The Mystery of the Fool and the Vanisher

It's as difficult to pin down The Mystery of the Fool and the Vanisher by David and Ruth Ellwand (Candlewick, 2008) as one imagines it would be to photograph a fairy (Cottingley fairies aside). Which is precisely what nineteenth-century photographer Isaac Wilde attempted to do while on an archaeological dig of a Neolithic flint mine somewhere in the English Downs. Wilde's account, transcribed from wax phonograph sound recordings, is documented here alongside photographs of the contents of a wooden box discovered by David Ellwand while walking on the Downs (in the footsteps, incidentally, of none other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle); and framed by Ellwand's personal journal with additional notes from his photographic notebook.

All of this fails to capture the creepy gorgeousness of The Mystery of the Fool and the Vanisher, recommended to me by Zoe of Playing by the Book (via Myra of Gathering Books; thanks to you both!) because of my interest in manipulated photography and photographic processes--many of which (bromide, gold-toned albumen, gelatin silver, etc.) are represented in this book. According to the copyright page, however, the photographs were made "with necromancy and magic." And I'm inclined to believe it.

[All the more so because the book's website has disappeared. How long ago was 2008 in Internet years? You'll just have to take my word for it, or track down a copy for yourself (it's currently available for a bargain price on Amazon). Apart from the photographs, the artifacts are fascinating: my favorite are the spectacles with the lenses removed and replaced with holed flint stones. Or the mussel shell suit of armor.]