Folio Society Myths & Legends Series | Beautiful Books


Greetings, dear readers, and welcome to this
tour de force through the Folio Society’s beloved myths and legends series. The series shares a thematic theme of classic
mythological retellings, and a visually similar design being large 10” x 7” volumes with
a quarter leather binding over cloth covered boards, and in most cases contemporary illustrations
were commissioned for the works. We open our tour with the single volume edition
of the Greek Myths, retold by Robert Graves. This book was first released in 1996 and it
is a fairly scholarly study of the myths, relating them to the way the ancient Greeks
lived and thought. Each God or Goddess is introduced as they
are born. And each tale is followed by an interpretation
of its origin and significance. Grahame Baker provides the lovely illustrations. I’d also like to show here a comparison
between the original books and the smaller multi-part volumes that Folio also released
a few years later for some of the books in this series. Whilst the text is identical and the obvious
difference is size, I believe the most important distinction is in the illustrations – the
single volume editions contains beautiful two-colour images, whilst the illustrations
in the smaller cheaper sets are produced more cheaply, in black and white. Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey were the next
two volumes produced, in 1996 and 1998, using the translation of Robert Fagles, which was
the preeminent English translation of the 1990s. Fagles uses a loose five-beat line and I find
this translation both clear and sensitive to the magic of literary techniques such as
alliteration. Again, these volumes are illustrated by Baker,
and they feature printed map endpapers. Not all of these volumes were leather bound
– some of the brightly coloured ones like mine are buckram. The collection of British Myths and Legends
was released in 1998. The tales drawn together in this book by Richard
Barber are from a wide range of medieval sources, spanning the centuries from the dawn of Christianity
to the age of the Plantagenets. The Norse gods which peopled the Anglo-Saxon
past survive in Beowulf; Cuchulainn, Taliesin and the magician Merlin take shape from Celtic
mythology; and we have stories of saints such as Helena who brought a piece of the True
Cross to Britain, and Joseph of Arimathea whose staff grew into the Glastonbury Thorn. There are a few illustrations by John Vernon
Lord. Next we have the two volumes of the Icelandic
Sagas published in 1999 and 2002, that are edited, introduced and partly illustrated
by Magnus Magnusson. It’s a lovely collection. The first volume contains three of the big
five with Egil’s Saga, the Eyrbyggia Saga and Njal’s Saga, along with other gems including
the stories that relate to the discovery and attempted colonisation of the Americas in
the 10th century, and one of the Sagas of the Poets which features two poets in love
with the same woman. It’s not a happy ending. The second volume rounds this out with the
remaining two of the big five – Grettir’s Saga and the Laexdala Saga – and several
other tales. The fabulous illustrations are by John Vernon
Lord and the endpaper maps are drawn by Reginald Piggott. The Legends of King Arthur was released in
2000. This is introduced by Richard Barber and it
features a number of different translations of the Arthurian legends. It includes extracts ranging from from The
History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth and The Death of King Arthur,
to The Romance of Tristan and Iseult by Joseph Bedier, The High Book of the Grail, and Parzifal
by Wolfram von Eschenbach. 16 full-page illustrations are by Roman Pisarev. Myths and Legends of India followed in 2001,
a compilation from a range of sources that was selected and introduced by William Radice. It includes a long section from Lal’s English
version of the Mahabharata and the plates in this volume reproduce traditional Indian
art, rather than being commissioned directly for this volume. A few years later in 2003, FS released the
lovely Myths and Legends of the Ancient Near East by Rachel Storm. The boards are a lovely linen cloth and it
includes 17 colour illustrations by Jane Ray. The stories range over several civilisations
where legend merges with history – from Daniel, thrown to the lions, to the Assyrian
epic of Gilgamesh; to the heroic feats of the Amazons; to Midas and his golden touch;
to the Arabian Nights entertainments. Legends of the Ring was released in 2004 and
is edited by Elizabeth Magree. This volume is based on the Ring Legends of
Scandinavia, including the Volsungs and the Eddas, and also the Ring Legends of Germany,
such as The Nibelungenlied. Illustrations are by Simon Brett. But with this volume, I have to say I was
very disappointed with Folio’s decision to put all the pictures in a clump here in
the centre. I understand that this design saves money,
but when someone is buying an expensive book like this, it’s unexpectedly disappointing. Fortunately, it only happens in this one volume. 2005 brought us the Epics of the Middle Ages,
edited and introduced by Richard Barber and illustrated again by John Vernon Lord. These are stories with champions rooted in
real events including The Song of Roland and William of Orange, inspired by the exploits
of Charlemagne’s reign centuries before; and El Cid, the story of Rodrigo Diaz of Vivar,
a noble knight caught up in the vicious struggle between Christians and Moors in Spain. Historical figures, transmuted by the epics
into the superheroes of legend. Celtic Myths and Legends was compiled in 2006
by acclaimed folklorists Caitlin and John Matthews, with more lovely illustrations by
Jane Ray. It’s organised in eight sections: Beginnings
(which are Irish, British, Cornish & Manx); Quests and Adventures; The Deeds of Cuchulainn;
The Adventures of Fionn Mac Cumhail; The Four Branches of the Mabinogi; Legends of Arthur’s
Court; and Visions, Saints and Other-Worlds. Legends of the Grail in 2007 was also edited
by Richard Barber and illustrated by John Vernon Lord. This volume collects the five great medieval
masterpieces, simply re-told in elegant modernisations. From Chretien de Troyes to Malory, the romances
tell of Perceval, Gawain, Lancelot and Galahad in their quests for the Holy Grail. Legends from Ancient Rome released in 2008
is edited by Lawrence Norfolk and illustrated by Grahame Baker. It includes all the most iconic stories, drawing
on Plutarch, Virgil, Livy and Ovid amongst others, but also lesser-known traditions,
including some of the more bizarre Roman superstitions, such as the Lupercalia in which youths dressed
in animal skins and smeared with dog blood would whip female onlookers with strips of
goatskin to promote fertility. Myths and Legends of Russia released in 2009
is a highly sought after volume due to the particularly exquisite silhouette illustrations
by Niroot Puttapipat. The 170 tales within are taken from Afanas’ev’s
record of orally transmitted folk stories, with an accessible translation by Norbert
Guterman. Finally, in 2001, we have this odd little
volume of Irish Myths & legends. It’s the same size as the others, but the
spine design doesn’t match; however I include it in my set. It’s an old volume – the stories were compiled
by Lady Gregory, and there is a preface by William Yeats, but the 12 lovely illustrations
by Jillian Tamaki are new for this volume. Thanks for watching, and I’d love it if
you shared some of your favourite myths and legends series in the comments section below,
because I have a huge library of world folklore series so I’m trying to decide which set
to cover next. ‘Til next time!

