Treasury of Folklore: Woodlands & Forests: Wild Gods, World Trees and Werewolves by Dee Dee Chainey & Willow Winsham – Book Review

Following in the footsteps of the Treasury of Folklore: Seas & Rivers: Sirens Selkies and Ghost Ships (Reviewed Here ) folklorists extraordinaire Dee Dee Chainey and Willow Winsham (the masterminds behind the #FolkloreThursday social media phenomenon) take us by the hand now like babes in the wood and lead us … er … into the woods! But fear not, you could find no better guides to alert us to the wonders and the woes of this strange sylvan kingdom.

Within its pages, upon the paper that came from the woods itself, we are introduced to many amazing arboreal creatures and woodland wanderers from forests the world over. Some of them heroes and heroines like Vasilisa the Beautiful, a fair maiden who braved the cold Birch forests of old Russia and encountered one of folk horror’s favourite supernatural witches – the iron-toothed crone, Baba Yaga, and Paul Bunyan, the giant lumberjack of the North American timber lands & his loyal companion the blue-haired moose, Babe. We encounter strange creatures such as the timid Squonk which upon capture would dissolve into nothing in a flood of tears and the human-faced tree dogs of China – the Penghou. We meet gods and demi-gods and elemental spirits of the wild woods – the Leshy, Hamadryads, Herne the Hunter, the Moss People and many many more. We encounter those denizens of dark woods for centuries – the bears and the wolves, yet these bears and wolves may be more than we dreamed and may disturbingly be more like us than we’d dare to imagine.
And we hear the lore of the trees themselves from the Dragon’s Blood Trees of Yemen to the ancient funereal Yews of Britain; from the sacred Banyan trees of India to the giant old Cedars of Canada.


The book is illustrated throughout by the charming block-print style illustrations of Joe McLaren. Images both dark and strange but with a quirky humour to them, which will likely appeal to readers of a wide age-range. Again as with the Seas and Rivers volume, some adult subject matter is touched upon but with parents’ own discretion and judgement I could see this book being popular with both themselves and their kids. I know I would have loved these Treasury books as a youngster. Furthermore I remember years ago when I was doing Tree Warden training at an agricultural college one of the tutors asked the class what it is we liked or indeed loved about trees and forests. I had numerous reasons, their role in the environment and natural habitat, their look both as pleasing landscape and for their interesting aesthetic from the point of an artist, their smell, their ambience and I also mentioned their role in folklore. At the end of the class another student approached me and asked if I could recommend any books that featured the folklore of trees and had Dee Dee and Willow’s book been available then I know it would have been top of the list. It is a great introductory book to the topic, yet it is also so diverse and so widely researched that all followers of folklore no matter how seasoned will find something unfamiliar or of further intrigue within this beguiling little book. I myself was rather bemused to encounter Tió de Nadal, within these pages. If unfamiliar with this bizarre Yule Log of Catalan tradition, then I’ll say no more and let you discover this rather odd custom for yourself within this fantastic book.
Woodlands & Forests makes an excellent companion both visually and content wise to the Seas & Rivers volume and also Dee Dee’s earlier A Treasury of British Folklore.
It would make a great little present for a loved one or for yourself for Halloween or a great stocking filler for Christmas … but maybe not put it in the same stocking as Tió de Nadal !!

Treasury of Folklore: Woodlands & Forests: Wild Gods, World Trees and Werewolves.
Dee Dee Chainey & Willow Winsham
Batsford. 2021. Hb. Illus. 192pgs.

Review by Andy Paciorek


Book Review: Treasury of Folklore. Seas & Rivers: Sirens, Selkies and Ghost Ships by Dee Dee Chainey & Willow Winsham


Dee Dee Chainey and Willow Winsham, the luminaries behind the hugely successful Folklore Thursday hashtag phenomenon on Twitter, prove their own individual talents and deserved presence in the folklore world with this enchanting book which presents a collection of strange aquatic tales gathered across the ages and across the globe; varying from Mami Wata to the Mary Celeste, from The Lost city of Ys to the subterranean rivers of London. Within its rolling pages the reader encounters both familiar figures such as Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid (one of the more frankly disturbing tales to have ever have been given the Disney treatment) and lesser-known entities such as the Funayūrei – the revenants of drowned Japanese mariners who unless placated will cause harm to living souls.

Kelpies (water horses) and Selkies (Seal folk) of Scotland, nymphs, sirens, ghosts, gods and goddesses galore such as Poseidon, Sedna, Hit (the Octopus Goddess of the Caroline Islands) and Arnaquagsaq (the sea mother of Greenland) and more all appear within. Superstitions abound in the sailors’ world and this book casts a net to land numerous omens heeded when setting sail. In our voyage through calm and storm, over ocean, sea, river and lake there is a wealth to be found of subjects that have intrigued Forteans for many decades such as that zone of mysterious maritime vanishings The Bermuda Triangle (which also intrigued crooner Barry Manilow enough to record a song about it) and Ignis Faatus – the fool’s fire (also known as Will o’ the Wisps, Jack o Lanterns and by many other appellations) the lights that flicker above swamplands and marshes, and in legend are said to have led many a nocturnal traveller to their own sodden grave. Cryptids such as Nessie, Ogopogo and The Bear Lake Monster also raise their heads above the surface.

It must be noted that this book is not an in-depth analysis of any particular tales or cases and should be seen as more of a port from which readers may seek to explore further or dive in deeper to other tomes. It is however a lovely little book.

As a gift book, although there are a few adult themes which are subtly addressed, I would have no qualms about giving this work to both children and adults as a present. As a child, brought up on the Usborne Mysteries, Arthur C Clarke and varied mythology books I’d have loved it. It can be dipped into here and there or read cover to cover. It is also very charming in its presentation. It has a gilt effect cover which rather than seeming gaudy, looks quaintly magical and is illustrated throughout in a block print style by the artist Joe McClaren. I look forward to their forthcoming sylvan lore book, and hopefully more titles in a series that could prove to be a contemporary equivalent of Andrew Lang’s coloured fairy book collection.

Treasury of Folklore. Seas & Rivers: Sirens, Selkies and Ghost Ships
Dee Dee Chainey & Willow Winsham
Batsford 2021 Hb. Illus. 192 pgs.

Review by Andy Paciorek