The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots – Beatrix Potter

It’s today! It’s today!

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I was unbelievably excited to wake up this morning to an email informing me that The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots would be waiting for me when I returned from work. Obviously I would have preferred to wait by the front door for the postman, but somehow I managed to get through the day at work. I then tore home, dived into the book and had it finished before supper time.

I’ve always been a huge Beatrix Potter fan. My childhood box set was always a prized possession of mine and was subject to more than one show-and-tell session back in primary school. The Tailor of Gloucester was always my favourite and I still love to pull the book out and watch the BBC adaption around Christmas time. If there is anything more magical than animals behaving like humans it is animals behaving like humans in the snow. Simpkins in his snow boots is one of my favourite images of all time.

When I heard there was a new book by Beatrix Potter being published I was over the moon. To think that the manuscript remained hidden for over 100 years, only to emerge to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Beatrix Potter’s death – it is almost as though she had planned it. I couldn’t wait to see what this story, written ten years after all her other much-loved tales, had in store for me.

The newest addition to the collection tells the tale of a very serious, well-behaved black cat by the name Catherine St. Quintin who likes nothing more than to sneak out at night and poach animals with her air gun. Like all of Beatrix Potter’s tales it is filled with funny escapades with the characters falling into one or two unfortunate scrapes, before ultimately learning a rather valuable lesson. Diehard fans of Beatrix Potter will be delighted to encounter a ‘stout buck rabbit in a blue coat’, who bares more than a striking resemblance to a mischievous young bunny once seen stealing radishes from Mr Macgregor’s garden – it looks like Mrs McGregor never did get her winter coat – as well as one or two other familiar faces and more than a few news ones.

Of course, half of the delight in a children’s book is in the illustrations and while I will admit I was slightly surprised when I saw that Quentin Blake was illustrating the book,  I think the result is absolutely stunning. Who better to illustrate a book by one of Britain’s most-loved children’s authors than one of Britain’s most loved children’s book illustrators? His drawings are nothing like Beatrix Potter’s, but I wouldn’t have liked to read a book where Beatrix Potter’s style was mimicked. Blake doesn’t attempt to fill Beatrix Potter’s shoes, he merely pays homage to her work, and does a remarkable job of it. The illustrations are perfect, wonderfully encapsulating the action and humour in Beatrix Potter’s latest tale.

What’s more Blake’s illustrator’s note, where he hopes that Beatrix potter would have approved of his work and speaks of his pride at being given the opportunity to illustrate such a book, is so sweet and endearing. I truly think he has done wonders with the text and brought the book to life in a way that none other than Beatrix Potter herself could have. My one slight disappointment is that the few drawings that Beatrix Potter did create to accompany the story could not be included in the publication.

Overall, however, I think this book is a real delight to read, filled with Beatrix Potter’s classical charm, but with slightly more adult escapades than the previous publications. There is also a subtle, perhaps satirical ribbon running through it which suggests that what is natural does not always come naturally.

There is no doubt that it was written by the Beatrix potter we all know and love, but the style is  different to her earlier works. Not worse, just different. Of course, we can’t know whether there was a deliberate attempt on the part of the author to change her writing style, or if the book was left in a somewhat unfinished state. Whatever the case may be, it is a truly charming read and I will happily place it alongside my other Beatrix Potter books, and no doubt look on it time and time again.

I know the publication is a couple of months too late, but happy birthday Beatrix, may you continue to delight us, and future generations for many, many years to come.

 

A Stranger Came Ashore – Mollie Hunter

“I believe in everything until it’s disproved. So I believe in fairies, the myths, dragons. It all exists, even if it’s in your mind. Who’s to say that dreams and nightmares aren’t as real as the here and now?” ― John Lennon

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Beautiful cover huh? It’s not mine though.

It was a dark and stormy night in Black Ness, the wind was cruel and the rain fell in harsh, icy sheets. All through the town not a soul could be seen, but down in the bay a lone figure made his way through the waves, the sole survivor of a merchant ship, dashed to smithereens on the sharp rocks. Late that night, as the town settled down to sleep, a stranger came ashore.

