Brewhaha Book Cafe

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Announcing Fairytale Month + Competition

Have you seen them? The first tentative snowdrops lifting their sleepy heads… the first golden daffodils trumpeting out the arrival of Spring! Soon drab, grey England where I live will transform into a Faery Realm of apple blossoms, forsythia hedges and cool, green forests… the perfect setting for fairy revelries!

So Keep your eyes peeled for sprites, leprechauns and the like, and join us here at Brewhaha Book Café as we celebrate our favourite Fairytales all March long!

From the Brothers Grimm to Walt Disney, from Irish Folklore to German old-wives tales, we’ll be exploring the depths and heights of the Realm of Faery… including a look at fairytale retellings through the ages. 

And now for the creme: We are inviting YOU, fellow fairytale enthusiasts, to take part in a month-long competition of fairytale retelling!

Here’s how to take part.

  • Pick your favourite fairytale and give it a twist; retell it as it’s never been told before! Maybe that means setting it in modern day, or telling the story from a different character’s point of view, or imagining what might have happened if… Sky’s the limit here! 
  • Email your submission (no strict word limit, but maybe aim for 1,000 words or fewer) to us at along with your name & any other tidbits about yourself you’d like to share.
  • Bri & I will announce the Winner & Runner Up on 31 March + feature the retellings on the blog!

We can’t wait to read your fairy-retellings! Now go take a walk in a magic wood, pull out your old Disney collection or sit down for an hour with Hans Christian Anderson… whichever portal takes you to the Realm of Faery. We look forward to journeying there with you this month!

The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald

This article first appeared as a guest post on Pages Unbound on 28 July 2016. Many thanks to Krysta and Briana for hosting the celebrating classic literature event. Be sure to visit their fantastic blog!

Before the wardrobe. Before the One Ring…

Some one-hundred-twenty-odd years after its first publication, The Princess and the Goblin was honoured with a place in Everyman’s Library of Children’s Classics. But I would suggest the fairytale, and the entirety of MacDonald’s fantasy works, belong in the canon of classics for all ages. And I believe I am in good company in suggesting so. C.S. Lewis praised MacDonald as a master in “the art of myth-making.” Tolkien was inspired by his predecessor’s “stories of power and beauty.” The Princess and the Goblin attests to all of the above: a fairytale in the truest, pre-Victorian sense that Tolkien subscribed to (which ironically has nothing to do with little winged people hiding in flower gardens), this tale is enchantingly beautiful and at the same time has the power to awaken desire in the reader… which was, after all, precisely what the author intended.

The Story

As you might guess, the central protagonist in the story is the eight-year-old princess Irene who lives in an unnamed but perfectly believable mountainous kingdom. The King has sent Irene to grow up in a country home under the astute care of his servants because of a lurking threat: namely, vindictive goblins. Irene must never venture out of the house past dark lest the cave-dwelling “cobs” take the chance to seize her and at last have revenge on the king’s people whom they condemn as trespassers on their land. When by happenstance one evening Irene and her nurse get caught out after dark and are rescued by a confident young miner called Curdie, Irene’s life takes a turn towards the fantastical.

Not long afterwards, she discovers in the attics of her house a breathtakingly beautiful queen who claims to be Irene’s great grandmother, come to live in the house to watch over the little girl. Irene is delighted with her discovery of the wise and gentle woman, but when she descends the attic stair to share the news with her nurse, the true conflict of the story emerges. For though the goblins’ mischief sets the scene for the action that follows, the real crisis for Irene is one of belief – belief of what she has experienced, even when others write off her belief as a childish game, trickery, or worst of all, lies.princess Irene

As the drama unfolds and the danger of goblin schemes grow, Irene must battle her own doubts about her grandmother as well as the doubts of others. Half-persuaded the whole experience was a dream, a lingering hope leads Irene to search out her grandmother once again, and when she succeeds, her fears are finally laid to rest. Now fully convinced of the truth of her experience, Irene is allowed to see her grandmother in all her splendid, magical beauty. The queen gives the princess a gift – a magic thread that will lead her out of danger whenever she follows it.

