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Archive for the ‘Folklore and Fairytales’ Category

I said yesterday that I had three books to discuss, but over the course of today I decided to split them into different posts.  That way, each one gets a bit more space to be discussed!

So the first book to talk about is The Tiger’s Wife, by Téa Obreht.  I am going to be totally honest and say I was first drawn to it by the name, and once I saw the cover I was hooked.

This book is a mixture of fact, fantasy, and folktale; from a writing point of view I was interested in how the elements were fused.  This book had a richness to it, a sense of the world being deeper and wider than imagined.   I particularly liked the ‘Deathless Man’ stories, which were like something from Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

The downside of richness is that you can have too much of something.  By the end of the book I did feel that there were so many stories, so many characters, so many details that I didn’t hold on to them all.  That isn’t always a negative but in this case, it’s difficult to write about the content of the book because I can’t remember it all.

So I will focus on the key elements that remain with me.  Firstly, the names of places are made up, but there is a clear sense that the tales take place in the former Yugoslavia – not only because of Obreht’s personal history, but because of the nature of the conflicts within the story.

Secondly, the tale of the Tiger’s Wife herself is of a woman finding freedom and finding her own path, and that being destroyed by people who are scared of the power that gives her.  In effect, it is the personalisation of the story of war.

Thirdly, this is the story of tragedy.  It feels as though whatever happens, violence recurs. It is not a book that leaves you feeling uplifted but it does make you think about how terrible things can happen, and the ramifications of them.

It wasn’t really holiday reading, and it was a bit too heavy going for a sun lounger, but it was an interesting book.

GoingTigers Wife back to the writing perspective, I have to be honest and say that the fusion of different folk tales didn’t always work form me, but I loved the Deathless Man idea, and how it twined in and out of reality.  I often lost track of where I was in time – Obreht did shift forward and backward in time on a number of occasions and it wasn’t alway immediately clear.  As someone who has used the time shift tool themselves I think it’s better to signpost the shift but it’s a narrative choice to make it blurry.

Overall this book was unusual, and poignant, and focussed on loss in a way I hadn’t anticipated.  It was not what I expected to be reading.  As a writer, I think that’s a brave strategy but as a reader I wasn’t prepared for the content!

I am not sure I will re-read this book but I am not willing to pass it on yet either – mind you, that might just be because I love the cover drawing…

This is one I just can’t quite make up my mind about.  Which I see as a writing positive, because at least I am thinking about it!

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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That felt like a very short week away, but involved enough food for about a month!

I am still catching up with washing, housework, sleep etc so I tonight I’m just going to share a picture from my travels.

Late one afternoon we went for a walk into a nature park area, and just out of sight of the parking area, beyond some trees, was a little hotel.

In The Woods

There was a wedding party at the hotel, the tables all lit with candles shining through the windows, and it felt magical.

When I think of the stereotypical German village it’s very much from fairytales – a leftover from a childhood reading The Brothers Grimm, no doubt – and this scene seemed to fit perfectly.  There was such a romantic feeling to the place, and a sense of timelessness that is almost impossible to define.  It felt like I had fallen into a storybook, for just a few moments.

And doesn’t that seem fitting for a couple celebrating their own love story?

Until next time – happy writing,

EJ

🙂

 

 

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The book I thought I’d get finished quite quickly ended up being a bit of a slog this week because I’ve been really busy. Still, it was a fun change of pace for me!

Book 22 – The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald.  This book is a children’s book, really, but one that speaks to children as intelligent people, rather than speaking down to them.

There are two stories within it.  The first follows Princess Irene’s life, and the discovery of her grandmother who brings a magical influence into her life.  This strand of the story intertwines with the second strand, which follows a young miner called Curdie who saves the princess from Goblins, and subsequently discovers a plan to kidnap her and force her to marry the Goblin Prince.

It is the linking of the two strands that brings the book alive: Princess Irene and her grandmother alone is like any fairy godmother story; Curdie alone is a little like Huckleberry Finn as written by a Scottish Minister (it’s interesting to note that McDonald and Twain became friendly).  The two together seem to bring a sparkle and joy to the tale.

Of course, as a children’s book it has plot limitations and the subject matter,  and the characters, can be a little childish.  However, the complexity of the narrative and the fantastical imagery – plus the sheer bloodthirstiness of some scenes –  kept me reading.  Bearing in mind this was written in the 1870s it doesn’t feel outdated, but it does feel like a fairytale.  And I enjoy a fairytale!

It seems sad to me that I never discovered MacDonald as a child, but having read the book, and a little about him, I am fascinated and want to learn more.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that some of the most iconic children’s fantasy novels of the late 19th and early 20th century may not have existed in the form we know without him, when you see that Lewis Carroll, JRR Tolkein and CS Lewis all cited his work as an influence on their own.

