In Newfoundland, fairies are dangerous. They steal babies, play wild music that forces people to dance till they drop, and lead travellers over cliffs to their deaths. Sometimes they spirit people away completely: heedless berry pickers are particularly susceptible. Spirited Away: Fairy Stories of Old Newfoundland, by Tom Dawe with illustrations by Veselina Tomova, is a collection of stories about how these strange and malevolent fairies interfere in people’s lives.
In the book, two young men walking home after a dance are pursued by jack-o’-lanterns – eerie lights that hover over marshes. A woman walking by a cemetery at night is witness to a fairy funeral, with small, mournful figures. An old lady is mysteriously transported several miles through dense bush and over rivers, all without a scratch or any effort on her part.
Dawe portrays the details of life in Newfoundland in the old days, showing how easy it was to believe in evil spirits when the wind howled through the house and there were no electric lights to chase away the darkness. Like a typical Newfoundland evening of storytelling, there are stories within stories within stories. The fairies are seldom experienced first-hand, but the atmosphere of dread is slowly created until the reader is spirited away into a terrifying world where anything can happen.
Dawe is a poet, which is reflected in his simple, but lyrical, text. Tomova’s sinister woodcuts, with their muted colours and grotesque figures, draw the reader deeper into the unsettling world of these dark fairies. Together, they’ve perfectly captured the sweet terror that comes when sitting by a flickering light and listening to unearthly tales.