Steeped in Russian folklore and infused with magic, ‘The House With Chicken Legs’ is a breath-taking story which will sweep you away on an incredible journey. I am thrilled to be part of the blog tour for this fabulous title, and to be hosting a special guest post from the author herself, Sophie Anderson.
The book was inspired by the precious stories Sophie’s own grandmother had brought with her to Wales when she fled her homeland during World War 2, losing her family in the process. When growing up, Sophie listened avidly to her grandmother’s tales and thought it would be fantastic to live in a house which could up sticks and take you anywhere you wanted. The story of Baba Yaga, the bony-legged, iron-toothed hag who lived deep in the forest, was always one of Sophie’s favourites. The happy result is the dark, bewitching and uplifting ‘The House With Chicken Legs.’
Marinka lives a lonely life with her grandmother, Baba Yaga, in a house with chicken legs which moves locations whenever it chooses. You see, her grandmother is the Guardian of the Gate – a portal between the lands of the living and the dead. It’s her job to great the recently deceased and guide them into the afterlife. A path which Marinka is expected to tread when her grandmother passes. But Marinka dreams of another life. A life where she can stay somewhere long enough to make friends. Unfortunately, her chicken-legged, and extremely stubborn, house has other ideas and uproots the family whenever it senses that the living are getting too close.
Gorgeous, macabre, heart-breaking and uplifting. Anderson has created a world you can lost in and a book which will leave you breathless and wanting more. Stunning!
Following the reading of her book, I am absolutely delighted to welcome the amazing Sophie to my blog with a special guest post about magic in the natural world.
The Lime Tree – A Russian Folktale
‘In a certain village there lived a poor cottager …’
In this Slavic folk tale, collected and published by Karl Jaromír Erben in 1865, a cottager is so poor he has no pony, no cow, and no firewood. When winter comes, he goes into the forest to find wood. He raises his axe, to cut down a lime tree, but the tree speaks to him,
‘“I will give you all that you want if you don’t cut me down.”’
The cottager tells the tree how poor he is, and the tree tells him to go home and see what is there. When the cottager returns home, he finds a new house, horses, and storerooms full of corn. But the cottager is not satisfied and returns to the tree to ask for a handsome wife. Once again, the tree tells the cottager to go home, and back at home his wish has come true.
At first, the cottager is content, but soon he returns to the lime tree and asks to be head-borough, and the tree grants his wish. Still, not content as head-borough, the cottager asks to be lord, and then an official, then lord-lieutenant, and finally a tsar. At this request, the tree replies,
‘“Foolish man, what are you asking? Consider what you were, and what you have become.”’
But the cottager insists he wants to be tsar, and so the lime tree declares,
‘“Become a bear, and your wife a she-bear!”’
This tale has a clear moral about greed that didn’t interest me greatly as a child. What did fascinate me though, was the enchanted lime tree. I firmly believed in the idea of magic in the natural world and the thought of a talking tree that could grant wishes, or turn you into a bear, was thrilling.
I’ve since learned that lime tees were sacred trees in many ancient cultures; often associated with fate, fertility, and truth. Women danced or prayed under lime trees, and some communities held judicial meetings under their boughs.
Lime wood is good for carving, and lime bark can be used to make rope. The young leaves are edible and are a food source for many caterpillars. Lime flowers produce nectar for honey bees and can be used to make perfumes and tea. And the flowers, leaves, wood and charcoal can all be used for medicinal purposes.
Scientists have discovered that trees can communicate with each other, and other species, using chemical compounds; and that they defend themselves, and respond to injuries. Some scientists argue that trees are intelligent; as they can sense, learn, remember, and react in ways that would be familiar to humans. They can also make ultrasonic sounds – which, if you have read The Sound Machine by Roald Dahl, you might find quite chilling!
Sadly, I do not know of any scientific evidence that trees can grant wishes, or turn people into bears, but I am still convinced there is magic in the natural world.
Certainly, like the lime tree in the story, nature can give us great gifts, or bring disasters (droughts, hurricanes, floods, food shortages); so we do have to be careful how much we take from the natural world, or greed may well be our downfall, like the cottager who asked to be tsar of all the land.
My second book (title top-secret!) is, in part, a reimagining of The Lime Tree, and will be published by Usborne when it is ready.
Thank you so much, Sophie. If it’s anything like as good as your first, I can’t wait to get a peek at your second book!
Make sure you take time to visit some of the other stops on the blog tour too for more exclusive chats and reviews.
Let yourself get carried away by ‘The House With Chicken Legs.’
*Huge thanks to Usborne for sending me this title to review and for inviting me to participate in its blog tour*