Summer Solstice

Some Kind Of Fairy Tale is now published in the UK. And on Midsummer’s Day (July 5th under the old pre-Gregorian calendar) I will be calling upon the Good Folk to help give the book a fair passage in the world. The book comes out in the US on July 12th. While it is permitted to refer to the Good Folk or the Fair Folk in the title of the book, when speaking about them directly it is important to address them in other terms, namely the Fair Folk, The Good Neighbours, or The Ones Who Maybe Only Be Mentioned In Circumlocutory Terms, which is heck of a mouthful but they, apparently, enjoy the fun of it, so why shouldn’t we?

I recently took part in a public discussion with Kate Laity which was titled The Extremely Dangerous FF. I jokingly – or maybe it was only half-jokingly – referred to the EDFF throughout the talk. To be sure, I wouldn’t be the first author to try to get them on my side. Robert Louis Stevenson claimed to have dreamed up some of his best stories in a twilight state – which I take to mean that semi-trance we go into when we are in deep writing mode – in which benign visitors he called “Brownies” helped him to think up his stories. If you are a returning reader of these blogs you will know I’m not much given over to fey notions about writing and what we do, because I’m frequently dismayed by authors who mystify a process which is at bottom all about hard work. But there is this state, or half-trance somewhere in the process that does start to erase the insulating wire that generally keeps the dream-state out of our lives. And since you’re not actually asleep in that process, the writer cannot be said to be dreaming. Therefore there is a corridor in between, and in that corridor live entities which can be said to be amphibious and at home in this world or in the dream world.

Most writers of realism understand this well enough, though a minority don’t get it at all. But any writer operating outside the citadel will know what I mean immediately enough. Poets understand it well. Writers of the Fantastic get it better than do writers of true science-fiction. It means hitching your conscious cart to your unconscious horses.

Kate Laity revealed on the above panel that Somerset Maugham, writing his Realism in a plain, clean prose style at a time when everyone around him was peddling arty Modernism, was so sensitive to the idea of hidden forces he had magical signs printed on his books to ward off the evil eye. The thing is, no matter how rational we like to think of ourselves – and silly as it sounds and I do like to think of myself as rational – you can’t go visiting the abovementioned corridor – the zone – without getting things tangled in your hair and bringing them back.

Thomas the Rhymer was, according to lore, a Berwickshire poet and a prophet of the thirteenth century. The fact that he was poet – and not a merchant or other travelling tradesman of any kind – is significant. He is thought to be the origin of the legendary Tam Lin, also a poet. The ballads associated with Thomas and Tam tell how they either kissed or slept with the Queen of Elfland and either rode with her or were otherwise transported to Fairyland. These are our most obvious antecedent “corridor” writers. But the base story is retold in multiple transformations all over Europe. What I took to be a primarily Celtic story is not at all – because I found there to be countless Scandinavian versions – tales and songs – of abduction by the Fair Folk. Here is a haunting folksong from Norway telling one version of the tale of Little Kirsty (Liti Kjersti) who is enchanted by music and verse. The refrain you hear over is “The rain and the wind”.

So Some Kind Of Fairy Tale is influenced by a tale that is surely as old as storytelling itself. But it’s not a reworking. Or if it is a reworking, it’s a reworking of many contemporary writers. Writing is not the individualistic work so many authors claim it to be. There is a community and it operates consciously and unconsciously. I set an epigram at the head of each chapter in the book, and while there are nods to Billy Shakespeare and Charlie Dickens etc there are quotes from a large number of living writers, whose work – acknowledged in the book – I want to amplify here, and not just because they gave me personal permission to preface chapters with their wonderful words but because so many writers’ work goes into the creation of any new book.

Antonia S. Byatt’s work is inspirational in erasing the line between fantasy and a psyche in distress and I recommend The Djinn In The Nightingale’s Eye. Byatt doesn’t re-tell fairy tales, she creates her own and endows them with intelligent intention and original power. This story has a very large genie endowed with impressive genitals.

John Clute, whose remarks about Shakespeare I quote, is a literary critic with plenty to say about genre but whose work is in general like food for the starving. It’s not always an easy read because his critiques are an art-form in their own right, but I was very taken with Pardon This Intrusion: Fantastika in the Word Storm and I read anything he has to say about anything.

Writer and musician Charles De Lint has an encyclopedic knowledge of folklore and uses it so elegantly to blend classical fantasy literature and mainstream fiction. I love what he does with the mythology of various cultures. The Onion Girl is a good place to start. I pinch things from this author but change them around so he can’t complain.

Ursula Le Guin, possibly the wisest woman on the planet, writes fantasy that leaves you in no doubt that you are reading about “this” world. Her non-fiction essays are also inspirational and if you are a writer you might be interested in Dancing at the Edge of the World in which Le Guin discusses the possibility that the first human invention was not the weapon, but the container – the sling, the sack, the bag, the carrier.

Folksinger and songwriter Kate Rusby, “the Barnsley Nightingale,” allowed me to quote her lyrics from the song Sweet Bride, itself a beautiful new rendering of an old tale and here it is on Youtube: and if that doesn’t persuade you to buy her CDs from her own website you’ve no soul is all I can say.

I am very grateful for Siri Randem’s extensive knowledge of Nordic folk music and folk tale and for her translation from the Norwegian of Liti Kjersti; Siri is another folk singer and composer. She has a blog and even though your Norwegian will be well up to it she blogs in English.

Marina Warner, the presiding genius in any discussion of the cultural significance of folk tales and fairy tales, is plain magnificent. From The Beast To The Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers a an exciting entry. Her dissection of Fairy Tales goes well beyond the familiar Freudian approach.

Teri Windling’s extensive and heroic work with The Journal of Mythic Arts and The Endicott Studio has done so much to honor mythic artists past and present. You can find out more about her work with folk and fairy tales here:

All this wonderful material at the touch of a button. What a great time to be a writer and a reader.