Gossip from the Forest: The Tangled Roots of Our Forests and Fairytales
by Sara Maitland
Published November 2012 by Granta Books
This started well, with the above – wonderfully feminist – definition of the word ‘gossip’. However, it quickly turned into an interesting but very confused book.
On one hand it’s a social history of England’s woodlands, examining how people have lived in and used the forests over the last thousand years or so. It’s also a fascinating breakdown of Germanic fairytales, their history and development. The author suggests that fairytales and forests are inextricably linked – an argument I find quite convincing. However, the problem for me is that Maitland spends her time frolicking round English woods (and a couple of Scottish ones) when the forests of the fairytales are in central Europe. The really nice premise of this book is spoiled for me by this odd geographic choice. I wanted to learn about the fairytales in the Germanic woodlands – their origin and real-world context.
A major bugbear for me was the author’s choice to visit a few Scottish woodlands… while still discussing english history! As well as just being insulting, those later forays into Scottish trees felt rushed, half-hearted and poorly written in comparison to earlier chapters. An attempt to pad out the book and nothing more.
The author’s re-tellings of several fairytales are excellent. If she had chosen to write two books, one about english woodland history and another about fairytales, I’m sure they would have made two very good works. Squashed together they seem disjointed, confused and un-natural.