Pretty pictures aren’t enough to compensate for indifferent storytelling in this slender gathering of tales from a former Irish Children’s Laureate.
Readers familiar with the lore should recognize the standard-issue versions of the “Children of Lir” and the tale of Labraid Lorc (here “Labhra” Lorc), a legendary king with horse’s ears. In addition to these, Parkinson presents four tales of beautiful princesses transformed into various animals (and, in one, an ugly hag), plus a cursory account of Cú Chulainn’s exploits up to his wedding. The patchy prose alternates between flights of lyrical description (of, usually, one princess or another) and plain exposition with occasional awkward phrasing: “Gentle Etain got to hear that poor Ailill was very unhappy….” One entry, “The Enchanted Deer,” feels more like a fragment than a full story. There are no source or introductory notes, and rather than being at the front where it would be more immediately helpful, the pronunciation guide is tacked on at the end. The stylized illustrations add lyrical notes of their own with jewel-rich hues and delicately drawn figures, but they sometimes fight with the text. Whelan portrays an “old woman” gathering rushes in the “Land Under Wave” as quite young-looking.
Anemic despite the art and no match in scope or style for Marie Heaney’s Names Upon the Harp, illustrated by P.J. Lynch (2000). (Folk tales. 10-13)