A gratifying and unusual collection of folktales from Poland.
There are a number of good stock characters in these pages: beautiful princesses who get themselves into trouble, warty-nosed ogres (“His spine was crooked as a banana, his nose was a monstrous protrusion of fugal shapes, his eyes small, dark, and beady…”), buffoons who overstep themselves or commit one-too-many deadly sins. There are also talking trees, dark forests, miraculous springs and enough monsters and temptations to sink a raft of righteous souls. The tales are told by Monte in an unwavering voice, with portent enough to keep an audience listening close, and Hess’ artwork has the right spidery look and sinister atmosphere. What makes these tales unusual is that they are not tidied up, but are left open ended. Both the good guys and the bad guys have their dark sides, and the bad guys can have sympathetic traits. The moral of the tale isn’t simply stated, and readers will have to dig a little, and some of the imagery—like the goats butting their heads high in the tower—will have them scratching their heads. That the locales are ancient and real gives the whole collection added wallop.
So visit the Karkonosze Castle or the Wieliczka salt mine or the banished city of Wineta—you may be challenged, but you will not be disappointed. (Folktales. 8-12)