Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Here's To 2017, and a book review - Gossip From the Forest

The book I am going to review, is a must have for anyone who loves forests, fairy tales, and/or storytelling. But first...

Last year was pretty amazing. We got a dog - oh wait. That was late 2015. I performed at 100 venues. Some of these venues were multiple performances. I presented again at the National Storytelling Network Conference and met some truly wonderful people there. I have seen some very talented storytellers from all over the USA.

I moved my studio out of my office, to a more sound tight location. I got to see, with some friends, David Francey perform in New Hampshire and got to visit family back in the UK.

I fell in love with the Ramayana, read Stephen Mitchell's free translation of Gilgamesh along with a slew of other great (and not so great) books. And I started on my own book which we are hoping will be out in September.

One book I have not quite finished yet, which I am greatly enjoying, is Gossip from the Forest: the tangled roots of our forests and fairy tales, by Sara Maitland. I have not read anything else by her yet, and her writing is superb. I think I can it is mouth watering. The book is about forests in the UK and Grimm fairy tales. Starting in March, Maitland visits a different forest each month (per chapter) and talks about its ecology and/or culture and how (European) fairy tales are of the forest. At the end of each chapter, she retells one of the Grimm fairy tales. Sometimes the stories are a simple retelling with a new riff, but others are very different. Fans of Angela Carter will notice an echo, but these retellings are all Maitland. Those who are not fans of Carter, you may well like these.

Last night I finished Chapter 9: November - Kielder Forest, Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf. The Keilder Forest is in the very north of England, on the border of Scotland. Kielder is a heavily managed forest, Maitland talks about how the Forestry Commission, established in 1919 after World War One, has changed their mandate over the years and have not done a terribly good job up until recently. She talks about clear cutting, or clear felling, and it's pros and cons in these British forests. She writes how the forests are managed and how recently the way they are looked after is similar, in a way, to how forests were managed in the Middle Ages, only with very modern technology.
Burley in the New Forest, 1991, © Simon Brooks, 2017
Sara Maitland seemed to have a slight fear of forests, which she puts down, in some respect, to the love of the old fairy tales. She shows how we were once very connected to the woods, and the woods themselves are not to be feared. Indeed not all the animals and people there are to be feared either. Often there are helpers, it is a place to escape to. There is no need for panic on entering a forest, but there are things in the woods to be fearful of.

Maitland discusses how people are still deeply connected to some forests in their work, and how communities still use them. The work Maitland has done in research is thorough. The things I have learned from this book has been and will be useful to my work as a storyteller and writer. The history in this book is far from dry. Being born and raised in the UK I have spent a great deal of time in three of these forests - the Forest of Dean, the New Forest and Epping Forest. I know these woods and their vibe, if you will. It was wonderful to revisit them through Maitland's words.

If you like woods and fairy tales, then this is a must-have book. Sara Maitland's writing is, as I have said, superb and her reasoning and research is impeccable. The retellings of the stories (Thumbling, The White Snake, Rumpelstiltskin, Hansel and Gretel, Little Goosegirl, The Seven Swan's Sister, The Seven Dwarves, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf, The Four Comrades, Dancing Shoes, and The Dreams of Sleeping Beauty) are creative and powerful. These alone will have you look at folk and fairy tales in a new light and might inspire you to retell stories in a new way. Her points of view and how they can be used to make a tale come to life, should inspire you to give a different spin on a story or go deeper with it.

My copy came from the UK and was first published in 2012. My 2013 paperback has the ISBN number 978-184708-430-9 and can be found at Amazon
Start the year off with a great book!


1 comment:

Tony Toledo said...

Well, Simon, you have convinced me. I will now look for this book. Sounds like a good one. Happy New Year.