The Enchanted Lake
Sinéad De Valera. Illustrations by Alexis Sierra. Currach Books; 112pp; €22.99; hb; 9781782189237
Review by Síne Quinn
‘On a hawthorn bush close by, a thrush warbled among the fragrant blossoms. Nessa removed the stone from the well and took a drink. Her heart was gladdened by the beauty all around her and she began to sing in answer to the thrush’s notes.’
Anyone who grew up or lived in Ireland during the 1960s and ’70s and later will most likely remember Sinéad De Valera’s Irish fairy tales. These magical tales had an old-world feel and were instant classics. While most fairy tales on offer were either set in Germany (Grimms’ fairy tales) or Denmark (Hans Christian Andersen), these tales stood out because they were set in Ireland. Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales were set in far-off places, but De Valera’s collection were magical stories that occurred practically on our doorsteps or in the next county at least. The landscape was almost recognisable and the characters had Irish names—everything seemed both instantly familiar and a little strange. De Valera was a prolific writer, who published over 30 titles, including The Four-Leafed Shamrock (1964), The Emerald Ring and Other Irish Fairy Tales (1976) and The Miser’s Gold (1970).
Fifteen years ago, Currach Press published an earlier edition of the same collection of treasured tales in 2005. The earlier edition was a striking design, but a smaller format without Alexis Sierra’s enchanting illustrations.
This edition is also striking, with instant gift appeal both for young readers or older nostalgic ones. The Enchanted Lake includes eight fairy tales: ‘The Three Drinks’, ‘The Captive Princess’, ‘The Hare of Sleevebawn’, ‘The Enchanted Lake’, ‘The Treacherous Waters’, ‘The Jewel of Truth’, ‘The Mountain Wolf’ and ‘A Prince in Disguise’.
Alexis Sierra’s illustrations add more life and depth to these classic tales. Illustrations of mermaids, toads, hares, wolves, seagulls—both in colour and black and white—add to these magical and mysterious tales. Some of the stories are more timeless than others and most are cautionary, but they each contain an element of wonder and awe, as well as old-world charm. Alexis Sierra has also illustrated The Halloween House by Riley Cain (Currach Books, 2020).
Síne Quinn, MPhil. Children’s Literature, is the managing editor at Cubicle 7 Entertainment. A Children’s Books Ireland book doctor and creative writing teacher with the Bookmarks programme at TCD, she also provides editorial and writing support to publishers. Her latest book: Holy Shocking Saints: the extraordinary lives of twelve Irish saints by Síne Quinn and Margaret Anne Suggs was published 5 November 2020 and is available to order from leading and independent bookshops websites.