Foxfire, Wolfskin and other stories of Shapeshifting Women by Sharon Blackie – Old tales with a new twist
Many tales have emerged concerning women who change their very nature. Periodically assuming the form of wolves, fish, or other creatures, they fall in love with human men, spend time as women in relationships, before returning to their natural form. Sharon Blackie has taken the themes of these tales, varied as they are, and woven new stories around them. She puts them in different times, different contexts, as she tells elemental tales of sea shores, islands and forests. The rhythms of nature thread through these stories, full of the beauty of wild places. The women are shown in all their variety; beautiful, loyal, quiet, vocal, mothers and lovers. They are warriors, saviours and occasionally victims, but they often express their feelings silently.
Though many of these stories are timeless, one is very contemporary, showing the concerns of a woman who is trying to get in touch with her true power animal. This particular story manages to encapsulate many well known elements of a traditional tale, while giving it a vivid modern twist. With some sly humour and knowing nods to the original tales, this book reclaims a great deal of the original stories, the basics of which are given in the back of the book. I was grateful to have the opportunity to read and review this book.
Throughout the book, the author narrates the stories in different voices. From the first which uses the device of “Say” at the start of each paragraph, an almost aggressive revelation of the revenge for removing the very essence of a woman. The contrast with another story, of long term love and affection, not only for a human love but for a silent animal. Disturbing links of birth and eggs dominate in one tale, where another is the success of love and modern sacrifice. The seasonal activities on an isolated island are implied, yet the power of traditions conflicts with the dreams of individuals. One story suggests how the world is affected by a climatic extreme, and how a relief is found. Sometimes the whole theme is turned around; negatives become positives, the complex made simple. Most of the tales are powerful, some are brief and funny, one or two are gentle and reassuring. Strong women, significant animals and so much more stream through these pages, giving many perspectives on a natural world at once familiar and challenging.
I found this an enthralling and enjoyable book of stories. There is an illustration for every story, simple yet with an impact. The stories create worlds on the edge of reality, and always have at least one woman at the heart of the tale. They depict powerful women, each with a truth beyond the obvious. I enjoyed a book of accounts of women who propel the action rather than sit on the sidelines. Sometimes the sense of longing or sadness is overwhelming, and some stories convey disturbing elements. I recommend this book to those who know and love traditional tales from the British Isles and elsewhere, but also to those for whom these tales are new.