W.B. Yeats once said, "The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper." Noel Daniel has sharpened those senses and forged an enchanting career in the process. As an editor for Taschen, Daniel edits exquisite collections about fairy tales, folklore, the circus, and, of course, magic. Most recently, she edited the magnificently illustrated East of the Sun and West of the Moon, a collection of Norwegian fairy tales. The stories go back to the 1800s, when two folklorists, Jørgen Engebretsen Moe and Peter Christen Asbjørnsen, traveled across Norway collecting the fairy tales. Kay Nielsen, a Danish artist, brought these tales to life with magical illustrations, and the book was first published in 1914. Now, 101 years later, Daniel and her team at Taschen have revived the volume and Nielsen's sublime artwork. Read on to find out more about Daniel's dream job.
Can you tell us about what you do?
I'm an editor at Taschen. I'm in a very lucky position to research, come up with, and pitch my own ideas for the company. I love, love, love research. I am just a pure geek at heart, and nothing makes me happier than going into archives and hunting for material. In addition to East of the Sun and West of the Moon, I did two really big projects on the history of magic and history of the circus.
Can you describe your process a little?
I trek out with my little backpack and go into these archives. Of course, building relationships with book collectors is a big part of what I do, too. I have these extraordinary experiences where basically I'm transported into the minds of extraordinary people who are the gatekeepers of various histories. I feel like I'm in school every day of my life.
What inspires you?
We exist in a digital world and have everything at our fingertips. But there are so many treasure troves and hidden nooks and crannies of artwork and artifacts and paperwork that are beyond the reach of Google. There are thousands of archives in this country and around the world that are untouched. I feel inspired by trying to keep those legacies alive in some way—by pulling material out of these hidden treasure chests and bringing them to new readers.
How did you end up being the go-to editor for magic and fairy tales?
My background was in photography. When I was hired at Taschen, [the publisher] proposed the idea of [a project on] the circus, and I said, "I have no idea what to do." He said, "Just strike out for six months and go across the country and see everything you can." So I [did] and I brought back huge amounts of material. That was the beginning.
Then I said, "We've got to do magic next." From there, I became deeply interested in other worlds of enchantment that accompany us from childhood into our adult lives. And I [thought that] the fairy tales, the worlds of folklore—these are things that bridge the young mind and the older mind. So now I'm doing adult books as well as children's books, such as East of the Sun and West of the Moon, which is young adult literature.
Do you have a favorite tale in East of the Moon and West of the Sun?
"The Lindworm," but it's kind of gruesome. The story encapsulates this idea of you being up against yourself. It's pretty extraordinary in the way it tells us about how we live with our own fears and our own inhibitions. There is a theme that runs through Norwegian fairy tales of a journey toward character or a journey toward enlightenment, which is something that makes the stories both light and dark. That's something Kay Nielsen was able to illustrate beautifully in this work: [it] appeals to both young and old, the dark notes and the light notes.
What do you think is a common misconception about being a book editor?
It's really hard work! I have to say that because people say, "You get to travel all the time and just read books." And I'm actually up until four o'clock in the morning, proofing. You have to check everything a million times because you're making something that lasts forever.
What is your favorite part of your job?
Meeting people who know a lot about something they love. There's nothing better than having a wonderful conversation, heart to heart. Stepping into a world and learning about it and learning to appreciate it.
What makes a good book?
When I hold a book, I have to feel it in my stomach. I have to be directly inspired: not just understand the book, not just find it beautiful, but be touched by it.
East of the Sun and West of the Moon (Taschen), $40, taschen.com.