A Stranger Came Ashore delves into the myths of the selkie-folk – seals that can assume a human form, and are often seen with their heads bobbing just above the waterline, staring into shore with strangely human eyes. The myths are known most commonly in the Orkney Islands and the Shetland Islands – the latter being where this story takes place. While the myths of the selkie-folk vary from place to place, one thing is always consistent, in order to assume human form, a selkie must shed its skin, at which point it becomes instantly vulnerable, for if a selkie should lose its skin it cannot return out to sea.

I love to read up on local myths and legends, not only does it give a great insight to the culture of a place, but I find the thrill of the unknown absolutely irresistible. I like to look up local legends and famous haunted spots anytime I visit a new city – an odd quality perhaps, but there you go. So, basically, I was absolutely thrilled to discover this book.

I have heard of selkie-folk before, but the only stories I can recall are about the female selkie. These stories are often more tragic than dark: the woeful tale of a beautiful selkie woman lured onto land by a human man, who inevitably steals her seal skin and takes her for a wife. Typically, the woman in the story eventually reclaims her skin, usually because one of her children stumbles upon it, and flees back to her home beneath the waves never to be seen again. Tales of the female selkie are somewhat notorious for following this theme, as is eloquently summed up by Sofia Samatar in Selkie Stories are for Losers:

I hate selkie stories. They’re always about how you went up to the attic to look for a book, and you found a disgusting old coat and brought it downstairs between finger and thumb and said “What’s this?”, and you never saw your mom again.

A Stranger Came Ashore is different to the ‘selkie stories’ so abhorred by Samatar, however, and instead focuses on the insidious, manipulative side of the male selkie.

The male selkie when in human form is said to be a wonderfully handsome creature, with magical powers of seduction over Earth-borne women. In selkie lore, the male selkie enjoys nothing more than coming onshore, shedding his skin, and seeking out unsatisfied women, both married and unmarried, to satisfy his cravings. Indeed, according to 19th century Orkney folklorist, Walter Traill Dennison, selkie males ‘often made havoc among thoughtless girls, and sometimes intruded into the sanctity of married life.’ Scandalous!

Enter Finn Learson – the protagonist, and guest selkie, of A Stranger Came Ashore. Finn Learson appears to the Henderson family one dark and stormy night, knocking on the door of their simple butt and benn house to seek refuge from the weather. Assuming him to be a victim of a ship wreck, the family offer him a bed by the fire, and are quickly taken by the young man’s charms. Indeed no one is more taken with Finn Learson than young Elspeth Henderson, who, though she herself is bequeathed to the wonderfully eligible Nicol Anderson, is instantly bewitched by the stranger’s deep brown eyes. The only members of the family who are not fooled by Finn Learsons’s charade are Robbie Henderson, and his grandfather, Old Da – both of whom are horrendously outspoken, one for being young and impressionable, the other for being old and somewhat ridiculous. Soon after Finn Learson’s arrival Old Da’s health takes a sudden turn for the worse and he confesses his suspicions to Robbie. Informing the boy that Finn Learson is none other than the evil great selkie of Shetland legends, and he has come to take Elspeth.

Poor Robbie Henderson knows in his heart there is something wrong with Finn Learson but he is never to be believed by his family, who see only the polite young man that the great selkie wants them to see. The selkie-folk are nothing but a myth – and Old Da is guilty of filling Robbie’s head with fantasy. With no one in his family willing to listen, Robbie turns to the only person who might be able to help, a man who fills his belly with terror: Yarl Corbie – the local schoolmaster. Yarl Corbie is a brutal, terrifying and mysterious man, who agrees to lend a hand to Robbie, if only to fulfil his own personal vendetta.

On the night of Up Helly Aa – a pagan festival celebrated in the Shetland Islands – Finn Learson makes his move. As the daylight fades, the young men of Black Ness are transformed into the Earth spirits of old and a dreamlike state of merriment falls over the town. Finn Learson weaves through the celebrations, leading the beautiful Elspeth from house to house, while Robbie follows. The pair fly through the crowds, dancing in the moonlight and jumping from place to place like shadows in candlelight. There is mystical, almost spiritual feel to the festival, as though Robbie is chasing an apparition – in a blink of an eye all could be lost.

