Review: The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane & Jackie Morris
The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane, illus. Jackie Morris
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of House of Anansi Press. Thank you!
Publication: October 2, 2018 by Anansi International, House of Anansi Press.
In 2007, when a new edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary — widely used in schools around the world — was published, a sharp-eyed reader soon noticed that around forty common words concerning nature had been dropped. Apparently they were no longer being used enough by children to merit their place in the dictionary. The list of these “lost words” included acorn, adder, bluebell, dandelion, fern, heron, kingfisher, newt, otter, and willow. Among the words taking their place were attachment, blog, broadband, bullet-point, cut-and-paste, and voice-mail. The news of these substitutions — the outdoor and natural being displaced by the indoor and virtual — became seen by many as a powerful sign of the growing gulf between childhood and the natural world.
Ten years later, Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris set out to make a “spell book” that will conjure back twenty of these lost words, and the beings they name, from acorn to wren. By the magic of word and paint, they sought to summon these words again into the voices, stories, and dreams of children and adults alike, and to celebrate the wonder and importance of everyday nature. The Lost Words is that book — a work that has already cast its extraordinary spell on hundreds of thousands of people and begun a grass-roots movement to re-wild childhood across Britain, Europe, and North America.
“Once upon a time, words began to vanish from the language of children…”
One of the most stunningly beautiful books I have had the pleasure of reading (and rereading) this year, The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane, illustrated by Jackie Morris, is a celebration and a “spell-book”- where art, nature, and poetry all meet together to make magic.
“Enter the wood with care, my love,
Lest you are pulled down by the hue,
Lost in the depths, drowned in blue.” – excerpt from “bluebell”
As per the description, The Lost Words came about after “forty common words concerning nature” were found missing to be from a 2007 edition of the broadly-used Oxford Junior Dictionary. Words such as heron and otter, raven and wren- all missing from this dictionary and replaced by more technologically-leaning, modern words. So, Robert Macfarlane, author, poet and filmmaker, along with author and artist Jackie Morris, collaborated on this gorgeous book in an effort to bring the words back into appreciation and usage. The Lost Words contains twenty of those lost and missing words and is: a “spellbook for conjuring back these lost words…told in gold- the gold of the goldfinches that flit through its pages in charms- …that might just, by the old, strong magic of being spoken aloud, unfold dreams and songs, and summon lost words back into the mouth and the mind’s eye.”
This shape-shifter’s a sheer breath-taker, a
sure heart-stopper- but you’ll only ever spot
a shadow-flutter, bubble-skein, and never
(almost never) actual otter. – excerpt from “otter”
Each of the twenty lost words presented in the book have a spell/poem attached specifically to them, prefaced by spread of art and a jumble of letters with the letters of the lost word highlighted, followed by a full spread illustration featuring a representation of the word. From the collection of photos below, you will be able to get a sense of not only the layout and formatting of the spell-book but also, of course, of Jackie Morris’s glorious, rich, golden-hued illustrations. The spells themselves do call- beckon- to be read aloud, to be rolled and savoured on the tongue, whispered, shouted and practiced; resonant, buzzing, often tongue-twisting, wondrous, alliterative spells. From a child just wanting to the time to stare and wander their way through the art, to elementary school children enjoying listening to the spells and practicing the magic, to adults delighting in both poetry and artwork, The Lost Words has something for all.
“Lean in, listeners, come below our leaves and wait until
the wind blows so our branches bellow, listen for a year,
a week, a day, but you will never hear what willows speak,
what willows say.” – excerpt from “willow”
Overall, a superb, not-to-be-missed significant read for all ages; powerful and breathtaking in both poetry and artwork. For lovers of nature and wildlife, for lovers of poetry, and for lovers of art, The Lost Words has it all in spades. A book that can (and should) make its home in every classroom, as well as in every public library, The Lost Words is an incredible, memorable piece of literature.
Extras: An Explorer’s Guide to The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris, by Eva John (North American Version), can be found on the item’s page via House of Anansi Press.
I received a copy of this title courtesy of House of Anansi Press in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.