While many of us know the stories of Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson, how much do you know of 18th and 19th century British folktales?
Hag features 10 traditional tales reworked for the modern day by British and Irish women. At the end of the book are the originals of each retelling which allows for easy comparison. Each story has a feminist edge and features strong female protagonists who are all in some way struggling for their own autonomy. These stories are dark, full of malevolent-sometimes supernatural- forces, yet still remain authentically true to their regional origins.
For such a brief collection, I was impressed by the regional representation on offer. Settings include Suffolk, Yorkshire, Norfolk, Orkney, Stafford, Galway, London, Wales, Cornwall, and Somerset. In each one you really get a feel for the place which added to the collection’s charm.
Some of the stories I found a bit of a slog, but these were far outweighed by the ones I was impressed by in this collection. In particular, my favourites were ‘The Panther’s Tale’ by Mahsuda Snaith, ‘The Dampness is Spreading’ by Emma Glass, and ‘Rosheem’ by Irenosen Okijie. An honourable mention goes out to Glass’ 'The Dampness is Spreading' which was by far the best story in Hag (for me). I didn’t pay much attention to the title pages of each story as I was reading yet I instantly recognised the author’s visceral writing style after having recently read her novel, Rest and Be Thankful. This story was uncanny, it was super creepy, and completely unexpected. Be aware that this story is set in a hospital and is centred around themes of miscarriage and childbirth.
Closely following ‘The Dampness is Spreading’, ‘The Panther’s Tale’ tells the story of a princess whose loveless marriage to a prince leads her to become cursed and irreversibly change into a panther. This story contains fewer Weird elements than Glass’ story and instead focuses much more on the fantastical through references to magic and witchcraft. The plot of this one was really well thought out and although I didn’t necessarily get the impression it was set in modern-day, I appreciated how Snaith was able to raise issues of colonialism and sexism in such a plot-heavy narrative without it ever seeming overwrought.
Overall, Hag offers an eclectic selection of short stories that are the perfect read for this time of year. I’d recommend this to those who enjoy Angela Carter’s work, or those interested in British folklore.