An imaginative study examining both the vital role forests play in fairy stories and their vanishing significance from modern life.
For Maitland (A Book of Silence, 2009), employing both research and her own personal study of forests throughout the United Kingdom, the untamed wild is both a powerful symbol of hidden dangers and a challenge to personal responsibility. While modern children are raised to stay inside where life is orderly and presumably safer, the stories of “Hansel and Gretel” and “Little Red Riding Hood” present a world with different rules that require new “coping strategies.” “To know about woods you have to go into the woods,” she writes. “So if we want healthy children in healthy forests we need to get the children out into the forests, and to do that, we need to see the forests as friendly, generous places, but also as tough and determined.” Maitland is at her best when she is most personal; she writes with smooth, often poetic, clarity about where stories come from, and she has a sensitivity to the mystery and excitement of the natural world that Thoreau would have appreciated. Her passion for preservation, alas, tends to get the better of her; the book is at its driest when she is rambling on about pollarding and coppicing and cover husbandry. Also, the structure of the book works against her, as every chapter comes with a clumsy, full-length, supposedly cheeky alternative telling of a popular story. None of these add to the book.
Flaws aside, the author provides a pensive, often-invigorating blend of cultural anthropology and walking tour.