You find yourself in the forest. You know the one. It’s the forest where the stories you read as a child take place. A forest so green and thick, that it’s positively brimming with life, with magic.
Up ahead, you see a grand building, majestic amongst the trees, yet not intrusive. It belongs here, as surely as the moss, the leaves.
You have found The Fairy Tale Museum. Welcome. Come inside.
The Fairy Tale Museum by Susannah M. Smith is a museum of the mind. Each piece is a vignette of a museum display. You stay in each vignette long enough to appreciate the beauty of the scene, before moving on to the next wonder. The Fairy Tale Museum could also be described as a curio cabinet. Each story, a drawer you open to examine the contents—to hold them in your mind, explore the tiny worlds they show you, and then return them to the cabinet, before opening the next drawer.
As you explore the museum, you will notice you are not alone. There is a fox that weaves through the different stories, popping up just long enough to remind you of its presence, before disappearing back into the scenery. There is also a long poem with a secret that pops up between vignettes, giving you a line here, two lines there. It is a poem to keep you company on your journey through the museum, and whose secret can be unlocked upon completion of the book.
As well, you meet the museum’s collector at the beginning and ending of the book. The collector has curated this magical place, and has done so for you. Before the curator sends you off to explore the collections, they leave you a short list of instructions, such as “The object is a repository for magical thought. Objects contain stories. You have a relationship with the object. The object offers you its secrets. By association, you become magical.” (2)
Susannah M. Smith, like a lapidary, has chosen her materials (in this case, words) carefully, carving and shaping each piece and then polishing it until it shines. Her ability to anchor you in a scene in just a few sentences is commendable.
Smith uses characters old and new to populate her vignettes. In “Bömerwald” we encounter Eros and Thanatos from The Island of Doctor Moreau, having left the island in search of a new place to live. In “The Rose Lady” we meet a woman who woke up one day to discover her eyes had become roses. In “The Squirrel Painter” we meet Mr. Flesk who spray-paints squirrels around the city. “Small and pristine. Perfectly represented.” (97)
The curator reminds us “You can read this book from front to back or open it at random, in search of a bright shard to illuminate your day… You can wander in and out of the drawers, the galleries, the stories, the pages… This is one of the joys of the book cabinet: its capacity to be reconfigured, reclassified, exhibited anew at any given time, revealing different aspects of the collection.” (188-89)
The Fairy Tale Museum is a beautifully written book of short prose invites the reader to relax and explore the curated ‘collections’ of pieces. It is a book you can, like a museum, come back to again and again and discover something new each time.
The Fairy Tale Museum
by Susannah M. Smith
Invisible Publishing, 2018, 201pp., $19.95
Lindsey Childs is the Assistant Editor and Book Reviews Editor for Prairie Fire. She normally edits the book reviews, but occasionally snags a book off her overflowing ‘to be reviewed’ bookcase and does a review herself.