Picture Book Snob
The Enchanted Lake
Classic Irish fairy tales by Sinéad de Valera, illustrated by Alexis Sierra
The Enchanted Lake is a wonderful collection of stories that evoke a mystical, ancient Ireland. Originally published in a variety of formats between the 1950s and the 1970s, these tales were selected by Currach Books and gathered into one volume in 2005. Reissued with bewitching, atmospheric illustrations by Alexis Sierra, and a striking, stylish cover, this new edition is lovely to look at and lovely to hold.
Sinéad de Valera writes beautifully. The prose is elegant with a lyrical quality. This was my first time to read anything by this author, yet the stories were vaguely familiar. Although these tales, weren't part of my childhood, reading them feels strangely like coming home. The landscape and people portrayed are as recognisable as they are strange.
Instead of leprechauns or fairies, we encounter cunning women, mysterious elixirs, mermaids, wizards, witches, werewolves, godmothers, magical artefacts and cursed bodies of water. The dialogue, with its peculiar turns of phrase and particular sentence structures, is authentic and adds to the ambience. The stories have their roots in Irish lore but draw on European folk narratives too.
We see typical fairy tale elements such as captive maidens, wicked stepfamilies, crafty crones and events happening in threes. The pure of heart have pleasing appearances that reflect their integrity, while those with cruel intentions are as ugly as their motives. Virtues like compassion, honesty and hard work are rewarded. Lazy and deceitful characters always meet an unpleasant fate.
Anyone who is unkind to another person or even an animal will suffer. There is a comfort to the order that is carefully maintained and quickly restored if disrupted. More than one story has echoes of Cinderella, but at the same time, each tale is unique and distinctly Irish.
Instead of disclosing that her protagonists lived "happily ever after," the author concludes her tales with more elaborate expressions of the same sentiment. I love how one story ends with the following verse: "And as time passed away, They were happy and gay, For many and many years after, And their home was made bright, And filled with delight, By their children's gay frolics and laughter."
Sinéad de Valera seems like a fascinating person, she knew Maude Gonne and joined Gonne's radical nationalist women's organisation, Inghinidhe na hÉireann (Daughters of Ireland). Born Jane O'Flanagan in Balbriggan, Co. Dublin in 1878, she lived for almost 100 years, until 1975. After embracing the Irish language as an adult, she changed her name from Jane to Sinéad.
As well as a successful writer, Sinéad de Valera was a teacher, and a mother to seven children. Her husband was Ireland's second taoiseach (prime minister) and third president, Éamon de Valera. Sinéad de Valera hated public life, according to this article which, bizarrely, makes no reference to her career as an author and playwright, or that she published over thirty books.
Sinéad de Valera was passionate about the Irish language and a member of the Gaelic League (Conradh na Gaeilge). The league was established in 1893, to promote the Irish language, and counter the anglicisation of the country. Sinéad de Valera taught Irish to adults and one of her students was the man she would later marry.
The talent of singing is venerated in several stories and even takes on supernatural qualities at times. This is perhaps a metaphor for Ireland's native voice, and how Sinéad de Valera considered it an alluring and potent force that deserved a wider audience. The stories themselves play a part in preserving this country's innate magic and the romantic perception of the land of Erin.
Originally from Spain, artist Alexis Sierra has been living in Dublin for a number of years. His illustrations perfectly complement the text and would not look out of place in the original versions. The endpapers are stunning and every single page is ornate, decorated with a celtic border.
Best suited to children aged 11 and upwards, this timeless and charming collection would make an attractive gift for grown ups as well as young readers.
Title: The Enchanted Lake
Author: Sinéad de Valera
Illustrator: Alexis Sierra
Publisher: Currach Books
Publication Date: October 2020