Fairies done right

Considering that I study fairies for my PhD, I read fantasy novels, and even write fantasy novels about fairies, it should come as no surprise that I’ve begun compiling a list of novels that “do fairies right”. That is, none of this Victorian, butterfly-winged Tinkerbell nonsense. I’ve thrown in a couple of medieval texts (with translation) to demonstrate how these modern (20th and 21st century) texts stay true to the spirit and form of romance.

  1. Anderson, Poul. Three Hearts and Three Lions. (1961)
  2. Beagle, Peter S. The Last Unicorn. (1968)
  3. Burgess, Glyn S. and Keith Busby, trans. The Lais of Marie de France. (Late 12th c.)
  4. Clarke, Susanna. The Ladies of Grace Adieu, and other stories. (2006)
  5. Colum, Padraic. The King of Ireland’s Son. (1916)
  6. Dunsay, Lord. The King of Elfland’s Daughter. (1924)
  7. Gaiman, Neil. Stardust. (1998)
  8. Marillier, Juliet. Wildwood Dancing. (2006)
  9. Pope, Elizabeth Marie. The Perilous Gard. (1971)
  10. Troyes, Chrétien de. The Knight with the Lion (Yvain). (Late 12th c.)
  11. Warner, Silvia Townsend. Kingdoms of Elfin. (1977)

This is, of course, a work in progress…

NaNoWriMo Prep, 1

NaNoWriMo is only twelve (12) days away. Have you signed up? Do you have a title? A character? Better yet, do you have a story? Don’t worry if you don’t. I have heard from a very high authority that, ‘No plot? No problem!’ works for November.

This is my 8th WriMo (my 5th NaNoWriMo), and this year I am writing the fourth installment in my Pooka series, my retellings of fairy tale and Greek myth. Writing a series has its ups and downs. I did most of the world building with the first novel, which means I more or less have a ready-made setting. Each subsequent book, however, takes place in a different kingdom with a new cast of characters — only the Pooka is consistent. Prince Silas from Book 1 is the father of Prince Linus (Book 2), the grandfather of Princess Agnes (Book 3), and the great-grandfather of Prince Lukas (Book 4). So despite having new characters for each book, I also have to stay true to their family history and adventures.

So how do I go about coming up with a story? Book 1, The Faerie King, was perhaps the easiest of all. I didn’t know I was going to be writing a series then. I knew I wanted to retell Sir Orfeo, one of my favourite medieval romances. It is a 14th-century Middle English retelling of the Orpheus & Eurydice myth, set in Celtic Britain instead of in Greece. Eurydice is kidnapped by the King of Fairy instead of Hades, and it has a different ending. I was rereading it for fun while working as a dramaturg for OBU’s production of Sleeping Beauty by Charles Way; the play sets the fairy tale in medieval Wales. The Greek myth, fairy tale, and medieval Celtic/British setting fused together so well that I decided to write it into a novel. And I did.

With each subsequent book, I have tried to follow the same pattern. I try to find a well-known fairy tale, usually French or German in origin. I’ve read a lot of fairy tales over the past couple of years! Meanwhile, I’m also reading Greek myths, brushing up on my Olympian gods and heroes, hoping that I will find a narrative that can easily be woven alongside a fairy tale. I also relentlessly talk through fairy tales and myths with my friends: it was Sarah’s suggestion that I look into the Cupid & Psyche myth. That myth ended up being the myth I used for The Harpy (Book 2), combined with ‘Beauty and the Beast’. The clue that linked them together in my mind? Both had enchanted palaces with invisible servants. The Harpy was also heavily influenced by the medieval romance Melusine, which I had been reading at the time.

The Golden Crab (Book 3) was more difficult, because I was writing about a princess instead of a prince. Most princesses in fairy tales tend to be quite passive, and that wasn’t what I wanted. The Golden Crab ended up having a blend of lots of fairy tale elements — Thumbelina, The Snow Queen, and The Black Bull of Norroway — but the overarching story was the Greek myth of Persephone.

By the end of each novel I know who my next protagonist is, because the narrator neatly ties up the strings in the last chapter. The Golden Crab ends with the announcement of the birth of two of Agnes’s nephews, so I knew that Book 4 would be about either Tobias or Lukas. The more I thought about it and the overarching narrative of the narrator (because the narrator has a story, too), I knew it was going to be about Prince Lukas of Marschon.

