Friday, October 7, 2016

Kate Culhane: A Ghost Story - Michael Hague

After disturbing a dead man in his grave, an Irish girl nearly pays with her life, but thanks to her cleverness and bravery she finds love and riches instead. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: I love a good, weird, and dark fairy tale.  This has led me to discover fairy and folk tales from all over the world.   Now, Ireland has a treasure trove of fairy tales, because the land itself is the land of the fae, the little people, the daoine sidhe, the other folk.  That being the case, Ireland's stories are rich with fantastical elements, both whimsical, and dark.

This story, as the forward explains, comes from a time when it was feared the old tales would vanish with a changing Ireland.  Many storytellers and scholars worked to transcribe these old tales to keep them from disappearing forever, and this story was among those saved.  As someone who believes a peoples' stories are deeply intertwined with their culture and history, I applaud their efforts, particularly because now we can enjoy these deliciously odd tales.

In the story of poor Kate Culhane, she's forced to--wait for it--carry a dead man on her back and do his horrible bidding.  After accidentally treading on his grave, Kate has no choice but to follow the dead man's orders, which is bad news for a certain merchant and his family, and includes a meal of blood porridge.

How delightfully dark and twisted! (says my dark and twisted mind.)

I will vouch that stories like this are not for everyone (Hague himself states in the forward "Beware--it's not for the weakhearted!"), and I will not fault them.  It is a ghost story, it is weird and frightening, and it is odd.  But I think people nowadays have a penchant for steering towards the watered down and safe versions of fairy tales, and while it is wise to know what young kids are reading, I am also of the camp that they need to understand the world, they need to know what it out there so they can face it.  And the perfect way to do this is through fiction and fairy tales, fantasy though they are.  As Neil Gaiman once said, "If you are protected from dark things, then you have no protection of, or knowledge of, dark things when they show up."

Personally, as a kid, I recall watching and reading things that terrified me, and I loved it. I would devour them over and over.  There is something exciting about being able to participate in something spooky, and be in a safe place while doing so.  To quote Frank Oz speaking of Jim Henson: "Jim thought it was fine to scare children.  He didn't think it was healthy for children to always feel safe."

The story of Kate Culhane is well paced, spooky, and fun, not to mention how well the deep, rich watercolor illustrations add to the dark tale.  I also love a good clever character who can outwit those around her, and Kate steps up to the plate.  It's a perfect ghost story for Halloween.

My Rating: Four stars

For the sensitive reader: Involves death, dead people, murder, and blood porridge.  That's right, all in a children's picture book.  Fairy tales aren't safe.  But they sure are fun.

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