Tales of the Mist

By Anthony Holcroft,
illustrated by Elspeth Williamson

Methuen: London, UK; Reed Methuen: Auckland NZ, 1987

ISBN 9780474001925

The stories in this collection, which was released to coinicide with the television series of the same name, blend traditional folklore with local elements, creating a strong, and at times mystical, feeling for the New Zealand landscape. The characters for the most part live in remote, lonely places where it is not uncommon for a farmer to encounter a tree sprite in the bush and where other-worldly powers weave snares for the unwary. Extraordinary things happen to these humble folk and sometimes they get a lot more than they bargained for. Like all true fairy tales, however, these are also stories of the here and now, and the affairs of the human heart.


The Island in the Lagoon
The Tramp
The Girl in the Cabbage Tree
The Night Bees
Rosie Moonshine

Television series

The five stories in the Tales of the Mist, and one further tale, “The Boy at the Door”, were adapted for television in 1986 under the direction of Kim Gabara, a veteran of New Zealand children's television. The author produced the screenplay, writing The Tramp specifically for the television series.

Reader comment

“The five stories in this collection are all derived from familiar folk-tale themes, but the author’s deep feeling for and understanding of the New Zealand countryside gives them a very distinctive atmosphere. Anthony Holcroft knows how to tell a tale with tension, economy and fine timing. As a sampler, try the shortest story in this book ‘The Tramp’, which shows how a miserly farmer’s greed is its own reward. There is not a word too much, or one out of place, and in a few brisk strokes the writer paints a clear setting. Mr Holcroft has a sensitivity towards words as strong as his instinct for landscape.”

The Junior Bookshelf, UK (April 1988)

“The great strength of fairy and folk tales is that they convey the human predicament in terms that children understand instinctively if not always consciously. Anthony Holcroft has invested traditional themes with a local flavour in Tales of the Mist. Against New Zealand backgrounds of sea, bush and farmland, dramas of the human heart are played out ... Anthony Holcroft is a masterly storyteller. His lucid prose never overstates the situation and the tales effortlessly work their own magic.”

Betty Gilderdale, NZ Herald (4 July 1987)

“Anthony Holcroft’s collection of five recently televised stories ... blends traditional folklore and powers beyond the ordinary into a New Zealand landscape. Images of silver gleam through these stories, which are imbued with human warmth and wisdom, and crafted with a quiet intensity and poise.”

Diane Hebley, NZ Listener (1987)

“Written by New Zealander Anthony Holcroft, these short stories are further evidence of the author’s gift in combining the form of the traditional tale with a contemporary New Zealand setting ... With the publication this month of Tales of the Mist, Holcroft presents us with his most accomplished work yet. Lovingly illustrated by Elspeth Williamson, these five tales tell of human frailties and their effects on others and the landscape.”

Bruce Morris, The Dominion (2 May 1987)

“... Last night I read ‘Tales of the Mist’ right through, thinking as I read that although they may be stories for children there is much in them that can appeal to grownups. If I may say so, you have an enviable skill in being able to communicate a New Zealand atmosphere, complete with its native bush, its seascapes and rugged landscapes without interfering with the story, for all of this is part of the real story ... Although, as you know, I’d read ‘Tales of the Mist’ in manuscript, my interest was sustained and they appeared as fresh as if I’d never seen them.”

Professor H Winston Rhodes, former reviewer for Landfall Quarterly (14 June 1987)

"... I should tell you also that I read several stories from ‘Tales of the Mist’ to my Summer School (University of Auckland) group several weeks ago, and found they exemplified everything I was telling them about writing for the young!”

Dorothy Butler, international authority on children’s books and reading (22 January 1993)

“I have read your book ‘Tales of the Mist’. I think it’s great. I chose your book out of sixty other books. When I picked it up I didn’t want to put it down. I was very sad when I finished it because it was too interesting and exciting. My favourite story was ‘The Girl in the Cabbage Tree’. But then I like ‘The Island in the Lagoon’. And ‘Rosie Moonshine’. But ‘The Tramp’ and ‘The Night Bees’ are very good too. I can’t make up my mind. I really want to know where you get your ideas from? Did you walk into a bush with an imaginary spirit? Or find a scarf as smooth as silk? Did you make a bargain that wasn’t right? Or find some bees in the night?”

Alayna, age 8 (1996)