Last week, I requested a book from Candlewick, and was tickled pink when they included in the package a second book-- Fantasy: An Artist's Realm, by Ben Boos (2010). It's a beautiful book, but one I find very hard to "review" dispassionately.
Back in the day, when I was 12 or so (and for a few years after, until my friends abandoned me for Boys), I played Dungeons and Dragons. The most important part of it, for me at least, was the world building--I still have pages and pages and pages of my D. and D. inspired drawings (happily, the drawing aspect continued through high school--I still had my faithful little sister to play with me).
Typically, my fantasy world building descended into farce. There was no river without its dead sheep floating downstream (easy to draw--4 lines, close together, sticking out of the water), and an odd cult of Rabbit Worship (with dark and sinister elements!) developed. And although I can draw, rather nicely, someone dressed in a carrot suit, hopping toward the Great Rabbit, my grasp of the human form is shaky, and many of my people are curiously armed (anatomically, not weapons-wise. The advantage of drawing people in carrot suits is that they have no visible arms).
This is the background that I brought to my perusal of what is one of the handsomest books of fantasy world building I've ever seen. Fantasy: An Artist's Realm is a gorgeously and generously illustrated guide to a very D. and D.-ish fantasy realm, with familiar character types (paladins, mages, clerics, thieves etc), and non-human beings (like elves). In it are tons of small and detailed pictures, of weapons and potions and other assorted magical accoutrements, as well as full-color double-page spreads of action scenes and maps and landscapes....
Here's what Ben Boos drew more of than me: weapons (lots of weapons). Here's what I drew more of: unicorns and girls in pretty dresses. There are no unicorns (unless I missed them?) in this book, and only one pretty dress. That being said, Boos has a number of girls doing action-y things, which is pleasing.
This is a book that my ten-year-old pored over with rapt attention, the sort of book that calls out to be given to the young D. and D. player, the sort of book that has that luxurious feeling of Gift. I myself found it rather engrossing, in much the same way as the Gnomes book from my own youth--both have lots of little drawings of things, with accompanying facts and clarifications, and I like that sort of thing.
I think, though, that I prefer Ben Boos' first book--Swords: an Artist's Devotion. It is stunningly single-minded, and wonderfully quirky in its obsessiveness (and the swords are more than a bit lovely). Fantasy is a beautiful book, but doesn't have that same originality to it, and so it isn't quite as outstanding.
I've been trying to imagine what would have happened if this book had been given to me back then. Would it have inspired me to draw better? To consider perspective to be more than an optional curiosity? To actually look at the things I was drawing (something many artists seem to find helpful)? Or would my enthusiasm have been quenched?
Maybe this summer I should pick up my pencil again, enlisting my boys as companions. At the very least, I can teach them to draw dead sheep floating downstream.