The Folklore Blog by Zana Fraillon #TheLostSoulAtlas

A boy awakens in the Afterlife, with a pocketful of vague memories, a key, a raven, and a mysterious atlas to guide him as he sets out to piece together what happened, and try to find his way home…

Twig is alone as a newly-made street kid after his dad goes missing. But when he meets Flea, a cheerful pickpocket, the pair become fast friends. Together, Twig and Flea raise themselves on the crime-ridden streets, taking what they need and giving the rest to the even-poorer. Life is good, as long as they have each other. But then Twig wakes up in the Afterlife with just a handful of memories from Earth and one big question… how did he get there?

Loyalty will be tested, and a cruel twist of fate will lead to an act of ultimate betrayal in this epic story that spans a city, a decade, and the divide of life and death itself. The Lost Soul Atlas is a compelling and poignant novel with an important underlying message about children in need who fall through the cracks in society, from the award-winning author of The Bone Sparrow.

Folklores by Zana Fraillon

There is something truly special about a folktale told well. There is a certain magic, a promise of journeying and adventure, and a knowing that no matter how many times you read the tale, how many times it is heard or told, you will always find something new when it visits you again. The most powerful folktales force us to go beyond our own experience and into the unknown. Into the place for which we have no words. Folktales leave us on the very cusp of knowing. They suggest and they lead and they guide, they take us trailing through shadowed woods and listening for the whispers of winds and the singing of stars, but they never, ever tell. The best, the most true folktales, are the ones that slip from your gaze, that shimmer on the edge of your vision; wild tales that disturb and niggle at the back of your mind. A folktale told well, is the ultimate in storytelling. These are some of my favourites…

The Lindworm

This is a fabulous, old Norweigan folktale about a mythical creature who is half human and half snake. It begins with a queen and a king, who are unable to have a child. Until one day an old, wise witch tells them what they must do. Of course, as with so many folktales, the witch’s instructions aren’t followed, and so, the queen gives birth to two children. One is a beautiful baby boy, but the other is, you guessed it, a lindworm. The lindworm is immediately cast out into the cold, dark forest, where he waits…growing both in size and anger, until one day, he meets his brother…

You can find lots of different tellings of this tale, but my favourite version is told by the folklorist Martin Shaw. You can find a video of him telling this story here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z7-uZSIUSpU or read it for yourself in Shaw’s book Courting the Wild Twin. Shaw is a fabulous teller of tales though, so I do highly recommend hearing his words spoken.

The Leaves That Hung But Never Grew

This is a brilliant folktale that I only discovered fairly recently. It is in a collection of old Welsh tales told by Abram Wood – ‘King of the Gypsies’ – and retold by Daniel Morden in his book Dark Tales from the Woods. The first line of this story reads “There was once a weeping house…” which might possibly just be the best opening line of a story I have ever heard. The tale begins with a young woman who has a strange dream. Of course she must follow this dream, no matter where it takes her. There are witches and transformations, lost memories and lost loves, twists and turns and terrible misfortune, and when the young woman becomes ‘as bony as a whisper’ we are sure that the end must be near. But in a folktale, you can never be sure of anything…

Yallery Brown

Collected Folk Tales by Alan Garner is a wonderful, wonderful book. Garner has collected folktales – mostly from across Britain, but not only – and imbued them with the wonder of the spoken word. He says ‘I have worked to recreate the moment of the telling, so that the printed word may sing’. And he does it masterfully. The story Yallery Brown was told by the old folk of Lincolnshire before the fenlands were drained. It is full of hauntings and fairy stones, boggarts and happenings which will forever go unexplained. In Garner’s words, ‘Yallery Brown is the most powerful of all English fairy tales’. You can’t argue with Alan Garner. 

Baba Yaga

Baba Yaga was my first taste of the power of folktale. I had a picture book called Boney Legs by Joanna Cole and as a child I used to read it over and over and over. There was something in this story that kept calling me back, and to this day I can’t tell you what it is, but it has remained a firm favourite. There are many tales about Baba Yaga. In Slavic folklore Baba Yaga is an old, old woman, with iron teeth and a very long nose. She lives deep in the forest in a hut on chicken legs, and her fenceposts are covered with skulls. Instead of flying on a broom stick, she travels in a magic mortar and pestle. In some tales she is depicted as a mother-nature type of character, looking after the wilderness and helping those that respect the earth, and in some tales she is shown as an evil witch who sets impossible tasks for her victims, threatening to cook them in her oversized oven and devour them for her evening meal if they fail. And sometimes, she does both in the one story – ultimately helping the hero, but only after putting them through some truly terrible ordeals. I think it is this ambiguous nature about her that I love and that keeps me searching for more and more Baby Yaga tales.

Tatterhood

Tatterhood is THE best. I came across this tale when studying at university and it has stuck with me ever since. There are a few different versions of Tatterhood around (as with all folktales) but they all begin with Tatterhood herself being born to a King and Queen. And what a birth it is! Tatterhood is birthed fully clothed in a tattered hood, riding a goat, waving a wooden spoon and demanding meat. Her beautiful twin sister is born in the more expected manner and the two grow up together gloriously happy. Tatterhood never washes, never gets off the goat, and is exceptionally loud, but when a rogue band of goblins attacks the castle and takes off with her sister’s head (replacing it with the head of a calf…) Tatterhood is the one to set things straight. In some versions, Tatterhood transforms into a beautiful woman riding a fine horse at the end, but in other versions (and definitely my preferred versions) she transforms only to reveal that while she (and her horse) could be the stereotypical ideal of a beautiful princess, she in fact chooses to be dirty, tattered and unkempt, riding her loyal goat. In this version, the prince (yes, there is a prince) loves her for who she is, tattered hood, goat, spoon and all. But whatever version you find, Tatterhood is fierce and brave and loyal and wise and is my absolute hero. (Hmmm…Fine…that’s it. You’ve done it. I’m off to try and write a book about Tatterhood now. You heard it here first…)

Zana Fraillon worked as a primary school teacher before becoming a full-time writer of fiction and picture books for young children. She is the author of The Ones That Disappeared and The Bone Sparrow, which won the Amnesty CILIP Honour 2017, was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal and Guardian Children’s Book Prize, and has garnered widespread critical acclaim. Zana lives in Victoria, Australia, with her husband and three children.


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