Monday, 9 December 2013

Write for Rights

Today is Human Rights Day, and just 4 days after losing one of the greatest human rights activists of our time (and a hero within my family) I cannot sit back and let the day pass without taking action. The loss of Nelson Mandela has made me think about how I could do much, much more to bring about positive change in the world. 

It seems like such a long time ago that Mandela was sent to prison for championing human rights, yet today there are still so many people who are imprisoned, abducted or killed for taking the brave step to speak out against injustice. But it has never been easier to stand in solidarity with these courageous people.

My fellow writers, today I implore you to put your talents to a noble cause and join me as I write for rights; it could be an individually penned letter of hope, or an online petition you sign. However big or small the action, please, act.

Thank you.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Losing the (NaNo) battle

Well, NaNoWriMo is over, and my not-so-valiant effort ended a couple of weeks ago in apparent failure. I concede that I lost the NaNo battle, but I do think it has given me the weaponry to win a novel writing war.

I won NaNo two years ago; I wrote a story that I knew, from the end of week 1, would not be any good. But I wrote 50,000 words none the less, and I felt a sense of achievement for about a day before realising that I had written an awful, awful story that I couldn't salvage. And I had known it for a long time. Still, I spent a year working on ways to re-write it as a novel, then exploring possibilities of pulling some short stories out the woodwork.

Nope. Wasn't happening. And I'd known it all along.

So this year I thought I'd give it another go. I had a story idea, an outline, character profiles, location descriptions all ready and waiting to be drawn upon. But by week 2 I realised that I wasn't writing a good story - I was writing a good sub-plot. But I learnt my lesson two years ago: this time I stopped, regrouped, and began thinking about how I could create a better story in the future.

I'm lucky enough to have an OH that understands the need to be alone too - but still supply coffee, which is an added bonus...
It's not been a waste: NaNo has inspired me, and reminded me that I have the ability to write a novel (and that I really don't have any excuses for not trying!) So even if I have technically lost, I like to think I'm still a winner in my own way!

Have you ever taken the NaNoWriMo challenge? Did you 'win' this year? I'm sure amongst you there are some enchanting fairy tale stories in the making ;)

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

C.S. Lewis - 50 Years

Last week, on 22nd November, a memorial stone was dedicated to C.S. Lewis on the 50th anniversary of his death. The memorial is in the Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey, alongside the likes of John Keats, T.S. Eliot and William Blake.

C.S. Lewis is a writer I have a very personal attachment to, beyond my deep love for his work: my Opa (grandfather) in South Africa used to send me books every birthday and Christmas, and he started sending me the Chronicles of Narnia while I was still very young. Sadly, he passed away when I was just seven years old...and the series was never completed. In fact, I didn't complete my collection for many years. I was searching for a seventh book to match the issue of the other six - it just had to have the same cover style as the others for me to feel like it was properly completed.

By the time I was 14, I had given up the search. I bought a copy of The Last Battle, not having read it before, and found that it was about death, and moving on. It couldn't have been more appropriate to finish the strange, tangled journey I had been on with this book.

So thank you, C.S. Lewis, for bringing Narnia to life. And thank you Opa for leading me to the wardrobe.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Thursday, 14 November 2013

What the Woods Want

When we close a book and put it away, how can we see how vast the world contained inside truly is?

I have a peculiar relationship with the novels of Diana Wynne Jones. I read a fair amount of them as a child, and I remember they had me hooked straight away and kept me engaged from cover to cover; they were magical, with fascinating storylines like no other, and there were a lot of surprises and twists near the end. But if you asked me, I wouldn't be able to tell you what a single one was about.

Why? I honestly have no idea (I like to think I have a pretty good book memory). So I've dug my old books out of storage and made a promise to read them all and love them again. And to remember why. I've already made a start; I've read Hexwood and wanted to share a rather beautiful sentiment from the very end of the novel.

The book doesn't sit comfortably in either the fantasy or sci-fi genre, as there is wood magic and mythical creatures as much as travel through space and time. But as the story draws to a close and the ends are tied together, the predominant setting, the woods, will not let the characters out until it has been granted a gift for all that it has been through:

'You told me the Wood can form its own theta-space and become the great Forest,' Mordion said to him. 'Does the Wood only do this when a human being enters it?' 
'I had not thought of this,' said Yam. 'Yes, I believe that when not reinforced by my field, the Wood requires human assistance to change.' 
'And not all humans will help,' Mordion said. 'I think what the Wood is trying to tell me is that it requires its own theta-space permanently, so that it can be the great Forest all the time, without having to rely on humans.'

I'm sure we've all experienced something like this, when we walk through the woods and it feels like it goes on forever, like it's the most magical place in the world and can't possibly be just a 20 minute drive from home. Diana Wynne Jones' Woods feel the same thing, and want to experience this vastness and greatness without needing a person inside to believe it into existence. 

I can imagine the same would be true of books. When we finish reading a great story we carry the world it created inside of us, whether it's the bygone England of Austen or the dystopian England of Meg Rosoff's How I Live Now, Middle Earth or Narnia, or the anyplace and anytime of fairy tales. How huge, how magnificent, and how in the world can all that be in something small enough to carry in a handbag?! 

We don't need to be inside the book, physically turning the pages to bring its world to life. There is a special relationship between book and reader that creates an everlasting world after a single union, which doesn't exist until the book has been read, and afterwards exists in both.

As I continue to re-explore my collection of Diana Wynne Jones novels, I fully intend to make sure her worlds continue to exist in me as well as the book. Let's make this magic happen!

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

The Grey Queen's Gown

I'm sure most of you have seen/read the new issue of Unsettling Wonder, and I'm very excited that my short story, The Grey Queen's Gown, is featured in this issue. 

