If you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll know that I’m an enormous fan of the fabulous Enchanted World books, published by Time Life Books in the 1980’s. In the past, I’ve reviewed Night Creatures and Ghosts and have done so with lashings of praise. Seekers and Saviours is the final book in my collection, sadly, and I feel an ache in my heart knowing there will be no more reviews of Enchanted World publications…unless, that is, I take a train to Carlisle and raid Bookcase, where all of my beautiful tomes have come from.
Really, I’ve read my books in the wrong order. I feel bad saying this so early on in the review, but Seekers and Saviours should have been read first, because it isn’t a match on the other two. Not by a long shot. I guess dashing princes and beautiful women sewing shirts made out of nettles don’t appeal to me as much as demonic possession and lycanthropy does.
I do have some good things to say about this book though. The illustrations are, as always, utterly enchanting, and the covers – absolutely gorgeous and of the finest quality. The blurb, too, is superb:
‘When the human race was yet young and only newly arrived in this world, there still lurked ancient creatures with magical powers in hidden corners across the land…’
Nobody writes like this anymore and it’s a darned shame.
Chapter One: Under The Wing of Magic starts off with a story about a talking cat in France helping a miller’s son….we’ve all heard this one before. Anyway, though the story was dull, there were a few interesting snippets of information. Like what the French used to think about cats, for example.
‘People then were particularly averse to cats – said to be lustful creatures of the devil – and sacrificed the little animals on all sorts of occasions…At charivaris – the carnivals celebrating the summer solstice and other festivals – they burned live cats on bonfires or set their fur aflame and chased them through the streets.’
I found my mind wandering numerous times, though it did come to attention again at moments for random facts such as the following:
‘Jewish men’s prayers, for instance, included thanks that they were not women. And the early fathers of the Christian church were virulent in their abuse. They debated whether women had souls, and there was universal agreement that women were instruments of the devil, to be feared and shunned by those who sought true holiness.’
One story that did grab my attention and hold onto it successfully was the tale of a young Danish mother called Soverlad. Sadly, she was a victim of the plague, though before her death, had given birth to several children. Her husband remarried, though his new wife neglected Soverlad’s children, banishing them to the attic to sleep on straw. Their cries and whimpers carried out through the window and to Soverlad’s tomb. As you can expect, her ghost returned to set things straight. Only when the second wife started to show the children respect did Soverlad’s ghost depart. On from this story, there’s an interesting section which talks about the guarding of children.
‘Children deprived of their mothers were guarded in other ways. According to the old tales, they were often defended by animals – wild animals such as wolves or deer or birds or serpents, or domestic ones such as calves or lambs. Sometimes the animals were thought to be inhabited by the spirits of the mothers; sometimes they seemed to serve the mothers’ shades; and sometimes they evidently acted for reasons of their own, as did the cat that came to the aid of the miller’s son.’
Following this a brief passage about how it is difficult to envisage a world with secret life.
‘From the vantage of a more prosaic age, it is hard to imagine a world teeming with secret life that might at any moment intrude upon the affairs of humankind. In those days, everything in nature was charged with intelligence. Trees were not mere rooted sleepers, for instance; they were alive with awareness and feeling. Although they mostly remained aloof from the activities of toiling humankind, it was said in Britain that certain oak forests could be moved to action by human suffering. Victims of pursuit would find sanctuary in those woods: Great branches, creaking and groaning, would bend behind them, to snatch and strangle whoever sought to violate the refuge.’
Chapter Two: Tests of Love and Loyalty features a beautiful, short piece titled Star brothers of the northern sky. The tale is about two brothers, Pollux who is immortal, and Castor who, well, isn’t. When Castor is killed in battle, Pollux is besides himself with grief, and wants to die to so that he may dwell in the underworld with his brother. But their father, who just happens to be Zeus is unable to grant death to an immortal. So instead, transforms both brothers into stars to float forever, singing, in the dome of heaven.
‘Castor and Pollux still may be seen in the north-western region of the winter sky, their heads the twinned bright stars of the constellation Gemini. Spartan warriors prayed to them, for they were patrons of the brave; Greek sailors called upon them, for their shining could quite storms at sea.’
Unfortunately, soon after this part I started to drift again, and really is was only the striking illustrations of heroes and damsels and severed heads that kept me going until the end. Now, Seekers and Saviours at moments features some trully excellent writing, and I’ve learnt a fair amount of new information about our old world, so it was definitely worthwhile turning the pages. Plus, it’s exceptionally rare to find books with such uniqueness about them anymore, which makes the twenty-one books in the series ‘must haves’ for any serious book collector with a passion for meticulously researched folklore.