Title: Beyond the Forest Floor and Other Forest Tales
Author: Joanne McFall
Genre: Folklore / Fairy Tales
Beyond the Forest Floor and other Forest Tales is a collection of thirteen short stories that each have the forest environment as their focal point. The stories combine magic and natural enchantment within the framework of a traditional fairy story.
This little compilation of folkloric tales has all the ingredients that you would expect. The reader encounters talking animals, forest spirits, magical quests and mystical characters. The stories nearly all follow a similar theme of a central character chosen to fulfil tasks in order to restore natural balance or order. The majority of the main characters have some form of creative power and a vulnerable quality which results in them gaining a level of personal salvation while they undertake their quests.
However, the first tale, The Moth and the Mirror, is slightly different. There is no human element and the story is populated by the animal and insect dwellers of the forest habitat. It’s an achingly sweet introduction and uses the common fairy story motif of the broken mirror to charming effect.
The second, A Crystal Cobweb, owes much to the Brothers Grimm in contrast to the others which have a slight Celtic vibe. There is a rustic feel to the prose and a timeless quality to the story. As with all the tales, the profound beauty and mysterious power of nature is at the forefront of the narrative carrying the message that the human race needs to cultivate more awareness and respect of the precious environment. This continuing ecological reference lends the book a contemporary feel despite the intentionally archaic form.
Glass Flames and The Clear Water Jewel meander a little which, while consistent with the themes, did mean they lost a touch of focus. However, the imagery is beautifully visual and immersive especially in The Clear Water Jewel which features a sea forest. A Journey has some especially bewitching characterization and the subtle, reoccurring emblem of the golden leaf was simple but effective.
Essence Flowers begins strongly and the nominal character, Essence, is endowed with a delicate mysticism which feels entirely credible within the nebulous, dreamscape setting. Green Swans was entrancing and could have been developed even further. Other Moon was the strongest in the collection, ethereal and full of recognizable fairy story tropes such as tapestries woven with magical thread, wolves, and the ubiquitous woodcutter. Twilight Pathways benefitted from another strong female lead and lovely descriptive imagery.
The Tree and the Seed was nicely authentic and the dynamic between the twins was an interesting addition. Spirit Moth had a supernatural energy and was slightly darker than the previous stories. As was Forgotten Leaves with its abstract metaphors and sand storms. Beyond the Forest Floor shifts focus onto the characters, Rose and Alair, lending the final tale a sense of human intimacy that provides an evolved contrast to the opening story.
This anthology has a gentle innocence and childlike simplicity which is nicely complemented by the naïve illustrations. The beautifully intricate forest realms and otherworldly characters demonstrate a high degree of imagination but, on occasion, this is at the expense of the narrative.
Beyond the Forest Floor and other Forest Tales is a sweetly captivating collection which blends fairy story and folk tale into charmingly quirky stories that carry a subliminal message at their whimsical heart. Delightfully imaginative and beautifully realized, these enchanted adventures are well worth a look.
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