One moment he had the will-o’-the-wisp figure of Elspeth in full view as she danced ahead of him across the hill. The next moment, his weary eyelids drooped, and before he could blink them open again, the green of the northern lights had vanished behind one of the sky’s spells of total darkness.

As she slips through the crowds Elspeth is blind to her fate. Obliviously living out what could be her last moments on Earth; she dances closer and closer to the great selkie’s home beneath the waves.

This book is positively brimming with everything I love: myths, legends, premonitions, dark tidings, strange characters, and creatures that lurk in the shadows. It’s is a creepy, thrilling read, which also offers an insight into some truly fascinating culture. A Stranger Came Ashore would be the perfect novel for anyone with an interest in myths and legends, but would be particularly well suited to a young Goosebumps or Point Horror enthusiast who fancies sinking their teeth into something a little more substantial.

Millroy the Magician – Paul Theroux

“We do not need magic to transform our world. We carry all of the power we need inside ourselves already.” ― J.K. Rowling

My fiancé (oh yes!) recently finished reading this book and passed it on to me, insisting I read it my first possible opportunity. It didn’t take me quite as long to finish, he seemed to take months and months over it, but I can definitely understand why it might take someone a while to get through. The book is, shall I say, a little bit tricky. This is not a book you would want to attempt in a single sitting; it’s definitely one to take your time over.

Milroy the Magician – Paul Theroux

Our cheering drowned the music, but Milroy did not seem to hear it. He looked dignified, holding the flapping eagle, and he turned to me, and stared as he had before, and leaned over to where I sat in the second row.

Popping my thumb out of my mouth made the sound of a cork being yanked from a bottle.

Even through the cheering crowds his voice was distinct, as he said, ‘I want to eat you.’

So I stayed for his second show.

51WXvY4gl2LJilly Farina was nervous the day she attended the Barnstable County Fair. It was a hot, sticky Saturday in July and she was all by herself. Her Dada was black-out-drunk, so she went on alone, sitting at the back of the bus, quietly sucking her thumb, and thinking about what the fair had in store for her.

She had seen Millroy the Magician once before, he was famous for making an elephant disappear, and had once turned a girl from the audience into a glass of milk and drank her. Jeekers! But when Jilly stepped into the wickerwork coffin during a performance she had no idea that he would transform her life into something magical, and a touch bizarre.

You see, Millroy was no ordinary magician. A magical, eccentric, vegetarian, health fanatic, Millroy was set on changing the eating habits of the whole of America – Millroy could sense the future, and he knew that Jilly had a big role to play.

I was supposed to meet my father at the Barnstaple County Fair, and in a way I did, though he was not Dada.

Paul Theroux presents Jilly as a girl who is very young for her years. The world which emerges through Jilly’s eyes is that inhabited by a scared, lonely child. As a reader you enter the body of Jilly, and stand, absent mindedly sucking your thumb and stroking your ear, while dreamily drinking in the world around you. As a reader, you grow to know Jilly intimately, to understand her innocence and naivety.

It is really no wonder that Millroy chose her.

Jilly’s relationship with Millroy is an odd combination of love and fear, sometimes one, sometimes both, and often shifting quickly from one to the other. The relationship is, on the whole, slightly awkward. While it is obvious that Jilly dotes on Millroy they remain entirely separate beings, always together, but forever apart. It is obvious that she fears him, or at least she fears his magic, but at the same time loves him, as a father or perhaps something more?

Even odder is Millroy’s relationship with Jilly. If Jilly dotes on Millroy, then Millroy obsesses over Jilly. Linked to this is Millroy’s own obsession with food – he is determined to inform the American public of the evils of the American food industry, but more than this, he is obsessed with feeding Jilly.

Food is an underlying and overlying theme. The whole book is brimming with pottage, homemade bread, green tea, broiled fish and herbage. Try reading the book without in some way succumbing to the desire to be regular – I’m sure it can’t be done. I developed such an appetite for leaves! Millroy is forever chewing, munching or gulping some delectable healthy snack, while preaching the importance of a clean, fresh, healthy, regular lifestyle. At the same time, Millroy obsesses over the dark side of food, the insidious nature of the American food industry, the sweating, drooling, gasping, jiggling American population, stuffed full of fat, chemicals, meat and sugar.

