Literary Arcadia Literature and other things

Tag Archives: Sara Maitland

Fairies in the Forest

Sara Maitland’s book, From the Forest: A Search For the Hidden Roots of Our Fairytales (British title is slightly different), is a ramble through the woods, a meditation on humanity and nature, a discussion of the fairy tales that we have grown up with and have become a part of our culture- whether in a Brother’s Grimm book, in a Disney movie, or popping up in modern fiction.

puss in boots*Puss in Boots*

The book is structured into twelve sections- in each Maitland recounts a walk through one of the woods/forests in Britain, followed by her re-telling of a fairytale.  The book can fall into no particular genre- if I were to describe it I would say it is a sort of folklore study/nature/pop history/fiction.  Maitland’s “new” fairy tales are fun and interesting, but I am not sure if they really belong in a book discussing the “roots” of fairy tales.  She may have wanted to illustrate how the tales changed with the times/tellers, however their inclusion directly contradicts her oft-repeated assertion that writing the tales down, as the Brother’s Grimm did, stagnated them (I do not personally agree with this theory).

I liked this book, but I wished that it had been more; that Maitland had stretched her research and analysis further.  My main annoyance is the subtitle “A Search for the Hidden Roots of Our Fairytales”.  With this title I expected more research into the fairy tales themselves.  Maitland touches lightly upon how the forest is connected to a deeper part of the human psyche and influenced fairy tales, however everything is in generalizations.  I would love to read an in-depth anthropological study on fairy tales, how they evolved from oral folktales, how they are connected to various cultures, and how they inform on these cultures.

Instead Maitland is all over the map, never going in-depth on one subject or another.  She muses on forestry, natural science, written vs. oral tales, child rearing (in an out-of-place lecture), and anything else that pops into her head as she is walking in the woods.  The style resembles what would actually happen in my brain if I was wandering in the woods.  However, it is not the researched and cohesive work that I expected.