Sunday, 28 November 2010

No Price on Friendship

I am lucky to know a few people who are talented indeed.  Not all are friends, some are acquaintances and some I know only through the internet.   One (now lost) internet connection led me to meet a wonderful lady of the witchy persuasion who has become a great friend indeed.

Over the years I have known her, this friend has helped me on a number of occasions and I think we have learned a lot from each other.   My friend runs a pagan shop and does relatively well - though she would probably say she would like to do better - and, despite this, she still finds time to look after others.   I am one of those lucky people for whom she cares.

When I first moved to London, I developed an annoying reaction to the water during the Winter months: my skin would itch, turn red, blotchy, cracked and papery and, aged just 26, my hands and lower arms would resemble that of someone in their 90s. Over the years, I have sought various treatments for it, GPs, hand creams, homeopathy, oat-filled muslin bags, supplements, etc., but nothing touched it. Last winter, my friend created a cream from ingredients fetched from a local graveyard and the results were magical. Now the winter water doesn't cause so much damage. Every time my hands go in the water I use the cream and my hands are age appropriate, i.e. soft, smooth and sans sores.

I know that this friend, along with some help, spends a fair bit of time collecting the ingredients, preparing them and making the cream, but she never charges me for it, even though she should and I offer. I am ever so grateful to know such a wonderful, talented, caring person I might never have met were it not for the internet, but one whose friendship is priceless.

Monday, 22 November 2010

A Long Lost Treasure

I realised today that one of my all-time favourite books was missing from my catalogue.  I have spent a few hours now trying to search for its details on various book sites, so I can upload it to my catalogue, but the closest edition I can find was published in 1970, whereas I have an edition that states it is a "First Edition" but with a copyright in 1969 and two earlier dates of 1967.   Perhaps mine was the first Australian edition?

The book in question is "The World's Best Fairy Tales" edited by Belle Becker Sideman and with simple, but lovely illustrations by Fritz Kredel.

I have owned this book now for night on 40 years. It was gifted to my parents when I was born. I read it and re-read it and re-read many times as a child and I still enjoy the tales, even if they have been modified to make them more palatable. Even so, my favourite tale is "The Goose-Girl" mostly because of the sentence passed on the servant girl; it was gruesome to this child's mind, but I relished it and though she deserved it. The magic in the tale also captured my imagination, as it did in all the tales.

I doubt I will ever give this book up, and now that it has been retrieved from storage, I hope to find a bookbinder to repair its sorry, leatherbound spine and restore it somewhat to its glory days.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Land of the Seal People

Author: Duncan Williamson
ISBN: 1841588806/9781841588803

I read "The Land of the Seal People" having just finished David Thomson's excellent "The People Of The Sea: Celtic Legends And Myths: Celtic Tales of the Seal-folk". I was hoping it would match it for warmth and wonder, but I was to be slightly disappointed. Although each tale comes with a paragraph explaining where it was heard and a description of the teller is included, names not always included for obvious reasons, the atmosphere in which the tales were told is missing and the attachment gained from learning more about the teller is lost. To that end, I could not warm to these tales as much as I could to those told by Thomson.

"The Land of the Seal People" doesn't just focus on the selkie, but includes encounters with others of the supernatural kind and, as much as I enjoy these, I was a little disappointed as I was hoping to learn more about the seal people and/or selkies. I was also put off by the overuse of the character name Jack, which featured heavily about 3/4 of the way through the book. It seemed to me that in every tale, Jack has lost his father young and was left an only child supporting his mother. True, each of Jack's adventures was different, but I started to become disinterested the moment I saw the name Jack.

Because I did not get the same feeling reading "The Land of the Seal People" as I did "The People Of The Sea: Celtic Legends And Myths: Celtic Tales of the Seal-folk", I doubt I will be re-reading it and I am unsure as to whether I should read Duncan Williamson's other books on a similar topic. I did enjoy reading both books and seeing the connection to the film "The Secret Of Roan Inish" though I did learn that the book on which the movie is based was originally set in Scotland. Overall, I enjoyed the book but I think it might have endeared itself to me more had I read it first, and then Thomson's book.  

Rating: 3½/5.

Monday, 15 November 2010

The People of the Sea

The People of the Sea: Celtic Legends And Myths (Canongate Classics)

Author:  David Thomson
ISBN:  1841951072

I bought this book some time ago, but it seemed destined to remain on my "to be read" shelf.  Earlier this year, while on holiday in Scotland with a small tour group, I noticed one of my fellow passengers was reading this book and when I enquired about it, she was unable to tell me much, which of course peaked my interest.  This was just one of a series of co-incidences in which the legend of the selkie were brought to my attention: just before, during and after the tour of Scotland.

