books

Book Update

Things have been busy on the news front here, so I thought I’d put together a quick blog post to keep you (and me!) up to date on book happenings.

VASILISA THE WISE AND OTHER TALES OF BRAVE YOUNG WOMEN is available for pre-order from www.serenitypress.org. A proof copy is making its way to my letter box this very moment, and I’m so excited to hold it in my hot little hands! Here’s a photo of it from Serenity Press.

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There will be a Castlemaine launch of VASILISA at 5:30pm, December 7th at the Castlemaine library. Please come along if you’re nearby. Further launches in capital cities to be announced! Yippie!


Serenity Press has announced two more books I’ll be working on with them over the next year or so, and I’m so pleased to keep working with Monique and Karen. They are the most incredibly supportive and passionate team.

I’ll be illustrating a book based on a Crane Woman with Irish writer Sharon Blackie. She wrote the wonderful If Women Rose Rooted (say that sentence quickly five times!) and I can’t wait to illustrate her fairy tales. It’s due out at the end of 2018.


While we’re in Ireland, I’ll also be working with the wonderful Jane Talbot on a collection of Celtic Tales. If you’ve read her powerful collection The Faerie Thorn, you’ll know why I’m so thrilled to be working with her. You’ll have to wait a bit for this one though – it’s coming out at the end of 2019.


Right now, I’m illustrating a collection of short stories by Castlemaine writer Jennifer Lehmann. Her stories are beautifully and sensitively crafted, yet have a keen eye for the subject. Based around the concerns of social work in regional and remote Australia, some are darkly funny, others will break your heart a little. Keep an eye out for it from April next year. I’ll have more news on that, and a story excerpt, popping up on social media soon. For now, here’s a sneak preview from the title illustration for The Fox.

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There’s more news in the works, but for now my lips are zipped. And phew, that’s enough for now! This is my three year planner before I started filling it up…

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Australian Fairy Tale Society

You may have heard of the Australian Fairy Tale Society. You may even be a member – if so, you know how amazing this group of people are. If neither of the following apply to you, then you’re in for a treat.

The AFTS is national society, with branches in several states and territories, that aims “To explore fairy tales through an Australian perspective and to stimulate the creation of Australian interpretations: academic, creative, and performative.”

The society is an incredible mix of academics, artists, storytellers, musicians, writers and fairy tale lovers; a full spectrum of knowledge and enthusiasm that makes for a magical mix.

In a few weeks the AFTS are holding their annual conference, this year in Melbourne at the Glen Era Town Hall, on Saturday June 24th. If you’re remotely interested in Fairy Tales and their influence on our history and culture (and vice versa!), or art, or storytelling, or literature, then this is the where you need to be!

I’ll be up on stage talking about my creative process and previewing new illustrations from the upcoming book Vasilisa The Wise, and selling prints too, including a very limited edition (for now) of a print that won’t otherwise be released until the book is! It’s one of my very favourite illustrations from the Vasilisa, and one that only a few people have seen.

Thankfully I’m up fairly early, so I can listen to the wonderful array of presentations without breathing into a paper bag. Just look at that fantastic line-up! I hope to see you there!

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In addition to the yearly conference, the AFTS produce a bi-monthly ezine, which truly is a wonder to behold. The current issue on Sleeping Beauty comes in at a whopping 60 pages! It includes a round table discussion with Rebecca-Anne Do Rozario, Kate Forsyth & Belinda Calderone; short stories; performance scripts; an interview and sneak preview of Kate Forsyth’s upcoming book Beauty in Thorns; artwork by Kathleen Jennings, Spike Dean and Erin-Claire Barrow; and so much more.

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To get your copy become a member of the AFTS here. It will cost you a mere $25 a year. A true bargain, considering the incredible online magazine, opportunities for meet-ups and gatherings, the yearly conference, and the experience of being welcomed into a group of wonderful new friends. Go on, head over and sign up. In fact if you become a member after reading this, let me know and I’ll mail you one of my artwork postcards with a little enthusiastic note about your incredibly wise and clever decision!