The theme for the issue is 'fairy brides', and I find it interesting that both pieces of original fiction are about selkies - are these beautiful creatures of folklore in the midst of a popularity surge that I've somehow missed? I hope so! I'm still waiting to receive my copy but I can't wait to read the other stories and articles, the contents page has me hooked already.

Happy reading, and please feel free to comment with any constructive criticism; feedback is always welcome :)

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Twisted Tales

Remember Saints of the Lot called for fairy tale performers? Well, it's nearly time for their spectacular event: Twisted Tales!
Once in awhile in the middle of an ordinary life, Saints of the Lot gather a myriad of creative creatures to enchant our chosen kingdom. On Saturday, November 23rd, Saints of the Lot will be transforming the Marlborough Pub and Theatre into a Fairy Tale kingdom.
Snake Charmers, Flautists, Belly Dancing and Musicians fit for a king.
Big Brad Wolf and Acacia Blue will be teased and manipulated by the fairies of the forest in their provocative take on a Shakespearean tale.
Jack Woolley presents his fairy tale live alongside artistic projections by Elemental Media and a contemporary dance by Rochelle Joy portraying the lead Princess.
And so we embark into a land of fairies, witches, goblins and spells, we cordially invite you to our Twisted Tales.
Sounds exciting! You can buy tickets here.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Halloween Poetry

Happy Halloween! What are you up to today? I'm busy making shrunken heads out of old apples for a party on Saturday and putting the last few touches on to my costume. It's such a good excuse to have some fun!

I wanted to post something suitably spooky and decided upon...Tim Burton! I love watching his films this time of year, but I wondered how many of you knew he had written and illustrated a book of poetry? It's very suitable reading for today, and is full of his trademark creepy, gothic fun. You can read his collection online: The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy.

And here's one of the poems: Mummy Boy

He wasn't soft and pink
witha fat little tummy;
he was hard and hollow,
a little boy mummy.
"Tell us, please, Doctor,
the reason or cause,
why our gundle of joy
is just a bundle of gauze."
"My diagnosis," he said
"for better or worse,
is that your son is the result
of an old pharoah's curse."
That night they talked
of their son's odd condition-
they called him "a reject
from an archaeological expidition."
They thought of some complex
scientific explanation,
but assumed it was simple
supernatural reincarnation.
With the other young tots
he only played twice,
an ancient game of vergin sacrifice.
(But the kids ran away, saying, "You aren't very nice.")
alone and rejected, Mummy Boy wept,
then went to the cabinet
where the snack food was kept.
He wiped his wet slockets with his mummified sleeves,
and sat down to a bowl of sugar-frosted tanna leaves.
One dark, gloomy day,
from out of the fog,
appeared a little white mummy dog.
For his newfound wrapped pet,
he did many things,
like building a dog house
à la Pryimid of kings.
It was late in day-
just before dark.
Mummy Boy took his dog
for a walk in the park.
The park was empty
except for a squirrel,
and a birthday party for a Mexican girl.
The boys and girls had all started to play,
but noticed that thing that looked like a papíer mâché.
"Look its a píñata,"
said one of the boys,
"Let's crack it wide open
and get the candy and toys."
They took a baseball bat
and whacked open his head.
Mummy Boy fell to the ground;
he finally was dead.
Inside of his head
were no candy or prizes,
jast a few stray bettles
of various sizes.

Thursday, 24 October 2013


I've finally embraced Twitter, and laid claim to my name on there (there are A LOT more Lovedays than I expected, haha!)

I'm not exactly sure how I'll be using it just yet, but if you'd like to connect with me and find out if I resort to 140 characters of inane drivel, I am...


Peace x

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Call for mythical / fairy tale artists

Saints of the Lot, a pop-up events organisation based in Brighton, are seeking artists for an exhibition: on 23rd November they are 'transforming The Marborough pub into a fairy tale world of fairies, goblins, trolls, wicked stepmothers, evil witches, beautiful princes and ugly toads, damsels in distress and heroes.'

They seem to be calling for both artists and stall holders, and if you want to be involved you can get in touch via the Gumtree advert or their Facebook page.

If I can get there I'll let you know what it's all about ;)

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Job opportunity

Calling all fairy tale and folklore enthusiasts on the south coast! The Sussex Centre for Folklore, Fairy Tales and Fantasy has a vacancy for a part-time assistant. Check out the job details and apply here.

Good luck if you apply!

(P.S. Just purely out of there a fairy tale and folklore themed jobs board somewhere in the internet universe? If not, how amazing would that be?!)

Monday, 1 July 2013

2 Recommendations...

I am trying to get back into writing, but finding the time has been really difficult recently. I did start using an organiser though...maybe that will help?! I really hope so!

I have been forcing myself to keep reading though, because when all else fails it is reading something hauntingly beautiful, evocative and magical that will most likely get my own creative juices flowing again. I have two books I need to share with you today, because it would be wrong to keep them to myself!

The Folk Keeper 
by Franny Billingsley

Wow. How has this book not come up on my radar before? It's never been on a 'recommended' list, I've never seen it mentioned by other fairytale/folklore enthusiasts and when I have actively searched for new books to read it has never appeared...this needs to change! I can't believe I only discovered it by chance, casually browsing someone's wish list on Read It Swap It! Sorry, sorry, I'll stop ranting now...

