The Mystery of the Fool & the Vanisher
by David and Ruth Ellwand
The Mystery of the Fool & the Vanisher is a fascinating and slightly creepy little story, told in the format of a journal-within-a-journal and illustrated with exquisite photographs. In the first journal, photographer David Ellwand follows a strange light through the woods to an old, dilapidated house, where he finds a locked chest. When he is able to get the chest open, he discovers that the chest contains some mysterious items, as well as what turns out to be wax phonograph recordings. The recordings tell the story of another photographer named Isaac Wilde, who in 1889 is commissioned as the official photographer on an archaelogical dig into an old hill fort believed to be inhabited by the faerie folk. What Isaac Wilde discovers at the site, and his attempts to photograph it, put him in conflict with the leader of the dig, and lead him, and Ellwand after him, into trouble.
I enjoyed The Mystery of the Fool & the Vanisher and found it an interesting, although quick, read. The photographs are beautiful, and worth going back and spending some time with after the first read. Some of them are pictures of natural settings, others are still life pictures of the “found items” and meticulously constructed out of natural objects. I studied photography as a teen, and had thoughts of being a professional photographer, so the photographs were definitely the highlight of this book for me. My favorite was a dramatic, sepia-toned photograph of the dilapidated house with clouds behind it.
Although I enjoyed the book, I’m not quite sure whether kids and teens would enjoy it or not, and who the audience may be. It may be too simplistic a story for the fiction readers, but too fictional for the non-fiction readers. I think it’s most likely to find a home among kids who enjoy the “ology” books, because it has the same kind of “fiction as non-fiction” approach, although it lacks those books’ interactivity. It also may appeal to visually-oriented young people and those with an artistic nature. This may be a book to put out in a library display and let kids be drawn in by the eerie cover and the beautiful photographs.