Brian Froud & Terry Jones,
Strange Stains and Mysterious Smells
(Simon & Schuster, 1996)

Given the popularity of Lady Cottington's Pressed Faery Book, a sequel was to be expected. It could easily have been more of the same, and people likely would have bought it just as eagerly -- but that would be out of character for the wickedly inventive minds of Brian Froud and Terry Jones.

In Strange Stains and Mysterious Smells, the two introduce us to Lady Cottington's "Hitherto unknown twin brother," Quentin. "It appears that while his twin sister, Angelica Cottington, was obsessed by faeries, Quentin was obsessed by the seamy world of stains and blotches, smears and maculations, specks, smirches, marks, blemishes, spatters, daubs and blots of all kinds. He was equally curious about smells."

Together, Froud and Jones reproduce Quentin's experiments to discover the corporeal manifestation of stains and smells -- so they can talk to them, of course, and learn what makes them unique. Jones recorded the results and Froud painted their portraits, and the combination is every bit as fun as the pair's previous collaborations.

Quentin, we learn, developed the means to explore the mystical, magical world of disgusting things -- specifically, of stains and smells. (The title of the book probably gave that much away.) Froud and Jones continue his work and, over the course of a year, they "located and interviewed over seven hundred and eighty stains and odours."

Following their introduction, the true scholarly presentation begins. Each page of text describes a discovery, and it's paired with Froud's attempt to reproduce the entity's image. It begins with Bule Ketty, an unhappy shirt-front stain. Then there's Whooper the Scot, a dancing stain from the dark side of the kitchen. There's Matriculas Myghelangelicus, an artistic blot; Meggo, a sort of cute smudge; and Vlad the Inhaler, a socky sort of scent.

Some of them, like Epizootic Zymot, even have texture. You're not sure you should touch them. Sometimes, they ooze over onto the text page, and the words get a bit schmooky. And on it goes, deeper and deeper into the world of nasal extrusions, underarm smells and stains on the tarmac beneath parked cars.

The book is a lot of fun, but it's perhaps not for those with overactive gag reflexes. The beasties the boys have uncovered are a bit oogly and, at times, a bit immodest, too. You're left with an urge to wash your hands after reading it, and maybe even to scrub a few of the pages as well. But, damn, Strange Stains and Mysterious Smells is clever, creative and, yes, fun.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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