Here's a blurb:
...Corinna Stonewall is a 15-year-old orphan who possesses a dangerous gift. She is a Folk Keeper, responsible for absorbing the attack of the savage Folk who dwell in the cellars of the Foundling Home where she lives, disguised as a boy. Through observing the correct rituals and by making careful sacrifices of choice food, she can prevent the Folk from spoiling the milk and ruining the crops. However, there are many mysteries that Corinna does not understand about herself. Where are her parents? Why does her hair grow two inches every night? Why does she long for the taste of raw fish?...Billingley's eloquent style is a joy for adults and evokes such an atmosphere of fear and longing that readers of all ages will keep turning the pages eagerly. Ages 10+ (Kirkus UK)
This book impressed me on a number of levels, one of which was simply because it involves Selkies. I haven't come across too many of them (most stories about mythical sea creatures tend to feature mermaids), and loved how they, and the other Folk, were only referred to in the vaguest sense, letting the imagination fill in the gaps and also allowing for the fact that we all know, really, on some level what Selkies and Folk are, and don't need it spelling out.

The language was intoxicating, with a rhythm and subtlety that is hard to find in books (primarily) aimed at children, but which I feel makes them all the more special - the sort of book you remember with a deeper fondness as an adult. 

I think the length is also worth mentioning: it's short. And this is very good. I think it is the perfect length for a story that is expanding on traditional folk tales, because it is able to retain 'that feeling', the one that keeps you captivated and enchanted. The longer a book gets the more complex it becomes, there are more characters, more devices, just more, and whilst I'm not in any way slating longer books that retell or recapture fairytales (seriously, I love them) I do feel that they lose something of the magic you feel from a short tale.

Highly recommended!

by Colin Meloy

To begin, the blurb:
Prue McKeel is keeping out of trouble. Or trying to. Then her baby brother is abducted by crows and hauled off to the woods beyond the city. It is up to Prue to bring him back. On her mission she is plunged into the world of Wildwood and there she meets more trouble - and magic - than she ever thought possible.
This book is a gem. It's a book that did come up on my radar, and is popular enough to be in my local library, so I wouldn't be surprised if more people recognise it!

After all my posts about the forest and re-inspiring the next generation to fall in love with them, this book answers the call. I don't know whether the author suggested this intentionally or not, but the fact that the inhabitants of the town have never dared venture into the woods and are scared to go in could easily be a reflection on how out of touch we are in general with the natural world.

But when we do venture into the woods, wow, so much magic and joy; Wildwood felt like a modern version of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe with amazing and diverse characters and such a cleverly woven plot. Again, this is another book with rich language and beautiful imagery that sadly seems rare in children's books nowadays - this book will not allow you to read it quickly, you have to go at a certain pace to savour the language it is so rich (I'm really not exaggerating, I tried to speed up so I didn't have to renew it with the library and felt like I was being mentally tripped up as punishment!)

I also want to quickly mention the artwork: it definitely brings to life the 'folk' element of the novel, and should be savoured as much as the words. Having pictures in children's books is not the done thing above a certain age range, but this isn't 'patronising' in the least, nor does it take away from the beauty of the words - they complement each other perfectly.

Happy reading!

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Tales from the Wild Wood

Whilst on my writing hiatus here I was planning some new posts for my forest series...however in that time the wonderful Terri Windling has been posting her Into the Woods series, which I encourage you all to read. I've lost my motivation and my ideas, but never mind! Her posts are beautiful and inspiring.

For my final forest post I would simply like to draw your attention to a fascinating and entertaining series I have just discovered on BBC 4: Tales from the Wild Wood. It follows a year long project bringing an abandoned woodland back to life, trying to make it valuable for the 21st century.


Thursday, 23 May 2013

Tarot Symbolism in Harry Potter

There is a rather magical Harry Potter read-along happening over at Spinning Straw Into Gold, A Light Inside and Cyganeria. Although I'm not taking part myself, I'm really enjoying reading their thoughts and it has definitely got me thinking critically about the books for myself. I am continually amazed at how imbued the series has become in society; for me personally this has ranged from being used in university discussions about Aristotle, to casual HP-related thoughts that pop into my head in relation to whatever's happening at the time (most recently this happened when watching the new James Bond film [SPOILER AHEAD!] and I found myself wondering if anyone else was mildly disturbed about the fact that Voldemort was the new head of the secret service...)

I wanted to contribute something to the discussions, so have put together a post on the symbolism of Harry's lightning bolt scar, particularly in relation to tarot card XVI: The Tower...

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Review: 'Mermaid' by Carolyn Turgeon

I love walking into my library and having a fairy tale retelling leap out of the stacks at me, rather than having to take a list and hunt around on the off chance that one might be stocked - this is exactly what happened to me with Mermaid. I wasn't looking for anything in particular, and there it was.

Sourced from the Author's website.
I should probably start by saying that I enjoyed reading this book. Too often the English student in me takes over my reviews with so much criticism that I read back over what I've written and wonder how I ever made it through the book in the first place! But I'm glad I've been trained to read with a critical eye. Yes, I have criticisms about this book, but that won't stop me recommending it purely on the basis that it is an enjoyable read.

Firstly, the blurb:
Two sheltered princesses, one wounded warrior; who will live happily ever after? 
Princess Margrethe has been hidden away while her kingdom is at war. One gloomy, windswept morning as she stands in a convent garden overlooking the icy sea, she witnesses a miracle: a glittering mermaid emerging from the waves, a nearly drowned man in her arms. By the time Margrethe reaches the shore, the mermaid has disappeared into the sea. As Margrethe nurses the handsome stranger back to health, she learns that not only is he a prince, he is also the son of her father’s greatest rival. Sure that the mermaid brought this man to her for a reason, Margrethe devises a plan to bring peace to her kingdom. 
Meanwhile, the mermaid princess Lenia longs to return to the human man she carried to safety. She is willing to trade her home, her voice, and even her health for legs and the chance to win his heart….

