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The Book of Ballads
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The Book of Ballads

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3.93  ·  Rating details ·  1,044 ratings  ·  80 reviews
Illustrated and presented by one of the leading artists in modern fantasy, this title gives us some of the great songs and folktales of the English, Irish, and Scottish traditions, re-imagined in sequential-art form, in collaboration with some of the strongest fantasy writers.
Paperback, 192 pages
Published March 1st 2006 by Tor Books (first published November 1st 2004)
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Average rating 3.93  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,044 ratings  ·  80 reviews


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Jayson
(B-) 71% | Satisfactory
Notes: The artwork’s nicely done, but its stories are hit and miss, and too short to really garner much interest or investment.
Heidi The Reader
Oct 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
In this graphic novel, Charles Vess illustrates many traditional folk ballads that have been rewritten by some fairly popular fantasy artists like Neil Gaiman or Emma Bull.

I didn't realize how many traditional ballads have negative interactions with strangers as their primary topic. According to these stories, any stranger is either a fairy or the devil. If it is a male, he'll either kill you or impregnate you and then come later to take your kid back to whatever magical land he came
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Michelle Morrell
Charles Vess is an artist I've come across a number of times. His work is instantly identifiable, with lots of long flowing lines and a timeless sensibility, it's easy to imagine his work in a renaissance tome or a fairy-tale library. I personally remember his work in Sandman (the "A Midsummer's Night's Dream" fae story), Fables and the illustrated version of Gaiman's Stardust.

From what I gather, this was a labor of love for Vess. He took classic old English and Scottish ballads and had various friends creat
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Marquise
The artwork is lovely and I liked Charles Vess' style, but the storytelling is lacking, resulting in a bunch of scattered autoconclusive stories that read disjointed and uneven because they're too independent from each other, and there's no theme in common besides they all being folk ballads from the UK. I think the graphic novel would've benefitted from having a main character as narrator, say: a bard telling each ballad by turns at court/an inn or by a campfire, to give them all a tidy and uni ...more
Karissa
Apr 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
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 g
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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
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Yvonne Olson
Jan 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a very interesting graphic novel.
It's not something I probably would have picked up myself - it was a gift, and I was very excited when I opened it!

The art isn't my typical graphic novel art aesthetic, but it was very reminiscent of the classic fairytale-type art, so it made it more interesting to me. The idea that these all follow songs was endearing, too.

I enjoyed it, but would have never gotten it for myself.
Don't judge this book by that fact - pick it
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Bob Collins
Nov 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Vess is a wonderful, award winning illustrator, creating detailed, intricate black and white drawings in the style of Franklin Booth (look him up - amazing pen and ink illustrations!)and Arthur Rakham. The book is worth the time for the artwork alone - it won an Eisner award; high praise in the world of graphic novels and comic books.

But wait, there is more! The stories illustrated in this volume are illustrated adaptations of English and Scottish ballad, written by his favorite writ
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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
Aug 25, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fantasy, fairy-tales, dark
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.
Bea
The artwork didn't work for me, too busy. The text in the thought balloons was often hard to read. Most of the adaptations were well done and there was a good variety of style. Some of the stories were new to me and I enjoyed reading them.
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 know
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Karolina
Jun 21, 2007 rated it liked it
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 faer
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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
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Kathleen
Feb 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
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Jenne
Oct 22, 2008 rated it really liked it
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.
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Michelle
Apr 03, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 b
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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
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Mary
Mar 26, 2008 rated it really liked it
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 represent
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Kate
Mar 03, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Hans
Jan 31, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 02, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction-2009
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.
<
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Brittany
May 05, 2011 rated it liked it
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.
Shannon
Aug 22, 2007 rated it liked it
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
Aug 16, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: comics, fantasy, 2008
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.
lucy  black
This is a really cool premise for a book. Old ballads/poems/ folk stories being retold with pictures in comic form. Nerdy and historical and absurd. I just don’t think it was executed very originally or interestingly. Most of them stuck with oldey timey language so the ballads were still pretty opaque. None of them subverted the misogyny much or spun a new take.
I did like the strain of elf queens, witches and sex with Satan.
John Watt
Charles Vess is a master of art!!! I just love his work and can get lost in each picture. Each story was interesting. I had never come across many of these and it makes me want to explore English and Scottish folklore more in depth. it also gave some source material in the introduction and I want to find the books which contain the stories. All in all Excellent and well done!
Kara
Jun 02, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: ft-1-fairy-tales

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
Sep 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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.
Anna
Jan 24, 2013 rated it liked it
Recommended to Anna by: goodreads
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.
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Endicott Mythic F...: This topic has been closed to new comments. The Book of Ballads - Discussion 7 9 May 26, 2011 08:45AM  

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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