Hag: Forgotten Folktales Retold

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Τitle:Hag Forgotten Folktales Retold

Writer: Various curated by Professor Carolyne Larrington

Publishing House: Virago

Date of Publication:  October 8th 2020 by Virago

Rating: 5 stars

‘’Human existence so often calls for exploration through the imagination, through metaphors, images, narratives that give shape to emotions and conditions, to our sense of being and our struggles to survive and thrive. The supernatural and inexplicable, the selkie, the boggart, the mermaid, the Green Children and the fairies return then, tapping into a powerful sense of continuity from past into present and onwards into the future.

 For our everyday is not a disenchanted place, however loudly our commuter trains rattle along their tracks or however tall the tower blocks stand in the place where the trees once grew.’’

      Professor Carolyn Larrington

A beautiful, moving Introduction by Professor Carolyn Larrington is the rising of the curtain of this exciting collection. Some of the most unique authors of the Isles have gathered to give us their own interpretation of folk tales that were once lost in time. Their imagination created new versions of tales that speak about universal themes, relevant to women of every age and every era. Each story is weaved around a prominent woman, and we witness the relationship between lovers, sisters, mothers and daughters, or absolute strangers that bond over a common purpose. Friends, enemies, prejudices, motherhood, womanhood, death and rebirth spin a fervent dance.

‘’People suddenly found themselves reconnecting emotionally with the natural world, joyfully noticing bursting buds, heady scents of blossom and loud, unabashed birdsong in hedgerows, copses, parks and gardens. So too memory and imagination were kindled into fresh and vivid life as people roamed through places underwritten by history and tradition, reminded of fairies, house-elves, river deities, dwarfs, witches and werewolves whose existence cast a sidelong light across the country’s green spaces.’’

         Professor Carolyn Larrington

So, let us travel to England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Let us visit Yorkshire, London, Somerset, Norfolk, Cornwall, the Midlands, East Anglia, Orkney.

‘’The earth is soft and my boots sink in almost to the calves. The moat runs beneath the trees, here and there filled with murky water, here and there overcome with brambles and the roots of holly. The sound of the cars passing is cut off, as if they never were. I wait to feel something mystical, an oddity in my blood or bones. I am vulnerable to superstitions and fairy tales, the pockets of weirdness smattering the land.’’

A Retelling by Daisy Johnson, based on The Green Children of Woolpit (Suffolk): A writer’s journey from the folklore magic of the countryside to the noise of the city, from the familiar presences in her life to unexpected visitors/intruders, towards the retelling of a myth about strange children. I read this story three times. It felt very personal and once again, I marvelled at Johnson’s great gift, the perfection of her words, the immediacy of her themes.

‘’You’ll get used to the moors, Ash, and that east wind.’’

‘’One December afternoon the sky changes colour – it curdles from thin blue to deep grey. The sky is bright and dark at the same time, like the light in a man’s eyes the moment before he turns on you. The snow falls and falls and obliterates the road and then the moor and then the horizon.’’

Sour Hall by Naomi Booth, based on Ay, We’re Flittin’ (Yorkshire): Two women try to adjust to the demands of a farm, the strange noises of the countryside and the potential presence of a boggart.

Rosheen by Irenosen Okijie, based on The Dauntless Girl (Norfolk): Possibly the creepiest first page I’ve ever read. Pure Gothic poetry! A girl of Trinidadian and Irish heritage comes to England from County Kerry. She finds work in a strange farm that hides much more than meets the eye.

‘’Oh, my darling wee fishie, no evil eyes for you

You don’t need a daddy, I’ve love enough for two…’’

‘’A house by the sea like this one is a beauty when the sun’s out, but when storms come in it can be right scary. I don’t mind telling that night was a scary one. Rain lashing, wind squealing, the sea reaching its black fingers up to my windows like I’d made it angry. Not unlike tonight, come to think of it.’’

Between Sea and Sky by Kirsty Logan, based on The Great Silkie of Sule Skerrie (Orkney): It’s Orkney. It’s Kirsty Logan. It’s bound to be perfect! A haunting, moving story of a brave, extraordinary mother and a very special offspring, set between the sea and the sky, lulled by the waves and the call of the seals…

The Panther’s Tale by Mahsuda Snaith, based on Chillington House (Stafford): The beautiful tale of a panther taken to England, a wronged princess and a brave mother.

The Tale of Kathleen by Eimar McBride (County Galway): This one was bad. Incomprehensible, over-the-top, and tremendously unoriginal. But I am not surprised because as far as my experience with her work goes, McBride is an awful writer. I am still trying to get over the nightmare that was Strange Hotel.

The Sisters by Liv Little, based on Tavistock Square (London): This story started in a very promising way but soon became a snooze fest about the love troubles of two sisters and their girlfriend. Yes, that’s right. Well, I am not interested in SUCH kind of stories.

The Dampness Is Spreading by Emma Glass, based on The Fairy Midwife (Wales): A captivating story of birth, motherhood and despair set in a maternity ward. 

The Droll of the Mermaid by Natasha Carthew, based on The Mermaid and The Man of Cury: The story of a young man and a mermaid, the gift of healing and a curse. It had potential, but the writing and the uneven use of punctuation utterly ruined it for me.

‘’The wind is cooler and brisker up here, and it keens in her face and tugs her hair; the moor spreads around and below her, mottled purple green and gold for miles under the burnished sky, and on the far horizon a smudge of dark sea. From here the holloway is a caterpillar of greenery between the fields, their house a speck with glints for windows, the village a little grey ant’s nest, nothing more.’’

The Holloway by Imogen Hermes Gowar, based on Old Farmer Mole (Somerset): Can I say that a story like this is marvellous? A tale of abuse, of the worst male assertion over our bodies and our minds. And the firm belief and fight of the children to protect their mother. One more moment of perfection by a wonderful writer.

‘’I have found life but it does not belong to me. It grows all around and I am the dead tree. I’m standing here, stuck in the ground, standing for way too long. I will be here until the end of days, with the rain coming down and then rising up, swelling to my ankles and then my knees, the slowest death, not even by drowning. Here until the water breaks my skin down, until my bones soften and melt. And even then I will not be able to forgive myself.’’

Many thanks to Virago and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.