I have to admit the story is pretty predictable, and despite one slight twist on the original story (partly fuelled by the new character, Margrethe, and partly down to Lenia's actions) Andersen's classic is relatively untampered with. When I finished the book I felt cheated out of the promise that this would be a modern retelling. However, reading back over the reviews I noticed that, cleverly, the word 'modern' wasn't in fact used once, although 're-invention' and 'surprising take' were thrown around.

But then, if the original is so closely adhered to, how 'modern' can you make a story that values women differently? People talk about The Little Mermaid with affection for depicting a woman taking control of her life and pursuing her dreams...but ultimately this dream does not challenge the prevailing discourses that keep women in their proper place, as the Mermaid's desire is to become a wife. In Turgeon's retelling, the role of mother and wife is an unchallenged one; at first Margrethe seems 'modern' in that she has pursued education and takes an interest in politics (the era the book is set in marks this as unusual) but the second her position is threatened by another woman, her political motivations are forgotten amidst a delirium of jealousy, self loathing and body complexes.

Mermaid may not appeal to the feminist in me, but it does the aestheticist; there was a beauty in the imagery and at times a poetic lilt to the language, undoubtedly enhanced by the romantic settings (e.g. a convent on a stormy coastline at the edge of the world), that I would love to see more of in modern fiction.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Fairy Tales @ Brighton Fringe Festival 2013

Fairy tale enthusiasts coming to Brighton for the Fringe Festival won't be disappointed with the line up this year! I missed most of the festival in 2012 amidst the madness of moving house but still managed to  attend one play, Birdy, which I reviewed here. I'm hoping to see a lot more this time round.

I've picked out the fairy tale themed productions and posted them below (Rumpelstiltskin seems especially popular...)

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Nix Nought Nothing: A Male Sleeping Beauty?

Having just finished reading Joseph Jacobs' English Fairy Tales I was particularly struck by one story: 'Nix Nought Nothing'. If you haven't read it, then you really must! It has everything a fairy tale needs!

The beginning resembles 'Beauty and the Beast', with a father unwittingly giving up his child to a giant:
At length the king was on his way back; but he had a big river to cross, and there was a whirlpool, and he could not get over the water. But a giant came up to him, and said "I'll carry you over." But the king said: "What's your pay?" "O give me Nix, Nought, Nothing, and I will carry you over the water on my back." The king had never heard that his son was called Nix Nought Nothing, and so he said: "O, I'll give you that and my thanks into the bargain."
Nix Nought Nothing lives with the giant for many years, and has adventures that will probably be familiar to most fairy tale enthusiasts: he is given three impossible tasks to complete and is helped by his captor's daughter, who he then runs away with. As they are pursued they throw ordinary objects behind them that turn into treacherous terrain for their father-captor-pursuer to cross. 

by Arthur Rackham. Source: SurLaLune
But it is the end of the story that surprised me, because beyond Sleeping Beauty/Snow White stories and their obvious variants, I have never before come across a scenario where a male hero must be rescued from an enchanted sleep.

So when [Nix Nought Nothing] asked his way to the castle [the hen wife] put a spell upon him, and when he got to the castle, no sooner was he let in than he fell down dead asleep upon a bench in the hall. The king and queen tried all they could do to wake him up, but all in vain. So the king promised that if any lady could wake him up she should marry him

In the end, he is woken by a gardener's daughter who the wicked hen-wfie taught the words to break the spell. But when the giant's daughter finds out what has happened she goes into the castle, tells the story of their adventures together and love for one another, and Nix Nought Nothing is able to remember her and confirm the story. The king and queen are sensible enough not to make good on a promise that would result in unhappiness (which in itself is a surprising turn on a familiar plot device) and allow their son and the giant's daughter to marry and 'live happy all their days'.

'Nix Nought Nothing' is such a varied story with so many interesting characters and twists on usual plot conventions, that it has instantly become one of my favourite fairy tales. But I would love to find out more about male characters being put into an enchanted sleep, if anybody can inform me, because this has really intrigued me!

*all quotes from SurLaLune

Saturday, 16 February 2013

The Folk Heritage of Fantasia

I'm sure we've all watched and enjoyed Fantasia at some point, haven't we? The star of the show, without a doubt, is Disney's own Mickey Mouse in The Sorcerer's Apprentice, based on a poem by the famous German writer Goethe.

It is the story of a foolish young apprentice who decides to mess around with his master's book of magic, and ends up getting himself into danger; luckily his master arrives in the nick of time and is able to save him from drowning.

I was rather surprised to come across this story as part of Joseph Jacob's collection of English Fairy Tales, under the heading The Master and His Pupil. It is the same basic story, except that instead of the apprentice enchanting a broom, he accidentally summons the Devil and has to set him tasks to avoid being strangled. In a panic, the apprentice tells the Devil to water a flower, but he keeps bringing barrel after barrel of water into the home and flooding the house. Just when the water level is about to rise above the apprentice's chin, the master comes home and sends the Devil back where he came from.

Jacobs published his collection in 1890 and states that his source is an 1866 collection of traditional folk tales from the Northern counties of England (Yorkshire is named in the text). Goethe's poem was published a hundred years earlier. It will never cease to amaze me how far through space and time these stories have travelled.

Friday, 8 February 2013

My first fairy tale

I had stories galore read to me when I was young, but my earliest memory of a fairy tale isn't from a book, but from an audio cassette. I remember listening to Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes (which you can read online here) when I went to bed, which was always a winner because my little brother loved to hear them too, and when you share a room it helps when you can agree on certain things! These stories scared me in a delightful way, because they were unusual and read out with strange voices, and with music as disjointed as the tales themselves. The music used to freak me out so much I would hide under the covers until the stories started being read out! 

