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Gossip from the Forest: The Tangled Roots of Our Forests and Fairytales [Paperback]

Sara Maitland
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
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Book Description

6 Jun 2013
Fairytales are one of our earliest and most vital cultural forms, and forests one of our most ancient and primal landscapes. Both evoke a similar sensation in us - we find them beautiful and magical, but also spooky, sometimes horrifying. In this fascinating book, Maitland argues that the two forms are intimately connected: the mysterious secrets and silences, gifts and perils of the forests were both the background and the source of fairytales. Yet both forests and fairy stories are at risk and their loss deprives us of our cultural lifeblood. Maitland visits forests through the seasons, from the exquisite green of a beechwood in spring, to the muffled stillness of a snowy pine wood in winter. She camps with her son Adam, whose beautiful photographs are included in the book; she takes a barefoot walk through Epping Forest with Robert Macfarlane; she walks with a mushroom expert through an oak wood, and with a miner through the Forest of Dean. Maitland ends each chapter with a unique, imaginitive re-telling of a fairystory. Written with Matiland's wonderful clarity and conversational grace, Gossip from the Forest is a magical and unique blend of nature writing, history and imaginative fiction.

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Gossip from the Forest: The Tangled Roots of Our Forests and Fairytales + A Book of Silence
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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Granta (6 Jun 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847084303
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847084309
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.8 x 2.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 9,689 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


In this complex, enchanting book, Maitlandcombines a wiry retelling of traditional European fairy tales with piercing comments on folklore, history and superstition and a rich evocation of the deep, natural, gnarled life of ancient woodlands --The Times

Maitland is a wonderfully enthusiastic Guide to her twinned realms, writing gleefully of crystal brain fungi and the 'strange smokey shimmer' of bluebells. Her relish is infectious, and I suspect as well as hope her 12 woods will see some new faces this year --Observer

The question at the heart of this beautiful, thoughtful book is: how did forests form fairy tales and how have fairy tales influenced the way we feel about forests? It mixes social history with natural history, literary criticism with fiction ... Maitland is incredibly good at taking us with her on journeys through the woods, as she examines her emotional responses ... As a follow-up to Maitland's sublime The Book of Silence, it's a worthy successor. As something to read on dark nights as the wind lashes the leaves from the trees, it's damn near perfect --Independent

Maitland's lively spirit of discovery reanimates the natural world as a place of danger and excitement --Metro

A playful blend of nonfiction and fable. It is both practical and symbolic, a box of tools and a box of delights --New Statesman

Sara Maitland beautifully weaves together a history of forests and fairy tales in a study that actually teaches you something. --Independent on Sunday

A playful blend of nonfiction and fable. It is both practical and symbolic, a box of tools and a box of delights --New Statesman

Lyrical, imaginative, a walk through the woods with Sara Maitland offers more refreshment than a vacuum flask of tea. ... An enchanted spinning wheel of a book, it turns the world around it into gold. --Guardian

A playful blend of nonfiction and fable. It is both practical and symbolic, a box of tools and a box of delights --New Statesman

Spell-binding ... its greatest delight is the re-telling of fairy tales in Maitland's own playfully subversive style. --Scottish Review of Books

A magical walk in the woods from January to December. --Observer

About the Author

SARA MAITLAND is the author of numerous works of fiction, including the Somerset Maugham Award-winning Daughters of Jerusalem, and several non-fiction books about religion. Born in 1950, she studied at Oxford University and currently tutors on the MA in creative writing for Lancaster University. She lives in Galloway.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful and thought provoking 14 Dec 2012
A most beautiful, original and interesting book. It's full of interesting information and beautiful descriptions of forests, which are a pleasure to read and make you wish visiting in person.The book deals with forests' history,the people who lived and live in them and how forests affect them and people in general. From the "free miners' to mushroom expert it brings many intersting aspects of how humans and forests affected each other. The book contains retelling of many fairytales (mainly from a minor charachter's point of view) and these are jems: beautifully written, highly original and thought provoking. It's not often that you see such an original and well written book.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Splendid (but do a little fact checking as well) 4 July 2013
By Stewart M TOP 500 REVIEWER
The central premise of this book is that the stories that people tell are heavily influenced by the environment in which they (the stories) are created. This makes sense.

Flowing from this is the idea that the majority of Fairy Tales - taken here to be those transcribed from the oral tradition by the Brothers Grimm - were created within and about forests. Again, given the geographic origin of these tales, this also makes sense.

By putting these ideas together the author suggests we can learn about both forests and ourselves by looking again at these Fairy Stories. But this is not just a reworking of the "psychological" arguments analysis of Fairy Tales - where every tale has a deeper meaning - but an attempt to make sense of the themes of the tales by reference to the places they were made. And by and large this works.

