January 25, 2007


The WandMaker’s Guidebook. By Ed Masessa. Illustrated by Daniel Jankowski. Designed by Bill Henderson and Daniel Jankowski. Tangerine Press/Scholastic. $19.99.

     There is a kind of subspecies of the book evolving: it looks like a book, in some ways it acts like a book, but it is only in part a book.  It is really a kit – but not simply a kit from which you make something.  You create the whatever-it-is in conjunction with the book part of this hybrid.  The WandMaker’s Guidebook is a clear and unusually attractive example of the form.

     This is a large-size volume – more than 10 inches wide, a foot high and one-and-a-half inches thick – but it contains only 24 pages of text.  And much of the text is not written in standard format.  There are pasted-in envelopes containing notes to be removed, unfolded and read, or playing cards to warn the reader about various dangers.  There are drawings and photos with captions.  There are lists – for example, of woods to avoid and of the “personal favorites” of Coralis, Master WandMaker and the putative author of this tome.  There is a small envelope marked “Before Getting Fancy You Might Want to Read This,” inside which is a story of a wand gone awry.  There are small books-within-a-book in which Coralis tells of adventures he has had.  There is a map of Tibet.  There is a picture of a dodo.  There are plastic-coated charts of the northern and southern constellations.  There are foldouts.  There are brief stories of successful wandmakers and “infamous failures.”  And there is, after all these items – and taking up most of the thickness of The WandMaker’s Guidebook – an actual “special apprentice wand” with a handle that unscrews.

     The point of this production is to help would-be wizards learn about wands, in the context of the particular fantasy world represented by Coralis, so they can try to make one of their own.  Blue, yellow and red feathers are packaged in their own compartment near the wand’s resting place, and there are four small vials of items that can go in the wand’s handle: glass beads, crystals, black sand and yellow-brown sand.  The importance and power of every item are described and discussed, and in fact the entire text – no matter in what way it is presented – is designed to pull readers into the world of magic wands, helping them understand whence wands draw their power, how to harness that power, what traps to avoid in wandmaking, and what has happened to people who have followed or failed to follow the wandmaker’s art correctly.

     Of course this is all arrant nonsense – in real-world terms.  But The WandMaker’s Guidebook is a triumph of design, a fascinating alternative reality that fantasy-inclined readers can spend many hours exploring.  It has flashes of humor – a supposed news story about wood-borer damage, a picture of a “wand” that is really a violin bow – but for the most part it takes itself (or at least takes its potential readers) seriously, as for instance in explaining the different purposes and uses of the “pendulus,” “tappet” and “forever” types of wands.  Cleverly conceptualized and handsomely produced, The WandMaker’s Guidebook will be addictive for fantasy fans in general, and perhaps for would-be Harry Potters and Hermione Grangers in particular.

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