March 27, 2014

Book Review Column, By Lissa Sloan (From the Forest and Opal)

Into the Woods: In which I review books about the woods and set in the woods (From the Forest and Opal).

From the Forest: A Search for the Hidden Roots of Our Fairy Tales by Sara Maitland

In From the Forest, Sara Maitland provides an in depth look into the connection between forests and fairy tales. Maitland theorizes that the landscape a group of people live in heavily influences their culture, including their fairy tales. For instance, characters in Middle Eastern tales do not go into the desert the way European characters would go into a forest, because the desert would only cause their deaths. They find their adventures travelling to other places or at sea. Whereas while European characters could get lost in a forest, they could also hide, find adventure, and find themselves once again. Therefore, Northern European fairy tales are tightly bound to the countryside of Northern Europe, especially its forests. Over the course of a year, Maitland records her visits to twelve British forests as she thoroughly explores the way forests influence fairy tales. Each chapter finishes with her retelling of a Brothers Grimm tale, which often touches on themes from the chapter.

Throughout From the Forest, Maitland examines forests and fairy tales in a variety of ways. She looks at natural history, and the way humans affect the land they live in, remarking that even humanity’s efforts to preserve a forest in its natural state has an effect, just as attempting to record a previously oral story in print makes the story static, freezing it in a moment in time. She uses events from British history such as “afforestation” (a monarch claiming any land he/she likes for personal use) and the Enclosure Movement (the monarchy forcing the original landowners to buy back their lands, and then the nobility barring the commoners from using it) to explain why kings come out so poorly in fairy tales. Doubtless the tellers of these tales took great pleasure in the subversive message of common people using their wits, good manners, and bravery to rise out of poverty and end up on top, often outwitting a king in the process. Speculating that the originators of Northern European tales lived and worked in forests, Maitland spends some of her forest visits meeting modern Free Miners and foresters.

Maitland has a conversational style, and the non-fiction section of From the Forest makes for a fascinating read. But her re-told fairy tales are equally appealing. Many tell the tale from a different point of view, commenting on the story along the way. Maitland’s style is simple and graceful, making her stories a pleasure to read. Her tales seem to just keep getting better as the book goes along, but standouts for me are the poignant "Dancing Shoes," which tells "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" from the point of view of the soldier, and "Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf," the story of Red’s wolf-like woodcutter. I found it curious that, as Maitland is especially focused on differences in fairy tales from different geographical areas (rather than the similarities most scholars focus on), that she uses Grimms’ tales, rather than specifically British tales such as "Jack the Giant Killer" and "Mr. Fox" to go with the British forests she writes about. However, From the Forest is a completely absorbing, thought-provoking read, which anyone who loves not only reading fairy tales, but reading about fairy tales is sure to enjoy.

Opal by Kristina Wojtaszek

When her mother dies, Opal is taken to her father, who she has never met. But Opal is no ordinary girl. She was born a snowy owl, and spent her early life in the wilds with her mother. Now she must learn her history as part human, part Fae, a people with a strong connection with nature who can take animal form, and take her place in the world. Opal is told through two narrators, the title character, and Androw, a young prince who forsakes his cruel father and enters the woods, where the Fae are said to live. He also seeks a white hare, with black tipped ears and red eyes. The hare is a character from a fairy story, but Androw is determined to find her nonetheless. Together Opal and Androw tell not only their own stories, but that of Eira, a half-human, half-Fae princess who cannot survive among humans and finds peace in the woods with The Seven, who take the shape of animals to guard their precious charge.

As an alternate version of "Snow White," Opal is one of the most unique fairy tale retellings I have come across. Author Kristina Wojtaszek does not use many parts of the original tale, there is no wicked stepmother, for instance, only a very loving one, but the elements she does use are intriguing. Despite a simple plot, I found the use of two narrators, telling their stories from different points in time was disorienting for a while. However, I continued to be drawn in by Wojtaszek’s introspective characters and compelling world. Opal is an intimate, very personal book, and reading this it gave me a strong sense memory of the complete escape I enjoyed curling up with the Patricia McKillip books I loved as a teenager. I found myself wishing it were a full length novel so I could delve deeper into it.

