The Book of Ballads
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The Book of Ballads

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3.95 of 5 stars 3.95  ·  rating details  ·  615 ratings  ·  49 reviews
Illustrated and presented by one of the leading artists in modern fantasy, here are the great songs and folktales of the English, Irish, and Scottish traditions, re-imagined in sequential-art form, in collaboration with some of today's strongest fantasy writers.
Here are "New York Times" bestseller Neil Gaiman with "The False Knight on the Road"; popular mystery author Sha...more
Hardcover, 192 pages
Published November 1st 2004 by Tor Books (first published 1997)
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Karissa
I have had this graphic novel on my shelf to read forever. I finally got around to reading it; I originally picked this up because I love Charles Vess’s artwork and thought the concept of him illustrating a whole bunch of traditional ballads sounded really awesome. It was a very good read. Some of the ballads were retold in really wonderful ways, others were just excerpts from the original ballads.

This book consists of a series of traditional ballads. The ballads are first told via graphic novel...more
Melanti
Up until I saw the call-number for this book at the library, I'd assumed it was a heavily illustrated anthology of short stories.

Instead, it's in graphic novel form rather than prose form. This disappointed me a bit since I'd much rather read prose than a graphic novel. However, less writing means more room to showcase Vess's lovely artwork.

In collections of retold fairy tales, I'm used to authors taking a lot of liberty with the material they're working with. Part of the fun is seeing what thin...more
Kathleen
This is an utterly beautiful book, with Charles Vess's lush and gorgeous illustrations everywhere. The stories themselves... could have been better--I'm thinking of Tam Lin in particular, which is confusingly in a script format, and some others that didn't really flesh out their ballads all that much, relying instead on a more or less straight interpretation of the lyrics.

That said, there are some real standouts. The False Knight of the Road, by Neil Gaiman, is deceptively simple, but if you pa...more
Alessandra
Charles Vess has taken a selection of British and American ballads (folk songs) from the collection of Francis James Child and had them written up by prominent comic book authors into stories for him to illustrate. His elfin, Arthur Rackham-influenced style is well-suited to these uncanny tales of fairies, enchantments, and tragedies.

I wonder if Vess is a fan of the folk-rock band Steeleye Span, which has done its own versions of quite a number of the ballads included.
Lee Anne
Very cool concept--a graphic novel made up of illustrated folk ballads retold by popular fantasy authors.
Unfortunately, I didn't find the retellings all that compelling; many of them didn't make added sense of the often very sparse ballad storyline, and almost every single one was sexually explicit.
I also would have liked notes from the authors explaining their take on the ballads.
Izlinda
This is a collection of slightly retold English/British ballads by various authors illustrated by Charles Vess.

The introduction by Terri Windling was especially wonderful to read. I don't know much about ballads at all (my definition of them before were "sappy slow songs") and she wrote in an intriguing style. Good resources, too.

I also like the format of book. After each story, the actual ballad is written, so we can either compare, or also read the original for our knowledge and pleasure.

"The...more
PurplyCookie
Ballads were little known to the literate world until the 18th century, when scholars began writing them down. Since then, they've received attention from folklorists, folksingers and, now, cartoonist Vess. I've been a fan of Charles Vess's art since I first saw him in Sandman and Stardust, and to be honest this book was not only a delightful display of his talent but also an enjoying book of ballads and tales from yore.

Vess and his collaborators put a little meat on the ballads' often bare-bon...more
Karolina
I agree with Delia Sherman in the introduction: the best part of these ballads is that they don't reveal a motive. It is more like there is no real story, but just this idea. It's interesting these ballads can inspire something seemingly irrelevant to themselves; the most important thing that can be said about them is they inspire thought. They are mysterious and inconclusive enough to do that.

I suppose what I like best is the elf setting of a lot of these. Druids and fawns, and faerie queens ar...more
Jenne
Fantasy and comic book illustrator Charles Vess brings to life thirteen ballads through pictures. Set out in sequential-art form, this delightful and daring book will captivate comic book, art and folk music fans alike.