If the American food industry is insidious, what is even more insidious is Millroy’s interest in Jilly. Why is he so obsessed with her? Why does he want to be responsible for ‘everything’ that goes inside of her? And why does he fall to pieces at the idea of losing her? It is almost as though he is in some way dependent on Jilly, not just emotionally, but physically, as though he is feeding off of her.

This is one of the oddest books I have ever read. It left me with so many questions, which I’m not sure have clear cut answers: Who is Millroy? What is the root of his magic? Does the magic pass on? Does it destroy the bearer? So many questions, and so many potential answers.

Millroy the Magician is a strange book – but one that I very much enjoyed reading. It is absorbing, without much action, and tense, without real drama. Each passage speaks volumes, without relaying much in the way of actual events. I feel as though the story is more of a journey in itself than an adventure – sure, Millroy travels across America and achieves amazing things, but in the end has much changed? Are Millroy and Jilly much different? Or have they merely switched roles?

On the whole, would recommend.

And yes, he did propose ❤

Myths of the Norsemen – Roger Lancelyn Green

“The reading eye must do the work to make them live, and so it did, again and again, never the same life twice, as the artist had intended.” ― A.S. Byat

Myths of the Norsemen – Roger Lancelyn Green

I received this book in my second Prudence and the Crow box. I’ve never read much in the way of Norse mythology, so I was eager to see what the book had in store for me. I signed up to Prudence and the Crow hoping to expand my reading list, so really I couldn’t ask for a better book choice.

In the very beginning of time, so the Norsemen believed, there was no Earth as we know it now: there was only Ginnungagap, the Yawning Void. In this moved strange mists which at length drew apart leaving an even deeper Gap, with Muspelheim, the Land of Fire, to the south of it, and Nifelheim, the Land of Mist, to the north of it.

norseIn Myths of the Norsemen, Roger Lancelyn Green has taken the surviving Norse myths, collected from Old Norse poems and tales, and retold them as a single, continuous narrative. The entire Norse timeline is covered, offering a complete and concise history of the Aesir and their dealings with the Giants of Utgard, from the planting of The World Tree, Yggdrasill, right up to the last great battle Ragnarok.

This book is serves as more than just a story; it is a journey through the Norse lands, from beginning to end. Along the way the reader is introduced to famed Norse figures: the great God Odin, who wandered Norse lands seducing and impregnating women; the all-powerful Thor, just one of Odin’s many children; the mischievous, shape-shifting Loki; as well as brutal giants, scheming trolls, and bizarre creatures lurking in far corners of the Earth. With each passing saga the pressure in the book increases, signifying the approach of Ragnarok, and mirroring the battles fought by gods of Asgard. With each passing story the spirit of Ragnarok grows stronger, and the great serpent Jormungand begins to tremble, signalling the beginning of the end.

The tale stood out for me amongst all others was ‘Thor’s Visit to Utgard’, when the great god was challenged by the giants to prove his strength. Before the watchful eyes of the giants Thor failed to drink even a small amount from the king’s horn of ale, could lift only a single paw of the king’s pet cat, and fell to his knees at the hands of the king’s old nursemaid. While Thor lay ridden with shame at his failings, the giants sat in deadly peril, having witnessed the mighty Aesir drink so deeply from the sea as to cause the first ebb tide, come close to raising the Mitgard serpent, and refuse to fall before Old Age herself. This tale is so full of passion and emotion – the giants’ diabolical treachery, the ingrained fear, not just of the giants, but Thor himself, and the sheer power exhibited by the Aesir simply radiated from the pages. I couldn’t help but tremble at the thought of Thor unknowingly lifting the Mitgard serpent and bringing about Ragnarok.

The 15 tales in Myths of the Norseman will each speak to different readers. While I was moved most of all by one in particular, each separate saga has its own intrinsic appeal. I was fascinated by the -tale of beautiful Iduna and her basket of strength-giving apples, devastated by the death of Balfur at the hands of his blind brother, and increasingly infuriated by the impish yet malicious traitor Loki. There is so much to love about this book, and each of the tales nestled within its pages.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Myths of the Norseman. The book is entertaining, enlightening, and exceptional readable, as a whole, and on a story by story basis. The tales collected and retold by Lancelyn Green present an excellent introduction to the ancient Norse myths, and a deeper understanding of how such tales helped to shape modern literature.

Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami

“People think dreams aren’t real just because they aren’t made of matter, of particles. Dreams are real. But they are made of viewpoints, of images, of memories and puns and lost hopes.”
― Neil Gaiman

Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami

Some time ago, after reading After Dark, I said I wanted to explore more of Haruki Murakami’s work, well I finally got around to it, and I’m very happy I did.

Earlier this year I read Norwegian Wood as a book club selection (review to come, our club has yet to meet due to a few members taking their sweet time to read the book!) and I loved it. I loved it almost as much as The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and you know how much I love that book! I don’t know what it is about certain translations (that they are beautiful maybe?) but I just can’t get enough of them. I was so taken by Norwegian Wood that I began to think that Murakami might actually be one of my favourite authors, but I couldn’t make such a decision based on two books, to find out for sure I needed to read more.

So, I set myself the task of actively reading more Murakami (to begin with I decided I’d read one book a month, but what with all my other commitments that is starting to seem like wishful thinking) and first on the list was Kafka on the Shore. Now, Norwegian Wood is said to be somewhat of an anomaly in Murakami’s portfolio, but Kafka on the Shore is quintessentially Murakami-esque – so I thought this could be the decision maker.

Where Norwegian Wood is a unique take on a classic tale of love, Kafka on the Shore is weird, wonderful and unashamedly unique!

It’s as if when you’re in the forest, you become a seamless part of it. When you’re in the rain, you’re a part of the rain. When you’re in the morning, you’re a seamless part of the morning. When you’re with me, you become a part of me.

kotsIn Kafka on the Shore storylines combine to trace the extraordinary journeys of two seemingly unrelated characters. Kafka Tamura runs away from home on the eve of his fifteenth birthday, haunted by the words of his father’s dark prophecy. Ever since the mysterious departure of his mother and elder sister Kafka’s life has been full of questions. Now his aim is simple, to travel to a far off place and live in the corner of a library. The journey, it seems, may hold the answers.

Elsewhere in Nakano ward, the dim-witted but amiable Nakata tracks lost cats and enjoys the simple things in life, like eels, and pickled vegetables with rice. But this is all set to change with the arrival of a tall man in a top hat and boots, whose interest in the neighbourhood cats is far from innocent. With his simple life turned upside down Nakata is forced to leave Nakano ward, and embarks on journey unlike anything he has ever experienced before, or his simple mind can even comprehend.

As Nakata and Kafka’s stories unwind and intertwine the remarkable interlaces with the ordinary and the world takes on a wholly unusual shape – fish and leeches fall from the sky, and cats converse with people, while WWII soldiers live, unageing, in the depths of unnavigable forest, and living ghosts lurk in the perimeters of consciousness.

Kafka on the Shore is a classic tale of quest and enlightenment, with a wholly unusual twist, which goes beyond the boundaries of classic literature. Murakami’s characters embark on a journey of stunning proportions, a voyage of self-discovery through inexperience. Neither Kafka nor Nakata know what it is they are looking for, but the answer is out there, and the journey introduces them to many strange and wonderful characters, with whom brief encounters prove to be life-affirming.

Anyone who falls in love is searching for missing pieces of themselves. So anyone who’s in love gets sad when they think of their lover. It’s like stepping back inside a room you have fond memories of, one you haven’t seen in a long time. It’s just a natural feeling. You’re not the person who discovered that feeling, so don’t go trying to patent it, okay?

Kafka on the Shore is strange – there is no getting around it. Weird and wonderful things occur and the reasons behind these occurrences are not immediately, if at all, clear. Each chapter harbours events which, however deep and profound an impact they may have, lack any logical explanation. Try and apply a logical filter to Murakami’s and you will no doubt find yourself disappointed and frustrated.

