Ordinary Wonder Tales

By (author): Emily Urquhart

Shortlisted for the 2023 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction

A journalist and folklorist explores the truths that underlie the stories we imagine—and reveals the magic in the everyday.

“I’ve always felt that the term fairy tale doesn’t quite capture the essence of these stories,” writes Emily Urquhart. “I prefer the term wonder tale, which is Irish in origin, for its suggestion of awe coupled with narrative. In a way, this is most of our stories.” In this startlingly original essay collection, Urquhart reveals the truths that underlie our imaginings: what we see in our heads when we read, how the sight of a ghost can heal, how the entrance to the underworld can be glimpsed in an oil painting or a winter storm—or the onset of a loved one’s dementia. In essays on death and dying, pregnancy and prenatal genetics, radioactivity, chimeras, cottagers, and plague, Ordinary Wonder Tales reveals the essential truth: if you let yourself look closely, there is magic in the everyday.


Emily Urquhart

Emily Urquhart is a journalist with a doctorate in folklore. Her award-winning work has appeared in Longreads, Guernica, and The Walrus and elsewhere, and her first book was shortlisted for the Kobo First Book Prize and the BC National Award for Canadian Nonfiction. Her most recent book, The Age of Creativity: Art, Memory, my Father and Me, was listed as a top book of 2020 by CBC, NOW Magazine and Quill & Quire. She is a nonfiction editor for The New Quarterly and lives in Kitchener, Ontario.


Praise for Ordinary Wonder Tales

“Emily Urquhart’s collection of essays about folklore, storytelling, and wonder weaves its own magic as it draws the reader deep into the heart of imagination and possibility. From a haunting childhood encounter to a deeply moving exploration of dementia, Ordinary Wonder Tales delights in the knowledge that the world can be both real and imagined. As we read, we discover that no trauma in a person’s life ever sets them fully apart. Rather, human tragedies are endlessly absorbed and transformed by the wonder tales we share to bring us back to the fullness of life.”
—2023 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction Jury Citation

“Non-fiction that hums with truth and life. Emily Urquhart writes about family, pain, fear and genetics all through the lens of folk tales and folk history. It proves a deeply moving meditation on the stories we tell ourselves, collectively and individually, to make sense of the insensible magical wonderful awful parts of our ordinary lives.”
—Carrie Snyder, for the Globe and Mail

“Emily Urquhart brings her skills as a journalist, editor and folklorist … fascinatingly to bear on a series of exquisitely written essays about the relationship between living and storytelling; about how these two things rely on each other for their mutual survival.”
—Emily Donaldson, Globe and Mail

“In these essays, Emily Urquhart—who has a doctorate in folklore (and is the daughter of Canadian author Jane Urquhart and the late painter Tony Urquhart, whose dementia is dealt with in the final, powerful essay)—explores childhood, motherhood and daughterhood with a sense of wonder.”
—Marsha Lederman, Globe and Mail

“A book of both deep thought and intense feeling, Ordinary Wonder Tales is, literally, a collection of wonders, and a truly beautiful account of a life lived in the nexus of the temporal and the eternal. It’s a treasure.”
—Toronto Star

“The author’s academic and journalistic training, her eye for the strange and marvellous, and her expertise in European fables all come together in this curious gathering of stories borrowed from everyday life. While Ordinary Wonder Tales is replete with autobiographical fragments, the tone is restrained: self-analysis never courts self-indulgence, and personal experiences merge seamlessly into the yarns we spin and the beliefs we pass down.”
—Literary Review of Canada

“With insight, compassion, and skill, Emily Urquhart’s essays delve into the intricate wonders of our lives. This book is magical in every sense of the term—a beautiful ode to both the natural world and the supernatural one, and all of the ways in which our human hearts traverse the space between these shifting places.”
—Amanda Leduc, author of The Centaur’s Wife and Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space

“In Ordinary Wonder Tales, Urquhart stylishly combines her personal experiences with her academic expertise, leading to a reading experience that feels entertaining and casual yet also edifying … It’s a testament to Urquhart’s own formidable storytelling skill that each of her essays inspires a quiet awe.”
LIBER: A Feminist Review