I think they left a lasting impression...mostly because when I think of fairy tale justice, barrels of nails and iron shoes don't spring to mind first for me. No, I think of Little Red Riding Hood, who 'whips a pistol from her knickers, aims it at the creatures head, and bang! Bang! Bang! She shoots him dead.'

Recently I heard an old cassette recording of my brother and I playing when we were really little, I was probably only about 5 (cassettes seem to be playing a big part in my fairy tale memories!) I ask him if he wants a story read to him, and he says yes. So I say...'This one? OK. Once upon a time, Little Red Riding Hood, and that's the end, there isn't any more. Would you like another one? Yes? OK...' This happens about 10 times before mum gets tired of listening to me 'read' various stories to my brother, who loved that I was telling him so many! 

Looking/listening back at this makes me feel guilty. I was a bad big sister. But there's something else to it, too: I didn't need to tell the story. We'd heard them hundreds of times before, and we would hear them hundreds of times more throughout our childhood. Just saying the title, we knew there was a familiar story there. I'm kind of pleased I have this evidence of short changing my brother - it reminds me just how important and common and everyday these stories were in my childhood. And I'm truly grateful for that today.

Would anyone else be willing to share their fairy tale firsts?

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Once upon a strip tease...wait, what?

I watched the first episode of Once Upon a Time when it first aired in the UK last year; after reading so many positive reviews from American viewers, I was excited. But just didn't grab me. I thought it was working far too hard to involve me and get me interested or to care about the characters. And I was gutted. I wanted to save myself from further disappointment so didn't try the next episode.

But last week I saw it was on TV again, so I had a quick look. And who did I see?

Yes please and thank you! That was it. I was hooked. Robert Carlyle makes that show for me! Coming in mid-series made the whole thing seem more natural (ignoring the incompatibility of costumes and accents) and I was able to pick it up pretty quickly.

I only have one problem now: I heard Donna Summer's Hot Stuff on the radio and got a vision of Rumpelstiltskin hip thrusting a la Full Monty. Well, I'll never be watching that film in the same way again!

Friday, 1 February 2013

public domain resource

After reading an article by Jack Zipes in The Public Domain Review I explored the site further and found that it is a beautiful resource for images, audio, film and text. For the fairy tale enthusiasts there is this page, which contains fantastic versions of Tennyson's Morte d'Arthur, Spencer's The Faerie Queene, and various collections of folk and fairy tales from around the world.

Source: Public Domain Review

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

When Fantasy Left the Forest

When fantasy left the did we.

'Inviting forest' by perodog @ dA
Looking at the connection between nature and happiness, and the books that get us outside...

One of the most poignant discussions for me in Gossip from the Forest was about the amount of time children are spending outdoors:
We are doing something very alarming to our children - and, making it worse perhaps, we have fooled ourselves that we are doing it for their sake, for their safety. The amount of unsupervised time outside the home that young people get to enjoy is being reduced year on year (the average child has lost a whole hour a day already this century). (1)
In 2007 Unicef published a report that stated children in the UK are the unhappiest of all the economically developed countries. Despite children themselves stating that 'having plenty to do outdoors' would make them happy, their parents felt under pressure to buy them the latest gadgets and gizmos instead (read The Guardian article on this here). The lack of connection to nature, or 'Nature Deficit Disorder', has made our country miserable. This worried David Bond so much that he set up Project Wild Thing and gave himself the title of Nature's Marketing Director, thinking that Nature needed a helping hand in getting children back outside. He created the Wild Time App, featuring a wide range of nature based activities that can be done in the time you have available, whether it's 10 minutes or 2 hours. The National Trust has also provided a list of 50 things to do before you're 11 3/4.

'Exploration' by perodog @ dA
There are numerous reasons for this deficit, but Maitland identifies a key factor: the books children read these days aren't relevant to the natural world around them.
Interestingly, we have also abandoned another genre of literature, one which encouraged children to see themselves as capable on their own in the wild. There is a sort of novel for younger readers that was immensely popular up until the last quarter of the twentieth century and that has now well-nigh disappeared: stories of adventures in which children are on their own and deal with problems under a veneer of realism; novels like Swallows and Amazons or The Famous Five... (2)
Looking at the shelves in bookshops I would not have imagined this myself; Enid Blyton seems to be a pretty permanent fixture at least. In 2010 The Famous Five publisher tried to boost sales of the series by modernising the language, although they claimed their sales weren't suffering before they took this action. Perhaps this is the problem, then: relevance to the modern world. Maybe the child is too harsh a critic to really believe it possible that parents would let their children go off alone on camping trips like Julian, Dick, George and Anne do. Suspending disbelief to make this seem credible would then make the book a fantasy tale rather than an adventure story...would it not?
We have kept the magical element of fairy stories in modern books for young people; fantasy worlds are now the location of adventures and moral combat. But we have abandoned the immensely reassuring realist element of these old tales: the forests are dangerous but you can survive; use your own intelligence and courage and you will come back safely. (3)
The wonderful thing that fairy stories create is this idea in the back of the mind that when you walk through a forest, something magical might happen to you. There are few other stories I can recall from my childhood that give me this sensation when I walk in the woods, or indeed in any other natural place.

So, do we need to bring the magic back home? Is this the challenge of the modern writer, who cares about magic, who cares about nature, and who cares about the wellbeing of children? A quick browse of the list of current children's bestsellers and upcoming releases tells me that most of the stories are fantasies or mysteries set in the city (often with supernatural creatures prowling the streets at night). I'm not surprised. Ten years ago when I was a teen, finding a new book set in the countryside felt like a rarity even then. Maybe this can be my challenge as a writer. And a challenge as a reader, to find these rare jewels - any suggestions would be most welcome, please share them with me in the comments!