Vasilisa the Wise

I’m so thrilled to announce that a book I’ve been working on with the marvellous author Kate Forsyth has been picked up by Serenity Press and will be published in 2018!

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Vasilisa the Wise & Other Tales of Brave Girls will be a collection of seven fairy tale re-tellings written by Kate and accompanied by my illustrations. They are stories of independent girls and women; tales of adventure, bravery, kindness and strength.

It’s a fantastic process we’re following, much different to the usual writer/illustrator relationship, and a way of working that is, to an illustrator at least, both rare and wonderful. We’ve both chosen stories we love. Some Kate has written first, and sent me to work with. I have created several artworks for others, and sent them to Kate before she starts writing. We’re inspiring each other, and it really is magical. And such a privilege.

Kate has written a blog post about how we found each other which, speaking of magical, was incredibly fortuitous and an example of the importance of having a social media presence as an author and/or illustrator. Allison Tait, brilliant author of The Mapmaker Chronicles, co-host of the essential So You Want To Be a Writer podcast, and strident advocate for having a good author platform (in fact she even teaches a course on it!) introduced us on Twitter thinking that Kate might like my work. Thankfully she was right! Kate bought one of my prints to celebrate finishing her PhD, and we kept corresponding, hoping that we might be able to work together one day. We came up with a plan, did some work… and two years later, we can finally tell you all about it!

It really has been a project of lucky, magical and fortuitous connections. Around a month ago, Kate posted the following on her Facebook page:

One day I’d like to write #fairytale retellings of little-known tales with brave, clever heroines for teenage girls to read. Would anyone like to publish stories like that?

And Monique from Serenity Press said yes! Now we are three women, from three corners of the country (Sydney, Perth & regional Victoria) working on this book together. With all that each of us have to contribute, it really is going to be a wondrous thing.

Cheers to that!

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Fates and Furies: A Review

Fates and Furies

Lauren Groff

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While technically nothing to do with fairy tales, Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies draws on, and heavily refers to, mythology  and archetypes… So I’m calling it close enough.

Fates and Furies is the story of a marriage, and while it really is an intensely self-involved portrait of a relationship, it feels bigger. Groff draws a wide net, pulling in a world of mythology, philosophy and experience and concentrating it all down to a simmering and dense relationship between two people.

Her use of myths could have become overdone – there’s an early doomed relationship between Lotto (Lancelot) and Gwennie (Guinevere), a play based on Antigone that reflects themes of the book itself, countless references to Greek works and mythology, many of which I probably missed – but she uses them wisely. We are even interrupted occasionally by small asides embedded in the text: a Greek Chorus commenting on the action. I found my thinking ‘this should seem overwrought, but it works’. Groff’s writing is clever. She know when to hold back, and when to reveal.

I read Fates and Furies as a digital galley, so didn’t realised until l was quite far into the book that it is split into two parts: Fates (from Lotto’s Point of view) and Furies (from Mathilde’s). Mathilde is intentionally keep at arms length in Lotto’s section: we see his obsessive love for her, we feel it, but she is almost a paper cut-out to us the reader. I realised this was intentional, but was glad to cut to her point of view in the second half of the book.

The Fates and Furies are not just used as a catchy title. Lotto himself really is rolled along by fate. Things to happen to him. There are few times when he actively reaches out, but when he does we may find later that maybe the Furies have had some hand in his fate. The Furies, in Greek mythology, “…were female spirits of justice and vengeance. … Known especially for pursuing people who had murdered family members, the Furies punished their victims by driving them mad.” Mathilde is driven by deep rooted anger and revenge. She loves Lotto passionately, there is a ferocity at her core.

Reading Mathilde’s Furies was a deeply satisfying experience after the excess of Lotto’s Fates. Compared to Lotto’s rollicking and ever-increasingly alcohol fogged escapades, it is pointed and well tuned. It fills in gaps, and reveals truths. Some are simply her truths, a changing of our viewpoint to understand her side of their marriage, while others will rock the foundations of what you believe to be true. It is both satisfying and heartbreaking.

I loved this book. There are kindnesses and cruelties, lucky breaks and terrible injustices, love and hate and great (and well written) sex. And there is incredible language: sentences that could have failed spectacularly if not for Groff’s brave and artful writing, a self awareness that could have glared painfully in lesser hands.