I wholeheartedly think this is a book worth reading.  Sometimes it’s positive to connect with that innocent part of ourselves that accepts things like goblins with sensitive feet and magical spiderweb threads.

It’s a reminder that if we suspend our disbelief, anything can be possible.

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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This week I went back to my folk-loving roots and left the novels to one side…

Book 10 – Folk Tales of the North Country, by F Grice, BA. There is no Goodreads review of this book as far as I can see, so I can’t link you to a selection of alternative reviews this time!

This is a short book, only 150 pages in total, telling 44 stories collected from Northumberland and Durham, in the North East of England. As with folk tales in general, there is a strong moral thread throughout each story, but they are full of magic – witches, goblins, fairies and so on.

I bought this book at a charity sale and it has an inscription (‘Easter Greetings 1951, Elsie’) and a cloth cover, so I was bound to fall in love with it!

One of the things I have enjoyed is the sense of a lost way of life – cottagers whittle their own sheep crooks, and cut their own peat; they take their bread to sell on the market-day; they have wash-days and coppers.  I know there are some people who choose to live a more traditional life but it’s not the norm, and not a life I’ve ever known myself – and even knowing it was a harder life than the tales suggest, I do have a strange feeling of loss that the time has passed.

It’s also set in a part of the country that holds a special place in my heart, and although I don’t know Northumberland as well as I might like, knowing some of the places mentioned in the tales works for me: they are magical places, and the book is proof!

So of course I’ll give this a thumbs up; I would do for anything of this nature.  It’s short, and the tales are of course even shorter, but that’s helpful when I’m busy anyway.  A couple of quick stories before an appointment, or before I head to work, or before bed and the book is finished in no time!

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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You know the story of Alice in Wonderland? Not the sanitised Disney version but the written version with its twisted characters and drug-addled star?

Well, today I feel a little like my life is down the rabbit hole – all squiffy and weird, confused and out of place. Granted, there’s no disembodied cat smile floating above my head but I barely get started with one things and I have to put it down to start another. Nothing is finished, only started, and what I think is right in one moment is not right in another.  Things don’t relate, or aren’t as I expected, or as I remembered.

I also have no sense of the relative importance of anything. It’s as though I’ve drunk the potion to make myself small and I needed the one to make myself big, because everything around me is vast.

These are not comfortable feelings, and normally when facing them I’d calm myself with a bit of quiet time, or some writing.  But sadly my poetry is being affected by my lack of controlled focus – the work I’ve done this week is a start but I have not done nearly as much as I’d hoped.  It’s been like moving sand one grain at a time, when I really need a bulldozer!

But, that was this week.  We all have weeks when things don’t work, don’t pan out as intended, and we need to let them go.  They are bumps in the road that is life, that’s all.

So next week, I’ll clamber out of the rabbit hole and get back on my journey, just like I have a thousand times before.  And when I look back, I might even find something useful came out of it.

That’s the thing about falling through the rabbit hole: you never know what you’ll find, or what you’ll bring back.

Happy writing,

EJ

🙂

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This week I started Gulliver’s Travels but due to lots of busy time I’ve fallen behind in reading it, so I had to read something else instead – this is becoming a pattern 🙂

Book 31 – Japanese Fairy Tales by Yei Theodora Ozaki. This is as the title describes, a collection of Japanese fairy tales. The ideas and meanings behind them are very much as with all fairy tales – morality, sin, punishment, repentance and so on – but with a distinct flavour. There are sea dragons, underwater castles, magical cranes made of paper and so much more.  But equally, there are very common themes from fairy tales I heard as a child; things like evil stepmothers, fairies, magic trees and deception.

I’ve talked about fairy tales before, and I think they have a great influence on the way I viewed the world growing up – I’ve always believed there’s more to life than what we see, as though there’s a hidden world just out of the reach of our perception.  As an adult I guess that’s spirituality or fate, but as a child I think fairy tales spun their own magic in my imagination.  It’s really lovely to revisit that feeling and the sense that what was good, and right, was passed on through the storytellers (even if our morality is a little different nowadays!).

This was not like reading a novel, but I would say that the content of the stories was equivalent to the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Anderson in tone.   I could imagine these stories being read to a child even now.  I am glad I read them – I have read folklore and fairytales from many cultures but never Japanese before so it was an interesting exercise in comparative myth and storytelling.

If you enjoy this kind of reading, or are looking for something for a child (some stories are probably less appropriate than others!) this is definitely worth a visit.

Until next time,

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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