Tag Archives: Heights of Abraham

Why I Still Turn to Fairytales…

Some might say it is a little bit queer (rolls eyes at self) that a thirty three year old man would be desperate to see Cinderella as his 33rd birthday treat, yet this was my story just a few weeks ago. Since I can remember when I have loved a good fairytale. This I blame on my family frankly.

Firstly my highly over imaginative grandfather who made me believe that the tower at the top of our hill (actually part of The Heights of Abraham) was where Rapunzel lived (who I named my pet duck after) and who also wrote me magical tales with me in them when I was three upwards. Secondly my pair of wicked ugly aunties (only joking Caz and Alice, honest, gulp) who told me tales of witches who lived on the hill, which I think they made up. Thirdly my mother who would read and reread (and reread and reread and reread) the wonderful Ladybird Well Loved Tales to me as a child. Fourthly my Gran who also read me those and would watch the Slipper and the Rose (one of the best versions of the Cinderella story, end of) at least four or five times, with a break in between for The Wizard of Oz or the odd Doris Day movie, when I would stay in the school holidays. I know, this explains so much right there doesn’t it?

My old family home, surrounded by forest – Sleeping Beauty much?

So I guess fairy tales were a safe haven when I was growing up and indeed have been my turn to books whenever I am feeling a little off kilter, ill, out of sorts or have the dreaded readers block. There are the odd exceptions but Into the Woods was a film not a book and probably shouldn’t be mentioned ever again. Oddly enough once I realised how much darker they were than sanitised Ladybird or Disney incarnations I loved them all the more, though still haven’t read all the ‘fairy tales uncut’ as it were. That was why there was really no other first tattoo option for me; I am planning a ‘woodland fairytale scene’ on my other arm as we speak. Seeing Cinderella, which was extremely good indeed thank you for asking, and having the new routine of watching an episode of Once Upon a Time with my breakfast and coffee and sometimes my lunch – the urge for me to read the originals and the new homage’s and the like has come back really strong.

I thought instead of me just asking you for advice on which ones I should look out for, though you all know I am going to ask that later let’s not pretend, I decided I would share with you some fairy tales and fairy tale themed books I have loved and some I have been buying and hoarding and planning to read at some point.

Just a selection from my shelves...

Just a selection from my shelves…

First up are some books that I would really, really recommend and indeed have reviewed. There are of course the originals but you all know about all of them. There have been some wonderful authors who have taken on the fairytales and given them their spin. Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber is one fine example, as is Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales (which do what they say on the tin) and I would highly recommend Sarah Pinborough’s trilogy of Poison, Charm (which I have read but yet to review) and Beauty (which I have yet to read) which give the tales of three princesses a much darker and saucier feel, and cleverly interweaves them all.

If you fancy some new fairytales then you can’t go wrong with the fantastically gothic graphic novel collection of both Emily Carroll’s Through the Woods and Isabel Greenberg’s An Encyclopedia of Early Earth one which will give you the horrors, the other which looks at myths, fairytales and legends and their creation. Then there is the wonderful collection by Viktor and Rolf, which safe to celebrates the campiness of the fairytale, disco hedgehog anyone? Oh and how could I forget the sublime, sublime, sublime Diving Belles by Lucy Wood which is one of my favourite short story collections every and will have you seeing magic, mermaids and witches everywhere when you leave the house.

There is one standout though that both reinvents and invents. With Bitter Greens I think Kate Forsyth, who is actually a Doctor of Fairytales yet who we shall just call Queen of the Fairy Tales for now, has done something incredible that any fairy tale or story lover of any type should read. In it we meet three women all isolated from society for various different reasons, a storyteller locked in a nunnery, a woman locked into getting revenge and a young girl locked in a tower. These women’s tales come together to create a wonderful novel about storytelling, history, and fairytales and of course my favourite tale of all the story tales… Rapunzel. Just read it. I need to read The Wild Girl which I believe looks at the Brothers Grimm themselves and nicely links in to some books I haven’t read yet but have bought.

So what of the books to read?  I didn’t realise this until recently, and now it seems so obvious, but Kate Hamer’s debut about a child abducted The Girl in the Red Coat is one I am itching to read, as is Kirsty Logan’s collection of modern fairytales The Rental Heart. Then there is the series that I have seen lots and lots and lots of people going crazy over, the dystopic Lunar Chronicles which sees Cinderella as a cyborg, Little Red Riding Hood turn detective/street crime fighter and Rapunzel a computer hacker. I. CANNOT. WAIT!

Oh and then there are two nonfiction books I should mention. Once Upon a Time which is Marina Warner’s short history of the fairytale (apparently she is an expert so I might end up wanting her entire backlist) and I am also desperate to read, Gossip from the Forest by Sara Maitland which comes with the subtitle the tangled roots of our forests and fairytales which I have had on the shelves for far too long and needs to be read.

Phew I think that is enough! As you can see this list is not exhaustive and I am sure there are many, many recommendations you would love to pass onto me. Hint, hint. Has Margaret Atwood not done some fairytales, it will be a crime if not. If you would like to hear Kate Forsyth and I talking fairytales, you can do so here, oh and if anyone would like to be a secret benefactor and send me to Australia to do a doctorate of fairytales and follow in Kate’s footsteps do let me know. Right over to you; which of the above have you read and what would you recommend?

