Our lives are full of the Old Stories; myths, legends and fairytales move through us as a ripple on the unseen and ancient river of our personal and collective histories. Whether we acknowledge it or not, they form us. That is their purpose. We retell them, again and again…as we must in order to understand ourselves and the places we have carved out of the world. With each new book of fairytales and myths that emerges, we find the stories change ever so slightly, so that the original intent remains but the story itself becomes more pertinent to where we are now. The changes in the story itself and in its’ emphasis take them out of the space where they are “written in stone” and allow them to flow once again; to submerge themselves back into that river of our being.
Sometimes, being an ardent reader of the Old Stories, the books that emerge give me that contented sense of satisfaction; ‘yes, that is a good retelling.’ But sometimes, book comes into my hands that shifts the boundaries of ‘retelling the old stories’ and simply astounds me…
SAVAGE HER REPLY
author: Deirdre Sullivan
illustrator: Karen Vaughan
Little Island Books (1 October 2020)
The Children of Lir: Aife marries Lir, a king with a daughter and three sons by his previous wife. But Aifes’ jealousy of his love for the children, drives her to commit a terrible act. She casts a spell on the children, turning them into swans cursed to fly from one place to another for nine hundred years… But this is retold in Aifes’ voice. Taken far from the security of her home, Aife and her sisters are fostered by Bodhbh the Red, growing up in his court and used for whatever talents they may have; used as bargaining chips in ever ongoing negotiations. Aifes’ sister, Aebh is married off to Lir. She works hard to ensure his happiness and gives him four children. But not being strong, Aebh dies after the birth of the second set of twins. Lir needs a new wife and he will have Aife. She has no choice. Haunted by the early loss of her home and family, the overwhelming grief at the death of her sister and the constant mistreatment from Lir. Aife determines to carve a place for herself…or pour justice down upon Lir for taking everything from her. Her power grows and the heartless, vengeful curse is cast. But there is a terrible price…and Aife will pay it.
Written in exquisite, flowing prose, this is not so much a retelling as it is a re-feeling of the pivotal Irish legend. All the original elements are there, but turned inside out and given a new voice that both cements the story firmly in the past while bringing it into the here and now as part of the fibre of who we are now. The book is strewn with bits of the original tale opening each new chapter. The forms of the Ogham alphabet characters placed as poems, thoughts, introductions add to the sense that what we are reading is something iconic…something essential. It’s telling is positively mesmerising. It is solely through Aifes’ eyes that we follow the children/swans’ plight, herself having been cursed to wander the world as a dark spirit; the thing that causes that unexplained sense of doom. And we become part of the fabric of Aifes’ tale as we realise that the curse upon her is everlasting…and still present today. Enchanted into a new comprehension as if the very words of the text are a spell in and of themselves, we must stay with the myth. It cuts away any previous caricature of past tellings and scrapes down to the bones, revealing each character in their true nature; complex, conflicted, light and dark. Throughout, we find refined, delicate pen and ink renderings; illuminations, really by the deft, ingenious hand of Karen Vaughan. Always perfect to the tone of the action, these simple drawings add much to the story as a whole and to the beautiful presentation of the book, as it takes its’ place on the shelf as the classic that it is.
Throughout, we find refined, delicate pen and ink renderings; illuminations, really by the deft, ingenious hand of Karen Vaughan. Always perfect to the tone of the action, these simple drawings add much to the story as a whole and to the beautiful presentation of the book, as it takes its’ place on the shelf as the classic that it is.
Haunting, unsettling, exquisitely told, evocative and iconic; no one writes like Deirdre Sullivan. This is spell-working at its’ very finest. Simply extraordinary.
Many, many thanks to Little Island Books for sending me a review copy of Savage Her Reply. http://littleisland.ie/books/savage-her-reply/