This Folio Life: Fantasy Folios with Robin Hobb

From Tolkienites to Potterheads and from Thronies to Tributes, fantasy fans are an extraordinary, passionate, creative and loyal force. In short, a Folio force. With author Robin Hobb, this blog explores the joy of owning a favourite fantasy novel in a Folio edition.

The Farseer Trilogy, The Folio Society 2020

‘We’re very serious about fantasy,’ says Folio editor Sophie Lewis, ‘and we’re delighted it has become such a big part of what Folio does.’

Fans’ responses to Folio fantasy titles are equally enthusiastic, something Robin Hobb, bestselling author of the Farseer books, knows only too well. ‘In fact, I just received a package with three books in it from a reader I’ve had contact with on and off more than 30 years,’ she says. ‘And in the book there’s a note which says: “Thank you to Robin Hobb, who answered my letters as a teenager.”

The Farseer Trilogy, The Folio Society 2020

‘Books are treasures,’ says Hobb. ‘I have a dragon’s hoard of them. Family fortunes may rise and fall, but when books are cherished and passed down, there is a legacy that remains intact. The Folio collector is not just buying a book; they are curating stories that are significant to them, and important enough to possess in a lovely format. Folio books are not life-time books; they are generational. Their production quality ensures that a buyer can expect their grandchildren to enjoy the same volume. In a time when paperback bindings give way, and e-books are more “rented” than owned, a Folio published volume is a way to enjoy and pass on a significant book.’

And Folio books have a unique knack of taking readers deeper into the world of fantasy. ‘I have always admired the opening scenes of Disney’s Snow White animation, which begins with someone opening an opulently bejewelled book,’ says Hobb. ‘In that moment, the viewer knows they are going to experience a fantastic tale. And if you are in a library, idly perusing the stacks, the eye will always be drawn to the book with the ribbed back of worn leather. Draw it out from its fellows and it will have a heft that other volumes lack. Will there be marbled end papers? An unusual font? A map? A frontispiece?’

The Farseer Trilogy, The Folio Society 2020

It’s what sets Folio apart, and never more so than in the fantasy genre, which has been hugely underrated over the years, according to Tom Walker, Folio Publishing Director. ‘The fantasy title’s “outsider” status has quietly attracted a lot of the most interesting writers, from Orwell to Atwood to China Miéville, who have gone to do their thinking under its canopy. There’s also the fact that there is a fantastic and longstanding tradition of illustrating both of those genres, and alongside the dedicated fanbase, that’s just a huge opportunity for Folio to make some extraordinary editions.’

‘It’s true that we can’t always judge a book by its cover,’ says Hobb, ‘but there are definitely times when the production quality of a book enhances the pleasure of reading it. And, yes, of possessing it.’

The Farseer Trilogy, The Folio Society 2020

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  • Sel says:

    The Realm of the Elderlings is my favourite book series and I was very excited when I heard that Folio Society was going to publish a collector’s edition of The Farseer trilogy. It’s also good to read that FS is serious about fantasy.

    While I applaud the artist’s talent and the thought and work that went into putting this beautiful edition together, I am extremely disappointed to see that the characters have been whitewashed, yet again.

    Fitz is brown, and his description in the books leaves no room for ambiguity. And yet I have seen all 15 illustrations for this edition, and Fitz is clearly white. The Fool’s appearance is scrupulously faithful to his description, down to the colour of the motley he was wearing in that specific scene. Why not be authentic as well when it comes to the protagonist? Does white sell better than brown?

    I know I am not the only one to complain about this, and your only response to this that so far has been “the illustrations have been approved by the author”. If Robin Hobb decides that all interpretations of her characters are valid, it’s her decision. This is no excuse. I know how publishing works and I know that the publisher is the one that makes the decisions in the end.

    With this edition, Folio Society decided to keep doing what pretty much every other publisher has been doing since the book first came out in the 90s: intepret a canonically dark-skinned character as white. And this is a problem. Especially in 2020. We are tired and you should have done better. I really hope that it won’t happen again if you decide to publish the rest of the series.