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From the Forest: A Search for the Hidden Roots of Our Fairy Tales

3.62  ·  Rating details ·  704 ratings  ·  134 reviews
Fairy tales are one of our earliest cultural forms, and forests one of our most ancient landscapes. Both evoke similar sensations: At times they are beautiful and magical, at others spooky and sometimes horrifying. Maitland argues that the terrain of these fairy tales are intimately connected to the mysterious secrets and silences, gifts and perils.

With each chapter focusi
Paperback, 354 pages
Published October 29th 2013 by Counterpoint (first published November 1st 2012)
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3.62  · 
Rating details
 ·  704 ratings  ·  134 reviews

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Dec 04, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013, kindle
This book at the intersection of forests and fairy tales has so much potential. It alternates between authorial forays into nature and re-tellings of familiar stories, and contains a meander through the not-so-wilds of Epping Forest with Robert Macfarlane, author of my favorite read last year. There are some wonderful tidbits on history and storytelling and the environment. Did you know that most land plants are dual organisms? Fascinating. I should love it. But I don't, and the title hints at o ...more
Sally Howes
In GOSSIP FROM THE FOREST, Sara Maitland asserts that while many scholars study the similarities between the myths, legends, and folk tales of different cultures, not enough attention is paid to their differences, which are often influenced by the landscapes that gave them birth. Focusing on the fairytales that originated in Northern Europe, Maitland believes that: "The mysterious secrets and silences, gifts and perils of the forest are both the background to and the source of these tales." It s ...more
Sharman Russell
Jul 11, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Dipping into this book was like sitting on a creek bank and dabbling bare feet into the cool water. Pleasant and refreshing. Only the creek was in my own house and somehow my Kindle was involved.
Once upon a time, a gossip (see OED) was 1) one who has contracted a spiritual relationship with another by acting as a sponsor at a baptism (God + Sib - akin, related); 2) a familiar acquaintance or friend. Especially applied to a woman’s female friends invited to be present at a birth; 3) idle talk, trifling or groundless rumour, tittle-tattle. Sara Maitland loves etymology and this is only one of the many examples in this book. She uses it as an example of how the trivialising of women’s conc ...more
Dec 21, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: natural-world
This is well written, often lyrical. It is full of fascinating information I didn't know about the forests I love, a richness of lore about trees and their ongoing, shifting relationship with human beings. It's interspersed with delightfully re-told (but unreconstructed) fairy tales, as well as more about fairy tales themselves. It was sometimes close to five stars.

Still, it consistently referred to a 'we' that I found profoundly alienating. Disturbing. I would read along happily about coppicing
May 26, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I was reading this book in public when a stranger came up to me and asked me what I thought of it. "Well," I said tactfully, in case she liked it or was actually the author's niece or something, "I think I would prefer it if she'd done a bit more research..."

It turned out my random stranger hated this book too. Bonding over a good book is nice, but mutual bashing of a bad book is infinitely more fun. So we had an enjoyable conversation where we both agreed that Sara Maitland is a barefooted hipp
Arielle Walker
I don't know why it took me so long to finish this one. It's beautifully written, informative yet succinct, and even lyrical at times. I found it absorbing, engaging, even read aloud excitedly (to whoever poor sod was nearby at the time) at more than a few points. And then I hit the last few chapters and stalled completely, and it seemed to drag from there. Nothing had changed, maybe it was a case of "it's not you, it's me" - or maybe you truly can have too much of a good thing?

Regardless, it's
Travis Bursik
Mar 14, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned
I have an interest in folklore and really wanted to like this. She spends each chapter writing some hippie earth-mother bullshit about a forest and then tells a fairy tale. Repeat. That's it. No insight, no analysis, just overwrought, florid, breathless wankery.
First of, I absolutely adore Maitland's updated fairy tales. However, that is about as good as it gets. I don't think I have ever read a book so badly written. It is a lot down to bad editing, a lot of spelling mistakes, repeated or omitted words, which makes it look very unprofessional. In addition to that, she claims a lot of things without providing evidence (ex. she mentions the influence of goats in fairy tales and on the development of 'kid' as an affectionate word for children, no evidenc ...more
Sian Lile-Pastore
Nov 23, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nature-animals
this is my kind of book - it's all about forests and their link with fairy tales, but it's also about our links with forests and with nature in general. I also really enjoyed (perhaps even a little more) Maitland's previous book A Book Of Silenceand I love how she gets completely absorbed in a subject and examines it from all angles.

She's losing a star though for what I assume to be her support of 'controlling' (ie killing) deer in forests...

my only other mini gripes are that I didn't feel tha
A great concept - exploring the relationship between woods and fairy tales. Maitland has introduced me to many woods (and books about woods) which I look forward to exploring. Unfortunately, it was poorly edited, had a tendency to repetition and limited research leading to some factual errors. I was most irritated that, while writing almost exclusively about British woods, she completely ignored British fairy tales in favour of the Grimm's collection. A nice introduction, rather than a work of e ...more
Mark Hartzer
I wanted to like this more than I did, but despite some fine insights and pretty good writing, there was just too much stupid.