I’ll leave you with this excerpt from the first page, which perfectly shows how Groff takes you to the edge of writerly excess, and pulls you back in again, and hope you’ll go get your own copy and read the rest:

For a minute they watched a tidepool full of spiny creatures that sent up curls of sand in vanishing. Then he took her face in his hands, kissed her pale lips. He could die right now of happiness. In a vision, he saw the sea rising up to suck them in, tonguing off their flesh and rolling their bones over its coral molars in the deeps. If she were beside him, he thought, he would float out singing.

Well, he was young, twenty-two, and they had been married that morning in secret. Extravagance, under the circumstances, could be forgiven.

I was lucky enough to receive a review copy through Netgalley. Fates and Furies will be released by Random House UK on September 15th, 2015.

Into the Woods: the Symposium

Last Wednesday, I hopped on the train and made my way to Melbourne Uni for the ‘Into the Woods’ symposium run by History of Emotions. You can find their program here.

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It was a full and wonderful day, focusing on the forest in literature, fairy tales, poetry, contemporary culture and ecology. Unsurprisingly, I’ll focus on the fairy tale presentations I saw. If you’d like an abbreviated version, I tweeted my notes over here. I didn’t make it in time for the keynote speaker, but caught morning tea, and met the lovely Caitlyn, who, coincidentally came down on the same train, from the same town! We live less than 5 minutes away from each other. A lovely way to start the day.

And so, onto proceedings. You may want to read each speaker’s abstracts in the program for a clearer idea of what they spoke about. I’m working solely from my scribbled notes here.

Victoria Tedeschi spoke about the idea that, while we think of the forest as a dangerous place, “Fairy Tales’ most arduous trials take place inside (in the human realm), not in the forest itself.” The forest is actually a place for fostering identity: a place for growth and change. It is in the human domain that danger lies. In the beginning of the industrial age, cities became dirty and full of squalor, and so the first public parks were created… while the ‘wild’ forests were thought to be unruly, even ugly. They were seen to be in the way of agricultural progress. The ‘wild’ fairy tale forest was a place to lose oneself, and find a new identity. It is a means of escape.

I got most excited about Victoria’s reading of Hansel and Gretel. In the beginning of the story, Gretel is completely reliant on her brother. She’s helpless, relying on him to lay (unsuccessful) trails of crumbs and stones. However, after their trek through the woods, and entrapment by the witch in her candy house, she find the power to defeat the witch (by kicking her into the oven) and is the one to lead them home. Hansel, after being caged by the witch, is now lamenting the helplessness of their situation. Gretel, through her time in the forest, has formed a connection to the environment, and even enlists the help of a duck. She finds their way home, pockets full of sweets and jewels, in this way also ensuring her own financial independence. Totally blew my mind. Thanks Victoria!

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By Leutemann or Offterdinger, photo by Harke [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 

Next up we had Rebecca-Anne C. do Rozario with Agony! Misery! Woe!: An Excess of Love in the Forest.  She spoke of the forest as a place of exile and refuge, and also, apparently, full of princes! She discussed the women writers from the court of Louis XIV. They often wrote of exile to the forest while they themselves risked the danger of exile to their country estates if they displeased the King. Not the worst danger they could have faced, but it certainly met social death. Rebecca-Anne discussed Catherine Bernard and Madame D’Aulnoy, particularly D’Aulnoy’s celebration of the male body. D’Aulnoy’s The White Hind explored the idea of a beautiful old woman, much different to the old hag we usually read about in fairy tales, and also the disturbance of the usual heterosexual pairing, with a strong female friendship at the heart of the tale.

D’Aulnoy’s story Le Mouton, features a metamorphosed sheep dripping with splendid jewels, and speaks of him in sensual terms, which leads me to my favourite quote from the day, (from Patricia Hannon): “The indolent sheep is the creation of the female libido.” Don’t you love it? I want it on a coffee mug. Anyway, female writers of the time often led sexually adventurous lives themselves, and didn’t shy away from writing about female desire in their writing.

