Ode to Oxford

Oxford, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.*

  1. Red brick houses and sandstone colleges;
  2. University Parks, so green and full of trees;
  3. Squirrels and dragonflies and songbirds;
  4. Libraries full of books and silence;
  5. Dear friends, old and new;
  6. Medieval colleagues;
  7. Streets filled with memories;
  8. Christ Church Meadow and the avenues of trees;
  9. G&D’s, Ben’s Cookies, and the Covered Market;
  10. The dreaming of spires and ringing bells.

Someday, I would love to live here again. Until then, I am content to visit, and fortunate to know more and more people who live here.

The International Arthurian Society British Branch conference was interesting and I very much enjoyed getting to catch up with colleagues and get to talk to other people who are actually working with Melusine and Thomas of Erceldoune, and to have my thesis topic validated by my colleagues, both senior and new. A successful conference indeed! Now to spend the rest of the week in various libraries and spending time with friends…!

* I am not Elizabeth Barrett Browning. I write academic papers, not sonnets.

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Favourite things

History:

Image

Peeking through archery windows to see green grass, bright sky, and the tallest building in town — St Rule’s tower, built in the twelfth century.

My other home

After researching in London I went to Oxford for the Romance in Medieval Britain conference. I arrived two days before the conference so I could do some more research in the Bodleian and spend time with my travel-partner-in-crime Chris R. — of Portugal and Cyprus fame — and Oxford is our ‘home base of operations’ so to speak. As usual, we saw a play: Hamlet, performed by Creation Theatre, but otherwise we were both working. We walked into town together through the fog before parting ways at University Parks.

Whereas Chris went on to Wycliffe, I went to the Bodleian Special Collections. After walking around the outside of the Radcliffe Science Library, wandering through the maze, trying to get the change machine to work (and only having a £20-note, oy), and getting my bag stored in a locker at last, I went into the reading room, committed my name to paper and gave my Bod card over for ransom, and in return was handed the remaining printed fragments of the 1510 edition of Melusine.


(Yes, I did receive permission to take these photographs.)

I was expecting only two fragments… but there were six! I took as many notes as I could, and the Bodleian Special Collections will be seeing me again, once I have a better idea of what it is I’m looking for. Can’t you see why I love my job? How couldn’t you love a woodcut illustration of Geoffray with the Great Tooth fighting the giant Guedon? Continue reading

My apologies

I am sorry, dear readers, I have been remiss: I did not forewarn you that I would be away for some days. I am still away – photos and stories upon my return, of course – but let me leave you with a tantalizing glimpse of what I’ve been up to:

I am a pro at taking clandestine photographs in libraries.

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…

In the family

To take a break from writing a conference paper (of which I wrote half of this morning), I decided to scroll through the huge family ancestry chart my brother sent me ages ago. It’s fun to look at all of the names and dates and guessing what was going on in the world when various ancestors lived. I knew we had some American Revolutionaries in our family, but I didn’t know that some ancestors immigrated to the New World as early as the 1630s. We might even have had some relatives at the ‘First Thanksgiving’!

I skipped back to the medieval period and became indignant at the treatment of my somethingth-great-grandmother, Mary Bruce (the English locked her in a cage!). I find my relation to her slightly more believable than our supposed connection with Harold Haldrada (of 1066 fame) or better yet, Priam of Troy (as awesome as that may be). As an Academic of Very Old Things it is my job to be skeptical of information we don’t have any physical documentation of. The farther back in time it goes, the less verifiable it gets. Even so, it is fun to skim through, and this medievalist finds it more than a little entertaining to think that Robert the Bruce was an uncle at some point in the distant past. It’s a pity I can’t claim family relations in order to get a better visa for the UK…

I am back to writing about Thomas of Erceldoune, who is not, alas, in my family history, even if there is archival evidence of his actual existence.

Word count: 12,007

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!