CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 18. . . . January 12, 2017
The fairies of Newfoundland are none of your Tinkerbells, Barbie dolls with wings, or even stern fairy godmothers with their gifts tied to deadlines and consequences. No leprachauns with hidden pots of gold make their way into these tales. These spirits are strictly malevolent, leading people where they would not wish to go, and then abandoning them, dazed, confused, and forever changed in some indefinable way.
The nine stories have no collective theme other than being encounters with fairies. They are all told as tales heard by someone, but that "someone" changes from tale to tale. In "Spirited Away", the narrator is telling what happened to her grandmother when she was led/pushed along a fairy pathway until she came to herself on the shore of the next cove to where she lived, having unknowingly crossed two largish rivers! In "Fairy Funeral", a woman encounters a funeral procession as she is passing the graveyard at night. It is not certain if she died soon after, but the received wisdom was that she was lucky to have seen the tail end of the procession rather than the front; if she'd seen herself in the open coffin it would be a death knell for certain!
Mostly the listeners are children who hear and believe what their elders dismiss so they say as delusions of one who has "a drop taken". The children love the thrill and the horror of the unknown, but they learn through the stories to fear it as well. So in this way these fairy tales are like the familiar ones we were brought up on: Red Riding Hood beware of strangers; Hansel and Gretel don't go wandering in the woods alone (and, less reasonably to our minds, not to trust your father's second wife!).
The stories are illustrated by dark woodcuts, very spooky and atmospheric, that add greatly to the text as you read. In fact, the whole book is based on atmosphere character development and plot are not big players. Spirited Away is a book to be enjoyed in front of a cozy fire or tucked up on the sofa with a hot water bottle, somewhere very safe and far from the spirits depicted and described so that the horrors are far away – though there is always the possibility that one is lurking under the bed... a deliciously scary thought.
Mary Thomas lives and works occasionally in Winnipeg, MB, and has visited Newfoundland, but never encountered a ghost. Just more and harder rain than anywhere else ever!