So I’ve spent the last few weeks reading fairy tales and Greek myths, trying to find a story I haven’t told before. Before I knew anything else, I knew that Lukas was called ‘The Knight of the Swan’. The fairy tale I’ve chosen is The Six Swans, the mythology elements will come from Perseus’s adventures, with some inspiration from the medieval romance of the same title, The Knight of the Swan.

Now, to weave them together? Thank goodness — I have 12 days to think of a plot!

Good start

Day One of the XXIII Triennial Congress of the International Arthurian Society and I have new chapter for my thesis. Is there a difference between normal human romance heroines, heroines who use magic, and magical heroines (e.g., fairies)? I shall find out.

A few tips

When presenting a paper, do not do the following:

  • Drink blue Powerade before or during your presentation (or any colour);
  • Read from single-spaced text;
  • Wear a graphic t-shirt and jeans (with or without holes);
  • Make asides in sotto voce;
  • Speak in monotone;
  • Neglect to indicate quotations;
  • Make funny noises or faces when one mispronounces something;
  • Go over time.

Instead, take these words of advice: read from a double-spaced, size 14 text; know your text well and practice reading it ahead of time. Have someone listen to you with a timer and their own copy of the text so they can mark places that are unclear or awkward. Smile, and act confident even if you don’t feel like it. If you make a mistake, continue forward as if you meant to do that, and few will be the wiser.

Despite some of the above occurring at the conference I attended this week, it was a very good conference. It was very enjoyable to discuss my topic with ‘my kind’ — other folklorists, even a few of them also being medievalists. I presented my work on a comparative etymological survey between fairy and elf and was told by one of the Professional Folklorists afterward that he enjoyed it because it went ‘whoosh — right over [his] head’. I was greatly impressed by the group of postgraduates that organised the conference: it was obvious they worked well together, as a team they were very welcoming and friendly, and also as individuals actively mingled during break times. Definitely a good model to follow if I ever co-organise a conference!

Fantastic Friends

Just a bit of silliness: a moment with me and my desk pals. They normally like to live on the piles of books on my desk, keeping an eye on my work.

The Vague Activist Fairy, Quizzy the Quizzical Unicorn, and the Wonky Dragon.


In other news, Mondays are hard to get back into the swing of things. But I’ve prepared for a meeting with my supervisor tomorrow. And I read an article that makes me wonder if the English Melusine is radically different from the French Melusine after all. If it is, then this is very good.

Fairy Times: Update

Due to snow and the holidays, my supervisor and I have been relying on email correspondence over the past several weeks to keep up with my current chapter. I just love how ideas ping back and forth: just today, she mentions including Sir Orfeo and the undead in my study on corporeality and Melusine, and I realise that if I do that within my discussion of Fairyland in Sir Orfeo being analogous to Purgatory, I can also include suspended animation, the resurrection of the body in the afterlife, and the body in Purgatory itself, all while demonstrating how medieval concern about these issues are worked out in Sir Orfeo. This, in addition to my discussion of corporeality and mortality as possible requisites for salvation, especially in Melusine, will make for one very interesting and NEW study of medieval fairy and medieval Christianity. (Do you hear the exclamation marks?)

I know I don’t blog about my PhD very often. This is just to let you know that I still have a pretty darn cool thesis topic.

Twice upon a time

Tonight Rebecca and I went to see Dundee Rep’s production of Sleeping Beauty by Charles Way. Way’s version of the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty really is my favourite — the original script is set in medieval Wales, and is as much a story about Prince Owain as it is about Briar Rose. A perfect princess cursed by an evil witch, a useless prince who dances his way past fairies, out-riddles the Spider King, and fights the witch herself, there is humour and seriousness and a faithfulness to the spirit of Fairy that I really love.