Back in the forest, Rebecca-Anne discussed Marina Warner’s view of the wolf: he is symbolic of desire itself, and a counterpoint to the old crone, or witch in the woods. The prince too, is an artifice of desire. He is chasing, not the princess in particular, but desire itself.

Athena Bellas spoke next, on An Escape to the Forest in Catherine Hardwicke’s Red Riding Hood.  She discussed the film and its representation of gender, resistance and space; and also the relationship between the film and the Red Riding Hood stories by the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault. There is a strong focus on what comes of straying from the path, physically and socially. Interestingly, Athena also discussed the idea of horror being in the home rather than in the wild forest (I’d really like to cover this topic in more detail in a future blog post): In the film, Ringing Hood is escaping her abusive father, and the forest is a marginal space. Through lighting and framing, it is represented as a freeing space for her. Athena has a particular interest in the voice over, where Riding Hood is in control of her own narrative.

She also discussed the differing German and French ideas of the forest in Grimms’ and Perrault’s stories. The German forests are dark and foreboding, while the french are manicured and relatively tame. A place of looming fear vs. a place of wonder.

Amazingly, all the above (and more) was covered in an hour. In the next session we started with Sarah Bartels discussing the the symbolism of the devil in 19th Century English Woodland. She pointed out some of the many plants that were named after the devil, for the simple reason that they were poisonous, spiky, or even just unpleasant to the taste. Sarah looked at the relationship between the natural world (plants and animals) and the supernatural one, and how the balance between the two was negotiated in the beliefs and superstitions of the time.

I then snuck into the other seminar room (multiple presentations make for some very difficult decision making!) to catch Jessica Hancock‘s paper on The Question of Experience and Fiction in Regards to Stef Penney’s The Tenderness of Wolves.  She discussed the postmodern idea of whether the artist can be divorced from the work they make – is the connection important? There is an expectation that when an author writes about a place (even in historical fiction) they should have been there, and the belief that with the physical experience of a place it becomes part of the story, not just background. Stef Penney wrote about the Canadian wilderness as if she had lived there all her life, and people believed she had… until it was revealed that she lived in London, was intensely agoraphobic, and did all her research at the library. Should that make us read her story differently? Many people believe so, and it is hard to keep it out of mind while reading the book, even unintentionally.

David Haworth spoke next on Silence, Speech and the Unruly Forest: From Fairy Tales to Carmel Bird’s The Bluebird Café, where:

 ‘Nature is silent in our culture (and in literate societies generally) in the sense that the status of being a speaking subject is jealously guarded as an exclusively human prerogative’- Christopher Manes.

In fairy tales, the forest is loud with (non human) voices, where in The Bluebird Café, the forest is forced into silence. Speech is an expressive of an internal self, a gift bestowed on the forest in fairy tales. In Red Riding Hood we are unsurprised to hear the wolf speak: he is the seductive danger of the forest: His voice is seductive, as is his ability to spin words. David spoke of semiotics as the ‘other’ of language: Not language itself, but entwined with it. In The Bluebird Café the forest has encroached on the town, taken over it. The town and the missing girl are both ghosts, both silenced. Even in flashbacks the girl is mute. The speaking human has privilege in Western cultures, but Bird’s novel makes space for the non-speaking Tasmanian forest in her narrative.

And… break for lunch. Phew. Our brains were overflowing, but the next hour was a wonderful chance to meet several people I heard speak: Sarah Bartels, Victoria Tedeschi and Rebecca-Anne were all fantastic to chat to, and I’m glad to have made their acquaintance. Working away from my keyboard in a relatively small town means I tend to forget that there are real people out there, talking and thinking about the things I’m interested in. And I can talk to them, in real life. I’m so grateful to the organisers of the symposium, and all the wonderful presenters. I haven’t covered all I sat in on, but these were the most relevant to my work, and this blog.

Many thanks to the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, Melbourne University, and whoever the caterers were, for the very delicious lunch.

You can follow Victoria, Rebecca-Anne and Athena on Twitter.

Free Fairy Tale listening: Courses, podcasts and talks.