Lissa's avatar, by Lissa
What atmosphere or setting says “fairy tale” to you? Join the Enchanted Conversation and share your thoughts. Happy reading!

Lissa Sloan has contributed stories, poems, and guest posts to Enchanted Conversation, but she also writes and illustrates for younger readers. Visit her online at her website,, or on Twitter, @LissaSloan. 

March 6, 2014

The Lady and the Ghost, By Jennifer A. McGowan

"The Ghost's Petition," By Emma Florence Harrsion

Editor's note: Jennifer's work has been featured often in EC--she knows how to evoke a mood. A touch of the macabre and a nod to classic story-poems from the British Isles made this a winner.
Bess, she had a likely lad,
and that lad he had Bess.
Why he went out on Hallows eve
is anybody’s guess.

He lost his way and climbed a hill
to see what could be seen—
Glided up to him from out the mists
a grim and ghostly queen.

“One kiss, my handsome Will,” she cried,
“One kiss!  I claim my prize.
or those who climb up Tanner’s Hill
are driven mad, or wise.”

Now Will he fancied wisdom
if it would get him back to Bess.
He bowed to the ghostly figure,
bestowed on it a kiss. 

Just one kiss from my clay-cold lips
and you’ll never be alone. 

And he saw gold abounding,
riches more than he could name.
He gathered gems up in his hands
and then he turned back home.

Bess waited with a lantern
brushing her flowing hair.
She thought she heard Will in the lane
but nobody walked there.

She thought she heard Will by the byre
but no-one passed it by.
She thought she heard him at the door;
she thought she heard him sigh.

He climbed in through the window
reached his hand hers to have.
But Will had found his wisdom
in the bed of an early grave. 

Just one kiss from my clay-cold lips
and you’ll never be alone. 

The Lady and the Ghost cont’d. 

Bess felt his hand pass through her own
put on her cloak of green
ran crying through the lonely night
to face the ghastly queen.

“I’ll pay your price, you hag,” she swore
as she clomb Tanner’s Hill.
“You shall have my cursed kiss,
and I shall have my Will.”

The queen laughed soft but she laughed long,
“I fear not to be spurned.”
A kiss then to her Bessie threw
and was kissed in return.

The morning sun dawned bright and gay
and Bess awoke and saw
The ranks of dead men in the dew
a hundred strong, or more. 

Just one kiss from my clay-cold lips
and you’ll never be alone.

Now Bess among the living waits
for Time to claim his own.
The faithful dead walk at her side
and she’s never alone.

 Jennifer A. McGowan lives near Oxford, England, and has published widely on both sides of the Atlantic.  For more poetry, info about her first collection and anthologies, and for samples of her medieval calligraphy, visit

March 5, 2014

How Red Runs, By A.L. Loveday

Editor's note: A.L. Loveday's story writes a story that is completely unexpected and terribly twisty--in a really dark, intriguing way. I'll never see Red the same way gain.

run. We all run. Feet pound the earth, bodies steam, tongues out and pant hard. We are silent. The forest moves aside but not for me--it gets in my face, my skin, tearing and stabbing and making red run.

A howl to the east. Stop. Raise noses to the crisp night air: Mother. Full moon guides us to where she sits by fresh kill, with sour smell and warm wet under foot from running red. Hungry, hungry we crowd around.

"Back off!"


"Wait your turn!"

Brothers and sisters growl at me. I try again but jaws snap at face. Crawl to Mother, feel her warmth and soft fur. Nuzzle, find nipple and suck but there is no more! She growls too and pushes me away. Stomach hurts. I cry.

Wait and wait. My turn but it is no good. Still so much hunger and pain. Cry again, but still no more from Mother. Warm bodies circle, move in, lie down and on and around. Curl up with family, close eyes and rest in inner-dark.