As well as watching a few selkie-related movies when I returned from my trip, I resolved to read the book; however, being a member of a book club, I found myself reading other books, all the while "The People of the Sea: Celtic Legends And Myths", though taken down from the shelf, remained in my satchel (unread) just waiting to be started.  So last Friday I picked up this book and I only put it down three times: once to drive home, the next because I wanted to savour the last tale and then, finally, when I finished it on Saturday night.  The book was so enchanting I didn't want it to end. 

I knew "The People of the Sea: Celtic Legends And Myths" would be different when I read Seamus Heaney's introduction and I was not to be disappointed.

"The People of the Sea: Celtic Legends And Myths" is somewhat of a memoir as the author, David Thomson, travels the western islands and coasts of Scotland and Ireland, in search of those who can tell the tales of the selchie (selkie) or sea-folk.  First, Mr Thomson introduces the storyteller, he then sets the scene and atmosphere in which the story is being told and, finally, he recalls the conversation that illustrates the tale, bringing it fully to the light.  There is not always a straight line from beginning to end with these stories, as someone will interject with their own version of events, and then another, but the main speaker provides a continuous thread weaving all the information together.   I must admit that I felt myself sitting there in the closeness of that store/pub in County Mayo along with Michael the Ferry and his passengers as they gave up their hidden stories; just as I felt right there, with the author, as he (we) paid keen attention to every storyteller in the book.

As Mr Thomson travels through the lands from which these stories emanate, he clearly illustrates the loss of the (Seanchaí) storytellers along with their myths, tales, lore and legends as modernisation takes hold*, so that I was made to keenly feel the loss of the culture where once people lived between reality and the otherworld.  Like all things celtic (what a loaded term), the tone is slightly melancholic, but the stories are so full of wonder I was loathe to read the last tale, for I knew I would be sad indeed to reach the end with no more tales to be told and my journey of wonder into the past over.

I must admit that despite the way some of the stories are delivered, oft times in conversational form, they do lend themselves to be performed at storytelling nights, where both adults and children can appreciate and enjoy them.

I cannot recommend this book enough: it is simply warming even if some of the stories are meant as warnings.   I think I shall always treasure "The People of the Sea: Celtic Legends And Myths" and re-read regularly, more particularly when it's cold, wet and the wind is lashing at the windows.  If you have any interest in folk tales, fairy tales, the legend of the selkie, or the transformative powers of magic, you will probably enjoy this book.

Read it!

Rating: 5/5.

* In the time the author is writing and recording, radio as much as television is taking hold of the minds of the young, causing the decline.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The Fox

The Fox

AuthorArlene Radasky

This was my second experience of listening to an audio book downloaded in podcast format. My first experience had been wonderful and I had high hopes for The Fox.  It started well: the story alternating between modern day Scotland and the people of Scotland at the time the Romans occupied Britain, i.e. my present and an area in which I have a lot of interest.

Although I had issues with the way The Fox was transcribed to audio by the author, the storyline created enough curiosity for me to continue listening on my commute to and from work. By about episode 9 of The Fox, however, I had found it too slow; seemingly dragging on for ages. Unlike my previous experience of a book in podcast format, I had to force myself to listen to the remainder of this podcast book - even though I barely managed to remain tuned in - just in case the story and/or the reading of it picked up. I am not sure there was a climax, or which part was intended to be the climax: the event in the past; or the connection in the future. The story seemingly just drifted off and faded.

The Fox centres around two characters, really: the modern day archaeologist, Aine, and a Pictish[?] woman Jahna, both living around Fort William. Jahna starts as a young girl, living with her clan, when a stranger arrives to join their community, Lovern, who it seems has the skills of healing. Jahna sometimes has visions, which link Aine to her along with a group of foxes. Aine is working in the area where Jahna's clan once lived, trying to get funding and help for a dig that seems doomed, as the owner tries to sell the land from under her ... and so the story goes.

The audio broadcast of The Fox was peppered with pauses in strange places causing a stilted flow - having not read the book (only have a .pdf) I cannot comment on written punctuation, but the spoken punctuation was awkward, jarring at times. The author continued to pronounce one of the main character's name, Aine, incorrectly: rhyming it with "aim", rather between "AHN-yuh" and "AWN-yuh" and I wish Ms Radasky had refrained from using accents for certain characters, in particular the one used for Mr Treadwell which was very muddled indeed. This is just a sample what irked me about the storyline, historical details and the audio translation, I am loathe to provide more as it's probably a personal thing; others may not have the same quibbles.

I am sorry to say that as the episodes came to a close, I was utterly disinterested in the characters, any resolution to their problems, and indeed hearing the author's rendition of the same. I'm afraid I won't be recommending this book in future.

Rating: 2/5.