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Bitter Greens – Kate Forsyth

Rapunzel is my favourite fairytale of all time, I actually broke the spine of the Ladybird Classic I had of it I read it/was read it so much. Being brought up in the town of Matlock Bath we had a Tower on our hillside, part of the Heights of Abraham where I used to be allowed to play at will as a child as they were our neighbours, which naturally I thought Rapunzel lived in. When I got my first pet, a duck, guess what she was called? Yep, Rapunzel! What did I nearly have tattooed on my arm? Rapunzel letting her hair down, from a tower at the top of my shoulder all the way to my wrist. I settled for Once Upon A Time. So you knowing Bitter Greens was about this tale and even came with the tagline ‘you think you know the story of Rapunzel’ I was both really excited about it and slightly fearful. If possible it has made me love the story of Rapunzel and the story behind the story even more.

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Allison & Busby, 2013, paperback, fiction, 544 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Bitter Greens follows the lives and stories of three women. First is Charlotte-Rose de la Force, who has been exiled from the court of the Sun King Louis XIV after a fall from grace too far (which in those times was saying something) and is banished to live in an Abbey with nuns. Second is Selena Leonelli, once one of the most beautiful women in Italy and even the muse of the Venetian artist Titian. Depicted forever in his paintings she has one fear, time, and how it will take her beauty something she will do anything to keep. Thirdly we have Margherita, a young girl trapped in a tower forever unless she finds a way to escape.

These three things were true;
Her name was Margherita.
Her parents had loved her.
One day, she would escape.
At the worst of times, when the walls of the tower seemed to press upon her ribcage, Margherita would repeat these three things over and over again, like sorrowful mysteries muttered over a rosary.
She had been locked away in this one small stone room at the age of twelve. Fifty-one full moons had passed since then, shown by the scars on her wrists. If she did not escape soon, surely she would die.

The question you are probably all wondering, as was I, is how on earth (bar Margherita) do all these stories link to the tale of Rapunzel. Good question and one I will half answer because to know all the ways this tale weaves around that one would be to spoil it. What I can say is that Charlotte-Rose de la Force was a real woman, who really did get expelled from the court of Louis XIV (for all in all being a right naughty minx) and who wrote fairytales including Persinette, which was the first written account of the tale which became Rapunzel, whilst expelled in the Abbey of Gercy-en-Brie. This Kate all found out whilst doing her doctorate in fairytale, I know sign me up for that course right now!

It is interesting because Charlotte-Rose is really the heart of this story and initially I was thinking ‘erm, where is the Rapunzel bit?’ yet within a few chapters I was so enjoying spending time in the court of Louis XIV I was quite happy to just see what happened. What I am saying here is that the Rapunzel story that links Charlotte-Rose, Selena and Margherita was brilliant and fascinating but I wasn’t only wanting that part, if you see what I mean. I was happily reading about a woman who was a flirt, a gossip, a teller of tales and who once dressed up as a bear to rescue a lover. What more could you want from a heroine.

Forsyth also creates a fascinating insight into the time; yes there is the political and religious histories, which I found fascinating, but also the social history too. I loved reading about how the court worked, how the King dealt with his rampant libido (sometimes just with a servant up against a wall if he felt the need) and mistresses and also how the fear of witchcraft spread the land. Forsyth brilliantly fills Bitter Greens sort of historical facts that I find fascinating, who knew that architects had to rebuild doors for dresses and head fashion or that people threw cats at carriages containing fleeing protestants? Fascinating.

The other themes at the heart of Bitter Greens are or course fairytales and storytelling. We don’t get the Ladybird Classic version, or the Tangled one (both I love just to note) we get the dark one that was originally told, the one where Rapunzel endures many horrors in the tower, and the prince sleeps with her and gets her pregnant and all the twists that brings. Disney couldn’t have done that, Forsyth revels in its gothic nature. She also explores the famous tropes of fairytales, what makes a woman a witch or become one, for example.

She also celebrates storytellers and storytelling whilst telling a great story, it would be a bit awkward otherwise wouldn’t it? Through Charlotte-Rose we see both how stories were an important part of the social world of the time historically, think going to a book club only you hear the story told by someone and might get impregnated by the King after, and also how stories and their escapism can help us at our darkest times.

The Marquis de Maulevrier used to lock me in the caves under the Chateau de Cazeneuve. They were as cold as the church, and much darker. A hermit lived there once, many hundreds of years before, and had died there. I wondered if his skeleton was still there, hidden under the stones. I imagined I heard his footsteps shuffling closer and closer, then I felt his cold breath on the back of my neck, the brush of a spectral finger. I screamed, but no one heard me.
Surely he was a good man, that long-ago hermit, I told myself. He would not hurt a little girl. I imagined he was taking my hand because he wanted to show me the way to escape the cave. Perhaps there was a secret door down low in the wall, a door only large enough for a child. If I stepped through that door, I would be in another world, in fairyland perhaps. It would be warm and bright there, and I would have a magical wand to protect myself. I’d ride on the back of a dragonfly, swooping through the forest. I’d battle dragons and talk to birds and have all kinds of adventures.

