“In the old versions of these tales, no harm comes to the husband”
“But I’ve always preferred stories which come with consequences.”
Foxfire, Wolfskin and other stories of Shapeshifting Women, by Sharon Blackie, is a collection of thirteen short stories. Each is a reimagining of a myth or fairy tale, mostly of Celtic origin although similar tales exist elsewhere. The writing is vivid and atmospheric, conjuring up worlds where beings exist who understand the land as it has always been, before man forgot the need for stewardship. Although appearing at times to be fantastical, the characters are warp to mankind’s weft. They cannot make good damage caused but can offer a reckoning that seeks to protect all species’ life support system. As such, it is a hopeful if at times brutal read.
The language is rich and evocative. Animals morph into people and vice versa. Good things come to those who stay true. When selfish actions wreak damage and pain, perpetrators discover that even awesome powers are diminished. Revenge can be shocking but is rendered with satisfying heft.
It is made clear in these tales how far humanity has removed itself from the need to care for the world of which he is still a part. What also comes to the fore is how men treat women. Religions perpetuate the damaging imbalance between genders and their expected behaviours. The Bogman’s Wife refuses to conform.
“On a sunny Sunday in the middle of June, he coaxed me along to his church. Heaviness and sin, damnation and misery – that was what they worshipped in that cold stone house. Prissy old preachers with biblical beards, crow-like in black woollen suits.”
“I saw the chains with which they’d willingly shackled their hearts; I perceived the prisons they’d voluntarily made of their souls.”
As in several of the stories, when the love the woman offers her husband is not, over time, enough for him, a price must be paid.
Foxfire also offers an account of a wife seeking revenge for her husband’s unfaithfulness and being shown that first impressions must sometimes be rethought.
“she smiled again, revealing the sharp white teeth which protruded from her blood-red gums. ‘You shouldn’t believe all the fairy tales you’re told,’ she said. ‘And not all of us are what we seem. Perhaps not even you.'”
Snow Queen takes a longer term view – a story of hope despite the scourge of mankind.
The various tales look at how we treat the world and each other, positing the question,
“Is to be different always to be a monster?”
The monsters are portrayed in tingling prose as they shift from attempts at assimilation to revenge at their treatment.
The Madness of Mis takes a piercing swipe at the futility of war.
“There is no glory in war; there is no honour in battle. There is only the riven, blood-soaked land, churned and poisoned by so much hate. There are only the trenches and the killing fields. Rivers choked with the stinking remains of man’s unique insanity.”
The allegedly misbehaving Mis considers the lies told by men through the ages that serve to frighten women and children, enabling their continued subjugation. She has had enough of their so called civilisation.
“Beautiful was the heart of your valley, and cosy your cave at the foot of the singing mountain. Watercress grew thickly in clear-running springs; the woods were lush and deep. No humans tore down trees. No foxes trapped here, no wise old salmon punctured for sport. No trace of war, no whiff of men, no stain of civilisation.”
Tales offer up a wondrous, mystical, spiritual evocation of the world in its entirety, its interdependent ecology, including but not defined by humanity.
Lest readers fear too much seriousness, there is also humour in the telling. Meeting Baba Yaga travels to a remote Russian wood where our ‘heroine’, Cheryl from Totnes, goes on a retreat.
“I’d dabbled in Buddhism and Wicca; done a course on past life regression – the lot. But somehow it just wasn’t happening for me. The Secret didn’t give up its secret. The universe just wasn’t aligning, you know?
So: a week in the taiga it was. It’s probably be a bit fresh there in early October, but it’d make a nice change from my usual yearly yoga retreats on Skyros.”
Cheryl wishes to connect with her power animal. The experience proves not to be what she expected.
The book concludes with a story that ratchets up the tension while providing a view of the world we live in now. In many ways this is a bleak depiction, but while there is life there may also be hope.
As is the nature of collections, certain tales resonated more than others. The mythical beings have many aspects in common but all provide food for thought. The stories are not just told – the reader is put inside each character’s world. The author provides a window into what could improve reality, if only man had the appetite to alter perspective and change how they behave.
Between each story are illustrations and a title page. At the end is a summary of the original inspiration for each tale, and why the author chose to interpret or change as they did. Along with the beautiful cover these add to a book that may be enjoyed for presentation as well as content. Read cover to cover or dip into at will, this is a richly satisfying and entertaining read.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, September Publishing.