Thursday, December 9, 2010

Ravenna by Stacey Curnow

"First off, it bases its story on my favorite King Arthur legend, Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady (I’m partial to the Selina Hastings version myself)." Elizabeth Bird

Read the entire review at

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Legend tripping and Tam Lin

I have been working on my research for my new manuscript on the topic of legend tripping. A google search on the term resulted in an entry from Wikipedia which was of double interest to me as it incorporates two of my fascinations-- contemporary legends and ballads. The entry begins:

Legend tripping, also known as ostension,[1] is a name recently bestowed by folklorists and anthropologists on an adolescent practice (containing elements of a rite of passage) in which a usually furtive nocturnal pilgrimage is made to a site which is alleged to have been the scene of some tragic, horrific, and possibly supernatural event or haunting. The practice has been documented most thoroughly to date in the United States.

[1] Ellis, Bill. "Legend Trips and Satanism: Adolescents' Ostensive Traditions as 'Cult' Activity." In The Satanism Scare, ed. James T. Richardson, Joel Best, and David G. Bromley, 279-95. NY: Aldme DeGreyter.

It then continues...

Much older versions of the custom may be glimpsed in traditional ballad tales such as the ballad of Tam Lin. In this ballad, a young woman is warned that the elf Tam Lin is known to haunt a place called Carterhaugh, and that all who go there must lose either an article of clothing or their virginity to Tam Lin. Janet, the heroine, defies the warning: she goes to Carterhaugh, picks a rose, encounters Tam Lin, and becomes pregnant with his child. She learns that Tam Lin was once human, and that to free him, she must make a second trip on Halloween night to a crossroads, where she has an encounter with the Queen of Elphame, and succeeds in reclaiming Tam Lin from fairyland.
In both the old ballad and in Mark Twain's version, there is a specific location that is supposed to be accursed, ghost-haunted, or otherwise dangerous. There is a folk story, of the type that is now called an urban legend, that explains why the place is haunted, accursed, or dangerous. The story is retold in preparation for the legend trip. In outward form, the legend is a cautionary tale warning of a danger; in practice, however, the cautionary tale is turned into a dare, inviting the trippers to go test its veracity. There is sometimes a ritual that must be performed at the site, the ritual is explained in the legend. The ritual invokes whatever dangerous spirits haunt that place.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Kate Milford's Boneshaker -- A Review

I was planning on writing a review for this excellent novel (not to mention excellent reworking of the devil at the crossroads motif) but had not got to it as of yet. However, Michael Jones, in the most recent issue of Realms of Fantasy [] did an awesome review which concludes with " Unique and wonderful, featuring a feisty, resourceful heroine, this book's definitely a don't-miss under any circumstances." (page 70)

I concur with this and recommend it highly.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Devil Spotting: The Wager by Donna Jo Napoli

The Wager is a reworking of the Sicilian folktale "Don Giovanni de la Fortuna," a variant of the more commonly known "Bearskin" tale. The story (and reworking) certainly involves making a deal with the devil but there is, once again, no connection with the devil at the crossroads motif.

The devil. This vision was a nightmare in disguise. Now came the part where Don Giovanni had to trade his soul.
"No, no, no. You're at once more dramatic and more ignorant than I anticipated. And after all the books you read under Don Alfinu's tutelage." He tsked again. "Not your soul. It would be crude to demand your soul right off. Crude and easy and uninteresting. No, no. Let's do something to banish the ridiculous boredom of ordinary things. Let's start with a test trade. Something much more rare than a soul. Your beauty."
(Napoli, Donna Jo. 2010. The Wager, Henry Holt, 67-8)

[Go to for more information about this tale.]

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Devil spotting: "A Reversal of Fortune" by Holly Black

Again, not an example of the meeting with the devil at the crossroads but instead one of a pact with the devil involving a contest. In The Poison Eaters and Other Stories by Holly Black, Easthampton, MA: Big Mouth House, 2010, 29-47.

"How about this--I will wager my services against something of yours. If you beat me at any contest of your choosing, your dog will be well and you'll owe me nothing."
"Really? Any contest?" she asked.
He held out his hand. "Shake on it and we've got a deal." 

His skin was warm and dry in her grip.
"So, what is it going to be?" he asked. "You play the fiddle? Or maybe you'd like to try your hand at jump rope?" (page 40-41)

Also available in Sympathy for the Devil: Stories of the Devil edited by Tim Pratt. San Francisco: Night Shade Books, 2010, 51-61.

Originally published in The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales edited by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling. New York: Viking, 2007, 418-436.

In the author's note, Holly Black writes: "In folklore, the devil's attempts to steal souls often involves humorous and impossible contests....I wondered how the devil would cheat at such a contest and wound up writing "A Reversal of Fortune." (436)

And no, I am not revealing the nature of this particular contest -- I highly recommend you seek out any of the three collections (or all of them) and find out for yourself.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Devil Spotting: The Prince of Mist

Although the motif of the meeting with the devil at the crossroads is not present in Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Prince of Mist, the impact (pardon the pun) of making a pact with the devil is a major theme of this young adult novel. Also present in all its disturbing "glory" is the motif of the clown statue.

