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Tales of Wonder, Volume I (Volume 1) Paperback – February 20, 2012
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Editor Brett Rutherford is a scholar, a poet, and a craftsman. These books are beautifully produced, printed on good, ivory-toned book paper. They are completely reset from the original 1801 London edition, with outstanding typography: the text typeface, Aldine, is beautiful and very readable -- titles are set in the dramatic, neo-medieval typeface, Morris Troy. The covers are strikingly attractive, with an elegant simplicity.
Upon its publication in 1801, the second volume of TOW was criticized for including tales that had been published before and were familiar to readers. It was nicknamed "Tales of Plunder". However, Rutherford argues that two centuries later, very few readers will have seen any of the tales, and will regard none of them as warhorses. Therefore, he has "chosen to edit and annotate all 60 poems that were in Lewis's 1801 first edition, and to treat them to the same degree of exploration of sources and points of interest about the poets and translators."
Rutherford's introductions to both volumes provide as much scholarly background as one could wish, and are written with enthusiasm. His annotations, as true footnotes, provide a wealth of information, and show fine judgment in explaining archaic words for the modern reader.
Rutherford also enhances individual poems with additional material. This was especially welcome with regard to two poems by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: "The Erl-King" and "The Fisherman". While most of the tales are not great poetry, the two by Goethe really are, and when set to music by Schubert, they rank among the greatest of German Lieder. Following Lewis's translation of "The Erl-King", Rutherford adds a translation by Sir Walter Scott, and Goethe's original German. Both Lewis and Scott translate the poem into English ballad form, which they do pretty well, although they occasionally stray far from the literal meaning of the German.
Lewis's translation of "The Fisherman" is quite successful, and enjoyable in its own right. Rutherford illustrates the poem with the very erotic painting, "The Fisherman and the Siren" (1857), by Sir Frederick Leighton, who had met Goethe. The original German of Goethe is also included.
I highly recommend this two-volume set. It belongs in university libraries and in the private collections of Romantics scholars, not to mention everybody who loves good, scary ballads.
The handful of relevant poems by Goethe that Rutherford chose to include were very welcome and convenient additions (and they are clearly distinguished as additions which were not part of the original volume). But perhaps most of all, the fact that Rutherford has made both original volumes available is extremely helpful. The previously published poems that Lewis compiled for the second volume include a wide range of authors, including famous works by Burns ("Tam O' Shanter") and more important German ballads like Burger's "Leonora."
While Broadview Press has also issued a scholarly edition of "Tales of Wonder" edited by Douglass H. Thomson (with a very good introduction and great appendixes, including contemporary reviews and commentary from Southey, Scott, etc), the Broadview edition only reprints selections from Volume Two rather than the entire collection. Interested readers and scholars should at least consult the Thomson edition for more context -- but this two-volume set, in my opinion, is the better purchase in the long-run.