Thursday, June 30, 2011

True Immortals by Zoe Marriott

Zoe Marriott is a reader's dream author. Funny, heartfelt and always happy to talk about writing and reading and geeky things like how hot Andy Lau was in House of Flying Daggers and other sundry topics, so when we were asked to do something with Zoe to celebrate her brand new novel: Shadows on the Moon, we were hesitant.

Yes, you read that correctly. We were hesitant. We were heading towards Under 14's Only Month in July and not thinking straight and we were so worried that we weren't going to be able to get Zoe to hold court on MFB at such short notice. And you know what? Sarah came through with this awesome review from earlier today and Walker put together some cool things for us to give away and Zoe came up with this awesome blogpost about fairy tales and fairy tale retellings and storytelling...and my heart soared. And to top it all off, later this afternoon, we are hosting an extract from Shadows on the Moon.  Sometimes you just have to close your eyes and believe in serendipity!

The first stories that the first people told each other were fantasy. We can see these stories in cave art, where human and animal spirits meld with each other and with features of the landscape, creating an astonishing picture of a world where men were part of nature, not separate from it. Despite the life or death struggle that must have formed their existence – or perhaps because of it – those first people took immense care to immortalise their stories. These extraordinary carvings and paintings can still be viewed today.
Art by Arthur Rackham

As time went on and humans divided the world to form countries, cities and civilisations, our stories gradually changed. Now, instead of seeing ourselves as part of the wonder and magic of nature, we began to believe that we were different – special – with a wonder and magic all our own. Our tales were more sophisticated fantasy, stories of human-like Gods and monsters who created and ruled the world, alternately tormenting and aiding humanity. These myths and legends still influence our society today.

Still later, when religion became even more formalised - and even more contentious - humans turned from tales of Gods in human form to tales of other immortals. We thrilled to stories of dragons, witches, fairies, pixies, wizards, elves, goblins, vampires and werewolves, and these creatures still show up in everything from children’s books to T-shirt slogans today.

The true immortals of our world are not Gods, monsters, fairies or even dragons (I know, I’m disappointed too) but stories. The human ability, and more than that, NEED to weave the gleaming gold thread of narrative in among the ragged and bloodstained tapestry of our day to day existence is the reason why (I think) we probably developed language, art, music – and the written word. In other words, without stories? We’re just apes with clever fingers.
Larry Elmore's Dragon Scout

Stories aren’t going anywhere.

Maybe that’s why today, books that draw on the rich tradition of inherited fairytales, myths and folklore from all cultures are some of the most popular in the YA market. I certainly pounce on new retellings or folklore inspired stories with wild enthusiasm whenever I find them. Here’s a list of some of my favourites, both new and old:

Eight Days of Luke by Diana Wynne Jones. This is a novel aimed at 8-12s but I recommend it to everyone – it’s based on Norse Myth and was actually the inspiration for Neil Gaiman’s very famous adult fantasy American Gods (told you, stories are immortal). It’s the darkly hilarious tale of a neglected young boy who accidentally manages to summon a certain mythological being into the modern day world, and isn’t sure if he’s made the best friend of his life or unleashed Ragnarok. Or both.

Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini. This is probably my favourite retelling of Greek myth ever. I’ve been obsessed with the Illiad and Greek myths ever since I was a kid (you can ask my teachers – I got a gold star for my project on it in year five) so I went into this book feeling slightly hostile and sceptical about someone messing around in my territory. Four hours later I was sending the author tweets cursing her for leaving me hanging and begging her to write the sequel faster. This is a YA paranormal fantasy with a strong, principled heroine, a breathless romance and a cunning, multi-layered plot.

Beauty by Robin McKinley. Most fairytale enthusiasts will offer you this version of Beauty and the Beast as their very first recommendation if you ask for a great retelling. It has probably influenced my writing choices more than any other with its lushly romantic tone, hypnotic, lyrical prose and bookish, commonsensical heroine. It’s a classic.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. This book takes on Cinderella in much the same that my own Shadows on the Moon does, and attempts to explain just why any girl with an iota of spine or heart would allow herself to be made a drudge in her own family home. The sprightly heroine and humorous tone have made this a library favourite, and although I’d say it’s aimed at the younger end of YA, I still enjoy re-reading it very much.

The Perilous Guard by Elizabeth Marie Pope. What can I say about this brilliant, Elizabethan-themed Tam Lin story, except ‘Get it now’? If ever you longed for another heroine like Jane Eyre – strong, resolute, morally focused and pragmatic – then this is the book for you. In fact, just typing this gives me an intense urge to get it out and read it again!

The Iron Witch by Kaz Mahoney. This modern YA paranormal novel deals with the not-terribly-well-known Germanic folk tradition of the Maiden with Silver/Iron arms, and does so in a unique and beautifully written story that mixes alchemy, fairy-folk, and romance.

Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale. A unique retelling that takes on the form of a journal written by one of the servants from the fairytale of Maid Maleen or the Maid in the Tower, this historical fantasy features a delightful, plump, food-loving heroine and a culture which I believe takes inspiration from the rise of Gengis Khan and the Mongolian steppes.

The Door in the Hedge and Other Tales by Robin McKinley. I didn’t want to repeat any authors on this list, but I simply couldn’t resist adding this collection of short stories. When I think about my childhood, the language of this anthology – rich and whimsical and magical – is what defines all my memories. I borrowed it from the library so many times that eventually the librarians gave it to me as a present! The story contains two original tales by Ms McKinley, which draw strongly on folklore, and two retellings of classic stories The Princess and the Frog and The Twelve Dancing Princesses.


Walker Books and Zoe have kindly offered the following items to be given away to one lucky competition entrant. Please note that the competition is open to UK entrants only and will run from today, the 30th June till July 7th when we'll be choosing random winner via The goodies: scented fan (lovely!), magnet and also postcards.

Thank you to both Walker Books for letting me play with Zoe and thank you to Zoe for indulging us with this awesome blogpost.


Bonnie @ A Backwards Story said...

What a beautiful guest post on fairy tales, Zoe! Thank you so much. I've read and enjoyed so many of these as well!

Wishing I was in the UK to enter <3

Lynsey Newton said...

Very nice :)

Unknown said...

wow, What a brilliant guest post! and those images are beautiful1 thank you Zoe! :D

Alex Mullarky said...

Do we just enter the giveaway by commenting? Count me in! What an excellent post :)

Unknown said...

What a great post - I agree that stories are immortal :D

Sally@Always Lost in Stories said...

Great post- really interesting, and I love the picures!
Please enter me for the competition- I loved Zoe Marriott's other books and really want to read Shadows on the Moon!

Stephanie (Books Are A Girl's Best Friend) said...

I love fairytales so this post was really interesting to read! Shadows On The Moon sounds fantastic/. Thanks for the giveaway. I'm assuing it's a comment entry?

My email is stephanie dot reads at hotmail dot co dot uk