A love letter to Aotearoa, Kate Hemsley
March 8, 2022
“The rest, as always, is up to you.”
The Fairies of Down Under by Geoff Allen is a collection of myths and legends from Aotearoa, told for a younger audience to give them a beautifully wide range of perspectives on our country. Allen’s love and admiration of New Zealand shine through in his writing, showcasing all the myths he finds most important to him, and providing a personal opinion too. This book also carries with it a harmonious bicultural approach to life in Aotearoa, showcasing Allen’s almost ideal world where divides might be extinct and we live in complete and utter happiness, knowing our differences, but accepting that in our nature we are all the same.
Each magical story is quirky and unique, representing an important part of New Zealand culture and history. I am especially fond of Thumb Your Nose and One-Shot Robinson, because Allen crafts his protagonist in such a way that is so painfully relatable, we can’t not feel his emotions through the pages. This man is puzzled a lot of the time, has obvious faults and I mean, who doesn’t enjoy a good meal cooked by mum? Having such a relatable protagonist made a real impact on me; I could feel Robinson’s anguish and utter confusion at his new acquaintance and his acquaintance’s outlook on death, and I could also feel his weird sense of relief at the conclusion of the story. Allen’s genius with words really shines through in this story and I was incredibly impressed.
The overall tone of the book is extremely optimistic, and sentimental. Every story had an uplifting message to it, each time filling me with hope and a whole lot of tingles for certain stories, cough cough Biddie’s Kauri Gum Soup!
There is an overarching theme of family and unlikely relationships, Allen brings forward in each story, about how important relationships are to everyone whether they’re minor acquaintances, friends, or lovers. But most of all, he highlights family, at the root of everything, even for characters that aren’t exactly human and are more fairy-like. He keeps on with his theme of family and how it sustains you, builds you up, and because of that you can live with optimism and fulfilment. Put so perfectly by the character, Biddy: “for only your mother could ever love someone as dumb as you are.” Family is everything.
At the end of every story Allen writes a note to the reader. Whether it was a piece of extra information about the characters, an opinion or something else, this really made me think about his purpose in writing this book. I came to the conclusion that he wrote it for himself; they’re all stories that have some kind of meaning to him at various points of his life, and I think in bringing them all together Allen is showing what is most important to him and giving us a snapshot of his life thus far. In doing so, he’s passing on knowledge to the next generation and uniting Aotearoa through storytelling. This was a very nice touch and made the book feel a lot more personal.
But the book is boring. And no criticism to Allen’s writing skill which I greatly admire, but the book bores me.
Allen’s biggest fault I think is that he is trying to tell too many myths in one go. There are sixteen individual stories, each about eight pages long. Just as I began to get hooked into one story and its characters, the story was over, and I had to move on. I found this difficult to read, because he couldn’t catch my attention and keep it in the way I might expect.
It is true that this is a ‘collection’ of stories, so readers may be expecting sixteen stories. I certainly wasn’t. I thought when it said on the cover ‘and other Pākehā Fairy Tales’ there might be one or two stories, perhaps three? After each story I struggled to move onto the next one, almost wishing Allen had gone into more depth, or at least didn’t have another story following straight on afterward.
There is no denying Geoff Allen is an artist. He has a clear vision and talent to match, it’s just a pity that overall, this book didn’t deliver. It has promising themes and concepts and it really pains me that I can’t be more excited or involved with the book. I would still highly recommend it to someone who wants a large collection of Aotearoa myths. This book is, indeed, a love letter to our beautiful country.
- Kate is 16 and lives in Wellington.