With the help of many fantasy authors, such as Neil Gaiman, Jane Yolen, Charles de Lint, Vess’ elegant art gives weight and background to the musical tales adding elements not in the originals as each author expresses their ballad with their own personal style.

Here songs and folkt...more
Michelle
May 30, 2011 Michelle rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Michelle by: endicott mythic fiction group
a collection of old scots/irish/british folk songs, each set to Charles Vess' lovely illustrations. some are left traditional, most have a subtle expansion on the strict lyrics of the ballad to flesh it out into a bit more of a story, but none are updated or modern reworkings - go ahead and ignore the list of contributing authors, this is 100% Vess' show.

like many anthologies, this one benefits hugely from being read in small bites. the episodic comic book format means that you can breeze throug...more
M.Q. Barber
The pen-and-ink illustrations are a delight, though I wouldn't expect less from Charles Vess. The writers are top-rank fantasists, and all do a decent job with the ballad source material.

Of the 13 tales, Neil Gaiman's "The False Knight on the Road" was the one I thought I'd like best, but I ended up being completely wrong on that score. Jane Yolen creates a poignant story in the framing of "King Henry," and Charles de Lint adds a deliciously dark note to "Sovay." For fun and feminine spirit, Em...more
Mary
This beautifully illustrated collection of stories based on the traditional ballads of England, Ireland, and Scotland brings together traditional folklore and graphic fantasy. Mostly shared through oral tradition, the ballads in this compilation are those of merriment, sorrow, and the supernatural. Charles Vess illustrates the book throughout with written contributions by Neil Gaimon, Charles De Lint and other comic and graphic novelists.

There are ten ballads in total, each represented in graphi...more
Jonathan
Vess and the various writers in this book do a very nice job adapting these Child ballads for comic-book form. As is pointed out in the introduction, ballads often have action but no motivation. Books often include motivation in the narration. These stories work best when the added motivation is surprising but still coherent with the story. Barbara Allen is the best example of this: Writer Midori Snyder surprisingly has Barbara loving William the whole time and denying him for his own salvation....more
Kate
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Hans
The thing I love about old folk tales is their stories have bite. They are messy, mean, tragic and full of human longing. They mask reality with a harsh meta-reality that reflects all the pointy edges of life. The world of our hearts and minds is a fairy tale world that overlaps and conflicts with the world we live in from day to day. Folk tales illustrate what can happen when we let our own fairy tale world start to control the one we live in. Maybe somethings are better left hidden in our hear...more
sisterimapoet
Another title in my wanderings through graphic fiction.

I know very little about traditional ballads so this gave a good introduction. The written introduction itself was informative and gave a helpful overview.

I liked the way each story was followed by the original song lyrics.

I preferred the stories where the interpretation had been stretched a little further.

Nice illustrations, but perhaps various artists as well as writers would have offered even more variety.

Shannon
I searched out this book after encountering Charles Vess' illustrations in The Ladies of Grace Adieu, and found that I prefer the still vignettes that accompany each ballad in this book to the graphic novel-style action scenes. I think I just have trouble reading the graphic novel format. Good reference material in the introduction and appendices, though.
The_Mad_Swede
Charless Vess is an amazing fantasy artist. This volume shows him adapting a number of ballads into comics form, with the help of a number of different writers, including Neil Gaiman, Charles de Lint and Jeff Smith.

The result is a nice b/w comics collection of fantasy tales that are well worth reading and, perhaps even more importantly, enjoying.

