Kathleen Ragan,
Fearless Girls, Wise Women
& Beloved Sisters: Heroines in
Folktales from Around the World

(W.W. Norton & Co., 1998; 2000)

When Kathleen Ragan set out to compile the stories found in Fearless Girls, Wise Women & Beloved Sisters, she had a specific goal in mind.

Young girls, Ragan explains in her introduction, have a dearth of heroes to emulate -- or even background characters with whom they can identify -- in the rich tradition of folklore and fairytales from all over the world. In most cases, it's the plucky young lad, the third son or the dim but honest everyman who holds the starring role.

This book, Ragan says, is for her own daughter -- as much as it is for any young girl who has searched through volumes of folklore seeking female protaganists she can be proud of. That means no damsels in distress. No sleeping beauties. No haughty princesses more interested in the sheen of their hair in an ever-present hand mirror. No evil witches, harridans or crones. And, most especially, no wicked stepmothers.

It seemed at first to be a desperate search, but Ragan soon tapped into a rich vein of lore that lies beneath the surface of the more familiar, popular tales where females are more often prizes, props or villains. The stories are out there, but they aren't always easy to find.

Well, they weren't. But with the publication of Fearless Girls, Ragan rectifies the problem with one enjoyable volume in which the girls win the day, save the boy, outwit the foe and survive the challenge.

It doesn't take long to be fully absorbed into the tales. The book is fine for extended reading, but it's also handy for filling a few spare moments here or there; the tales are all short, mostly two to five pages. Ragan has taken great pains to collect stories from all corners of the globe, and she retains the individual voices and styles that separate, for instance, an Irish crofter's tale from something told in the shadow of a Polynesian volcano or by a fire on a cold Inuit plain. Some women in this book embark on grand adventures, while others demonstrate the simple heroism of a loyal wife or loving mother. Brief editorial comments by Ragan at the end of each tale set them in a context or explain their value to this collection.

Fearless Girls is a treasury of lore, filled with more than 100 stories that are still grist for the telling and re-telling. The heroines featured here are every bit as brave, clever and lucky as their male counterparts, and children of both sexes should find the tales equally enthralling. Adults, too, should find them an enjoyable escape from the same old stories we've read (or seen adapted for the big screen) since our own childhoods.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 15 May 2004

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