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The Encyclopedia of The End: Mysterious Death in Fact, Fancy, Folklore, and More, by Deborah Noyes

March 29, 2013

Bibliographic Information (APA): Noyes, Deborah (2008). Encyclopedia of The End: Mysterious Death in Fact, Fancy, Folklore, and More. Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston, USA.

Category: Nonfiction, Homework

Descriptive Summary: This encyclopedia is an alphabetical listing of topics surrounding death and the afterlife, beginning with, ‘Amulet,’ going all the way to, ‘Wreaths’ (Noyes, 2008, p. 1, & 136). The book does not just take note of facts, and contemporary traditions, but also the mythic fancies and traditions of the past. It is interesting that not only does Noyes discuss factual objects, such as ‘coffins,’ but also abstract concepts and traditions such as, ‘appeasing the dead,’ and why many cultural traditions would practice ritualistic forms of appeasement (Noyes, 2008, p. 3 & 26). In this way, the book demonstrates that it is not just a factual recount of the otherwise gruesome and maudlin, but is also an interesting commentary on cultural traditions and an insight into the way people thought and why they acted the way they did (or still do, in some cases). This book is a fascinating read for general knowledge and a valuable resource for school projects as well!

Book Talking Hooks: Indeed, “death and the sun are not to be looked at steadily” (Noyes, 2008, Introduction, IX). The topic is taboo. The simply fact of the matter is, most people are fascinated by death. Death is the other unavoidable end of life as we know it, and yet we feel as though we should not be caught looking directly at it. Although death and rituals surrounding it exist, this general societal attitude of looking at death peripherally (in most Latin-based western cultures at least) has drawn a mysterious veil over the topic of death, but that has not subdued our interest. This book speaks directly to that interest without being unnecessarily gruesome, sensational, or disrespectful.

If anything, our fascination has risen to new heights and we view death through the indirect channels or we are removed from direct experience through books and movies. This book is one such access point that a young adult can use to safely acquaint themselves with that most taboo of topics. The Encyclopedia of the End establishes numerous links to popular culture as the fascination with topics such as (to name just a few of many) Halloween, hauntings, and near-death experiences, continue to be in evidence in many other forms of popular entertainment (Noyes, 2008, p. 62, 65, 96, & 126).

Evaluative Comments: 4/5. The author has done a careful job of keeping the tone of the book from sounding sensational and as though it is trying to scare the reader instead of educate. The entire alphabetical list has also got lots of beautiful images that compliment the text and become integrative to the theme being discussed. The language and the tone is respectful but not superstitious, or as though the author has a religious or a political agenda to promote.

Almost every culture has frightening, or disturbing legends that children and teens want to find out about. Whether they want information for a school project, personal interests, or hobby research, or just stuff to try and scare to each other witless at the next sleep over party this book is a good resource! I would recommend this book to children approaching their teens and older as they begin to become involved with more in-depth school projects. The content does not use especially complex language and terminology, but there is more text than images, and concepts covered in the book can be quite abstract, such as the ‘hereafter’ (Noyes, 2008, p 69).

Readers’ Advisory Notes: The Encyclopedia of the End is an interesting blend of the candid, introspective, reflective, and thought-provoking as it approaches a potentially sensitive issue, as well as being haunting, faintly gruesome, and strangely compelling simply by virtue of its content and topic. This book would pair nicely with other culturally focused books or anthropological works, as well as a good camping take-along for a few shivers!

Reason for Inclusion: As the author says, “Death is interesting…. Death is important.” (Noyes, 2008, Introduction VIII). This is not a topic that can be avoided, and a healthy acceptance of it may help a developing person to become well adjusted and comfortable with the concept of mortality. Although religious beliefs and influences are included in the entries, they are not the primary focus of the text, and I think this is a healthy way for a young reader to see death and dying as a more natural part of biological life as well as a cultural rite or ritual (Noyes, 2008, p. 77).

Suggested Audience: Young adults have also usually emotionally matured enough so that they are more easily able to absorb potentially mature content without feeling personally threatened by it (a younger child might not be able to make that distinction and become frightened without some careful parental guidance). I would recommend this book for teens aged 13 and up.


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