'A tree of a salamander2' by perodog @ dA
Related posts:
Woods between Worlds

(1) Maitland, Sara, Gossip from the Forest, (London: Granta, 2012), 98.
(2) Ibid., 104.
(3) Ibid., 105.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Fairy tale symposium @ SCFFF

Old, New, Borrowed and Blue: A Fairy Tale Symposium
Tuesday 26th March, Bishop Otter campus, University of Chichester
Speakers: Jacqueline Simpson, Nicholas Tucker and Jack Zipes
A chance to see Jack Zipes give a lecture? Yes please! I am so thankful that I live close to the Sussex Centre for Folklore, Fairy Tales and Fantasy right now...not that I'm ever not thankful, of course. It seems that the event is free, so if this is only going to cost me a train ticket then I have no excuse for missing this!

Also, thanks to the SCFFF we can all read a new article about the Grimms by Jack Zipes here.

I am so full of fairy tale love right now <3 p="">

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

How much does happily-ever-after cost?

How many fairy tales do you encounter on a day to day basis? One? Two? Over a hundred, perhaps? In recent years I have noticed fairy tale imagery has had a massive resurgence in TV advertising, and as it has been suggested that we are subjected to hundreds - if not thousands - of adverts every day, our subconscious is probably inundated with happily-ever-afters off all shapes, sizes, and price ranges. 

It is unsurprising that companies use fairy tales as part of their marketing campaigns, as they create a sense of whimsical desire and romantic idealism. In the UK, I have noticed the appearance of fairy tales most in association with household cleaning products. Women are still the main targets of these adverts, as the assumption is that they do the majority of the housework. Cinderella, anyone? Cinderella slaved away for a long time, but eventually met her prince and found happiness. Regular women don't have such high expectations, but if the brand can make a woman relate to Cinderella somehow, she will associate their product with an easier life, a more accessible happily ever after.
See for example Cif and Vanish (which takes a slightly different approach, and shows the male cleaner as the woman's hero).

Cinderella is also famous for travelling to her ball in a pumpkin...but Go Compare picked up on the fact that the fairy godmother forgot to insure it!
'Change' is a recurring theme in fairy tales: there are rags to riches transformations, changes of affections, changes of states (eternal sleep to life, frog to prince...) We all want positive changes in our lives, so, how about faster broadband from Sky?

Pretty much anything can have a fairy tale angle found for it, whether its foodadventures far, far away, or just wanting to feel a bit more like a princess

And TV will always be suited to fairy tales: it is an easy form of escapism and entertainment, which are the main reasons we first come into contact with these stories, as children. TV viewers agree to suspend their belief in reality and presumably can remember being a child, a period in life when inhabiting alternate realities was far more common. With nostalgia thrown into the mix as well, the marketing teams are laughing.

Myth and magic continue to be a part of our daily lives, even if they don't appear in the most expected ways. It could be argued that fairy tales in adverts are just another fad, responding to the many new films, books and television shows, or going for the optimistic outlook in times of global financial hardship. It could be any number of reasons, yet at the same time, there is only one reason: be it in a big way or small, fairy tales will always be a part of our lives, and until we give up the quest for love, for riches, for happiness, or the fight for good to triumph over evil, chances are, they always will be. We just have to get used to seeing them in odd places...

Friday, 18 January 2013

buried treasure

Andersen's Fairy Tales...
Found in a charity shop. It cost me just 75p.
This edition is from 1928/1930 and contains illustrations by Rene Bull.

It has that beautiful old book smell and parchment-y pages that beg to be turned. This may sound sentimental, but that's because I also own the complete works of Andersen in one humungous book that tries to look old fashioned and magical but can't do it, because it isn't. Sure, I love that I have all the stories, but for me the best sort of book is one with a history.
And this book must have a history (some context: it has seen world war, cold war, four monarchs, and sixteen prime ministers) How many people have owned and loved this book? I wonder...

What gems have you discovered in charity shops?

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Woods between Worlds

This is the first post in what I hope to be a series of short articles relating to forests and fairy tales, inspired by Sara Maitland's writing in Gossip from the Forest. In this post I look at the links between the 'casual magic' of the forests and their setting as a place of transition for characters in and beyond fairy tales.


Woods between Worlds: Magic and Transition in the Fairy Tale Forest

There is magic between the pages of fairy stories. We can't always see it, but it's there. This magic will often be found and felt amongst knotted trunks and snaking branches, between the barriers formed by tangled undergrowth and a dense, leafy canopy. It will be practised by plants, animals and people (mostly old people) but never, on any account, will it be sought for or used by you.

'Magic is something you are given, something that is done to you or around you,' Maitland explains in Gossip from the Forest (1). Have you ever set foot within the boundaries of a forest and felt a change in atmosphere? You cannot walk into a forest and look for magic, but the knowledge that there is magic there, and that it might cross your path, definitely gives the forest an atmosphere unlike any other natural place, heightened by the fact that you are on alert for its sudden, random appearance. It could happen to anyone, any time:
I know of no other cultural tradition that treats magic in this odd casual way. I believe it is a distinct forest magic that grew out of the experience of living in woods, where you cannot see far ahead and where things change abruptly. (2)
This casual magic does seem to have one rule, however:
The magic comes to them, without solicitation or endeavour. It is usually in the form of assistance, not solution: they have to use the magical gifts they are given, and they have to continue to work or suffer or both. (3)
If magic was the goal, the forest would be the destination. But magic finds you in the forest: you enter seeking your fortune, escaping abuse, looking to prove yourself, and you leave armed with the power to achieve your goal. The casual magic of the forest is linked to the transition of the character's ability or status, an emotional or physical turning point in their journey; and this role of the forest is one that has lingered in literature, beyond the realms of traditional fairy stories.
In C.S. Lewis' The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy enter the world of Narnia through the wardrobe and find themselves in the woods. It contains magical creatures (here we meet the faun, Mr Tumnus) but also a familiar item from their own world: the lamp post. The imagery provided by this infiltration from their world highlights the transitional nature of the woods. When Lucy and Edmund spend time alone in Narnia they do not wander far, but Lucy's time alone in particular empowers her and provides her with enough understanding of the creatures and rules of the land to motivate the others to keep travelling onward on their quest.

