This book of short stories is something special. In the simplest sense it is a book of fairytales, but every story contained within is original, whether an original take on an old myth (as seen in Lancelot Backwards), or a completely new myth (as exemplified in the creatures called Hemmenak, and the Realm of Khyr, from Mother’s Love).
My favourite thing, in the case of the new myths, is that they are presented like old lore. The way in which they are spoken about, as if the Realm of Khyr is as well-known as Wales’s Prydain or Ireland’s Tír na n’Óg, gives these places and tales an extra sense of gravity. On reading, I almost accepted it as true, as if it was a place I should have already known about. And I enjoyed being put in that position.
Julian Miles has attained something wonderful in writing this compilation of folk tales – a sense of nostalgia and world beauty. I get the same sense from reading these tales as I did from the first time I read the tales of the Norse Gods as a child, same as I did from reading the Brothers Grimm for the first time. Not all tales end well, and some are grisly and filled with horror and despair, but some, too, are beautiful and unearthly. The language used is in the form of older fairytales, old speech patterns, old ways of addressing lords and ladies, witches and wizards. I have encountered many modern myths and retellings that use modern language on older stories, which is commendable and interesting, but I do admit I miss and appreciate the older European storytelling style.
More than just European stories – these tales have a distinctly British flavour. There are some that deviate – the Japanese tale of The Fall of Flower Dream and the Serbian and Norse influences in Andeo come to mind. But still, the British fantasy mood permeates, and I find myself hoping that some of these tales grow popular enough to become folklore staples in the future.
It is clear from some of the accompanying text that many of these tales are already part of the pagan community in the UK. As you read one you might discover that some stories were originally told round fireplaces at communal gatherings and days of celebration, or in one case ‘at the planting of the first sacred grove on the Sussex Downs in centuries’. These additions bring an extra sense of reality to the tales, make them seem more alive.
My favourite tales are The Last Druid, which is a post-apocalyptic vision of the future, and very depressing, and Mother’s Love, set in the Realm of Khyr and with a nautical theme.