I found it useful, in having read Kafka on the Shore to try and get some insight into  Murakami’s own thoughts on his writing. Murakami has explained his writing process as similar to dreaming, rather than delving into the fantastical: “Writing a novel lets me intentionally dream while I’m still awake. I can continue yesterday’s dream today, something you can’t normally do in everyday life. It’s also a way of descending deep into my own consciousness. So while I see it as dreamlike, it’s not fantasy. For me the dreamlike is very real.”

Kafka on the Shore, then, can be seen as the amalgamation of two different worlds, the combination of the conscious and the unconscious. Think of the book as you would a dream, and suddenly things become much clearer. I was reminded, in reading this, of the talk I went to by Nigerian author Ben Okri last summer in which he spoke of exploring a new way of thinking in his writing, to show that text does not have to follow strict criteria. The world that you create, he said, can be sequential and logical, or circular and dancing. Kafka on the Shore falls firmly into the latter category.

Despite everything, it’s not a difficult book to read. The obscure and the philosophical, which may at times feel somewhat overwhelming, for me were lightened by Murakami’s abstract humour. Here I could give examples of the pimp dressed like Colonel Sanders, or Nakata’s continued reference to going for a ‘dump’ – but for me, the most hilarious part of the book, was Oshima’s fantastic shutting down of two women who refer to him as a ‘typical sexist, patriarchal male’.

My verdict – I liked it. But nowhere near as much as Norwegian Wood. I definitely need to read some more before I make a decision on just how much of a Murakami fangirl I am. The book won’t be for everyone – fans of the logical and sequential and those of you unsettled by violence against animals should steer clear of this one – but I’m certainly not done with my Murakami journey just yet.

The Crystal Gryphon – Andre Norton

“Never open the door to a lesser evil, for other and greater ones invariably slink in after it.” ― Baltasar Gracián

My first vintage paperback courtesy of the Prudence and the Crow subscription introduced me to the wonderful world of Andre Norton and the fantastical realm of the Witch World series. It was so much fun receiving, and reading, a book I probably would have never experienced without the help of Prudence and the Crow. I’m so glad I found the service, and so happy to have found a new author to explore.

I was as keen-eared as any child who knows that others talk about him behind their hands. And I had heard the garbled stories of my birth, of that curse which lay upon the blood of Ulm, together with the hint that neither was my mother’s House free of the taint of strange mixture. The proof of both was perhaps in my flesh and bone. I had only to look at the mirror of Jago’s polished shield to see it for myself.

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The Crystal Gryphon is the story of Kerovan, heir to the throne of Ulmsdale, who, thanks to the circumstances and result of his birth, is set apart from the regular folk in the Dales. When Kerovan’s mother gave birth to him she did so sheltered in a ruin of the ‘Old Ones’, mysterious folk who once inhabited the Dales, and Kerovan was born with the cloven feet of cattle and eyes the colour of deepest amber. Kerovan’s mother, the Lady Tephana, swore she could never love such a creature, and Kerovan was forced to grow up living apart from his birth family, with Jago – a keepless man of good birth.

With Jago Kerovan learns the arts of war. But it is the Wiseman Riwal that nurtures Kerovan’s true passion; a thirst for knowledge of the secrets of the past. With Riwal Kerovan travels to places feared by the folk of the Dales, looking for answers. On one such journey Kerovan comes upon a mysterious crystal pendant, adorned with a gryphon, and feels compelled to send the relic to the wife he has never met, the Lady Joisan. Across the land,  Joisan treasures the relic, and dreams of the husband she will one day meet. But in the year of the Moss, when Joisan is due to take up her wifely duties, a bloody war sweeps through the land as the Dales fall victim to an invasion from the sea. The keep at Ulmsdale is betrayed and Kerovan sets off across the Dales to find his betrothed whose own home has been destroyed.

The developing relationship between Joisan and Kerovan forms the base of the main storyline and the chapters of the book alternate, being told by Kerovan and Joisan in turn. Despite having never met, Joisan and Kerovan each harbour a certain fondness for each other, each of them drawn, and warmed by the other. As though they are bonded by something stronger than the laws which connect them as husband and wife, a deeper presence draws them to one another. Even when Joisan mistakes Kerovan for one of the Old Ones, you can tell that she is drawn towards him, the strange ‘Lord Amber’, despite not knowing his true identity.

