While it’s Women in Horror Month, I’ve been researching gothic and dark folklore themes. Here’s a few of the diverse research topics I encountered including the history of witchcraft and an Icelandic folklore sure to make your skin crawl.
Witchcraft: the Devil’s Influence
Accusations of witchcraft have a long history. The era of associated with the highest prevalence of witch trials and executions was the 14th century, but before these later witch hunts of the Middle Ages, those often accused of witchcraft included midwives, healers and those dwelling on the fringe of their community, blamed for sickness, crop failure and unexpected deaths. When researching this theme, I examined the folklore of the Devil’s involvement through deliberate actions or more subtle means such as manipulation.
Necropants: Grisly Icelandic Folklore
A folklore tradition believed to be practiced in Iceland as late as the 17th century, was the gruesome lore behind necropants. A deal made with a male friend upon his death, involved flaying the skin from the waist down in a single piece and wearing the pants which adhered to the new owner. A coin stolen from a widow and a magical sigil, were inserted into the scrotum make certain the testicular sacks were always full of coins. I decided to explore this dark and grisly folklore in a mico-fiction story set during the early Viking Age.
February is Women in Horror Month! What began, and essentially still is, a movement to celebrate and highlight female creators in the horror genre. There has been a tradition of women writing horror long before Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein but female horror writers continue to remain in the shadows compared to their male counterparts.
There are many publishing events happening around the world this month. I am fortunate enough to to join an event hosted by Eerie River Publishing. There is a great schedule of Online events, blog interviews, story readings and more!
For me personally, there’ll be an upcoming author interview soon with Eerie River Publishing and I’m participating in a Live Author Chat and Q&A session on February 20th (21:00 GMT).
I am very pleased to announce my microfiction pieces will feature in Lost Lore and Legends to be published by Breaking Rules Publishing Europe! Lost Lore and Legends anthology will consist of 100 word “drabbles” or microfiction pieces inspired by European folklore, legends and mythologies.
Five of my microfiction pieces will be featured, including original microfiction such as “The Troll-Witch”, “The Seelie Court”, “The Elf Stone”, “Pixie-Touched”, and “The Oak and Holly Kings”. You can read more about the research behind these microfiction stories here.
More details will follow on release dates for Lost Lore and Legends and where ebook and paperback copies can be purchased. Check my Short Fiction Publications for purchase links and further details.
The past several weeks, I have been exploring many different aspects of European folklore, particularly involving the Fae. Below is a series of some of my research favourites, fae beings and associated folklore.
Seelie and Unseelie Fae
In Scotland, the Fae are often divided into the Seelie and Unseelie courts, or the Light and Dark , respectively. Unlike the Irish Fair Folk, the Seelie and Unseelie beings follow a stricter divide, those fae which are malevolent are found in the Unseelie Courts, while those who are more kindly toward mortals such as brownies (but like all fae beings, this does not mean there is no in dealing with the seelie. Just with all Fae beings in Icelandic, Irish and Welsh folklore, the tendencies of the Fae are not comprehensible by mortal means and their own needs will almost always take precedence.
In Iceland, elves are an integral part of Icelandic culture with folklore infused throughout everyday Icelandic life. Elf-stones as they are sometimes called are believed to be doorways to the underground realms and otherworldly lands where elves dwell. The disturbance of an elf-stones is often considered a major concern with recent road construction and a series of disasters befalling the site, workers and nearby region occurring when a recognised elf-stone was moved. Subsequently, the stone was relocated and the course of the highway adjusted to avoid disturbing the area further.
In Icelandic legend, the renowned waterfall Skogafoss, a spectacular waterfall in southern Iceland, fed by glacial melt is also associated with a legend of elves, buried treasure and the founding of the Icelandic landscape. A Viking Age sorcerer, Þrasi Þórólfsson directed the flow of two rivers threatening the drown nearby villages sparked the volcanic eruption of in the Mýrdalsjökull Caldera. According to the legend, a chest containing a valuable and powerful symbol of Þrasi’s magic was stored and guarded by the elves at Skogafoss until his return. Þrasi’s ring is believed to be just one small part of the treasure the sorcerer left buried and guarded behind Skogafoss but never returned to claim.
The Oak and Holly Kings
Throughout the British Isles and in some Germanic folklore, the Oak and Holly kings are ancient rivals, a timeless battle between Summer and Winter, Although both kings are sometimes depicted as older men the elemental and enduring nature of each gaining dominance only long enough until the next seasonal change. There have been some attention paid to the similarities with the ancient legend of the Horned god, or the Green Man.
Cornwall, while considered by many as a part of the UK , the Cornish people have their own unique legends and folklore Amin to The British lands. Pixies are known generally as mischievous and practical jokes. The Cornish pixies have become very popular in folklore and, where can be associated Piskies as they are often referred to in Cornwall, rare and responsible for the classic saying ‘away with the pixies.”
Piskies as they are often referred to in Cornwall, rare and responsible for the classic saying ‘away with the pixies.”
