Book review: Brunt Boggart by David Greygoose

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Words by Grey Malkin

Brunt Boggart, written by Northampton author and poet David Greygoose, is aptly subtitled ‘a tapestry of tales’, for within the pages can be found numerous dark legends, Arcadian myths, lost fairy tales and stories drenched in folklore, all expertly woven and weft into a larger and ongoing narrative; that of the journey of the protagonist Greychild. Working both in its larger context as an overall story arc and as a stand-alone selection of folk tales, this is highly recommended reading for those who have an interest in the folk storytelling tradition and in relishing a different and unique take on the lore of the land. Herein lies feral wolf children, elixirs and potions whose ingredients are concocted by crows and long dead grandmothers, magical stones, secret songs of the forest and ritual dancers in dark meadows. 

Beginning in the medieval village of Brunt Boggart (though wisely no era is actually defined, the village and its populace exist somewhere both in and out of time), the sudden and unexplained arrival of Greychild is met with no small suspicion from the local children and adults, at first believing him to be a shape-shifter and wolf child who presents a mortal danger to the superstitious inhabitants. Taken in by the kindly Old Granny Willowmist, Greychild becomes an adopted villager and party to the experiences and stories of his fellow residents which are recounted as the book unfolds. We then, by proxy as readers, witness such legend and ritual as the Crowdancers, the unearthly Pedlar Man (whose wanders introduce to Greychild the idea of travelling beyond the boundaries of Brunt Boggart), the coming of age initiation of the Moon of Blood and Shuttle Stone and the girl who, beguiled by a toy kite, transforms into the wind. Hints and hues of much older, genuine folk tales and traditions peek through these chapters like a harvest moon through the night sky’s clouds; indeed this could be a collection of tales told throughout not just the British Isles but across any culture. An example is FiredancerTurnfeather and the Loom of Night wherein hints of not just Perrault’s Little Red Riding Hood but also the tradition of the predatory Reynardine combine as a talking, sinister fox creature enters the house of a lonely widow with obvious bad intent. The Brothers Grimm’s Hansel and Gretel is equally invoked before the tale settles into traditional territory whereupon a lover is betrayed three times (often a magical and significant number in folklore) with disastrous consequences and a child is replaced as a changeling in the form of a corn dolly. These tales are rich with fine detail, vivid characterisation and seemingly endless imagination; as a reader with some background knowledge and interest in both folklore and fairy tales alike, at no point did these stories feel overly predictable or well worn. Rather, they held their intrigue and pleasingly took off down unexpected shadowy paths, fields and furrows. Moreover these tales ebb and flow into each other, as would be expected from a village community; characters and the essence of one tale often reappears to star or take part in another, as do some reoccurring motifs (such as the sinister corn dollies, one of which named Tom Tattifer is particularly chilling and stayed in this reader’s thoughts long after the book was closed). 

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There is also a narrative journey or thread throughout Brunt Boggart that strings together each tale as in a collective cobweb, namely Greychild. At first we encounter the village through his unexpected arrival and subsequent time spent there, before his wilder and uncontained nature takes him to travel to the city of Arleccra to find his lost mother, along the Pedlar Man’s track. He encounters numerous mythical and curious individuals along the way, such the transmutating goosegirl, the wraith-like daughter of the wind, the blind Grannock in her enchanted croft and the triple goddess figure of Jessimer; in doing so Greychild re-enacts one of the oldest and most central motifs in a folk or fairy tale, that of leaving home to venture into an uncertain and wider world. As such, he documents the passing of childhood and venturing beyond the cusp of becoming an adult. Meantime, the chapters begin to alternate between Greychild’s journey and those whom he has left behind in Brunt Boggart, some of the youngest who also take the Pedlar’s track in his stead. With each sequence beginning with a storyteller’s call of ‘Let me tell you, let me tell you…’ the adventures begin to take on the mantle of the oral tradition, of passing down what may be interpreted as being very old stories and cautionary tales indeed. And as to Greychild’s path, his search for his true mother, his life meaning and his origins, that remains for you to discover within this many faceted, finely crafted and genuinely enjoyable book. 

Greygoose clearly knows his mythology and folklore, he has masterfully woven these aspects amongst his own original and memorable cast of characters throughout, creating a piece of work that can be enjoyed equally by aficionados of fantasy, of folk horror and of fairy tale and folklore. Accolades on the book dust jacket come from no less than luminaries such as Alan Moore, Jay Griffiths and folk musician Emily Portman (herself no stranger to a dark fairy tale). It may be time to take a walk in the wild woods, to meet the fox and wolf and to arrive at a strange but eventful village by the name of Brunt Boggart.

Brunt Boggart is available to buy from Pushkin Press

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