Ever since I can remember, I've brought my imagination with me to the woods. When I started reading, my favorite books were fairy tales and fables in both English and French. They thrilled and absorbed me, and some of my earliest outdoor memories are of playing under trees and making up stories. As a nine year old in France, I spent my after-school hours wandering through the walled park that was our back yard creating solitary adventures. Our house had been an aristocrat's hunting lodge, built in the 18th century, and my play space was made up of several acres of gardens and woods. I had unusual freedom for a little girl, and I loved to follow the gravel paths under the dark trees, or ride my enchanted horse (a rusty second-hand bicycle) to the very edges of the property. I was always searching the shadows for creatures who lurked just beyond my sight, magical beings who might make a difference in my life. The difference, I know now, is that I learned to look, and my senses (and extra senses) still come alive every time I'm in the forest. I recently discovered a fascinating book that got me thinking about these connections, From the Forest: A Search for the Hidden Roots of our Fairy Tales, by Sara Maitland. [The British title is so much more evocative: Gossip from the Forest: the Tangled Roots of our Forests and Fairy Tales.] She argues that fairy and folk tales, among the earliest expressions of human culture, are intimately linked to landscape, and the primeval forest is the inspiration for most of the stories originating in Northern Europe (think the Grimm brothers' collection). She spent a year traveling to twelve different forests in the British Isles, and she weaves a naturalist's clear-eyed observations of forests and forest-management practices with a fiction writer's imaginative links to the people and perils of fairy tales. At the end of each chapter, she retells a fairy tale, reinforcing her musings and her discoveries. It was a delightful read, and I was grateful to discover I'm not the only one who goes to the forest looking for a deeper meaning and connection (though I am always accompanied by my enchanted camera).
For several years, I've been working on a fantasy trilogy aimed at 10 to 12-year-old readers. The stories take place in a mysterious forest on the coast of France, and fairy tales play an important role. Stay tuned!