Lewis also created 'the wood between the worlds' in The Magicians's Nephew. It is, as its name suggests, the place Diggory and Polly appear when they leave their own world, containing the access points to other worlds. It has a peculiar effect on the children, who find it hard to hold on to memories of who they are and where they are from. Diggory claims, 'It's not the sort of place where things happen. The trees go on growing, that's all.' (4) This, I believe, is a common misconception of forests in our post-industrial world. I could take a guess and say that Lewis was commenting on the way we use our forests now, no longer for our livelihoods but for occasional days out...but, really, in the context of the book nothing needs to happen there: it is just a transitional place containing magical portals to access other worlds.
Tolkien's Middle-Earth universe does not see characters travel between worlds, but immerses the reader in an alternate universe that still uses the forest as a magical, transitional space. Immediately upon leaving the Shire, as they flee the black riders, the four hobbits find themselves in the Old Forest, marking the end of normality and familiarity and the start of one of the most epic adventures in literature. Hobbits believe the Old Forest to contain trees that are 'awake', and later on Merry and Pippin come into contact with the Ents (tree-herders) when they find themselves in Fangorn Forest. This, again, marks a change in status for the two hobbits, from danger to safety, and from an old mission to a new one.

I could go on (5). There are forests in all types of literature, for all ages, all showing the impact the fairy tale forest has had on them. This is also abundantly clear in Disney films, even though they have moved away from the traditional stories. In
 'The Princess and The Frog,' (6) Tiana and Naveen find themselves in a foresty bayou where they must face up to their personality flaws and learn to co-operate (as well as find a good witch); and Carl and Russell from 'Up' make an early stop in their balloon adventure in the jungle, where they better learn how to get along and meet other magical members of their group. 

One of the points Maitland wanted to make in her book was that forests and fairy tales grow and evolve together. Our world has changed dramatically over the years, and even though we are not getting out into these legendary places of mischief and magic like we used to, and even though there are factions trying to tell us fairy tales are bad, the legacy of fairy tales and forests continues to inform our lives, whether it is through films, books, music, or even just a vague feeling that causes a shiver down our spines when we walk through the trees. I think the clue is in the first line of every story: once upon a time. Once upon a time there were fairy stories and forests. There were, there are, and there will always be movement, change and magic in the world.

Related Posts:
When Fantasy Left the Forest
Exploring the Forest

(1) Maitland, Sara, Gossip from the Forest, (London: Granta, 2012), 157.
(2) Maitland, 158.
(3) Maitland, 157-8.
(4) Quotes sourced from ePubBud as I don't have my copy of the book to hand. Unfortunately this means a lack of page numbers, but the quoted text is from chapter 3.
(5) I considered all the transitional and magical elements of Harry Potter's various trips into the Forbidden Forest each year, but something about it wasn't quite right...I then realised it was because there was a broken rule: Harry Potter had his own magic, and sought magical knowledge. Despite the forest being used for various transitional purposes, the magic was not casual.
(6) Although you could try and draw a parallel between the classic fairy tale, I find the Disney film to bear very little resemblance. However, Tiana's violent dislike for Naveen does recall my preferred ending to the story, where the frog is turned into a prince through being hurled against a wall by the princess, rather than from a kiss. 

Friday, 11 January 2013

Exploring the Forest

For Christmas this year I received a truly inspirational present: Gossip from the Forest by Sara Maitland. Although I was lucky enough to be given several books, this is the one I couldn't resist delving into first, and I was instantly hooked. I am now halfway through and loving every page!

Source: Waterstones
Each chapter is devoted to a specific forest Maitland is exploring, and her writing seems to effortlessly mimic a chain of thought that links types of trees, the forestry-oriented history of the country, and of course the relationship with fairy tales. The chapters on the woods are interspersed with interesting re-tellings of fairy tales that draw their magic from this landscape: one that stands out for me is her version of Hansel and Gretel, which deviates completely from the familiar tale and instead examines their lives as adults, coping with what went on in the darkest depths of the trees...

The most wonderful discovery so far is a chapter entirely devoted to the very part of London I grew up in - turns out my neighbourhood, West Norwood, gets its name from a contraction of 'North Wood', which covered a vast expanse of what is now south London. Reading about the history of a place I know so intimately has caused a stir inside me: I literally grew up on the long lost roots of ancient woodland! Whenever I go into green spaces, especially woods, I feel so alive and free in a way that is hard to express, but which I want to channel in order to create some interesting writing for THCV...

So, inspired by Maitland and my own woodland adventures, I have decided to dedicate a series of posts to exploring the forest and our links to them in fairy tales and books in general. I want to pick up on some ideas Maitland posits, look at specific books that capture the magic of the forests, and hopefully go on my own version of a forest adventure...

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

A.S. Byatt and That Fairy Tale Feeling

After promising to provide more exploratory posts this year, I am kicking off 2013 with something I have been working on for a while, trying to find the best words and phrases to translate my vague feelings into something tangible...

Please let me know your thoughts! Not just on the content, I'd also like to hear your opinions on the length as this piece is over 1000 words. Does this work on a blog?