The book is presented as a series of paired chapters where the first one these is based within in a named real woodland - mainly, but not exclusively, ancient woodlands. The second of the pair is a reworking a fairy tale. This does not mean its just Snow White with computers - but often a major retelling. This builds a wonderful example of the author's contention that landscapes create stories. Each woodland is different and so is each story.

I think its clear that the author loves both woodlands and fairy stories and by blending both into a single book I thinks she hopes we will come to see greater value in both. The "woodland" chapters seek to explore the "real" woodlands - with an emphasis on ecology and landscape history, while the "fairy tale" chapters are more about the symbolic importance of woodlands to story telling. This feels like a bold effort to link science and art in a way that improves both.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Forests and fairytales 14 Dec 2013
In this book Maitland is looking at the role that woods and forests have played in our national identity, primarily through stories, by also as a source of employment, fuel and food.

the book is split into 12 chapters, with 12 sub chapters. Each chapter describes a visit to a different wood or forest that she goes to. She visits these woods all around the country, one each month, as they are significant in some way, either for the variety of the species, or they historical or cultural significance. In these she explores the links that woods have with fairy stories, and the types of characters in these stories.

The small sub chapters are modern interpretations of well known fairy stories that she herself has written.

I really enjoyed the main part of the book about the forests and the history and cultural significance that trees have in our national psyche. Less enjoyable were the fairy tales. She speaks in the final chapter about children and new citizens being given a little book of classic fairy tales, and I feel that if she was going to include these she would have been better including the originals.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling tales 31 Dec 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Most of us will be familiar with the tales retold here but the author's journeys and reflections in today's forests offer an imaginative insight into the social mores of the times they were written and how relevant these still are today. There appears to be a resurgence in interest in Grimms' tales at the moment and this book acts as an excellent companion piece to them, both to the stories in here and the new book by Philip Pullman for example. The explorations in British forests are beautifully described and stand comparison with Roger Deakin and Oliver Rackham without being either too "scientific" or "new age". I can also recommend getting this on kindle as the photographs reproduce well on the kindle fire and other tablets.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I love this book 11 Mar 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Sara Maitland has tapped into the soul of this country; the need for trees and stories. It is a wonderful personal guide to some of the great woods of this island, but it also explores faerie tales in a modern way. We all need stories, we all need the insights they offer. I love this book and am so glad I have it as a tangible book not an e-book as I will go back to it. I have started giving it as presents as well - a sure sign a book has touched me.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Forest magic for folklorists and treehuggers 14 Nov 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A wonderful series of meditations on the significance of woodland in northern European folk tales, interspersed with Maitland's retelling of classic stories. Beautifully written and informative- a great pleasure to read, and a guide to what remains of ancient British woodland. It makes a good companion to Philip Pullman's recent'Grimm Tales for Young and Old'.Grimm Tales: For Young and Old (Penguin Hardback Classics)
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 2 months ago by HertsMum
5.0 out of 5 stars Weirdly enjoyable book about an odd subject
Wasn't at all sure I'd like a book about fairytales or forests, but loved this - it's so clever and likeably written and you find yourself thinking about ordinary things in a... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Lola Bergen
5.0 out of 5 stars And in great condition. Thanks
Such a lovely book. And in great condition. Thanks.
Published 3 months ago by MISS RH SANDERSON
5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely book
This book was a treasure to read. It is one I will return to time and again in the future. Each chapter takes you to a wood which is interwoven with a story, at the end the author... Read more
Published 4 months ago by sb
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and very enjoyable.
This book made me want to get my boots on a go for a walk in the woods and to read fairy tales to my children. Read more
Published 6 months ago by pipthepen
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, but could have done with an extra proof-read
This was a wonderful read - enlightening, full of beautiful descriptions and interesting insights. Maitland's re-telling of some classic fairy tales was both witty and funny, and... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Michael
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable
This is a very interesting book that is an interesting mixture of fact and fiction. Her retelling of many fairy stories are particularly interesting - except the final one of... Read more
Published 6 months ago by sharona27
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
Expected a scholarly work, maybe even a linguistic discussion, but while well-written it consisted entirely of descriptions of various forests in the U.K. as seen by the author. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Mrs. M. Clement
5.0 out of 5 stars Unexpected good read
I didn't expect a lot of this book, but as a daily deal thought I'd risk 99p on it. It turned out to be a very readable book, a mixture of descriptive pieces of walks in different... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Alison Young
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written, informative and fascinating
This is quite unlike anything I've read before and I'm glad I took the chance to read it. I felt drawn in from the first pages, and it's very 'rich', so much so that I will come... Read more
Published 7 months ago by 6363Sandra
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