‘The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things – all manner of beasts and birds are found there.’ said J.R.R Tolkien in his essay On Fairy Stories.
And recently, one of the beasts to be found there has been me.
I’ve been venturing forth into those wide and deep and high realms on a quest for story treasures – armed with a notebook and pen to document my findings (when I remembered to be organised), and an embarrassing amount of tea to keep me going (which I always remembered because tea is life).
Here are a few of the treasures I discovered…
Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman (illustrated by Colleen Doran)
‘I think of her hair as black as coal – her lips, redder than blood – her skin, snow-white.’
This book was dark, gruesome, macabre, explicit, and disturbing. And I loved it.
It’s an unsettling reimagining of the Snow White fairytale by Neil Gaiman, in graphic – sometimes very graphic *blushes* – novel form. First published in the nineties, it was rereleased earlier this year with illustrations by Colleen Doran.
The story itself is a wonderfully twisted take on the more traditional version of the tale, but it’s the illustrations that really make this book. They are stunning.
Definitely not one for the kids, though.
The Wolf in the Attic by Paul Kearney
‘He is the fear in the dark, the monster under the bed. He is a thing out of stories, and he is here in my house…’
Anna is our heroine here – an eleven-year-old Greek refugee living with her emotionally distant father in 1920s Oxford. The pair are the only members of their family to have survived an attack on their home city, and not only is Anna still grieving for the friends and family she lost in the attack, she’s also struggling to fit into her new life in England. She’s incredibly lonely, cast adrift. But she’s also adventurous, wanting to follow in the footsteps of all the great characters of Greek mythology, and that spirit of adventure draws her into a world full of supernatural dangers.
This was an unusual gem/rough diamond of a book. It’s a hard one to define. There are a few things that aren’t quite right with it – it sits uneasily across genres and target audiences, the narrative voice seems to wander about at times, the pacing feels slightly off, plus there are awkward cameos from J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. And, technically, all of those things put together should have made for a bad reading experience… but *throws hands up in the air* I actually really liked it.
What can I say?
It’s by no means perfect but it’s by a lot of means enchanting.
Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield
‘In an ancient inn on the Thames the regulars are entertaining thenmselves by telling stories when the door bursts open and in steps and injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a child.
Hours later, the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life.
Is it a miracle? Is it magic?
And who does the little girl belong to?’
This was an interesting book. I liked it a lot, especially its magical, folkloric elements.
I loved the ever-present spectre of Quietly the ferryman. ‘He appeared when you were in trouble on the water… He spoke never a word, but guided you safely to the bank so you would live another day. But if you were out of luck… it was another shore altogether he took you to…’
Ferrymen who guide souls to the otherworld are a favourite mythological figure of mine. *taps pen against nose secretively*
And all the living characters are richly drawn too. Their individual stories intertwine and twist and turn beautifully. But the plot is quite a slow-burner, a meanderer like the Thames itself, which felt a little disappointing.
Although it was certainly an enjoyable world to meander through.
♦ Have you read any of these? ♦ What did you make of them if you have? ♦ What fairy-story realms would you recommend to a bookish explorer? ♦ The Tolkien quote at the start of the post is one of my favourite quotes on fairytales… what’s yours? ♦
Let me know in the comments!