Beyond the Forest Floor and other Forest Tales is a lively, illustrated collection of short stories containing thirteen stories based on mystical forest characters and wild landscape.
In fairy tale style it contains stories such as ‘Essence Flowers’ with colourful protagonists, their adventures and relationships with the world around them, in this case Rose Hill.
The stories are personable, capable of connecting with readers of all ages, a unique selling point of the collection.
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The stories contain folk elements often forgotten about, encouraging us to look at things from another perspective.
They uniquely grip the attention of the reader from start to finish in an unexpected manner. The collection features original, traditional illustrations evoking sights and sounds of the wild Irish landscape.
A prophetic black and brown drawing of a forest gazes back at me from the cover. The looming moon and dense pines presage the mystic within this book. Beyond the Forest Floor: Forest
Tales is a captivating collection of short stories dedicated to the natural world. Joanne McFall weaves a story rife with engaging characters who embark on a wide array of captivating journeys. Illustrated by Ruth O’kelly, the drawing sets the stage for the reader, drawing them further into this magical setting. Each story, remarkable in touching upon different themes, hinges on one connecting element — the forest. Topical to today’s ongoing fight for the environment, the tales entice the reader to think about the healing, and sometimes magical, effects that the forest has on us.
The author grew up reading the many stories steeped in her Irish heritage. The Irish natural landscape was the author’s main inspiration. The author’s writing mirrors a narrative atmosphere, much like the oral traditions of ancient Ireland. The mysteries of the wild were a large part of the author’s childhood writing; she expands on this youthful fantasy of magic throughout this collection.
The short stories are beautifully constructed, and scenes vividly depicted. Averaging ten pages per chapter, with economical prose, the author captures the ethereal nature of the forest. The descriptions are full of evocative imagery, enveloping the reader, “It was now dark and a large, round golden moon surrounded by circles of sparkling stars and planets lit the sky and landscape underneath…” The author captures our curiosity about the unknown natural world—something difficult for many modern day writers, as they are surrounded by urbanization and technology.
Various themes touch upon nature, magic, and art. Descriptive phrasing, casting images upon the reader’s visual imagination, emblematic of The author’s use of phanopoeia. Prevalent throughout the stories, the narrative style is able to successfully depict tree-laden worlds. The author crafts characters who emote as they interact with these settings. The reader enjoys the atmosphere as much as the unfolding drama, fortified by the interconnectedness of themes, much as the trees of a dense woodland are entwined.
Across the varied stories, the reader sympathizes with well-rounded characters. The author brilliantly captures scenarios in which the ambivalence of feelings are contrasted with the prosaic and the magical. The lands and events are distant yet somehow known to the reader, “...she was gathering special thread only found near the waterfall to use in her weaving and sewing work”, something from an ancient past. Moreover, not all is focused on humans. In an allegorical fashion, The author creates empathetic near-mythic and animal creatures, skewing the boundaries between man and nature. In a moving passage, the author depicts the innate kindness in living things, “The bat stretched her wings and wrapped the tip of one around the little moth to try and comfort him”.
While the overall metaphor is of the forest, The author includes unique settings as well. Chapter four takes place in an archipelago, surrounded by “...an abundance of coral reefs and sea life”. The friendly and humble islanders are having trouble with pollutants in their water (sound familiar?). Amena, the odd and beautiful protagonist, helps others and her own family as the situation grows more dire. The culprit behind the environmental atrocities is “the family from Grey Island”, an ominous distinction.
The author’s Irish background can be seen in the story as Amena observes “...a large creature of great beauty with a pure white coat”. The seal in this scene recalls the Celtic legend of the silkie — a mythical benign capable of turning from seal into human form by shedding their skin. The author dives into even more magical details as the short story progresses. There are descriptions of other-worldly events such as “a steep spiralling pathway that led downwards into the depths of the deep cold water.” The author even manages to make connections back to the recurring forest theme: “...they came to a sea forest which stretched for miles across the depths of the wide ocean floor”.
Each story is really a fable, leading the reader to an interpretation of a moral lesson. In this chapter, Amena appreciates the importance of natural conservation. The islanders are frugal, yet even their taking of eggs to sustain themselves endanger the animals. The greed of the wealthy is exposed — and quelled. The importance of coexisting with nature is a recurring motif throughout the many stories, subtly drawing the reader to consider humanity’s roots.
The author creates a modern retelling within the age old genre of the fairytale. The reader will enjoy reliving their childhood stories, while simultaneously exploring wonders of the natural world. We often forget the simple tales that we were brought up on, but Beyond the Forest Floor: Forest Tales sparks interest and engages with the morals of any adult. Some chapters have potential to be an entire book in and of themselves; yet, they end too soon. Perfect for a light read, The author’s writing will appeal to any recreational reader. Beyond the Forest Floor: Forest Tales is available to order from Book Depository, Waterstones, Barnes & Noble. The reader will be entertained in the many alternate plots, and, by the end of this book, they will be left feeling refreshed and fulfilled.
Trinity College Dublin Literary Society
About the Author and Illustrator
Ruth Kelly is an illustrator from the west of Ireland.