Title: Vasilisa the Wise and Other Tales of Brave Young Women
Author: Kate Forsyth and Illustrated by Lorena Carrington
Genre: Fairy tales, children’s literature
Publisher: Serenity Press
Published: 14th December 2017
Synopsis: For many young women, the only fairy-tales they know are the ones that have been retold by Walt Disney Studios.
Once upon a time, these stories of magical transformation were meant for young women as they grew away from childhood and towards adulthood. They were told by their mothers and grandmothers and the wise women of the clan as they spun and wove and stirred their pots and made their potions. The heroines of these old tales set out on a difficult road of trials to discover their true destiny. And, contrary to popular opinion, marrying a prince was not the only goal. These ancient tales of wonder and adventure are about learning to be strong, brave, kind and true-hearted, and trusting in yourself to change the world for the better.
Meet the brave young women from tales of yore …
Vasilisa who must try to outwit the fearsome witch Baba-Yaga.
Katie Crackernuts who sets out to save her sister from dark magic.
Flora, the gardener’s daughter, who marries a giant serpent to save a prince.
Fairer-Than-A-Fairy, a princess who is kidnapped by an evil one-eyed enchantress.
Lullala, in love with a prince cursed to be a lion by day and a man by night.
Rosemary, a Scottish lass whose baby is stolen by the wicked faery folk of the Sidhe.
Ursula, a princess replaced by a walking, talking automaton.
These are not your usual passive princesses, waiting forlornly for their prince to come …
What a joy to read another new Kate Forsyth book this year. Of the three she published – Beauty in Thorns, Vasilisa the Wise with illustrator Lorena Carrington, and The Silver Well, I have bought them all and read two – with The Silver Well having to wait until the New Year. Like me, Kate has a fascination with fairy tales. As children, the first fairy tales we are exposed to are Disney retellings, or sanitised versions that have the names of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Charles Perrault or Hans Christian Andersen stamped on them. If we are lucky, we get to read the dark, original versions, often more terrifying and much darker than the originals. However, it is rare to see female characters with as much power as some modern retellings give them. There are examples, such as Hansel and Gretel, where Gretel saves her brother, yet it is often through the actions of being saved by the prince that the princess can finally exert her power. In Vasilisa the Wise, Kate Forsyth has retold traditional fairy tales by Andrew Lang, The Brothers Grimm, and from Scandinavia with the strong female characters at the forefront, who take charge of their own fate using what is available to them within their worlds.
It was a pleasure to see Kate’s version of The Singing, Springing Lark included, as I enjoyed the original and her fairy tale infused historical fiction, The Beast’s Garden. I think it was my favourite of all the tales, however, as they were all filled with amazing characters who took charge of their own fates, it was very hard to come to this decision. I also enjoyed the Pre-Raphaelite tale, The Toy Princess by Mary de Morgan – it would be lovely to read some more fairy tales by women, and to have studied these tales would have been amazing too.
Kate’s stories are accompanied by amazing artwork by Lorena Carrington, comprised of photographs, items from nature and layered to create evocative images that sing the song of the words they sit next to, and carry the heart of the story within their simplicity and beauty. Alone they tell a story as well, showing the reader what is to come, and what has come before, capturing the essence of characters and the tragedy of consequences of the actions of others, contrasted with the happier outcomes for the main characters of Kate’s tales. These exquisite silhouetted illustrations suit these stories perfectly.
As a lover of fairy tales, I can always find something to enjoy about oral tales recorded by figures like Jacob and Wilhelm, the literary fairy tales of Charlotte Rose de la Force, Mary de Morgan, Hans Christian Andersen and Oscar Wilde, and their various reincarnations and retellings throughout time. Kate’s retellings are special, and words that evoke the same magic of the tales they were inspired by, and keep the integrity of the original whilst giving it wings and a new voice through the courageous and loving women she has focussed on. These stories will endure, and become part of fairy tale canon and the wonderful library of Kate Forsyth stories. It is an amazing book that can be read alone or out loud to younger people and shared with young women of all ages to show them how to be courageous and brave.
This is my final read for the 2017 Australian Women Writer’s Challenge, and I don’t think I could have finished on a better note.