CM . . . .
Volume VI Number 14 . . . . March 17, 2000
PROLOGUE: A thieving magpie brought me a clawfull of jewels to arrange and rearrange in endless patterns, until they made this story.And in between "Prologue" and "Epilogue," Joan Bodger creates an amalgam of fairly tale, folk tale and myth, that entrances as it goes. The tale begins in the idyllic forest where Bernardo, the woodcutter father, and Sylvania, his gleaner/medicine woman/storyteller wife, live with their two daughters in harmony with nature and each other. All is not entirely well in their world, however, and soon Bernardo must go off to war across the sea in service of his greedy overlord. Hard times follow, and then Bernardo returns, but sadly altered by the hardships and horrors of his time away. Silvania and the girls are determined to restore him to his former self, and they go through the usual sorts of fairy-tale trials necessary to accomplish this, but, in the end, Bernardo says, "I must warn you. Life won't be all sunshine. We're not out of the wood yet." To which the elder daughter replies, "Dappled light has its own kind of beauty." This is a nice variation on living happily ever after.
Within this encompassing tale, there are many others. Sylvania tells some - one of her ancestors delivered the message of his elevation to the King of the Cats, for example, and Naomi was a Yorkshire woman who went over the sea to Moab, returning with Ruth - but the Green Knight from the Arthurian legends is the one to whom the women go looking for a cure for Bernardo, and the jewels cast upon the heath are those of the nasty-tempered dwarf whom the daughters help when his beard gets caught in various difficult or dangerous places. Each situation is, therefore, met with a pleasant jolt as the familiar mingles with the new.
The illustrations deserve comment. They are, I think, woodcuts, although I am not knowledgeable enough about such things to be certain. They occur as small insets in the text, as partial pages, as full-page spreads, and the dust jacket which is the only one in colour. The small pictures are very effective, whether they are simple line drawings such as that of the corn dolly (p.40), or dark silhouettes with highlights such as the wonderful one of Mr. Boaz and the reapers (p.33). As the pictures get bigger, they increase in complexity, becoming more convoluted and somewhat menacing even in what are intended to be happy scenes, such as the one of the two children playing with the bear in front of the fire. The real disaster, however, is the dust jacket, where the somewhat garish colours do nothing to enhance the heavy darkness of what is meant to be a picture of joyful family togetherness, but isn't. It would be a pity if the cover were to stop people from buying or reading what is otherwise a very worthwhile book, but it may.
Mary Thomas works in two elementary schools in Winnipeg, MB.
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