First, this is set in Great Britain. I get it. But extrapolating all forests from there is just not possible. Forests are determined by climate, soil conditions, topography, etc... Maitland is of the impression that a forest cannot be 'healthy' unless it is managed by people. Frankly, that is conceited to the extreme.

Second, pollarding or coppicing is NOT good for trees.
Sara Maitland can write beautifully about nature. Some of the passages in this book describing trees are wonderful.

However, it is not really about the sub-title. And quite frankly, just read Zipes who Maitland draws heavily on. Most of her "facts" are guesses and sometimes she is just plain wrong. I'm sorry but there are books out there about the forest in the fairy tale besides this one.
Lynn Spencer
Jan 01, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
3.5 stars I love fairytales. I think I probably read all of Andrew Lang's Fairy Books growing up and have read a great many other collections besides. I've wondered about the origins of some of these stories, but hadn't found a really satisfying book on the subject. This one definitely comes closer than Bettelheim's famous (and somewhat scandal-plagued) book, though still not entirely compelling for me.

Maitland theorizes that many of the fairytales recorded by the brothers Grimm are different th
In this book Maitland is looking at the role that woods and forests have played in our national identity, primarily through stories, by also as a source of employment, fuel and food.

the book is split into 12 chapters, with 12 sub chapters. Each chapter describes a visit to a different wood or forest that she goes to. She visits these woods all around the country, one each month, as they are significant in some way, either for the variety of the species, or they historical or cultural significanc
Barb in Maryland
Sep 01, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dnf
I finally threw in the towel at about the 3/4 point. I so wanted to like it and I was very interested in the premise.
Maybe if I had read it a chapter a day (or every few days) I wouldn't have become bored...
The pure forestry bits were fascinating, especially the bits about the New Forest, Epping Forest and the Forest of Dean. However, it took the author several chapters to explain key terms such as 'pollard' and 'coppice'; I had to resort to dear ole' Wikipedia for definitions. Her theory about
Nov 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Just finished this engrossing book on wild woods and fairytales. Beautifully written it alternates Maitland's retelling of Grimm tales with meditations on specific British woodlands and their relation to folklore and culture. Thoroughly recommended.
Allyson Shaw
It's possible I'm too close to this subject matter to enjoy this book having studied literary fairy tales and modern shcolarship of the same while I was a young graduate student.. I did learn some "fun facts" about British forests and forestry but Maud, did this book need an editor. It was repetitive and slow going. Each section about a specific forest ends with a fairy tale--each more like an ill conceived draft than a finished story. It struck me that she brings no folklore, archeology or femi ...more
Mar 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sara Maitland used an exploration of the woods of the British Isles as a way to examine our relationship with fairy tales. Interweaving history, botany, geography and ecology, she offers fascinating connections and insights not only concerning fairy tales, but also the relationships between the Isles, woods and society. I can be a magpie with knowledge, I love collecting fascinating disparate facts so I reveled in the book. The writing is lovely especially in the descriptions of traveling variou ...more
Feb 19, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dnf
Firstly, this is a DNF (did not finish) for me. So it is 1 star by default.

So the review is not of the complete book, it is only in regard the parts I read and consequently the reasons I failed to finish it.

Sara Maitland visits a different type of forest in the UK every month for a calender year. A traditional fairy tale inspired by the forest follows.

The fairy tales are not faithful reproductions. Sara having explained that coming from an oral tradition the tales would have always been evolving
I again find myself with a book that I came into with high expectations and little payoff. I believe this book is best suited to people from the UK or who have very strong physical connections to the UK. I felt the author was disinterested in an international audience given her writing style. I was willing to overlook all that as I tend to have heavy fondness for most things British despite never having visited there. However, I could not get on with the authorial voice at all. I did finish the ...more
Jul 16, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
On one hand, I loved this book. On the other hand, I was disappointed by it. Why did I have such a mixed response? Well, here goes.

The book is subtitled "The Tangled Roots of Our Forests and Fairytales", which certainly intrigued the folklorist in me. Divided into 12 chapters by forest, Maitland discusses different forests in England and Scotland, including Airyolland Wood, the Forest of Dean and my own (well, I do reside in it) New Forest, and then follows each forest's chapter with her own ada
Jun 08, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Second review after mulling it over for a week or more: I've started a project that will include a lot of thinking about woods and nature, tales and the spirits of place. I read Maitlands book hoping/expecting to find "my" haunted forest. Never in my bookwormy, nerdy, long life has a book about a subject dear to me made me feel so American!! This was not my experience of woods at all! And these were not the tales and fairies that lived in "my" woods.

