one of those few rare finds that would leave you with goosebumps even after you have finished reading it. One that you would like to read again and again to your students, your children, your grandchildren – simply because.