13 thoughts on “Folio Society Myths & Legends Series | Beautiful Books

  1. Individual links to each book (time stamp and/or to buy) are in the description box ㋡
    I'd love to know your favourite collection of myths & legends – please share in the comments!

  2. Oh, I have been really looking forward to this video! What a beautiful series. 🙂 I've just recently started on collecting these books, my first was the russian myths one – very beautiful indeed, then the Aeneid (it has so many old illustrations, 72 in total, it's a delight) and I am still waiting on the Indian myths. From your video I will also definitely be on the lookout for the King Arthur edition and the Legends of Ancient Rome ( I never managed to get a look inside that one so far, thank you!). I have to say I am too very sorely disappointed to see how Folio chose to publish The Legends of the Ring, as that was a volume I was considering, but now will probably not look for any time soon. Anyways, I very much appreciated this video, your collection is always inspiring!

  3. Very useful, thanks. I was considering buying Irish Myths and Legends but I see that it doesn’t include Cúchulainn of Muirthemne which is poor. Definitely not worth it at it’s current price.

  4. I'm still trying to hunt down last three (Icelandic Sagas ** + The Iliad & The Odyssey).
    I cannot understand why they decided to change the look of the Irish volume, since it would match the series perfectly otherwise, and the illustrations are stunning.
    This made me feel like they are moving away from the series theme and look, but I hope to be wrong as I'd love to see more.

  5. Thank you for the excellent presentation. I have since been trying to acquire all the volumes in this series (barring The Odyssey and Iliad which I have in the Greek Classics set from Easton Press). I'm still holding out to find a crisp copy of The Icelandic Sagas II. Hoping to come across more wonderful publications on your channel.

  6. Hello 🙂 'Tis I, again 🙂 I accidentally bought the smaller two volumes version of Greek Myths, before I finally found the one I was actually after, the large single volume quarter bound in leather. Would you say the more economical production value is all the difference between the smaller two volume edition and the larger single volume edition? Someone said somewhere that the smaller two volumes do not include Graves' annotation, but I could see that those are included in the smaller two vol edition…. Thanks for your time in advance! You have such an amazing collection and your videos are always jammed packed with info! Thanks again!

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