Have you ever seen a Pooka? Or a Welsh dragon in a taniwha’s cave? Or an enchanted girl made of books? Well, you could. If you look.
In this sizzling and unexpectedly clever collection, Geoff Allen contends that:
When European settlers sailed to the bottom of the world, to Down Under, they took with them: tools, seeds, livestock and their hope.
They did not take monsters.
Those crept aboard… all by themselves.
Welcome to a New Zealand where the fairies and monsters of the Old World meet those of the New… It was not only human settlers who arrived on Aotearoa’s shores with the first ships. To make things even more interesting, a trio of Dutch ghosts have been here since 1642.
Written in short, chapter-sized bites, these fairy tales would be great read aloud to a class of primary school children – or even older. There’s something ageless about fairy tales, and these fit the bill. Teachers whose classes enjoyed the rollicking of the likes of Harry Wakitipu (by Jack Lasenby) should sink their teeth into these. They’d make great bedtime stories for girls and boys alike.
The tales are well-researched, both in the origins of their mythical creatures (goblins, fairies and nymphs) and in how these are interwoven with New Zealand history. With this book comes a chance for kids to learn about the early colonial period and the type of characters who don’t usually appear in our children’s literature – think Dutch sailors, taiha-wielding kaumātua and even a cunning kea who was once a wizard. The lesson of the last is never refuse to marry a patupaiarehe.
We see the reaction of the magical creatures already resident in Aotearoa to their new neighbours. I loved the image of the two sea gods, Tangaroa and Poseidon, playing bowls with the Moeraki Boulders. And how refreshing to discover that ‘Dad Adventures’ are in fact real and you should definitely believe everything your dad has to say. My favourite tale was ‘King of the Fog Lands and the Book Daughter’ for its strong wāhine – the clever Book Daughter and the brave and smart princess Whakapono who successfully argues in court against the confiscation of her family’s land.
Overall? Incredibly funny and wonderfully inventive. Chances are you’ll like some of these tales more than others, but there’s something to appeal to everyone. I can see these becoming classics. Give them a try.
Reviewed by Susannah Whaley
The Fairies of Down Under and other Pākehā Fairy Tales
by Geoff Allen
Published by Submarine