One of my favourite forms of story telling is the re-imagining of fairy tales and myths, I wrote part of my MA dissertation on this form of literature and whenever I find an old story in new words I am really excited to read it. Naomi Novik doesn’t disappoint.
Set in what might just be Poland, near the Russian border in a village plagued by an evil Wood, there’s a wizard called Dragon and a heroine called Agnieszka (after a Polish fairy tale), a legendary witch called Baba Jaga, and a tragedy that started it all.
It is absolutely beautifully written, totally captivating from the brilliant opening
“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley.”
to the fairytale ending where the heroes, having overcome terrible odds, live happily once more.
One of the things that interested me most was the changes made to the story of Baba Jaga (or Yaga) – a witch I was genuinely terrified of as a child having read about her. She lived in a house on chicken legs that could walk and when in one place it was surrounded by a fence made of human bones and she ate people. Oh and she travelled in a giant pestle and mortar. I was absolutely convinced she was real and going to come and get me.
Here, however, she is recast as a historic figure, her spells those of ordinary folk not educated wizards, her power rooted in the earth. I think I would have been less terrified if she had been presented a little more sympathetically than in my book of fairy tales as a child.
This is one of the things I find more intriguing than anything in these retellings, the subtle changes made to the stories, so that while still familiar, they are also wholly new and fresh every time.
Have you read Uprooted? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below.