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If you’re like me, the tasks of hanging out clothes, driving, shopping, etc are made bearable through the act of listening – either music, or audiobooks and podcasts. Podcasts are what I listen to most, but I also use iTunes U a lot for their free audio of lectures and talks. I promise not to turn The Bone Lantern into a listicle blog (three in a row – oops) but I would like to make a list of the fairy tale related listening I do, for my own pleasure, and hopefully yours. Lets start with my favourite;

Podcasts.

Disney Story Origins podcast takes a look at the relationship between the Disney movie version of a fairy tale (so far he has covered Frozen, Sleeping Beauty, Mulan and Aladdin) and the lineage of the story behind it. The podcast episodes can seem pretty few and far between, but that’s because he takes a lot of time to research and produce the content. Topics often stretch over several episodes, and it’s always a fascinating look into how stories change over time. Unlike many comparative theorists in the genre, he doesn’t hold up Disney as the evil destroyer of ‘true and pure’ stories; instead he recognises their place in the evolution of fairy tales. A great listen. The feed link above also has an extensive bibliography list for each podcast. See? Good research. You can follow the podcast on Twitter too: @DSOpodcast.

Amy and Sophie discuss fairy tales at Tabled Fables. They aren’t currently releasing new episodes, but there’s a back catalogue of podcasts still available. Each episode looks at a specific fairy tale, and they chat happily about its origins and and significance, often drawing in interviews with experts and other interesting folk. They still post fairy tales snippets on Tumbler, and you can follow them on Twitter: @tabledfables

Not specifically about fairy tales, or currently releasing new episodes, but my children have loved listening to Kara Shallenberg read old stories and tales since they were little. In fact, I went in to say goodnight to my 11 year daughter last night, and she was listening to Kara read In the Nursery of my Book House via Librivox. Kara has volunteered her time for many years, recording books and stories in the public domain, for both adult and children listeners. As well as her podcast, she has a huge library of free audiobooks on Librivox, a wonderful online service that provides many thousands of hours listening. It’s the audio version of Project Gutenberg, and if you haven’t discovered it yet, go now. I’ll wait.

The wonderful Kara also tweets @kayray

Online Courses and Lectures.

Ever felt the urge to go back and take a class, without actually having to turn up to lectures, endure other fidgeting students, and line up for sad sandwiches at the lunch hall? Online courses are the next big thing in education, and a lot of them are free, provided you don’t want the actual piece of paper at the end. There are some many fascinating lectures on everything you could imagine. I’ve subscribed to courses in physics, psychology, creative writing… you name it, but right now I’ll stick to those relevant to fairy tales.

La Trobe University’s History of Children’s Literature and Genres of Children’s Literature are fabulous. Australian lecturer David Beagley discusses many aspects of Children’s Literature in both of these subjects, and he’s lovely to listen to. The history subject comprises 29 individual lectures, many of them covering aspects of fairy tales, myth and folk tales. These are real lectures – you’ll hear students coughing, shuffling and asking questions – it’s just like being in the lecture hall! But on your couch.

Faerie and Fantasy is a complete undergrad semester long class on Fairy Tale and Fantasy by Professor Corey Olsen at Washington College. Focus on weeks 6-9 for specifically fairy tale related topics. He covers Andrew Lang and The Book of Wonder, and several of the better known tales within. Again, real lectures, given to real fidgeting students. Love it. You can follow Corey Olsen @tolkienprof

Introduction to Pre-Modern Japanese Literature and Culture is a series of 27 lectures focussing on, as is obvious from the title, pre-modern Japanese Literature. This includes many old tales, and the cultural context from which they came.

Invitation to World Literature includes lectures on Gilgamesh, The Thousand and One Nights, The Bhagavad Vita. I haven’t listen to this one yet, but I have it bookmarked. It looks like a great overview of some of histories most referred-to texts.

Discussions and Interviews 

Kate Forsyth has been a monthly guest on ABC Radio National‘s Life Matters program, discussing fairy tales with Natasha Mitchell, as part of their ‘Once upon a time: fairy tales reimagined‘ series. See also episodes on Rapunzel and The Little Mermaid. Kate Forsyth tweets @KateForsyth

Listen to an interview with Phillip Pullman about his recent translation of some of Grimms’ Fairy Tales on NPR.