Maitland says "we" worry about other people n
Rosario (
Maitland's thesis is that fairy tales and forests are intimately connected, with fairy tales clearly originating in forests, told originally by forest dwellers, and uniquely shaped by this. She makes some excellent points when comparing how fairy tales such as those collected by the Brothers Grimm's differ from traditional stories from other traditions, such as those from desert peoples or peoples who lived by the sea. I was convinced.

Gossip From the Forest contains 12 chapters, each covering a
Moira Clunie
a rich, speculative exploration of forest-fairytale symbiosis: how they've grown together in britain, and how the structure, narrative and characters of fairytales are deeply woodsy in ways that are familiar but not always named. i loved the sense of time and space that unfolded in this book: its growth over a year of walks through different forests, as seasons changed. each chapter dives into a different aspect of the central idea: the history of british forests and forestry, how the fairytales ...more
Daren Kearl
Nov 27, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A great mix of fact and fiction, Maitland explores ancient woodland, the history and management of forestry and is passionate about encouraging children into exploring and playing in the wild. She also links the development of fairy stories through the growth of woodland and presents her own versions of Grimm tales. Interestingly there may be a resurgence of interest in fairy tales, what with Philip Pullmans new version recently published and film versions of Snow White and Hansel and Gretel. As ...more
I found this an excellent combination of a work of natural history with Sara walking 12 British woods and relaying their history along with general information and material about the genesis of fairy tales and the role of woods and trees in them. The twelve chapters, one for each wood and month through one year, is accompanied by a re-telling of a noted Grimm fairy-tale.

These were great and I felt the book was well structured. I am sure my former employers, the art-environmental charity, Common
Alison Fennell
Dec 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Epic! This book gave me everything and more that I wanted to hear about our beloved forests! I am into folklore and writing children's fables and to read Maitland's book was so richly rewarding and stimulating that I couldn't put it down. It is also very informative about the natural history and ecology as well as the social aspect of forests. Lots of "ahs" and "oohs" as I read a new fact. Loved it!!
Angela Jeffs
Aug 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I just loved this. The walks in the woods - remnants of ancient forest all over the UK - were wonderful and amazingly informative and atmospheric in themselves. But the rewriting of traditional fairy tales in relationship to woods and forests was inspired. Much recommended. And having read this a while ago now, realise how much I want to read it again.
Melinda Jane  Harrison
Beautiful narrative nonfiction on the connections between Woodlands, Forests, and Fairy Tales and how we must save both if we are to continue to share common ground. Absolutely loved it. A piece of art.
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Ancient forest walks in the UK linked to fairy tales 1 6 Aug 07, 2013 02:33AM  
Into the Forest: From the Forest - NF book on history of Fairy Tales 3 21 Dec 21, 2012 11:15AM  
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Sara Maitland is a British writer and academic. An accomplished novelist, she is also known for her short stories. Her work has a magic realist tendency. Maitland is regarded as one of those at the vanguard of the 1970s feminist movement, and is often described as a feminist writer. She is a Roman Catholic, and religion is another theme in much of her work.
“The whole tradition of [oral] story telling is endangered by modern technology. Although telling stories is a very fundamental human attribute, to the extent that psychiatry now often treats 'narrative loss' -- the inability to construct a story of one's own life -- as a loss of identity or 'personhood,' it is not natural but an art form -- you have to learn to tell stories. The well-meaning mother is constantly frustrated by the inability of her child to answer questions like 'What did you do today?' (to which the answer is usually a muttered 'nothing' -- but the 'nothing' is cover for 'I don't know how to tell a good story about it, how to impose a story shape on the events'). To tell stories, you have to hear stories and you have to have an audience to hear the stories you tell. Oral story telling is economically unproductive -- there is no marketable product; it is out with the laws of patents and copyright; it cannot easily be commodified; it is a skill without monetary value. And above all, it is an activity requiring leisure -- the oral tradition stands squarely against a modern work ethic....Traditional fairy stories, like all oral traditions, need the sort of time that isn't money.

"The deep connect between the forests and the core stories has been lost; fairy stories and forests have been moved into different categories and, isolated, both are at risk of disappearing, misunderstood and culturally undervalued, 'useless' in the sense of 'financially unprofitable.”
“Forests to the [early] Northern European peoples were dangerous and generous, domestic and wild, beautiful and terrible. And the forests were the terrain out of which fairy stories, one of our earliest and most vital cultural forms, evolved. The mysterious secrets and silences, gifts and perils of the forest are both the background to and source of these tales....

Forests are places where a person can get lost and also hide -- and losing and hiding, of things and people, are central to European fairy stories in ways that are not true of similar stories in different geographies. Landscape informs the collective imagination as much as or more than it forms the individual psyche and its imagination, but this dimension is not something to which we always pay enough attention.”
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