Early rise in low light: no birds sing yet, family still down. Up, stretch, and walk some distance to leave wet mark. Thirsty. Hungry. Walk on sore feet to brook, crouch and drink. Stay on front feet too and walk some, but then more pain. Up on back feet and try to smell food: wet ground, family smell and old red. Walk on with nose in air, must stop hunger pain. I cannot smell food like Mother or brothers or sisters. But I smell ...

I smell something. Hunger feeling twists inside and I drop and wet, burning sour comes out my mouth. More twists, but nothing coming out. Cry lots.

Smell still there, and hunger twists still there. Walk to smell and not far see low, wide tree. Holes in the tree with smell coming out. Wet now dropping from my mouth. Run to hole and see ... something. Reach up: hit it to floor. Sniff. Hunger twists! Take bite and another and another and it is good!

"Oh my!"

Jump back and snarl. Tall creature in big hole that wasn't there before, looking at me. Crouch down.

"Mine!" I growl, "Stay back! Wait your turn!"

"Oh my, oh, oh! You poor dear, poor little--"

Goes back in big hole and then comes out with more of my kill with good smell.

"Oh you poor love, you look half starved. Come in out the cold and let grandma feed you."

Don't like the noise, but like the smell. Want my kill. Creature going back in hole.

I jump forward and snatch kill and growl warning that it is mine and to stay back. Take kill to corner and eat and eat some more. It is a strange kill with no red running--but it stops the hunger twists.

Creature moves and makes more noises.

"I must fetch some water and wash the poor dear, find some old clothes that might fit her - who on earth does she belong to, I wonder--oh and I must send Jack to call for the doctor to make sure she is not ill--"

Stop listening to creature noises because I hear Mother call. I raise head and call back:

"Mother! Come! Fresh kill! Feed!"

Creature looks. I growl at it to back off. Mother will make creature go and leave our kill.

"Jack! Jack, get up, I need your help, love."

Mother comes, she comes! Hear her running, hear her feet on earth! She yips and I yip and then she is there, through the hole in the strange tree and I call:

"Come, Mother! Fresh kill!"

And the creature screams and Mother pounces, and the creature is on the floor and the red is running and running and I run to help Mother, but then there is another creature and it screams, and it picks up something sharp and shining and it jumps at Mother and then ... then there is Mother's warm red running all over me too, and I cry and cry but Mother doesn't move, and she won't because I know what the red means.

The creature drops the Mother-killer and pulls me up and pushes me through another hole that then disappears and I am alone. And I cry and I cry but there is no howl. No one hears.


"It's alright, lad, take your time."

"I just ... I heard her calling, said she needed my help so I got out of bed but then ... I'm sorry--"

"Don't be, don't be."

"Well--ah - so I got up and then I heard the most awful scream. I ran out and saw ... I saw ... it had its jaws around her neck .... I didn't think, I just picked up the axe ... but it was too late."

"Deep breaths, son. You're doing fine. Do you think you could tell me about the girl?"

"I ... I don't know. She was there, screaming and crying when I came out; cloaked in blood from head to toe she was ..."

"Frightened out of her wits I should imagine. Poor love. A blessing the wolf didn't kill her too I should say."

"I've never seen her before in my life."

"Don't worry. We'll find her family, and we'll make sure you get the care you need, son."

"Thank you. Oh ... oh God!"


I am in small spaces. Strange noises all around, and strange feelings. They push and pull my body and don't back off when I growl my warnings at them. I howl for help. I cry for my brothers and sisters but they don't come. So many noises, so many creatures, I don't like it, I don't like it!

But I am trapped. I cannot run. I cannot run.

A.L. Loveday is a writer living in Brighton, England. She is inspired by the wonderful, the fantastic and the magical, and her stories have appeared in Mirror Dance, Scheherezade's Bequest, Unsettling Wonder and beyond. You can find her at