Ordinary Wonder Tales is a quietly charming book about all the ordinary tragedies in a life. Urquhart’s essays help us understand the stories we tell ourselves, while also being satisfying as stories themselves.”
—Winnipeg Free Press

“Her thoughtful analysis and warm storytelling work together to create a fantastic read.”
—Anne Logan, I’ve Read This

“This is the value in Urquhart’s book: the reminder of the importance of personal lore, the way it shapes us and how we present ourselves to the world. Ordinary Wonder Tales is a comfort to read.”
—The Malahat Review

Ordinary Wonder Tales will have readers conjuring up memories of their first encounters with fairy tales, fables, and storytelling … if you’re compelled to imagine the mysterious forgotten worlds of imagination, of fables and possibilities … you’ll probably need to pick up [this book].”
—Miramichi Reader

“For many readers who might chose fiction over essays, Urquhart’s collection provides a satisfying compromise. These tales are wondrous and haunting, written in a beautifully descriptive style, drawing upon centuries’ worth of storytelling traditions.”
—Quarantine Review

“A collective masterpiece of literary criticism, insights, observations, perceptions, and appreciation, Ordinary Wonder Tales by Emily Urquhart is an extraordinarily thoughtful and thought-provoking read.”
—Midwest Book Review

“[A] literal blending of fact and fiction that informs readers about the complexity of storytelling while also satisfying their imaginations. In Urquhart’s collection, she dispels the notion that fairy tales are irrelevant in this fast-paced, modern environment, and recreates the magic of childhood in day-to-day life.”
—The McGill Tribune

“[A] collection of essays that invigorates the imagination, warms the heart and fills the mind with melancholic wonder.”
—The Charlatan

“I let Emily stoke a sense of wonder and an interest in folklore that I didn’t know I had … Reading her essays feels like someone is reading you a bedtime story while learning new and marvelous things.”
—Consumed By Ink

“The mix of heady and magical will be spellbinding to memoir readers with a ready sense of wonder.”
Publishers Weekly

“Urquhart’s corrobation of legends to day-to-day life offers the same getaway and warmth that indulging in a supernatural world can. So, to all the retired fantasy lovers out there, please do yourself a favor and read this book.”
—The Link

Ordinary Wonder Tales is so well-written, so full of enriching, unexpected connections, so captivating; a reader will be tempted to consume it in gulps, and then go back for seconds.”
—The Telegram

“Urquhart draws connections between the experiences of everyday life—love, grief, pride, fear—and the imaginative universes of the stories we tell and retell.”
—Quill & Quire

“I am devouring it … It’s incredibly current, even urgent.”
—Joan Sullivan, Newfoundland Quarterly

“These essays—beautiful, rich and absorbing—will change the way you see your place in the world, and they’ll leave you noticing all the magic at its fringes.”
Kerry Clare, Pickle Me This

“A highly readable, fascinating collection … The pieces are thoughtful and … enriching. The book is captivating, and as one critic has said, spellbinding.”

“In this collection of essays, Urquhart seamlessly melds her research with snippets of everyday life on topics including death and dying, the plague, and pregnancy.”
—Toronto Life

Praise for Beyond the Pale

“[Urquhart] isn’t afraid to make the personal political, to delve into her particular experience while also acknowledging its limits and investigating what lies beyond them. Urquhart’s as interested in championing individuality as she is in embracing our shared humanity. But she never shies away from the fact that cherishing both can be a knotty, contradictory affair.”
—Globe and Mail

“A courageous and ambitious book. Beyond the Pale offers an intimate account about raising a daughter with albinism, a lucid portrait of related genetic, medical and social issues, and a disturbing reminder of the brutal violence that many people with albinism continue to face today.”—Lawrence Hill, author of The Book of Negroes and Blood: The Stuff of Life

“A brave, thoughtful, clear, and always graceful journey through the terrifying randomness of genetics and the unexpected ways genetic anomalies can mark not just children, but all the lives around them.”
—Ian Brown, author of The Boy in the Moon: A Father’s Search for his Disabled Son


  • Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction 2023, Short-listed
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    240 Pages
    8.25in * 5.25in * 0.75in


    November 01, 2022





    9780316485364 –

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