Reviews||

The Forgotten and the Fantastical edited by Teika Bellamy

6th May 2015

★★★★★
The Forgotten and the Fantastical
Following on from our recent spotlight on Mother’s Milk books, here is a closer look at their latest and possibly greatest book, The Forgotten and the Fantastical: Modern Fables and Ancient Tales.

The Forgotten and the Fantastical is a captivating collection giving voice to contemporary interpretations of traditional folk stories, oral tales which were often dominated by women storytellers. Here is a wonderful celebration of the lost voices of our past, with a contemporary flavour.

These stories charm and seem to seek to inspire some element of childhood wonder in the reader. And, as Teika Bellamy writes in the introduction, ‘we are all in need of a little magic these days’. NJ Ramsden has two stories in the collection, both opening and closing the book. ‘The Boy and the Bird’ and ‘The Paper House’ are subversive yet reminiscent of traditional stories. ‘The Boy and the Bird’ manages to be other-worldly but there is an aching familiarity as the both the boy and the bird begin to understand each other.

‘The Paper House’ is the story of a man whose wives keep turning into stone and becoming absorbed into his paper house, until there is no longer any room for himself. Both of NJ Ramsden’s stories use familiar fairy-tale landscapes and present them in a more interesting manner.

More contemporary settings are seen in stories such as ‘Screaming Sue’ by Marija Smits. ‘Screaming Sue’ is a memorable and surprising story about a rich American heir, who starts off saying ‘if there’s one thing us rich kids don’t like it’s this: hard work’. His misplaced scepticism about an old fishermen’s tale changes his view of the world.

‘Gepetto’s Child’ by Lisa Shipman is a more dystopian take on the world. The android protagonist learns about fairy tales and becomes more complex and human-like, if only for a little while. This tale demonstrates why we need stories in our lives, and how life changing stories can be: the protagonist ‘thinks of the fairy tales. She thinks what it means to be an android.’

‘The Sparrows and The Beefworms’ by Rebecca Burland is a fable about breast-feeding. In it, the sparrows are coerced and forget how to hunt worms naturally until, one day, a new sparrow moves in and hunts, causing a commotion in the community.

This story especially, in its summation and its presentation, appeals to feminist and women’s issues which don’t receive enough attention. The sparrows ask ‘how dare this new sparrow make them feel bad?’ This speaks to a contemporary phenomenon in which women, especially, are constantly comparing themselves to others.

‘Writing is always an act of translation – from thoughts and feelings to the page – but in fantasy writing that transformation can be alchemical.’An interesting aspect of this collection is the reflections at the end of the book. The contributors are asked to write a little about the conception of their story; this contains some eye-opening thoughts, such as Becky Cherriman’s wise assertion that ‘writing is always an act of translation – from thoughts and feelings to the page – but in fantasy writing that transformation can be alchemical.’

The only problem with this collection is that it is very short: the stories are captivating and easy to wolf down, but this collection deserves to be longer. There is, however, another collection planned for release next year.

The Forgotten and the Fantastical is a fascinating and absorbing read. Lots of love and effort has gone into this book and it is truly deserving of a very wide audience.