Certain at last of her grandmother’s existence and the power of her promise, Irene becomes a true princess, following her thread in a daring mission to save Curdie from the goblins. The tale does not end there, for the goblins still have their vendetta to serve, and Irene still must face the disbelief of those she loves. But suffice it to say, MacDonald is a self-professed believer in happy endings. And for those readers hungry for more, The Princess and Curdie continues the history yet further down the road.

But what does it all mean?

Aside from the remarkable tale itself, MacDonald’s style of storytelling is remarkable in the way it pulls the reader into the story, sometimes inviting him or her to guess what might happen next. But whilst he engages his readers as if they were sitting in the same room with him, the author never attempts to tell his audience what the tale means. Unlike so many writers for children of his day, MacDonald never lectures, never moralizes and never offers interpretation. And indeed, it would be a misstep to try and spell out the story’s meaning in this review – MacDonald expressly did not mean for one meaning to be found.

What MacDonald offers his readers of The Princess and the Goblin (along with his other fairytales) is not a lesson but an experience. It isn’t that he asks the reader to suspend thinking; quite the contrary, for MacDonald, Reason is intrinsic to the realm of Faerie. Also, he makes his audience not only think but rethink with his frequent use of paradox: the wisdom of youth seen in Irene, or the strength and beauty of old age that Irene’s great grandmother embodies. But while we readers may find ourselves rethinking what we once thought, MacDonald himself warned that “we spoil many a precious thing by intellectual greed,” and “The greatest forces lie in the region of the uncomprehended” (from MacDonald’s essay “The Fantastic Imagination”). Hence children are so much better at receiving fairytales than many adults, though MacDonald would argue it is adults who need them most.

 For my part, I do not write for children, but for the childlike, whether of five, or fifty, or seventy-five. ~G. MacDonald, ‘The Fantastic Imagination’

A fairytale, MacDonald believed, is less like an allegory and more like a sonata that “seizes you and sweeps you away”: it is written with rationally with rules, but it will stir up a different feeling in every listener.

The key then to not just appreciating but truly enjoying The Princess and the Goblin and other like tales is letting it work its magic on you; allowing it to transport you right where you sit into a waking dream in the Realm of Faerie. This story’s beauty lies in its power to awaken a perhaps forgotten childlike wonder in readers of any and every age. It certainly had such a stirring, heartstring-pulling, transporting effect on me. But you must read it for yourself to see where the music of MacDonald’s fairy world will take you.

If there be music in my reader, I would gladly wake it.

~George MacDonald

Daily Doses of Magic: the world-builder’s diet

I confess. I am a sucker for Fantasy Worlds – for the soaring landscapes of Middle Earth, the heart-wrenching beauty of Narnia, the delicately spun fabric of Faerie. When I read descriptions of such supremely beautiful realms, destined for epic adventure, I get lost like the Pevensie children and never want to return to the ordinary world I live in.

Of course I want to create worlds as wonderful for my characters! Worlds my readers will happily get lost in. But when it comes time to build them, I always feel that I’m falling deplorably short. I almost believe that other writers whose worlds have transported me have actually been transported themselves. That’s how they do it! They have a window into Fairyland that I’ve yet to find. If only I could get a glimpse. If only…

Do you ever pine for that glimpse into Faerie as well, sure that you’ll never spin a satisfactory world of your own until you find that magical window?

So I might be pining away forever… but then I venture to the forest on a fine summer’s morning with my dog, and the trees whisper some sense into my wistful head: “Here is your window, you silly thing! The very same that your fairy tale for-bearers looked into for inspiration. It’s called Nature, and it’s positively buzzing with magic!”

G.K. Chesterton wrote, true to his style, a supremely sensible essay called “The Ethics of Elfland” which recaptures the lost wonder of this fairyland we live in. My morning, woodland walk brought home something he’d said, and I had to agree:

The only words that ever satisfied me as describing Nature are the terms used in the fairy books, ‘charm,’ ‘spell,’ ‘enchantment.’ They express the arbitrariness of the fact and its mystery… this fairy-tale language about things is simply rational and agnostic.

His point? Nature is as surprising and mysterious as any fairy realm ever could be. We have simply got used to her habits and labelled them as ‘laws’… rather unromantically. But what if you went outside for the first time and saw the world with fresh eyes? Chesterton reckons the fairy tale’s purpose is to teach us to do just that.

These tales say that apples were golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green. They make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water.

