Sunday, February 28, 2016

Fairy post #18 - News & Review of Seven Tales

Faerie News

Welcome to the Dragonhorn Tavern
Where witches and wanderers and magical folk go for a relaxing evening in good company! 
Join the event 
When: Sunday 20 March 2015, Doors open 5pm 
Where: The Bull and Bear Tavern, Melbourne 
Entry: $10 in costume. $15 in Muggle-wear!

The Green Lady video is my first self-initiated music clip. Featuring dancer Rachael Hammond, it portrays the enchantress Escalder The Green Lady from my unfolding Elderbrook Chronicles. Lyrics & Melodies: Louisa John-Krol & Mark Krol. Instrumentation & Production: Brett Taylor. Videography: Ian Clarke. Guest actors: Zeinab Yazdanfar as narrator, and Melissa Rose Tonkin as a confidante in Escalder’s retinue: 

"The Green Lady" - Video
"The Green Lady" - Single (digital download)

Call for Presentations in the 3rd conference of The Australian Fairy Tale Society have closed and registration is open for this all-day event, entitled "Into the Bush - Its Beauty and Its Terror", for adults only, Glen Eira Town Hall, Caulfield, Melbourne, Sunday 26th June 2016. Register here


'Seven Tales' by G.C. McRae

A collection of fairy tales by G.C. McRae, Canada

Review by Louisa John-Krol, Australia, February 2016

Seven Tales by G.C. McRae

A surprise review copy arrived in our mail box...and what a fabulous gift it is!

Seven Tales is far more than a collection of new fairy stories. It is so lucid, concerted and spry, carrying such hardihood, that I’m pinching my earlobes to remind myself that its author is a contemporary chap, who wrote to me and signed the book. 

Mirrors, a royal hanging (by the small toes), a quest for the elixir of youth, an unlucky court physician and a streak of skullduggery around plural progeny, whereby seven daughters pretend to be the same person, together bring the first tale to a rollicking gallop. As an opening, “The Seven Sisters” might as well be the title-tale: a story for each sister.

In the second tale, “The Boy Smith and the Giant of the North”, suitors vie for a princess in impossible quests, involving a blacksmith and a barley giant, yet departs from the traditional fate of our gargantuan antagonist.

By tale three, “The Sneaking Girl and the Other Queen”, mischief is in full flight, as we meet a resourceful heroine with a penchant for sneaking. A true mentalist, she works with what people think they have seen, rather than what - or who - is really there. Or as the Polish author Czeslaw Milosz wrote in The Land of Ulro: “real because imagined, imagined because real”. More about this lady later.  

In the fourth story, “The Miller and the Old Hag”, we encounter a witch who tricks a man into carving his own children out of stone. And no, I don’t mean statues that turned into people, like puppets - as would Geppetto for Pinocchio. Quite the reverse. His task was to free his human sons from entrapment, as a sculptor conjures life from stone. Or so it seemed... but one special facet of these tales is that they contain manifold layers of illusion.

Classic themes in the fifth tale, “The Dollmaker’s Daughter”, entail a proverbial twin separation (in “The Dollmaker’s Daughter”), with mistaken identities and princess-and-pauper swap of circumstance, each girl spending time being taken for a doll, symbolising immobilization prophesied by a nurse: “You have a flesh and blood girl here and yet you are turning her into a doll, button by button, braid by braid.”

Now we come to tale number six, “The Brave Houseboy”, easily the most bloodthirsty. There seems to be no respite from violence, whether it takes the form of household cruelty, invasion by Tartars, or a giant’s incursions. Delightful when the giant rubbed the invading king between his finger and thumb until there was nothing left but a smear. All turns out well, thanks to a hunting horn, an incantation, a loyal pet and the combination of courage and compassion in our hero. In savage extremes of fortune, this tale bears some resemblance to The Thousand and One Nights and Shahnameh, Hoshruba or The Iliad

“The Wishing Oak”, seventh tale, is a satisfying finale. A deft spin on the frog prince, it links the magic of trees with messenger birds, fairy helpers and fortune. More so than the other tales, it explores the potential for intergenerational reciprocal fealty between royalty and peasantry, a bond that once broken can deliver misfortune for both sides, yet when rejuvenated may bring prosperity and peace. After all, once the game is over, king and pawn go back into the same box.