Norton uses Olde English-style dialogue, and a medieval-type setting to create a spectacular backdrop for a strange, dark and somewhat frightening fantasy world. From the start I was completely absorbed by the mystery surrounding the Old Ones. I can imagine the parts of the world that were inhabited by this mysterious race of beings appearing like a ghost town, deserted, but with an ominous presence alluding to troubled past. I am fascinated by old buildings and the remains of ancient civilisations, so the idea of there being such relics, buildings and ruins dotted across the countryside, which tell only part of the tale of a whole different existence is really quite mesmerising to me. I was so easily drawn into Kerovan’s travels, and got completely caught up in the mystery of his fantasy world. The whole way through The Crystal Gryphon I was desperate to know more about the Old Ones, and the world that they inhabited.

Thank goodness it is only the first of a trilogy! The Crystal Gryphon is a wonderfully mysterious and gripping tale, which combines the fantastical with the uncanny, and at times borders on the downright creepy. I don’t know what more to say other than I loved it and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the trilogy has in store.

A fairytale weekend

“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.” ― G.K. Chesterton

After being treated to these beautiful books by a good friend I spent an otherwise dismal weekend holed up in my new reading room indulging my inner child.

The Sleeper and the Spindle – Neil Gaiman, with illustrations by Chris Riddel

23301545The Sleeper and the Spindle is a great example of a children’s book made for an adult audience. Think Snow White meets Sleeping Beauty, with some dark magic thrown in. I love modern twists on traditional fairy tales, almost as much as I love traditional fairy tales, so this book was always going to go down well.

High in a tower in a kingdom far, far away a beautiful princess lies enchanted in her bed. Lately, the spell which keeps her slumbering has begun to spread, and the people of neighbouring villages have fallen victim to the sickness. Many brave souls have tried to reach the tower in the hopes of breaking the enchantment only to lose their lives, impaled on an impenetrable fortress of rose thorns. On what is to be the eve of her wedding, a young queen decides to set aside her matrimonial plans to rescue the sleeping princess. Accompanied by a team of crass dwarves, the queen takes up her sword and chain mail and travels deep into the mountains to reach the sleeping kingdom.

The Sleeper and the Spindle combines the traditional themes we all know and love with an exciting modern twist, to create an enchanting, yet ominous tale – as delicately unsettling as it is deliciously captivating.

Oh and the illustrations are nothing short of spectacular.

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Russian Fairy Tales – Alexander Afanasyev, with illustrations by Ivan Bilibin

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If you saw my post about Children’s Stories from Japanese Fairy Tales and Legends you’ll no doubt be familiar with my fascination with foreign fairy tales. In fact, this interest does not apply just to fairy tales – myths, legends and ghost stories are also high up my list of interests. I find it really interesting to see how stories from different nations compare to those I grew up with and know so well.

This collection of tales was written, or rather, recorded by renowned Russian folklorist Alexander Nikolayevich Afanasyev in the mid-19th century. The book contains some of the best-known Russian folktales, including: Vasilisa the BeautifulThe Feather of Finist the Falcon; The Frog-Tsarevna; and Tsarevich Ivan, the Firebird and the Grey Wolf.

Of all the characters I came across in this volume, and there are a few who feature in more than one tale, I was particularly taken by Baba Yaga.

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Baba Yaga is a cannibalistic witch who lives in a small wooden hut at the edge of the forest. Now, this description may not seem so different from a lot of other witches in children’s stories, but Baba Yaga has so many fantastic quirks, the likes of which I would never have imagined.  Her hut stands on hen’s legs, and will only lower itself to permit entry when in receipt of a certain rhyme. It is also surrounded by a picket fence adorned with the skulls of Baba Yaga’s victims, the eye sockets of which glow in the night.  Instead of a broomstick, Baba Yaga travels through the forest in a giant mortar, driving herself forward with a pestle in her right hand, while sweeping the forest floor with a broom in her left hand. Oh and she is also often followed by spirits.

I love her.

Having no familiarity with Russian folklore prior to this, I feel the collection gave a good introduction to some of the most famous characters in Russian folk literature. It’s a beautiful volume, and some of the illustrations are so elaborate I feel I could have spent hours studying them.

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