Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Costa, Bravo!

Last night saw Frances Hardinge's wonderful book, "The Lie Tree" crowned as Costa Book of the Year.  Having faced down the hotly-tipped neo-gothic of  Andrew Murray's "The Loney" alongside works by Kate Atkinson, Andrea Wulf and Don Paterson, this was a triumph not just for a fiercely entertaining, fiercely intelligent book but also for children's and young adult lit as a whole.

The Lie Tree itself has been described by Frances Hardinge herself as "a Victorian Gothic mystery with added paleontology, blasting powder, post-mortem photography and feminism", while I would describe it as a heady mix of E Nesbit, Wilkie Collins, MR James, Arthur Machen and Germaine Greer.  It's a book that deserves to be read by anyone over the age of eight and I really can't recommend it too highly (though I'd recommend the extraordinary "A Face Like Glass", which is packed with more ideas than a symposiumful of string theorists, even more).

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Once Upon a Very Long Time Ago

Fairy stories have been around for a very long time but exactly how long?  The one thing we can be sure of is that most of them existed long before they were written down, especially given that many only entered print (in Europe at least) with the work of collectors and embellishers like Marie-Jeanne L'Héritier and her uncle Charles Perrault in the 18th Century and the Brothers Grimm in the 19th.

 But now the BBC reports that researchers at Durham University believe that, using "phylogenetic comparative methods" they have found evidence that some tales might be up to 5,000 years old.  Given that the techniques used were borrowed from biology and that, in the absence of some storytelling Rip van Winkle from the Bronze Age, we're never going to get definitive proof, it's easy to dismiss, or at least doubt the claims. Isn't it pleasing, though, to imagine a Bronze Age parent telling something that sounds very like "Jack and the Beanstalk" or "Beauty and the Beast" to a group of gathered children and think of them thrilling at the giant chasing Jack or the Beast being transformed into a man?  And if you're not satisfied with the simple romance of that idea, well you can find delve into the full depths of the research here.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

A Map of Fairyland

Now here's a lovely thing: thanks to Slate and io9, I've discovered this 1917 map of Fairyland by British landscape painter Bernard Sleigh, which reveals the locations of everything from the caves mined by the Seven Dwarfs to the location of Avalon and the Gardens of Proserpine.

Sleigh himself was apparently rather obsessed with the idea of fairies, going on to write The Gates of Horn: Being Sundry Records from the Proceedings of the Society for the Investigation of Fairy Fact and Fallacy. 

Those wanting a better look at the map can find it in all its glory up on its own Library of Congress page.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016


As you'll have noticed if you tried to Google anything today, it's the 388th birthday of Charles Perrault who, more than anyone else, kickstarted the fashion for collecting, adapting and refining fairytales in Europe. And some 200 years before the Grimms set to work, to boot.  

Charles Perrault02
There's a good quick summary of Perrault's life and work up at The Guardian, which also has  a fun page about the lessons we should learn from fairytales, though no-one's yet mentioned the surprising durability of gingerbread as a construction material.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Dark Disney

A fun thing from ScreenRant (though I'd ignore the rather unfortunate image they chose at the front of the video): the dark, pre-Disney origins of some of our favourite fairy stories.

In fairness to Disney, there were lots of different versions of these stories and the Grimms produced more and more bowdlerised versions with each new edition.  For anyone after an English version of the Grimms' first take on the tales, I can heartily recommend Jack Zipes' translation, published by Princeton University Press as "The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm".

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Grimm Tidings

I've always loved Grimms' Fairy Tales.  A quick scamper through my shelves reveals three copies and I suspect there must be others lurking around somewhere.  Wonderful and strange, they haven't just entertained kids down the ages and provided the base of stories from which Disney propelled itself to world domination, they have also inspired countless artists and illustrators, as *ahem* illustrated by this selection over at Brainpickings.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Magic Swords!

Otherwhile isn't much for magic swords.  Most swords do the work quite nicely (or, indeed, nastily) in the right hands anyway, so magic seems rather unnecessary.  There's also a general lack of lake-dwelling types in samite, ready to fling out enchanted swords like a Dungeons & Dragons DM drunk on power and Cheeto dust.

The real world - our world - on the other hand, did have "magic" swords, complete with inscriptions on their blades.  And the British Lilbrary would like your help with one of them.  As you can read here.