Summary: This handsome and unusual book is the diary kept by Lady Cottington. Instead of pressing flowers in it, she pressed fairies (with a resulting look remarkably similar to watercolors). Handwritten and handsomely bound, this book is as surprising as it is pleasing. The publisher (at the request of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Fairies) notes that no fairies were injured or killed in the manufacturing process…
Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Book, by Terry Jones and Brian Froud 8.5
Terry Jones is a member of the legendary comedy troupe Monty Python, a director and an author. Brian Froud is an illustrator and was one of the designers that worked on ‘The Dark Crystal’, ‘Labyrinth’ and on ‘The Empire Strikes Back’s Yoda. Together, they collaborated on ‘Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Book’.
The resulting work is a spoof of one of Britain’s more interesting urban legends: the story of the Cottingley Fairies, which began in 1917 when Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths took pictures of themselves with cardboard cutout fairies. Through unusual circumstances, these pictures eventually caught the public eye.
These pictures became a sensation when no other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle spoke out about them, claiming that they were proof of psychic phenomena. An enthusiastic spiritualist, he wrote an article in 1920 that used these pictures as reference material. It wasn’t until the 1980s before the cousins admitted to the trickery.
(In 1997, two competing film productions were released based on the story of the Cottingley Fairies: ‘FairyTale: A True Story’ and ‘Photographing Fairies’. Neither made much of an impression on the public. In fact, I can’t even recall if I’ve seen the first one or not. But I am kind of curious now…)
‘Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Book’ is an unusual book because it takes the story one step further: in Jones’ version of these events: Angelica Cottington not only took pictures with the fairies (as demonstrated in the introduction), she interacted with them and was able to capture a few – by closing her book on them!
The resulting tome is a collection of journal entries and impressions of splattered fairies and goblins, each contorted in the most horrific (or comical, as the reader sees fit) of ways. Over the course of 60 gorgeously rendered pages, it tells the story of Angelica’s various encounters with these fantastical creatures and the impact they had on her life.
In the introduction, Terry Jones claims that this is an accurate reproduction of the original documents. Obviously, this is rubbish, but it is quite well conceived, featuring hand-written notes that mature as Angelica ages, and numerous watercolour illustrations of the creatures that she has managed to capture over the years.
Terry Jones’ texts are convincing and accurately relate her state of being, a mixture of excitement, remorse and vexation. It’s an amusing tale that will initially marvel readers, but it later suggests that Angelica may have given leave of her senses, which can either be considered with pity or cynicism. Either way, her fate is unfortunate.
Brian Froud’s art is absolutely lovely. He captures the humour of the piece just so and provides the tome with enough realism to allow the reader to escape for a short while. His renditions of fairies are beautiful, playful and even naughty, whereas the goblins are beastly little things that have nothing more than mischief on their minds.
But, beyond that, the attention to detail is awe-inspiring. Froud made each page look aged, dirty, worn with use and time, and even made splotches on the opposite pages to show the imprints that the crushed creatures have left. And that’s no accounting for the book’s cover, which looks like a period journal.
‘Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Book’ is a fantastic piece of work and very few people could have come up with this – it required the special touches of Jones and Froud to make it happen. It is absurd, twisted, and quite a novel creation. It’s no wonder that it captured the imagination to such a degree that there have been various printings of it.
It is, without a doubt, a modern masterpiece.