Gossip from the Forest

The Tangled Roots of Our Forests and Fairytales

Sara Maitland

Published: 6 June 2013
Paperback, B Format
129x198mm, 368 pages
ISBN: 9781847084309


Fairytales are one of our earliest and most vital cultural forms, and forests one of our most ancient landscapes. Both evoke a similar sensation in us - we find them beautiful and magical, but also spooky, sometimes horrifying.

In this fascinating book, Maitland argues that the two forms are intimately connected: the mysterious secrets and silences, gifts and perils of the forests were both the background and the source of the fairytales made famous by the Grimms and Hans Christian Andersen. Yet both forests and fairy stories are at risk and their loss deprives us of our cultural lifeblood. Maitland visits forests through the seasons, from the exquisite green of a beechwood in spring, to the muffled stillness of a snowy pine wood in winter. She camps with her son Adam, whose beautiful photographs are included in the book; she takes a barefoot walk through Epping Forest with Robert Macfarlane; she walks with a mushroom expert through an oak wood, and with a miner through the Forest of Dean. Maitland ends each chapter with a unique, imaginitive re-telling of a fairytale.

Written with Maitland's wonderful clarity and conversational grace, Gossip from the Forest is a magical and unique blend of nature writing, history and imaginative fiction.

About the author

Image of Sara Maitland

Sara Maitland is the author of numerous works of fiction, including the Somerset Maugham Award-winning Daughters of Jerusalem, and several non-fiction books about religion. Born in 1950, she studied at Oxford University and currently tutors on the MA in creative writing for Lancaster University. She lives in Galloway. More about the author


‘[A] deliciously original and rather magical book... [Maitland] explores our ancient landscape of forests and the ancient genre of fairytales in tandem, drawing intimate and arresting connections between the two... Lovely’



‘A beautiful, thoughtful book... Maitland is incredibly good at taking us with her on journeys through the woods, as she examines her emotional responses... damn near perfect’ Rebecca Armstrong

‘A playful blend of nonfiction and fable... both practical and symbolic, a box of tools and a box of delights’ David Shariatmadari

‘A richly digressive study of woods and words’ Jane Shilling

‘Absorbing and thought-provoking...[Maitland] is fascinating on how landscape informs the collective imagination... Highly recommended’ Caroline Sanderson

‘Although eloquent on the origin and influence of fairy tales, it is Maitland's meditations on nature and the human responses to our changing landscape that are most memorable... Whatever the season, [she] finds beauty’ Lucy Popescu

‘Blindingly beautiful... A startlingly brilliant concept, expertly executed and with such gentle beauty’

‘Enchanting’ Emma Hagestadt

‘Lyrical and imaginative... A walk through the woods with Maitland offers more refreshment than a vacuum flask of tea... An enchanted spinning wheel of a book, it turns the world around it into gold’ Victoria Segal


‘Maitland beautifully weaves together a history of forests and fairy tales in a study that actually teaches you something’

‘Maitland describes her surroundings with perfect clarity’

‘Maitland explores both the fascinating "pseudo-history" of these ancient groves and the folkloric tales they inspired... Interleaved in the author's unconventional narrative are some subversive re-tellings’ Emma Hagestadt

‘Maitland is an uncompromising noticer, and there is a kind of shamanic re-enchantment at work in her refusal to use generic terms’ Stuart Kelly

‘Maitland travels Britain's forests, not just to enjoy the hush but also to investigate the cultural link between woodland and fairytales’ Tom Robbins, Books of the Year

‘Maitland's lively spirit of discovery reanimates the natural world as a place of danger and excitement’

‘Meticulously researched, accessible writing that crackles with enthusiasm... Captivating’

‘Natural history, storytelling and autobiography are wonderfully interwoven here... A thrill - and beautifully written’ Ronald Blythe

‘Offers much pleasure and instruction’ Suzi Feazy

‘Spell-binding [and] playfully subversive’ Kapka Kassabova

‘The "gossip" of Maitland's title is not the "tittle-tattle" of the OED definition. Rather it is "the encouraging, private, spiritual talk that we all want in times of trouble"... She makes her chosen forests come alive’ Tom Shippey

‘This fascinating books blends nature writing and history with storytelling to create an enchanting journey... Knowledgeable and thoroughly engrossing’ Lana Stokes

‘This is the book that's set the bar for my year's reading - anything better will be in the really remarkable category’

‘Very often overturns our casual understanding of what goes on in [fairy] stories in order to show that like the forest they seem to inhabit, they are complex repositories of social and cultural wisdom... Profound’ Brian Morton

‘Wonderfully enthusiastic... Maitland [writes] gleefully of crystal brain fungi and the 'strange smokey shimmer' of bluebells. Her relish is infectious’ Oliver Laing

‘Wonderfully funny, scary and absorbing’ Peter Stanford

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