A.S. Byatt and That Fairy Tale Feeling

I have been puzzling over 'that fairy tale feeling', the one that takes hold of me whenever I read the fairy tales I grew up with, instantly transforming me into a child again. After puzzling away for a good long time, I started to wonder whether 'that fairy tale feeling' is a certain lack of emotion, or sense of detachment.

These terms may sound quite negative, or like an accusation, but I am referring to writing style rather than substance. I think it exists subtly within most stories, although I would say it is most recognisable in the Grimm's collections, as they are based on the oral tradition. This detachment allows the stories to exist as  just something that happened, once upon a time. 

Detachment in fairy tales

I came across A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book as I began writing this, and was delighted to find Byatt had put across her ideas about fairy tales through her characters, who were also struggling to articulate 'that' feeling:
Griselda said that her aunt's fairy stories frightened her. So did Hans Andersen, he made her cry. But not this sort of tale. She didn't know why. It should be scary, there was a lot of blood. Toby said these were memories of some other time, long ago, and he agreed, they weren't scary. 
"They are just like that," said Griselda, feeling for what intrigued her, not finding it. [pp 51-2]
They are what they are, just something that happened, once upon a time. In this quote, Griselda has seen the Brothers Grimm version of 'Cinderella' acted by marionettes, and recognises it, yet doesn't recognise it, as she is used to the version by Charles Perrault, 'whose stories were written for young ladies, and usually had fairy godmothers.'

When fairy tales are 'designed', regardless of who they are designed for, that sense of detachment is in danger of becoming lost due to the intent within the words, the desire to steer emotions and beliefs towards a particular way of thinking. The Grimms may have had an audience in mind, albeit different to Perrault's, but their 'detachment' allowed Griselda to see the story through her own eyes rather than through theirs, and saved her the pain of emotional blackmail that she feels from reading Andersen.

image sourced here
Later, Griselda goes on to study fairy tales at Cambridge; she wants to know why they aren't just myths, how the versions of tales are the same and also different, and what the rules are that they follow. She discusses her decision to do this with her friend Julian:
"That's another thing I want to study. I don't think the real tales do frighten you. I think you accept the rules. They work in a fenced world which isn't the real world, where nothing ever really changes. Witches get punished, and goose-girls become princesses, and what was lost is restored." 
"I don't know. I was particularly horrified as a small brat by the eyeballs stuck on the thorns, or the dead men impaled on a fence round the glass hill, or the witch in the barrel full of nails." 
"I would suggest it was a kind of gleeful horror? Whereas H.C. Andersen's stories do hurt the reader. The Little Mermaid walking on knives and losing her tongue." [p488]
Byatt, A.S., The Children's Book. London: Chatto & Windus, 2009.

Griselda's opinions on Andersen seem to mirror Byatt's own. In an article for The Guardian newspaper, she says:
From very early I had an unthinking category in my mind of the "real"(authentic) fairy tale which centred on the brothers Grimm, and some of the Nordic stories collected by Asbjørnsen. It included some of Perrault and some English tales - "Jack and the Beanstalk", for instance. These tales might be funny or horrible or weird or abrupt, but were never disturbing, they never twisted your spirit with sick terror as Andersen so easily did. They had a discrete, salutary flatness. [italics my own]
So Byatt/Griselda states that the 'detachment' is due to an understanding that the story takes place in a world with generally accepted rules. Byatt has named what I call 'lack of feeling' as 'flatness'. She also says, 'Character feels wrong in folktales' after explaining that it would be impossible to actually fall in love with Little Red Riding Hood because she has a series of boxed in, finite gestures. She talks about the link between the 'impersonal oral and the 'authored' story with psychology,' and explains how the Grimms tip the balance more towards oral, and Andersen towards psychological, which is why his stories are more damaging. 

We know that the Grimms, who first published Kinder-und Haus-Märchen in 1812, went back and re-wrote their stories in later years to imbue them with more family-friendly, middle-class values. However, because they remain more true to the oral tradition, their stories retain that sense of 'detachment' that is lost in a more authored story.

1857 cover. Source.

Detachment in the modern world

This 'detachment' is relevant beyond my attempt to understand a vague feeling that came over me as a child: it is relevant to those people in contemporary life who are part of current debates, and those who continue writing in the fairy tale tradition.

It has been much reported in the news recently how parents are up in arms about the 'damaging' effects that fairy tales are supposed to have on children, because they are full of cruelty, murder and violent justice. I can see where they are coming from, but I don't believe their claims take the bigger picture into consideration. 

It seems to me that fairy tales with this 'flatness' or 'detachment' allow a child to understand that what transpires is just something that happened, once upon a time. They may not guide a child to take sides with the good guys, but then again these tales aren't always in black and white. They're not Aesop's Fables with a clear moral at the end; their original purpose was entertainment, but equally, that doesn't mean there aren't one or two lessons to pick up along the way. 'Fairy tales' has been used as an umbrella heading in this attack that doesn't take into consideration the wide variety of stories out there.  

The 'Shrek' movies gave new personalities to popular princesses.
Image sourced here
'Detachment' also allows new authors of fairy tales and fairy tale inspired work to re-examine the stories. Writing in the 'authored' style we fill in the gaps that weren't considered gaps when we heard these stories as children, and ask questions that don't need to be answered to keep the original tale credible. We extend them, look at them from different angles and get under characters' skins in a way that perhaps wouldn't be so possible if these stories were completely authored or 'attached' in the first place.

And why do we writers and readers continue to delve into these worlds, which are 'flat', 'boxed in' and where 'character feels wrong'? I think the true magic of this detachment is that it has allowed us all, no matter our age, to be permanently enchanted by events that just happened, once upon a time.