In Review: SUPERSTITIONS – A Handbook of FOLKLORE, MYTHS, AND LEGENDS FROM AROUND THE WORLD

D.R. McELROY

Synopsis: The latest book (released around 6 weeks ago) from author Debra McElroy (writing as D.R. McElroy) explores the huge swathe of stories that make up the world’s canon of tales that we either know, have heard of, or at least have some semblance stored away, in our subconscious. The writer presents a small, but loaded book that allows you to locate things you’ve heard of, or see on-screen in films or series, or read of in stories that they appear in.  There’s the ghoulish, the ghastly and the grotesque, all waiting to be discovered. There’s all that and more in this wonderful guide, that you can turn ti when you want to know more about the origins of a particular menacing monster or eerie entity . . .

Cover

A beautifully chosen shade of what is somewhere between turquoise and aqua-marine has gold-coloured writing inscribed over the top of it. Thoughts of the ocean or the sky are conjured, even more so as closer inspection shows that the blue colours are multi-layered, creating a cloudy and dream-like effect. The main word, SUPERSTITION, the title word heads the cover. It’s embossed, and slightly sunken into the thick cover. When you run the back of your thumb or finger over the lettering you can trace the word. The font has certain letters that have an extension to them, and that makes it appear something supernatural. A slight detail, but a great little trick. Even before you get into the pages, this book looks precious, as if it may be a book of spells or poems, perhaps. The edges of the cover are also adorned in a bright colour, almost identical. This trim further creates the idea that you are about to open some volume of incantations, chants, or other magical words. With the image at the bottom of the cover of a cat, a known trope of the occult, surrounded by a gold circle, mysticism leaps out and grabs you. The smaller circle is housed inside a square, that’s tilted so that it looks like a diamond. At each corner is another symbol, smaller than the cat. Two crescent-moons (one in each corner — each inverted), a beetle, and a bat. It looks great, and lots of thought has gone into the design and layout.

 

Content, Quality and Value for Money

Once you flip the book open and look through, you soon realise you’re getting a lot for your money. priced at under £10 (it may vary, I bought mine from Amazon) it’s an absolute bargain. It’s crammed with information, and compiled a really accessible way. Thinking of a way to organise such a massive amount of information isn’t easy. McElroy opts to go with a continent by continent lay out. What helps is that this is explained in the introduction, along with succinct definitions of various terms, and the key differences between them. The short essay also acts as an introductory guide, as if it’s a voice saying “you are about to go on a strange voyage, into the weird and the wonderful”. Additionally, the essentials are laid out, so you know what you’re dealing with, what to expect and why the book appears as it does. What’s explained is the nature of myth, how it has evolved according to the evolution of the socio-geography of the continent it stemmed from, and subsequently grew.

The writing itself is quite small, which is a minor inconvenience; given that this is probably to get more into the book, it’s not a major bugbear. The pages themselves are fine quality, and a shade somewhere between brown and cream. This is another aspect that in in-keeping with the themes of the book, and a nice bonus. It looks maybe reminiscent of papyrus, with each one having almost invisible speckles, like the dapples on an egg, only not as prominent. Everything is well-spaced on the pages, and you can see what writing applies to what picture at a glance, with detailed explanations and key information presented.

 

Artwork

The drawings are Combinations of black and white imagery (that appear to be pen sketches) and artwork that to the eye seem to be shaded by fine-quality pencils. The reality is they are printed onto the page, but look like they’re hand-drawn. This is important, as the topics of this book are deeply rooted in the many cultures of humanity. They are icons, and some recognisable almost universally. These are interpretations of the many myths and monsters that have long pervaded the pages of books, and more recently been brought to life in films and shows that so many people stream.

At one point in the book it’s mentioned that images that are in the same vein of these in the book, monsters, Goddesses or perhaps a fusion of both, have been discovered on cave walls. They are among some of the early images to be recorded, and are telling of the stage in development and cognitive evolution. The ways that these pictures are done gets through to something primal and seems capable of penetrating the subconscious. They appear to be simple, but the detail in the design and the micro-expressions on faces and ways that body parts are caught really serve to bring them to life. It’s as if they have been lifted straight from museums walls and signs, or in some cases directly from the sources they were first etched onto, so long ago. Incredibly powerful stuff and evocative of the ancient past. They are deceptively simple. That’s their power. Not easy to make an original job of something that’s so well known. What they do is conjure up everything that you do, when you discuss these tropes; additionally, they are emotionally charged symbols that instill wonder and fear, often simultaneously. Perfect accompaniments to the writing, perfectly conceived and put on the page.

Research

To undertake a project such as this is an act of anthropology in itself. With so vast an ocean to draw from, it could easily become a task that drowns the one attempting to navigate through the sea of stories and history. It can’t be overstated what a brilliant job this author has done of things. As much as she knows what to include, she also knows what can’t make the cut, too. That’s hard enough with any book, but one such as this makes the task much harder. MCelroy has fished for weeks and weeks (probably longer, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if a book such as this took at east twelve-months to compile), and tossed away what isn’t necessary, whilst keeping what is. Even deciding that takes serious skill. It means she probably had to leave out the things of a potential reader’s childhood. A specific incarnation of a demon or monster they had been told of. Some readers may be unforgiving for not hearing of a rare or obscure entry. They should be forgiving, as the book needs to have general appeal.

Geography also comes into the equation, here. History, too. The book might be a guide about ideas and stories, ,a reference book for a horror-fiction writer, but it’s also a quick guide on the development of the planet, too. At least the human story. The threads that connect everything are all there, and it’s plain to see that this author knows her stuff. That’s because she’s learned it. Only by extensively reading about the subject can a narrative voice like this one emerge, one that’s friendly, but absolutely authoritative. Not definitive, but there’s no claim by her that the book should be. The research she’s done inspires readers to go and do their own. Job done.

Writing Skill and Overall

As mentioned above, the voice of the author is clear, chatty, but informative. This is important in a non-fiction book, as opposed to a fiction one, for different reasons. There’s no intermediary (characters, etc). If it was badly written, readers would soon discover that, and stop reading. It’s hard to take facts and other information from the mind, and put them on the page. A skill that looks simple, but isn’t. There can be temptations to impress readers with knowledge of fancy terminology and esoteric terms. McElroy is clearly a writer of experience. There’s none of that. What’s evident is a prose-style that’s simple, but not lacking intelligence. The right tone and choice for the right type of writing. The descriptions in this book are particularly important, and the details crucial to get right. That’s done with a practiced eye, that captures nuance and avoids unnecessary complications.

When you think what you could spend £10 on you always think of what’s equivalent. Another book, maybe, that’s as good or better. If one exists then it’s not easily able to be gotten. This one is unbelievable value for money. A lifetime possession, full of knowledge and interesting information, for the price of a couple of coffees or a take-away. That’s the best way to think of value. What you will spend anyway, not just what’s available instead. You’re helping to keep a writer writing, when you buy a book like this, too. But you can’t buy inferior products, just for that. this isn’t. It’s a high-quality, well-compiled and expertly written guide. Whether you’re an aspiring writer who wants a reference book to help you decide which monster/demon is starring in your next story, or just someone interested in the history of story-telling, this book is for you. You’ll be surprised how many of the creatures in it you’ve come across, in some guise or other, from the realms of horror stories and films/T.V, shows. Grab yourself a copy. You won’t be sorry.

 

9.7
SUPERSTITIONS - A Handbook of FOLKLORE, MYTHS, AND LEGENDS FROM AROUND THE WORLD
  • Content and Value for Money
    9.6
  • Artwork
    9.5
  • Research
    9.8
  • Writing Quality and Overall
    9.7
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