But anyway - amongst many other books - the one that has stayed with me through growing from grumpy teen to grumpy adult, if pushed to pick just one - the book I would take with me to a desert island is...
The Iron Wolf by Richard Adams
This review is an updated version of one I wrote a while ago and posted on Ciao.co.uk
Being a lover of anything fantastical does so get me in trouble - my imagination often wanders off for the day selfishly rendering the body of myself totally useless. However on the plus side having a roving imagination means I still absolutely adore the realms of fantasy. I still get a kick out of folklore, fairy tales and believe many a horror story is rivalled by the good old Brothers Grimm... though horror stories too are just tales of fantasy stretched to the extreme.
Imagine the glee of a teenage folklore geek uncovering a delightful compilation of Worldwide folk-tales, bound together in a hardback book and illustrated with delicious black & white line drawings and colourful, vibrant full page art work. Add to this the fact that the stories have been compiled and edited by Richard Adams - the man who gifted the world with Watership Down and we have a near delirious teenager begging an unfortunate boot fair stall holder to drop his price and accept her £1 pocket money for said treasure.
A good twenty years later and The Iron Wolf is one of the few books to stand the test of time. Not many these days are privileged with permanent residence on my bookshelf. I believe books are meant to be read - not to sit gathering dust on a shelf. If I know a book wont be read more than once then it goes to ReaditSwapit, given to a friend, donated to a charity shop or more recently, offered up here on my blog.
The Iron Wolf, now dog-eared but well loved, well read and every story memorised in order of preference will always be a firm favourite with myself and hopefully my children too.
° ° ° A Wise Man Once Said ° ° °
Richard Adams writing the blurb on Iron Wolf - “As it seems to me, the great qualities of folk-tales are two. First, they are full of surprises and marvels. The essence of fiction is that the hearer is dying to learn what happened next, or if he already knows, he is eager to hear it again and take fresh delight in his wonder. Secondly, they are most admirably witty, neat and adroit. I only hope I have managed to retain these qualities.”
You did indeed Sunshine!
° ° ° Come A Little Closer, I Want To Tell You A Story ° ° °
Including the introduction which is a story in itself this marvellous book bears twenty stonkingly good tales that just beg to be read around a roaring log fire on a cold wintry night... Failing that a three bar ‘leccy does the job just as well for me.
The stories have been collected from all the far-flung corners of the World - China, Polynesia, and the Arctic Circle... and of course good old Blighty! They are a tiny sample of The Unbroken Web of dreams that cover our Earths surface. I haven’t given an in depth review of each story because each story is itself quite short and there would then be little point in anyone reading this magnificent collection:
In the Introduction ~ THE UNBROKEN WEB ~ Richard Adams explains to us just what the Unbroken Web is, how precious it is and how it must be kept alive. How all stories come from our dreams and that on analysis our dreams give us our folk-tales and legends from the past, create new ones for the present and will present us with a new wave of tales in the future thus creating an ever expanding, unbreakable web of tales.
~ THE CAT IN THE SEA ~
~ THE GIANT EEL ~
~ MICE IN THE CORN ~
~ THE MODDY DHOO ~
~ THE WOODPECKER ~
~ CRAB ~
~ THE CRIMSON PARROT ~
~ THE LANGUAGE OF ANIMALS ~
~ THE BLIND BOY AND HIS DOG ~
~ STAN BOLOVAN AND HIS DRAGON ~
~ THE CROW AND THE DAYLIGHT ~
~ THE ROCKS OF KORSAN ~
~ THE IRON WOLF ~
~ THE NIGHTINGALE ~
~ HOW LONG WILL YOU LIVE? ~
~ BACK OF THE MOON ~
~ A HUNDRED TIMES ~
~ THE ROBIN ~
~ PRINCE MEERATZ AND THE HORSE OF DUST AND THUNDER
Each story is told from a narrator’s point of view to a fictional audience. Each narrator is different for each story as is the audience. For example, in one tale the narrator is a Mum telling a bedtime tale to her child, in another it is a couple of soldiers in the trenches fighting to stay awake by telling each other stories and in another a teacher on the school trip from Hell tries to calm her unruly class with - you guessed it - a story. The narratives in themselves can sometimes be almost as touching as the tales they are telling.
I love how the narrator either starts off in one mood; scared (in the trenches), or trying to regain calm, (the school teacher) and how the story they tell has a moral entwined that relates to the audience they are talking too. ie: fear or what will happen if you break the rules. This again I find could be a marvellous thing when reading to a child - it’s something I have only really picked up on as an adult. To be honest when I was younger the narratives annoyed me and I used to skip them and get straight to the story. Now that I am older and, I like to think, wiser (ha!) I see that the audience and narrator are extremely relevent to the stories themselves. It really is very cleverly done.
Each story is a different variation of the best loved tales we probably have all heard when we were children - Why don’t we live forever? Why do some animals live in the sea and some live on land? - Why is there night and day? How did the Robin get his redbreast and is the moon really made of cheese? Childishly simple stories but fiendishly well put together, richly described in sometimes frightening detail - there are certainly a couple I wont yet read my scaredy cat three-year old. Basically because although most of the tales are enchanting and fairy tale-esque - a couple are dark, menacing and have very adult themes. I believe Richard Adams wrote this book for everyone to enjoy but I would advise some parental guidance for younger chldren say below ten/twelve as one or two stories do have a couple of naughty bits.
° ° ° Would I Like It? ° ° °
If you love to delve into the world of dragons, demons, legends, heroes, monsters and mayhem - you cannot possibly go wrong with this book. I absolutely adore it and am going to be inflicting it on my children for years to come until they have had enough and leave home to get away from me (Well it’s one way to get the little monsters to leave when they’re of age!) Luckily my girls have similar interests to myself and the nearly eleven-year old is showing quite a lot of hunger for history, legend and the like so she will get great enjoyment from this book. (Either that or I have brainwashed her)
So yes, I recommend The Iron Wolf wholeheartedly both for yourself and your kiddiwinkles alike.
Kudos must go to the beautiful art work too. Colour plates are by Yvonne Gilbert and the black & white drawings were by Jennifer Campbell. Beautifully done and just made the book complete.
Mr Adams my man - you done good!
Published as The Iron Wolf in the UK and in other countries as The Unbroken Web.
ISBN in my copy is: 0 7139 1341 X
Thanks for stopping by :)