The Mystery of the Fool and the Vanisher

Written by David and Ruth Ellwand
Review by Julie K. Rose

This gorgeously designed book is a journal-within-a-journal, the story of a modern-day photographer who finds the papers and photographs of a Victorian faerie researcher. It is also a meditation on the uses of history and photography and the enduring power of folklore.

David Ellwand, photographing the Downs one day, comes across a mysterious locked box near a crumbling ruin. He finds that the box contains the effects of Isaac Wilde, the official photographer on a Victorian archaeological dig, and collector of faerie artifacts. Included in the box is a series of wax phonograph recordings, the transcription of which forms the middle section of the book, Isaac’s daily journal of his work on the barrow Downs dig.

Isaac comes to believe, as the locals do, that disturbing the great barrow will disturb the pixies. He attempts to photograph the fae in their environment in order to show evidence of the destruction to the arrogant scientist in charge, in order to stop the dig. When the scientist mysteriously disappears, Isaac is forced to flee and leave the evidence of the fae hidden…until Ellwand finds the evidence and shares it with us.

Ellwand’s photographs of the Downs and the twisting trees of the forest are moving and ethereally beautiful, and the photos “taken” by Wilde are clever and lovely in their own right. The book is beautifully designed with charming surprises throughout. This is a clever, enchanting book that would be a welcome addition to any history, photography, or folklore buff’s coffee table.