Kate Forsyth has created quite an incredible piece of work in Bitter Greens. It is the story of Rapunzel that you thought you knew, yet told bare, and it is also so much more. It is the tale of three women in three different time periods that are all fighting for survival and a place, and in some cases stature, in a world dominated by men. It is also a wonderful historical novel that captures the essence of all the time periods it covers in all its glory and all its gothic nasty corners. It is also a romping story that celebrates storytellers and the power of stories. I loved it, you should read it.

Mary Magdalen Repentant - Titian

Mary Magdalen Repentant – Titian

As you might have guessed this will be very high on my list of books of the year and may well be in a few lovely lucky peoples stockings, oops spoiler there. It has reminded me how much I love a really good historical chunkster of a novel and how much I love fairytales for adults (not adult fairytales that is quite something else, though this book is brilliantly saucy and salacious). I also need to read much more about the court of Louis the XIV, I have Nancy Mitford’s The Sun King and Jean Teule’s Monsieur Montespan (whose wife features in this book a lot) on my shelves by the bed in readiness. Any other recommendations about that period would be most welcomed. As would thoughts from anyone else who has read Bitter Greens or any of Kate’s other books, and indeed any other great fairytales for grownups. You can also hear Kate and I in conversation about Bitter Greens and fairytales here.

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Filed under Allison & Busby, Books of 2014, Kate Forsyth, Review

A Trip To Gran’s… Do Come Along

I know a lot of you like all things Granny Savidge Reads and so I thought I would do a little report back from the trip that myself and The Converted One went on two weekends ago back to my homeland of the Derbyshire Dales. I have already shared a trip we took to Scarthin Books which deserved its own post and so I thought I would share some more pictures of both the peaks, my past, more books (Persephone ones, really old ones and damaged ones – the latter caused me real horror) and lost of other bits and bobs – including a charity that I would love you all to have a look into.

So on the Saturday morning we left the grey skies of London for what I assumed would be the even greyer skies of ‘oop north’. However it would appear I was very wrong as the further north we got the sunnier it became.

First up was an early lunch both preceeded and followed by tea and coffee. This provided the perfect picture for any of you who love Persephone books as Gran had hers placed rather delightfully on a tray with some rather wonderful china.

It was soon off to Matlock Bath for a wander down the promenade and over the wonderful old Victorian Jubilee Bridge (you know how I love my Victoriana)

This takes you across the River Derwent to a land of rather marvellous grottos, fountains and fantastic views from which you can see my old house (where I lived with my grandparents for half of every year growing up) in the distance below The Heights of Abraham.

 

Here’s a close up of that very house, the one I have sworn I will buy back one day.

We were in Matlock Bath both for a bit of nostalgia and to go to an event organised to ‘Save the Pavilion’ (or the Pav as we call it) and celebrate its 100th Birthday it is a rather historical old building on the main promenade. It’s a place that means a lot to me personally as my Mum and Dad actually met at a school disco in the dome on the roof. They had allsorts going on including a Punch and Judy show which had The Converted One in awe and I let Gran explain.

 

It was actually a ‘typically British fate’ with both a wonderful band…

And a Women’s Institute charity book store of delightful old (and rather saucy if you look at the picture in detail) books, I had a rather longing look and had to move away swiftly.

Soon it was time to dash back for more tea and cake with my aunty and cousins back over the hills and in Gran’s rather wonderful garden before dinner, it was a real treat to sit, drink and natter outside over that view.

Later on we went through the family albums and I found this rather wonderful picture of my Gran as a little girl in her nursery which I just love, I am going to have to get it blown up and framed for one of my walls.

Next day after visiting my Dad’s parents who I hadn’t seen for five years and who hadn’t yet met The Converted One we headed to the grandeur of Chatsworth and its wonderful park land.

After a nice cream tea we toured the village of Edensor where the Dowager Duchess and last surviving Mitford sister Deborah lives where I found a house that I desperately wanted, I have a thing about turrets and could be ‘Debo’s’ neighbour.

Then it was all too soon time to go home which was rather a fraught journey as we almost had a fight with a man who was sat in our booked seats. Then, if that wasn’t stressful enough, a woman sat with this opposite me…

I could almost hear the book and its pain. However my distressed spirits at both that poor book and the fact I wanted to stay up north longer were somewhat eased when I found two gifts on the bed from that book stall I mentioned above I had no idea I had been bought! (Village Tales by Miss Mitford and The Lamplighter by Miss Cummins – anyone read either of these?)

So hopefully that hasn’t bored you all silly and you have enjoyed that little tour of a small part of Derbyshire. Do these break in bookish posts appeal to you all now and again? Should I be sharing little bits of my non bookish life with you now and again? Let me know as I don’t know if I share too much, not enough or just about right! Have you had any nice trips lately?

You can find out more about the great cause of ‘Save The Pavilion’ and watch a marvellous video about Matlock Bath and the Pav here. Do pop by!

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