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BOOK REVIEW: Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts – Ten Tales from the Deep, Dark Woods by Craig Phillips

BOOK REVIEW: Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts – Ten Tales from the Deep, Dark Woods by Craig Phillips

Allen & Unwin
May 2017
Paperback, $24.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

Graphic Novel / Children’s Fiction / Myths and Fairytales

7/10

 

A cobbler girl tricks the Wawel Dragon, after all the king’s knights fail…
The Polar Bear King loses his skin…
Momotaro, born from a peach, defies the ogres everyone else is too scared to face…
Snow White and Rose Red make friends with a bear…

Diverse myths and legends from around the world, from Iceland to Poland to Japan, retold in easy-to-read glorious full-colour comic book form by a stunning Australian artist with an international reputation.

From Poland to Iceland, Japan to Germany, these ten fairytales from across the globe re-told as comics will have you enthralled. Giants! Trolls! Witches! Beasts! You will encounter them all in this visual cornucopia of a book.

There is no denying the illustrations in this book are gorgeous, with the occasional full-page spread, and frames within frames, and Phillips does a nice job of representing the different countries with his images, and the reader often gets a feel for where these stories originated, even without the handy link-back in the table of contents.

Within this book, you will find:

  • Vasilisa the Bravefrom Russia
  • Thor and the Frost Giants from Scandinavia
  • The Nixie in the Wellfrom Germany
  • Snow White and Rose Red from Germany
  • Momotarofrom Japan
  • The King of the Polar Bearsfrom America
  • The Boy Who Was Never Afraid – from Sweden
  • The Devil Bridegroomfrom Estonia
  • Finn McCoolfrom Northern Ireland
  • The Wawel Dragonfrom Poland

There are a couple of excellent stories in this book, but unfortunately some that lack any kind of moral or feeling of completion do drive the rating down, though it should be understood that these are not Phillips’ original stories, so rating them lower when his illustrations were not lacking might seem a little unfair, but one can’t help but think there are some other stories that might have made for a more compelling collection… but then the title might not have been Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts.

The standout stories for this reviewer were Vasilisa the Brave, because who doesn’t love a story about Baba Yaga, even if certain elements didn’t make complete sense within that world; Snow White and Rose Red, one of my favourites, and the inspiration for Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan – a woman and her two daughters are visited by a bear who can talk, and the four soon develop a deep friendship; The Boy Who Was Never Afraid, in which a boy sets out to retrieve the cow that was stolen from his family, and through kindness gathers allies who would turn around and put their own necks on the line for him; Finn McCool, a clever little story about the origin of the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, in which a giantess saves the day, and her husband’s hide, when he gets challenges a much bigger giant to a fight; and The Wawel Dragon, in which many knights try and rid a kingdom of a dragon and are roasted for their troubles, and a female cobbler saves the day through some quick thinking. 

In these stories you will find such messages as:

  • Kindness will draw the right people into your orbit, and if you help someone when they are in trouble or uncomfortable, they might just do the same for you.
  • Brains can win over brawn.
  • If you are good and do no harm, those who wish harm upon you will likely find themselves in hot water.

But there are also things that seem to suggest that:

  • If you go around like a stubborn and annoying  know-it-all, you will win the day.
  • If you’re cunning and wily enough, you will end up escaping arranged marriage, and will end up with nice clothes and plenty of riches…?
  • You don’t have to look nice to achieve things, but even if you do succeed, people might still only accept you when you look like they want you to.

All in all this was a fun read, with some great stories included, though there were others that seemed to pull the whole book down a little. Some of these stories felt quite rushed, but the illustrations and those few stand-out stories make this book well worth the read.

BOOK REVIEW: Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts - Ten Tales from the Deep, Dark Woods by Craig Phillips

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