7 brand new tales with ancient roots, picked by Lucy Strange
Published on: 17 January 2022
Lucy Strange's new book Sisters of the Lost Marsh is deeply rooted in ancient tales - and here, she recommends more brilliant children's stories that draw on myths and legends.
Photo: Claudine Sinnett
There is something wonderful about a brand new story that has its roots in old folk tales. The reading experience is so rich and rewarding for the reader; the journey both familiar and surprising at the same time.
When I am writing my own books, delving into traditional stories is one of the most exciting parts of my research process. The sharp edges of these ancient tales strike like flints against my ideas, sparking strange and dazzling new twists.
My new book Sisters of the Lost Marsh follows the story of Willa and her five sisters, growing up in the middle of a vast, eerie marshland. Their isolated community is ruled by fear and superstition - even reading and writing are seen as a kind of witchcraft (if folks catch you reading, they'll look at you sideways, and that's the beginning of a bad end for anybody).
The sisters' lives are overshadowed by an ancient and terrible curse - the Curse of Six Daughters - which predetermines the fate of each girl. It falls upon Willa to stand up to the curse - and to their cruel father - so that they might each choose their own path.
There are many folk and fairy tales featuring curses and siblings - the Brothers Grimm's Six Swans for example, or The Seven Ravens. The bond of love and loyalty that is so often found in stories about such families is very much at the heart of Willa's tale: sisterhood, strength and solidarity.
I have taken inspiration from the world of fae too. Folklore tells us of will-o'-the-wisps or magical lanterns that flicker over marshland at night, luring lost souls to their doom. In her journey across the treacherous mire, my heroine Willa must be strong enough to resist the enchantment of these false, fae flames if she is to save her sisters, and indeed herself.
Here are some of my favourite children's books that take inspiration from the magic of folk tales...
1. The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson
Pic: Melissa Castrillón
Sophie Anderson grows her modern and accessible stories from the sparkling seeds of Slavic folk lore. The House with Chicken Legs, her debut, is one of my absolute favourites.
12-year-old Marinka lives in a magical, moving house with her grandmother who is a yaga - a guardian of the dead. Marinka is determined to escape her own fate as a yaga, carving out her own identity and finding friendship beyond her apprenticeship duties. But to do so, she must venture into the world of the dead...
2. Hilary McKay's Fairy Tales
We all know – or think we know – what happened to Cinderella, or to Hansel and Gretel, but Hilary McKay breathes new life into these old tales in her gorgeous collection of re-spun stories.
They're fresh, warm, multi-layered and humorous retellings, with characters so much more real and human than the dusty old archetypes.
3. The Way Past Winter by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Pic: Helen Crawford-White
The Way Past Winter is a wonderful, frosty adventure to the frozen north. She blends fairy tales of eternal winters with a bounding and heartfelt plot, warm enough to melt right through the icy world she so deftly creates.
4. A Girl Called Owl by Amy Wilson
Amy Wilson's first enchanting story about the daughter of Jack Frost is steeped in the folklore of our ever-changing, ever-battling seasons. Old folk tales are often about big ideas such as kindness and cruelty and, in Wilson's wintry world, we discover a cast of elemental beings as kind and cruel as nature itself.
5. Lampie by Annet Schaap
The folklore of the sea has given us so many strange and magical beings - kelpies, selkies and, of course, mermaids. In Annet Schaap's bewitching tale Lampie, she draws on these tales (and indeed tails) of the sea - exploring ideas such as identity, freedom, and how we can find strength through friendship.
Some of the ugliest traits of human nature are here too though - selfishness, prejudice, cruelty and greed; it soon becomes clear to us who the monsters of this story really are.
8. Song of the Far Isles by Nicholas Bowling
Dallying on the high seas a little longer, Nicholas Bowling's Song of the Far Isles is a glorious adventure of music, piracy and friendship, drawing on a wealth of Celtic and nautical folk lore and creating his own brilliantly believable mythology too. It is a warm, funny, brilliantly written tale which skips along like a brisk sea breeze, leaving you grinning and windswept.
9. Treacle Walker by Alan Garner
More suitable for older children, teens and adults, Alan Garner's new novel Treacle Walker is a strange and many-layered tale, blending a depth of human feeling with ancient and unknowable forces from the world of folklore.
Like much of his fascinating work, it trembles with a dark tension that is hard to pin down. As with all these stories that draw deeply from the mysterious well of folklore, the art of the storytelling lends an unsettling feeling of truth to the peculiar characters and plot twists...
What if..? we ask ourselves. What if such things really were true? What if there really were mystical healers, or mermaids, or will-o'-the-wisp lanterns flickering over the marshes? What if..?
Lucy Strange's new book Sisters of the Lost Marsh is published by Chicken House.