Saturday, 24 March 2012

Review: Collected Folk Tales by Alan Garner

Book Title: Collected Folk Tales
Book Author: Alan Garner
Genre: Fiction Collection
Release: 2011
Published by: Harper Collins
Tell Me About It
Following on from the fiftieth anniversary of Alan Garner′s seminal fantasy classic, THE WEIRDSTONE OF BRISINGAMEN, this beautifully produced hardback collects all of Alan′s folk tales, told with his unique storytelling skill and inimitably clear voice. Essential reading for young and old alike, and a book to be treasured.
[from goodeads]
It is hard to describe the contents of a novel when they consist of a collection of works. When something is titled as Collected Folk Tales, it becomes hard for one to try to describe the basic premise of the book in a small paragraph. It becomes a temptation to try to put your own spin on what the book entails, about the collection, or any other number of topics. However, there is a saving grace, in this case, from the author, Alan Garner.

So I have decided, rather than come up with my own personal description of the collection, where I would normally be speaking of plot synopsis, and characters, I will simply leave it to Alan, to tell us what this collection is about. “Traditional stories may be myth, legend, fairy tale or folk tale. Each of these terms has a different and technical meaning; but this book is not technical. It is for anyone that loves a story, whether the story be anecdote or epic.”

This is essentially exactly what this book is. It is a collection of stories. It is told, as Alan puts it, as would be told to him by his grandfather, a smith. The stories themselves are mostly Celtic in origin, it appears, with a few taken and placed into a Celtic environ. They are themselves the telling and retelling of stories that over the years have faded from mainstream memory, be that due to science, religious persecution against such stories, or even something as simple as the fear being removed from the setting.

The folk tales in question range from one paragraph anecdotes, to tales of adventures and journeys to far off lands. Irish, English, and more heritage, lessons to be learnt, things to dream about and let your own imagination take hold. Page after page of story, whispers of our past and things that we have made ourselves grow out of. Maturing into modern society has taken away a lot of the venom from certain stories, but that does not remove an impact from a tale, nor the lesson that can be gleaned from them. Has the traversal of time taken away from such books as Lord Of The Rings? Pride and Prejudice? In 50 years will we all ignore the importance of such books as Harry Potter? Ready Player One? Maybe their setting or the stories themselves may seem out of date then, but there will always be enjoyment to be had from such stories.

This is something that Alan has done exceedingly well. He has captured what a lot of people seem to forget. That a story, no matter what the setting, is essentially, timeless. There will always be things to be taken from any novel, story, tale or anecdote. But he also brings into account one very important thing, which is the method of telling a story. A Lot of the tales in this collection were never meant to be read, you are never supposed to stop as a reader, and look more into these tales. They were meant to be told. These are the stories that were told around a fire, in an Inn, passed on from parent to child, used to build character and impart lessons such as respecting elders, being careful around strangers, and not shirking on your duties and responsibilities.

I will not go into any detail about the individual stories here. Simply put they are of Celtic, and mostly British origin, with a smattering of other belief and areas too, including what appears to be Persian and even Asian descent. For me, I would recommend this for anyone who has an interest in older stories, ones that have not been told in a while. Yet there is the rub. The stories are inherently designed to be told. Alan says himself, “In this selection I have tried to get back, through the written word, a sense of the spoken. I have worked to recreate the moment of the telling, so that the printed word may sing.” And he is successful in this. The stories do have a certain... ring to them. A certain flow that is better spoken, which I did try. Instead of simply reading a lot of the stories, I read a few of them aloud, as though speaking to some imaginary audience. And while the stories are good on the page, and enjoyable experiences, there is a certain temptation to read them all aloud.

All in All, I would definitely recommend this collection to people. Especially if you have an interest in the history it can contain. Be that the history of Celtic stories, or the history of dying stories in general, or personal and family histories from Europe, and the things their relatives may have been told when they were children. But more importantly, I would heartily recommend this book to younger, but mature audiences, or even better, a parent, a teacher, an organiser for children's groups, as these stories, I feel, would be better read aloud, to children, as they were originally intended to do.

[review by PKS]

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