"The day Jacob Fleischman drowned I knew that the Prince of Mist had never left. He had remained in the shadows, waiting patiently for something powerful to return him to the world of the living. And nothing is as powerful as a promise..." (122)

From Bill Sheehan's review in Subterranean Press:

"On its most fundamental level, Zafon's novel is a lively, thoroughly modern retelling of one of the essential narratives of Western Civilization: The Faustian Compact, which can be summed up in a single sentence: Take what you want--and pay for it." (

For more information on the book and its author:

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Ballad Spotting: Silver Borne by Patricia Briggs

Several direct mentions of ballads and songs within the text of this novel, published in 2010, offer the aware reader delightful foreshadowing of action and consequences:

Thomas the Rhymer (page 196) and the passing of time in the world of the Fae: "I underlined Thomas the Rhymer's name because it was history and Rip was a story by Irving that might or might not have been based on various legends--including Thomas's."

Tam Lin (page 305). While this ballad is not named, those who are familiar with the Faery Queen's final challenge to Janette would recognize it immediately: " A different bargain, then. You hold something of my choosing while it changes." Briggs satisfactorily presents the challenge for this reader.

Not a ballad but a song relevant to my present research: The Devil Went Down to Georgia (page 284) "Bargaining? Like in the song 'The Devil Went Down to Georgia' but with a fairy?" I asked. It seemed to me that I'd heard a similar tale with fairies in it.
"Right," Samuel agreed. "It can be a contest--usually musical, because fairy queens tend to be musically talented. But there are stories of footraces or swimming contests. My father has a wonderful old song about a young man who challenged a fairy to an eating contest and won."

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Enjoying Kate Milford's The Boneshaker and her playing with "the devil and the crossroads" legend. More when I finish it.

Friday, February 19, 2010

A book review

A lovely book review of Stories from Songs can be found at:
CM Magazine

An excerpt from the review by Kay Weisman:

De Vos's writing is thorough and scholarly, yet accessible. Each thematic chapter covers several relevant ballads; she provides plot summaries, alternate titles, performance histories, critiques of critical research, and discussions of contemporary literary versions, including novels, short stories, graphic novels, poetry, and internet resources. She also includes numerous tables that organize related details such as the developmental stages of a particular ballad or the variants of a song.

For example, author's section on "The Gypsy Laddie," from the chapter on tragic love stories, notes that this is a Child ballad, type 200, about a lady who, enchanted by the gypsies, follows their leader, Johnny Faa. Her husband rides to fetch her, killing 15 gypsies in the process. De Vos describes several common variations, noting artists such as Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie and the versions they have sung. She cites more than fifty alternate titles for this song, including "How Old Are You My Pretty Little Miss?" and "Black Jack Davey," and summarizes the history of this ballad in a chart with entries dating back to Plato in the fourth century. In addition, she cites and describes more than thirty critical interpretations of this song, published between 1932 and 2004. She notes three related novels (including Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass), three short stories, three poems, one picture book, and three relevant web sites. Each literary adaptation is fully described and critiqued.

De Vos does not discuss melodies, preferring to concentrate instead on the stories. Her work is heavily footnoted, and her numerous references will serve as a useful resource for other researchers. Multiple indexes (author/illustrator/musician, ballad, and title) assure that readers will find what they are looking for, making this a good choice for high school or university fine arts collections.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Ballad Spotting: Twa Sisters

"The Mournful Lady of Binnorie: Based on a Scottish Ballad" by Bobbie Pell, a spirited (if you pardon the pun) retelling of "Twa Sisters" can be found in The August House Book of Scary Stories: Spooky Tales for Telling Out Loud, edited by Liz Parkhurst. August House, 2009, 27-33.

The story notes incorporate the ballad background and suggest that "you may wish to sing the protions that have remained in verse. Remember that a capella singing (without instrumental accompaniment) is also the traditional delivery style." (32) The sources Pell provides for her story include the Child Ballad, the adaptation by Lorenna McKennitt ("The Bonny Swans") and Joseph Jacobs prose version, "Binnorie."

More information on the many reworkings of this ballad can be found in my Stories From Songs.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Stories from Songs wins a 2010 Storytellling World Resource Award

Gail is proud to announce that her latest book, Stories from Songs: Ballads as Literary Fictions for Young Adults (Libraries Unlimited, 2009) is one of the winners of the Special Storytelling Resource Categories for the 2010 Storytelling World Resource Awards. More information can be found at:

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A reworking of Barbara Allen?


"A Fair Maiden: A Novel of Dark Suspense by Joyce Carol Oates is published by Quercus, priced £12.99.

Arguably one of Joyce Carol Oates's lesser works, A Fair Maiden: A Novel of Dark Suspense is a novella intricately linked to the anonymous Ballad of Barbara Allen about a young boy who dies of unrequited love for the callous young beauty, extracts of which are quoted in the text.

Infusing the novel with a mythical resonance, Oates weaves a different kind of tale, wherein 16-year-old nanny Katya Spivak from South Jersey is wooed by 68-year-old painter Marcus Kidder, a silver-haired member of posh Bayhead Harbour's established elite.

At first, his interest seems innocuous, even irreproachable, but then he insists they are "soul mates" and invites her to be his model and muse, eventually asking from her more than what she had bargained.

This brisk suspense is a story of intrigue, an examination of class differences and the complex permutations of love, revealing the curious results that stem from Katya and Mr. Kidder's unlikely relationship."

5/10 Review by Trisha Andres

Saturday, January 2, 2010


Thanks to a Face book posting by Ellen Kushner today, I have been introduced to a treasure load of fantasy podcasts at

I found several relevant podcasts for Stories from Songs.

The most recent (relevant) podcast is that of Marie Brennan's Twa Corbies, read by Elie Hirschman which can be found at

A second relevant podcast is that of Delia Sherman's Fiddler of Bayou Teche, read by Elizabeth Green Musselman.

I will be posting additional links as I explore this site more fully.