I appear to have tapped a rich seam of folklore, myths and fairy tales in the last year or so. Earlier I read and reviewed Lancelot by Giles Kristian, an imagining of the life of the Lancelot of Arthurian legend, for this blog. My bookclub’s reads have included the Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey, a reworking of the Russian fairy story and The Familiars by Stacey Hall, which fictionalises the Pendle Witch Trials. I’ve also enjoyed The Hoarder by Jess Kidd, a story of hoarding and the supernatural set in the modern day. One of the most striking repeated themes in all of these has been the fox as a familiar or as a sign of magical happenings. Its certainly given foxes a good press!
This month’s first offering is ‘Foxfire and Wolfskin’ and is subtitled, ‘and Other Stories of Shapeshifting Women’. It is by Sharon Blackie and published by September Publishing (www.septemberpublishing.org) on the 2nd of October.
Inside Sharon Blackie reworks and retells some tales from European folklore, myths and legends. There is a helpful guide to original stories and their origins in the back of the book. Her emphasis has been to give the female characters a stronger, more positive role. I must say my heart sank a little when I read this on the cover. Whilst I am a feminist, I don’t feel we should be rewriting stories and recasting films and TV show with women to replace the original male characters carte blanche. If the story works better with a woman as the lead role then fine, but just redoing things with female characters instead of males does nothing to inspire me. There are many stories of truly inspiration women that have been overlooked by the history books or novel and screenwriters that could inspire us for many years and in a more authentic way.
However, as we know, many of the myths and fairy stories we are familiar with today were sanitized by the Victorians and later “Disneyfied” make the characters cute and appealing. In the time before women were relegated to subservience and being ladylike and agreeable, the women in our history were strong, independent and feisty. Blackie hasn’t repopulated the stories with women instead of men, we’ve just been given the female slant to a tale and maybe the woman has come out on top or got her revenge. So actually, what I found when I read this book, was that in the main I enjoyed the stories. This is due to Blackie’s fine storytelling and light hand on the feminist leanings. There is a great sense of humour in several of the pieces, especially ‘Meeting Baba Yaga’, which possibly typifies my straight talking mother’s reaction to me doing yoga, which she said she thought was a little ‘out there’ for someone who works in a scientific job! I really liked the updating of the stories involving nature and our relationship with it. Some were very poignant like ‘Last Man Standing’. Some like ‘No Country for Old Women’ would inspire environmental activism but mostly I just enjoyed the descriptions of nature and feeling of connection with the real and mythical world.
This is Irish Author, Mythologist and Psychologist Dr. Sharon Blackie’s (sharonblackie.net) fourth book. Her others are The Long Delirious Burning Blue (2008), If Women Rose Rooted (2016) and The Enchanted Life (2018). Sharon is an internationally recognised teacher of mythic imagination and has a large following through her online communities, and the courses and workshops she offers through her “Hedge School”, she lives in Connemara in the west of Ireland and is no doubt quite busy on the run up to “An Samhain” or All Hallows Eve in three weeks time.
This book feels like it should be great reading for young adults but some of the stories could be considered too adult in content for teens (maybe that’s the Victorian prude speaking!) but I expect that depends on your teen? Some people would just enjoy it for the calibre of its prose. It’s a lovely bit of escapism from modern day stresses. I also think if you ignored the subtitle, men would have no idea it was encouraging modern women to shed their skin and transform their lives. Maybe that’s its secret power! I certainly reshaped and shifted my initial view upon reading.
So with the nights getting chillier and evenings drawing in, why not snap your fingers or click your mouse and order a copy online or haunt around your local bookshop for a copy in time for the spookiest night of the year.
Reviewed By: Georgina Murphy
This review is apart of a Random Things Blog Tour, to see what the other reviewers thought, visit their websites listed below .Then if you get a copy of the book and read it, comeback and tell us what you though. We’d really love the feedback.