Vaesen by Johan Egerkrans
Illustrated by Johan Egerkrans
Published in 2013; English translation published in 2017
Susan Beard Translation
Genre: Scandinavian Folklore
“All over the world and throughout the ages, people have been convinced that we are not alone on this earth.”
Humans have always been in touch with nature, but there is a strange wildness that eludes us, so it makes sense that our cultures would believe in some fae creatures that are somewhere between ourselves and nature. Vaesen, by Johan Egerkrans, focuses on the Scandinavian variety of spirits, fairies, and other mystical folk found in the legends of the world. Using his unique style and drawing from an impressive amount of sources for information, Egerkrans creates a fantastical tome for anyone seeking to familiarize themselves with the fae folk.
The introduction of the book discusses the various types of creatures all over the world. Though this is a book that focuses primarily on Scandinavian creatures, Egerkrans draws comparisons to other similar creatures from around the world. This enriches the history of the spirits and monsters while showing the shared cultural ideas of strange and wonderful beasts. They are also contrasted based on the subtle differences between the local superstitions and traditions.
The book is split into five sections based on the category of the creatures being described: nature spirits (such as fairies and gnomes), familiar spirits (those used by witches to do their bidding), shapeshifters (werewolves and their female counterparts, mares), spirits of the dead/undead (ghosts of various descriptions), and monsters (dragons, the kraken, etc). Each creature has its origins explained when able and often a note about protection is included. As explained in the introduction, these fairy folk and monsters are often found in nature and hold part of its capriciousness in their behavior. Many creatures are benign, but some carry malevolent intentions.
There are illustrations on every page of the book and though only a select few are full, color affairs, Egerkrans’s pen has touched every scrap of paper through the sketches that flow upon the page. These images are the main selling point of the book as his visual translations of these magnificent monstrosities are juxtaposed with old woodcarvings of the same creatures. I did notice some typographical issues (and one of the woodcarvings was missing despite having its description intact), but otherwise the book presents itself well in its construction and format.
Though it isn’t as long as its follow-up, Norse Gods, Vaesen is a wonderful collection of strange creatures whose history is bound in the very culture of Scandinavia. It is easy to picture Egerkrans’s interpretations moving around in hidden splendor through our world even today, and there is a romantic sentiment in that. Though I would say that Norse Gods is the superior of the two, this is a book that I am very glad to add to my collection of texts regarding folklore and mythology.
I once again want to give a special shout-out to the fine folks over at Grimfrost, which is where I purchased this book; they are a Swedish company specializing in Viking literature, clothing, jewelry, and other merchandise.
Verdict: 3 amazing illustrations out of 5
Recommended for: Fans of folklore, gnome enthusiasts, fans of Johan Egerkrans, those who read and enjoyed Norse Gods, and people looking for a beautifully illustrated encyclopedia of creatures from Scandinavian folklore.
Not recommended for: Those who have angered the fae folk, people afraid of gnomes, people who can’t get over the fact that none of these creatures exist so why learn about them, or skeptics.