While you’re at NPR, you can also listen to a short piece about Jack Zipes’ translation of the first edition of Grimms’ Fairy Tales.  He talks to Weekend Edition’s Rachael Martin.

Well, I hope that gets you through a few loads of washing and a trip to the supermarket at the very least! Happy Listening.

Review: Marina Warner’s ‘Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale’

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Imagine the history of fairy tale as a map, like the Carte du Tendre, the ‘Map of Tenderness’, drawn by Parisian romancers to chart the peaks and sloughs of the heart’s affections… (Loc 50)

So begins the prologue to Marina Warner‘s new book on fairy tales Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale. At 226 pages it is a much slimmer follow up to her 1996 book From the Beast to the Blonde, but no less enlightening or engaging. Warner weaves her dialogue beautifully, sometimes slipping into a metaphorical narrative much like fairy tales themselves. This could come across as strained or twee in clumsier hands, but Warner is a confident and self-possessed writer. The great history of storytelling comes to flourishing life under her deft touch. In chapter three, Voices on the Page, while discussing the essence of fairy tales, she writes:

Think of it as a plant genus, like roses or fungi or grasses, which seed and root and flower here and there, changing species and colour and size and shape where they spring. Or think of it as a tune, which can migrate from a voice to a symphony to a penny whistle, for a fairy tale does not exist in a fixed form or medium. The stories’ interest isn’t exhausted by repetition, reformulation, or retelling, but their pleasure gains from the endless permutations performed on the original. (Loc 606)

I have a confession to make. Often, while reading academic writing, my mind tends to wander; my eyes skip over the words. I can get to the end of a piece of writing and hardly be able to tell you anything I just read. I may make something up. Not so in this case. Warner’s language is clear and poetic. She leads you along an open forest path with sure footing and a bright torch. We see fairy tales as they are; not a dusty collection of old and irrelevant stories, but stories that travel, adapt and take on new meanings. She reminds us, on every page, why fairy tales are still relevant and important today. They have never existed in solitude, and Warner leads you through their connections to psychology, feminism, fantasy and the supernatural. She evaluates their history, their meaning, and the way they have woven (and been woven into) our very lives.

The chapters in Once Upon a Time are divided into themes. They range from the factual ‘Voices on the Page’ which introduces many of the tellers, writers and translators of fairy tales, to the barely constrained rally cry of ‘In the Dock: Don’t Bet on the Prince” which details the post-war feminist subversion of the fairy tale. Interestingly, the title references Jack Zipes’ book of feminist fairy tales Don’t Bet on the Prince. Here she celebrates, among others, the feminist works of theoreticist Ruth Bottigheimer, poet Anne Sexton and all-round-fairy-tale-feminist-superstar Angela Carter. One thing that makes this work so engaging is Warner’s refusal to stay neutral. In her dissent from fusty academic writing, she gives us sentences like “Aroused by Freud’s question, ‘What do women want?’, which lies at the centre of conjectures made by (mostly male) analysts, [feminists] seized hold of fairy tales and shook them till the stories choked, spat out the poison, and sat up ready for a different day… Fairy Tales were denounced as a blunt tool of patriarchy, the bourgeoisie, cosmetic surgeons, the fashion industry, physchoanalysts bent on curbing girls’ energies and desires.” (Loc 1522)  I heard a whoop in there, didn’t you?

The ideas in this book run deep. If you’re after light bedtime reading, this is no Disney-esque romp. Like tales of old, Warner’s book does far more that skim from ‘once upon a time’ to ‘happily ever after’. There is darkness with the light, and deliberation and passion in her words. While Warner’s writing isn’t hard to read, you’ll still need to put the book down every now and then, to take a walk or stare out the window, to allow the information to sink in. The path she leads us on is clear, but the forest is dense. Your head will fill quickly with new ideas and information. But don’t see this as obstacle. You will finish this book wiser about, and more in awe of, fairy tales, human nature and the many threads that tie our world together.

Thank you to NetGalley and Oxford University Press for the advance reading copy of this book.