As a bonus, there is also an 11 page introduction on the ballad form by Terri Windling.
Brittany
Considering the amazing writers featured here, I couldn't believe how few of them did anything at all interesting with the incredible source material! The ballads are so rich and these writers are capable of amazing retellings... why didn't they do more?? I was very disappointed. The illustrations were, of course, gorgeous though. Vess is always amazing and the book is worth looking through for the artwork alone.
Bobbssw
just picked up a Hardback copy at FenCon IX this part weekend.
Though I've read it before, rereading this book was like meeting old friends again. Charles Vess is one of the greatest living artists of our time, and add him together with great adaptations of songs by today's greatest writers, (yes Neil Gaiman, Emma Bull, Sharyn McCrumb, Jame Yolan, and all you others. I am looking at you!)
Kirsten
Very, very nice. Authors such as Charles de Lint and Emma Bull (among others) reinvent classic folk ballads, which are lovingly illustrated by Charles Vess. The whole volume is beautifully done -- I especially appreciated the inclusion of the full text of each original ballad, as well as the suggested recordings list at the end.
Anna
I love illustrated books although am not a fan of graphic novels; however, this is a beautifully rendered edition and a thoughtful collection of traditional folktales. For myself, my favorite part was the introductory essay along with the discography. If you like graphic art, you should enjoy this as a great introduction to folklore.
Paul
Charles Vess!
'nuff said

Actually, this is a beautiful hardcover slipcased book and is proudlu displayed in my favorites shelf in the living room. Add to that that I met Vess a while back and that he autographed and "doodled" a nice cat jumping in stars just for me :-) and you have what might just be my very favrite book ever.
Steve
I have the individual first runs of this short run comic book;if you are looking for Sandman or Books of Magic type fare, you may be disappointed. However, if you are looking for the fantastic artistic talents of Charles Vess, paired with some traditional folk tales and songs, then this is right up your proverbial alley.
H. Anne Stoj
Charles Vess and ballads from Child's collection. Lovely. Vess brings to mind master faery tale artists like Rackham, Neilsen, and Dulac. Paired with authors like Gaiman, de Lint, and Bull, they gave a really wonderful turn to the ballads, some which have been favorites of mine for years like Twa Corbies.
Kara

Disappointing.

With the people in involved, I expected some really good re-tellings. Instead, we get illustrations of the characters in the original ballads, most simply using all of the original language, with no fun/twisted/creative/dark twists or extrapolation, or subtects explored.

Domage.
Malu Vargas
It's an amazing book. I feel sad to see not so good reviews about it because it is not only beautifully crafted but intelligently planned, and I personally learned a lot from it while enjoying myself before going to bed. Honest, the book is totally worth it and I thank Charles Vess for this project.
Suzanna
I picked this book because I saw on a website that it contained a short story by Sharyn McCrumb. It isn't really a book of short stories, though - more of a set of old fashioned comics. I glanced at Sharyn's piece. I might revisit this at some point. Not interested, at least not at this time.
Lisa
For the literal-minded like myself, these ballads didn't always make sense. But it was "informational" and made me think about what real story inspired the ballads. The illustrations were wonderful and the artists' interpretations of the ballads made this palatable.
ᛋᚳᚩᛏᛏ
Highly recommended for anyone who appreciates folk tales and music, especially traditional British Isles music.The artwork is beautiful, classical in design in some places and very well-chosen for the atmosphere.
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Endicott Mythic F...: The Book of Ballads - Discussion 7 9 May 26, 2011 08:45AM  
  • The Fair Folk
  • The Green Man: Tales from the Mythic Forest
  • The Books of Faerie
  • The Faery Reel: Tales from the Twilight Realm
  • Creatures of the Night
  • A Flight of Angels
  • Clan Apis
  • D'Aulaires' Book of Trolls
  • A Circle of Cats (Newford)
  • Interfictions: An Anthology of Interstitial Writing
  • The Stuff of Legend, Book 1: The Dark
  • Ravens in the Library - Magic in the Bard's Name
  • The Sandman Papers: An Exploration of the Sandman Mythology
10763
Charles was born in 1951 in Lynchburg, Virginia and has been drawing since he could hold a crayon. He drew his first full-length comic when he was 10 and called it "Atomic Man." Minimalist in nature, it required no drawing of hands, feet or heads ("they just glowed"). Since then, he has painstakingly drawn thousands of hands, feet, and heads in great detail. Charles graduated with a BFA from Virgi...more
More about Charles Vess...
Drawing Down the Moon: The Art of Charles Vess Spider-Man: Spirits of the Earth Modern Masters Volume 11: Charles Vess The Book of Ballads and Sagas The Horns of Elfland

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