Some of you will know that I was the dramaturg for OBU’s production of Sleeping Beauty a few years ago. I couldn’t help but draw comparisons throughout the play. I liked how Dundee Rep altered the script slightly to reflect Scottish folklore instead of Welsh: instead of the witch sisters being Modron and Branwen, they were Haliach* and Brigid. The fairies, instead of the Welsh Tylwyth Teg, were the Sidhe (and were quite the opposite of the fair Twlwyth Teg, for the Sidhe were very creepy!). The costuming for Briar Rose was done similarly to how OBU did it: each time when the audience sees her she is older, having added a piece of clothing, resulting in a blooming rose. OBU did this with green and red, and Dundee Rep did this with yellow and gold. I quite like the effect of both. The music for Dundee Rep was also very nice, with harp and song, and the dancing fun to watch.

But of course, of course, I am biased. I prefer OBU’s production: the set and costumes more beautiful, the sword choreography better planned, and the Spider King scariest of all. Just look:

Susan (Smoots) Heminger and Nathan Hollis as Modron and Prince Owain.

But that in no way means I did not enjoy Dundee Rep’s production. It was lovely to see a play and a story I know so well done in an interesting and different way. Sleeping Beauty was the spark that led to me writing The Faerie King, and The Knight of the Rose after. I am very pleased indeed to have had the chance to see the play again. And it shows how one can still find something new each time one sees a play: I hadn’t noticed before that Owain was his father’s seventh son, which explains why he could also see Gryff, when no one else but Briar Rose could. Seventh children have the Second Sight, meaning they can see fairy creatures and the like. Just like Princess Agnes. The only problem is, of course, that now I want to write the third…


* Alas, I know this name but cannot spell it.

JuNoWriMo 2010

Today, at 50,610 words I wrote: Here ends the tale of the Knight of the Rose and the Pooka. Just because I’ve finished both NaNoWriMo and JuNoWriMo two days early doesn’t mean I’m going to try this crazy thing in February.*

And now, I only have three months to prepare for NaNoWriMo. What am I going to do?!


* The 31st of this month was only ever going to be considered as a desperate catch-up day.

Ordinary day

I've had to separate them.

I read today that Peter Abelard and Honorius Augustodunensis doubted that story-tellers could be saved. And Wace apparently lamented that tale-tellers retold history with too much artistic license — conveniently ignoring the courtly embellishment he himself added when he refashioned Geoffrey of Monmouth’s account of Arthur…

No more fairies?

Thanks for the well-wishes, folks. You will be pleased to know that I braved rice and lentils for dinner last night, and a boiled egg, and seem to be fine. I think a grocery trip today is in order. Kelly says I need to eat more meat.

“No more fae/vampires/angels/gods/etc.” saith one literary agent. I’m glad to see someone putting their foot down about this tidal wave of vampirism in recent fantasy, but… fairies and gods, too? Though I call myself a science-fiction writer, the last three novels I’ve written have been fantasy, as are the next two novels I have in mind. And… I write dysfunctional fairy tale medieval romances. How can I not, with all the medieval romances I read for work? The Faerie King retells Sir Orfeo and Sleeping Beauty; The Knight of the Rose is a combination of Beauty and the Beast and Cupid and Psyche.

Fortunately, I wasn’t planning on submitting them any time soon. It would probably be better for my thesis/academic career if I chose to wait to submit any of my silly fairy stories until after my thesis is done and finished, for the very same reasons my supervisor wants me to be very, very serious in my academic writing. So the pendulum swings, but no one will stay uninterested in fairies for very long.

Only 10,000 words left of JuNoWriMo. I have been remiss on posting excerpts this time around. So a little bit from what I wrote yesterday…

* * *

The Star Queen led them out near to the tip of the bastion and looked up. Linus mimicked her, and caught his breath. The stars had never seemed closer than they did just then. Almost as if he could just reach his hand out to them could he pluck one out of the sky, but he did not try. Each one sparkled and spun. Each at first, he thought, was white, but as he watched them closer he saw that some twinkled with bits of yellow, others with blue, still others with orange and red and green. As they sparkled he saw that each was a woman dancing. And as they danced, the stars sang.

No sweeter music had Linus ever heard than the song of the stars. He knew not what they sang of, only that it was music, the purest essence of music ever known. The Star Queen stood beside him, her hands clasped at her breast, and her eyes glistened in the starlight of her sisters. They stood there for a while, Star Queen and mortal knight, listening, entranced.

The Pooka hopped from the lady’s shoulder to Linus’s. “Sing, you fool,” it hooted in his ear.

Linus could not help but sing.