Joanne M Harris
SFX|December 2017

The Chocolat novelist tells us about the power of traditional stories...

Jonathan Wright

Being worried about the loss of our heritage isn’t a new idea. In the late 19th century, Harvard academic Francis James Child began to gather and publish the lyrics of British folk songs, and their American variants, lyrics he was worried might otherwise be lost. His English And Scottish Popular Ballads, better known as the Child Ballads, offer a precious snapshot of our islands’ folklore.

“They ought to be as famous as Grimms’ Fairy Tales, but for some reason they haven’t become so,” says Joanne M Harris, with just a hint of reproach in her voice.

Perhaps that’s about to change. A new novella from Harris, A Pocketful Of Crows, was inspired by ballad 295 of 305, “The Brown Girl”. A dark and magical tale of love and revenge that its author says is “part fairy tale, part almanac”, and part a paean for the English countryside, it taps into “the idea of ballads as a storytelling tradition”.


If that sounds nostalgic, nothing could be further from the truth. Rather, this is a case of Harris trying to tap into the power of these stories. But doesn’t this power in itself make it difficult to escape the template of the original tales?

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