McRae’s characters often exploit each other’s delusions, notably when the blacksmith fulfills a quest by accident, finding himself in possession of a cart with a giant’s barley stalk; or when our sneaking girl is assumed to have created a pot holder that she’d merely been examining, and capitalizes on that misconception; or when a crone casts a supposed curse: “The old nurse had no idea what he was talking about. The king had clearly lost his mind. But one thing she knew for certain: he was handing her tremendous power over him and she was not about to waste it” (p. 179).

In fairy tales it is often the commoners who show the most wisdom, or at least cunning, as the cook demonstrates in this fifth tale, calling to mind Shakespeare’s lines about life being a stage: “Just play along. If the king thinks you’re his daughter, be his daughter. If the servants think you’re a doll come to life, be that” (p. 177). This is also reminiscent of contemporary author Don DeLillo’s idea that we are just living out the roles set in novels or films.

McRae grasps the value of humour in fairy tales, seemingly heeding Oscar Wilde’s warning about sentimentality. Consider Wilde’s reputed criticism of Dickens, with reference to The Old Curiosity Shop: that one must have a heart of stone to read the death of Little Nell without laughing. People who feed off the suffering of others under a cloak of sympathy have a name in social media: misery whores. According to a Buddhist aphorism, push something to an extreme and it becomes its opposite: from sublime to ridiculous; tragedy to farce. Moreover, when dealing with life’s dangers such as being abandoned in a wildwood, married off to Bluebeard, shoved in a hag’s oven, or raiding a giant’s treasure at the top of a beanstalk, it pays to keep our wits. Wallowing in maudlin self-pity isn’t helpful - unless, of course, tirades are part of the plan. That’s why waggishness is welcome in fairy tales, and partly why this collection is ever so good. 

Speaking of humour, I like how a queen falls off her shoes. 

Also how a princess - one of the twins - is tucked so tightly under her sheets that her feet turn down like ducks.

In an almost Monty Pythonic scene, peasants in the final tale queue with baskets of frogs for kissing, receiving payment: “The line stretched outside the castle and down the main street of the town for half a mile. Once the frogs had been kissed, the servants opened the kitchen door at the back of the castle and let them go. But of course, it was only a matter of time before people started gathering them up and bringing them around to the front to be kissed again” (p. 261).

I suspect G.C.McRae came from the Land of Faery. So convinced I am by this notion, that I wouldn't dare tilt at even the tiniest speck of this magnificent collection, even if I could think of anything niggly to say, which I can't. This work glows not merely with any praise a reviewer could bestow, but with its own inner light. Born of a love for folklore and mythology, this blithe spinning echoes the twirl of Rumplestiltskin.

I enjoy these pearls every bit as much as tales by the mentors mentioned on the back of the book - Hans Christian Andersen and Brothers Grimm - adding further points of comparison: Charles Perrault, Lord Dunsany, A.S. Byatt, Charlotte Rose De La Force, Italo Calvino, Andrew Lang, Idries Shah, Marie-Catherine D’Aulnoy, Angela Carter, Giovanni Straparola and Oscar Wilde, to name a few.

As a book lover, I enjoy holding and turning the pages of Seven Tales: cover and interior design by Dianna Little, with ornaments by Margaret Rose, including illuminated letters at the beginning of each story.

For those of you in Australia, Seven Tales is available here - I’ve tested this method myself, by purchasing a second copy that will make a marvellous gift.

* * * * *

Identifying information:
Title: Seven Tales
Author: G.C. McRae:
Publisher: MacDonald Warne
ISBN: 978-0-9939183-4-6
267 pages
Published 7th October 2015

Fiction / Short Stories / Fairy Tales

Detail of Seven Tales design
Turns out the cover art depicts a castle in Burgenland, eastern Austria. Entitled "Lockenhaus Castle", it's a perfect accompaniment to the tales within. You can read about it at the author's website.

Lockenhaus Castle, Burgenland, Austria

A glowing review, by Belinda Calderone (President of The Australian Fairy Tale Society) appears at her blog for The Monash Fairy Tale Salon here

Homepage of G.C. McRae

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