So here is my challenge to you (as well as to myself in the midst of a world-building project!). Start an observation journal. Just try it. Make it a habit to observe one detail – however grand or minuscule – in Nature each day, with fresh eyes of wonder that it is as it is. After all, it might have been some other way. Or as Chesterton puts it, apple trees might have produced candlesticks instead of apple blossoms!

When it comes to creating fantasy worlds, there is nothing new under the sun. As world builders, the only colours we have to paint with are the ones Nature offers us. But Nature is hardly a miser – what a wealth of resources she has to offer! So go outside, marvel at the Elfland that is our home. Then take all those colours and all that marvel and paint a world in words. Enjoy!

In honor of this theme, I’ve dug out a very, VERY old poem I wrote as a kid. Rarely do I post poetry for the world to see, but as this one comes from a far distant life, I shall make an exception!

“Daily Doses of Magic”

In January,
Falls with silent grace
A glistening shower of soft white lace.
The earth with pride is sure to glow,
When dressed in a shimmering gown of snow.

Magic’s yours for the taking,
If only you dare.
If you’ve not yet claimed it,
You must not care.

In February,
When nature’s left bare by the cold,
Is a grand time to go out hunting Leprechauns’ gold.
Take a peak in mum’s garden, or on window sills
For the shining golden heads of spring’s first daffodils.

Magic’s a treasure most precious,
Though not terribly rare.
So don’t waste one more moment
Before claiming your fair share.

In gently March,
When earth’s long sleep is shook,
The sprite’s and pixies sneak out for a look.
But should spring showers threaten their fun with gloom,
They’ll pop up, spit spot, and umbrella mushroom.

Magic’s no fib,
No story, or fable.
Don’t suppose you can’t find it.
You are perfectly able.

In April,
Sky’s majestic concerts play
While silver streamers the night array.
Tucked snug in bed, safe, dry, and warm,
You can listen to the music of a spring thunderstorm.

Magic’s no secret,
It’s as plain as blue sky.
If you’d like me to prove it,
Why just open your eyes.

In May
When day gives way to night,
I watch the flickering fairy lights.
They disappear in the blink of an eye.
What a curious creature, the firefly!

Magic isn’t just in books.
If you haven’t found it,
You haven’t looked.

In June,
You’ll find a magical gem
To put in your pocket should you have the whim.
Watch violet turn green before your eyes
When june bug opens his wings and flies.

Magic comes in packages
Of every size.
Should you come across it,
Don’t be surprised.

In hot July,
While seaside dreaming,
I can hear the mermaids singing.
There sweet and mystic voices swell
Deep down inside an old conch shell.

Magic’s in every cranny and nook.
If you’ve not yet found it,
You’ve not yet looked.

In August,
Silvery silken nets are cast
To catch moon droplets of liquid glass.
Morn’s sunbeams turn these to dew drops instead,
That dangle from each dainty spiderweb thread.

No need for a wand, spellbook,
Or white rabbit.
If it’s magic you seek
Just reach out and grab it.

In September,
When nights are cool, crisp, and quite clear,
The sky’s faithful watchman is sure to appear.
A sign that fall’s magic will be upon the world soon,
Is the sleepy-eyed man on the pale harvest moon.

Magic’s oh so much more
Than a make-believe game.
Why, to miss out on magic
Would be a most dreadful shame.

In October,
You may encounter upon neighbors’ porches
A mischievous nimph with eyes shining like torches.
But don’t be alarmed by his snaggle-toothed grin,
For jack-o-laterns, quite often, make jolly good friends.

So if life’s too ordinary,
Then do precisely as I say:
Take a daily dose of magic,
And add dazzle to each day.

In November,
Fair rubies drip from trees;
But shaken by an autumn breeze,
They dance down gracefully as you please,
To make fall’s rainbow rug of leaves.

Magic’s there, it doesn’t hide.
If you haven’t seen it,
You haven’t tried.

In December,
When magic falls in drifts like the snow,
A billion flick’ring candles set all earth aglow.
On still, frosty nights, these bring joy near and far,
To hearts warmed and eyes twinkling under heaven’s kind stars.

So whatever the season, day, or the hour,
Enjoying some magic requires no special powers.
Just open those eyes up,
Dust off your nose and ears.
With practice, you’ll find magic every day of the year!

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