A Rare Book Find: Thanks Again, Powell’s

I was visiting the Powell’s Bookstore on NE Hawthorne some days ago with a good friend of mine.  She was looking for gifts; I was just looking to look (which is usually how I find the best books).  I had chosen a few paperbacks from the sale section (A Mere Interlude by Thomas Hardy and Eaten Heart by Giovanni Boccaccio among them) and was wandering around rather idly.  I decided I was at my limit for spending and didn’t intend to pick up anything else.

Then, wandering over to the folklore and myth section, I looked up to the top shelf and saw a curious and irresistible thing: a slightly worse-for-wear little volume with a red and once-white striped cover. Debossed into that bold book-cloth cover was the title NORTH-WEST SLAV LEGENDS & FAIRY STORIES – W. W. STRICKLAND.

A week ago, I bought an English translation of French Folktales by Henri Pourrat, translated by Royall Tyler, that used to be the property of Anne Rice (or so a little gold sticker inside the book declares).  One of my favorite books from my elementary school library was a collection of Yiddish folk tales, and an animal-headed character from a German film version of Cinderella used to show up in one of my reoccurring dreams.  I’ve always loved fairy tales and myths; my whole thesis was based on them.

Naturally, this unusual, striped book caught my fancy.  I stood on my tip toes, plucked it off the very high shelf, and instantly knew I would have to put the shiny new paperbacks back – this musty old thing was the one I wanted, and it was double the price of the all the other books I had chosen combined.  It looks a bit like it survived a fire or a good deal of damp, in addition to having a rather violent but small hole stabbed through the back cover, reaching a few pages in.  The spine is pretty brittle and will probably crack under rough handling.  All that aside, I loved it immediately.  Perhaps it was just well-loved and often read.

The stories I’ve read thus far are delightfully dark, about babes that eat people, witches who pluck out and collect the eyes of the sleeping, and demons who torment farmers and shepherds.  There is one story that is another version of one I read in the French Folktales book and some other more familiar tales.  I didn’t even glance at the print date of North-West Slav Legends & Folktales until I decided to look the book up on the Internet.  It was published in 1897.  More than that, it seems to be a rare but “culturally valuable” book.  New copies of it are easy to obtain through Amazon for around $20 (about how much I paid for mine), but the only other original copy I could find mention of was from the Cornell University Library.  This Cornell copy is the one that was used to produce all the new reproductions.  And they are “reproductions”, not reprintings: the pages were scanned and then printed, warts and all (so to speak).

All in all, I’m extremely pleased with my modest but growing folklore collection.  Expect to see some themes and characters from these pop up in my work.  The eye-stealing Yezinky are already appearing in some sketches.  And if you know of any more original copies of this book floating around, I would love to hear about it.


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