The Yuletide Troll
In Iceland, folklore and legend of trolls can be found at nearly every strange rock formation. Constant volcanic activity in Iceland has meant the these are plentiful and these formations are believed to be the mountain-dwelling trolls who were caught in the dawn sunlight, instantly turned to stone. Testimony to the Icelandic trolls versus the popular media view that they are stupid and slow-witted, is the dark yuletide legend of the troll-witch Gryla. You won’t find any stories in Iceland of red-nosed reindeer, present-making elves or a merry St. Nicholas. Instead, one of the oldest legends is Gryla and her 12 Yule lads, twelve mischievous and sinister trolls present for 12 days before and after Christmas Day, or the length of Yuletide. But on Christmas Eve, the Yule Lads’ mother leaves her mountain home to stalk the night. Gryla takes orphan children who, without the protection of hearth and home, are defenceless. Once stolen away in a sack, they are taken back to her husband in their mountain cave and cooked into a stew. For Icelandic lore, the safety of having a home, protection of family and from the harsh Icelandic winter is embodied in the threatening figure of Gryla.
Melissa has a happy marriage but her everyday life is a constant battle against pain. She discovers that her artwork can produce magic, prompting her to apply for an artist’s retreat to a mysterious country house. Her old schoolfriends Bettina and Zelda are also at the same retreat. But neither the house nor their friendship is what they think. A mystical library, rapacious shadows, and keys to otherworldly rooms are the links to saving the house from destruction.
A unique fantasy about people whose stories, with all their oddity and excitement, seldom make their way into novels.”
Borderlanders by Australian author Gillian Polack, a contemporary Fantasy and magical realism, introduces the theme early with reference to the Celtic belief in the liminal worlds, and the ability to pass between the past, present, future and other. It is on this premise that Borderlands, as the title suggests, builds its narrative between realities, time and perceptions.
Partially narrated in first-person through the protagonist, Melissa, a happily married, middle-aged artist who’s life is consumed by disabling chronic pain with her artwork providing her only escape and a very real magic. Upon successfully receiving a scholarship to attend a creative retreat in the Southern Highlands of NSW, in a small misty town of Robertson, Melissa finds herself reunited with her old school friends, Bettina and Zelda, both also attending the retreat. The location of the retreat is a rambling estate, a country house that sprawls beyond the mere concept of walls and mortar and where shadows, past and future entwine the characters.
Unlike Melissa, who is narrated in first-person, Bettina and Zelda are narrated through the third-person. This intentional shift from first-person to third-person has the desired effect to separate the reader from Zelda and Bettina, but the unintentional effect of blending their characters to the point of often being indistinguishable in personality (but not history), while Melissa remains isolated, removed and never feeling fully integrated into the story. This may be intentional as Zelda remarks early in the novel when she is lecturing on the Celtic belief in liminality, the concept of worlds and perceptions alongside our own, where the Celtic belief that people could slip into the Otherworld or mortals could be stolen by Fairies, very few ever being returned again. In this sense, Melissa feels like a character that has been stolen by Fairies, existing outside the reality that Bettina and Zelda occupy, but connected to it through a shared and often obsessive focus on small details. This obsession unites all characters, perhaps to indicate their creative personality, but feels far too repetitive, and distracts from the storyline and purpose, too often pulling attention away from the characters, their goals and actions.
Borderlanders was an interesting exploration of the concept of a liminal reality, where perceptions and magic, combine in unique ways that twist the fabrics of reality as we understand it.
** I received a free copy from the publisher in return for an honest review **
The forthcoming charity anthology, Stories of Survival will be published by Deadset Press in support of Cancer Research after Australian speculative fiction author Aiki Flinthart announced her cancer diagnosis. As I was preparing this post this morning, I learned that Aiki lost her battle with cancer overnight. She will be remembered for her generous nature, sense of humour and courage. I am incredibly saddened by the news of her passing and hope my story “Three Tasks for Sidhe” and the others in this anthology provide hope in the shadows for those affected by cancer.
Details on release date for Stories of Survival, purchase links will follow. If you are interested in learning more about my story, you can do so here. Information on the wonderful Aiki Flinthart is available here including her latest edited anthology Relics, Wrecks and Ruins published during the last months of her life.
My research has been delving into the folklore of mortal dealings with the Fae. References to the performance of tasks, is common in folklore, see the Thompson Motif Index for an example of “Tests” present in folklore. In modern fantasy an traditional fairytales, three (also a commonly tool for repetition in fairytales) tasks or quests is often the number required by a mortal to complete in order to achieve the predetermined goal.
In a new short story, I was interested in presenting the three tasks in impossible nature of the Fae, tasks which no mortal could be expected to endure, or tasks which, if completed successfully, would render irreversible harm to the mortal who completed them. I was interested too, in a way the Fae might silence anyone who successfully completed the tasks and therefore, defeated them.
In choosing the mortal who could endure all manner of tasks, which would be irreversible punishments, I chose someone to whom the Fae would also inherently fear and respect to a degree. The role of bards in ancient societies was more than provide entertainment, they provided record keeping, biographical accounts of battles or certain heroes and could as easily turn opinion against someone as turn it in their favour. The traits most important to any man able to support a family including a bard, is the strength or health of his body, the fine-tuned senses of touch in hands on instruments and the ability to sing. The completion of three tasks would require the mortal to endure tests that could permanently disfigure or damage but not to outright kill. These were some of the darker aspects that impossible tasks could take when mortals made deals with the Fae, a reason why such battles were rarely won or, as my story suggested, kept silent if they did succeed.
“There is a Wild Man who lives in the deep quiet of Greenhollow, and he listens to the wood. Tobias, tethered to the forest, does not dwell on his past life, but he lives a perfectly unremarkable existence with his cottage, his cat, and his dryads.
When Greenhollow Hall acquires a handsome, intensely curious new owner in Henry Silver, everything changes. Old secrets better left buried are dug up, and Tobias is forced to reckon with his troubled past—both the green magic of the woods, and the dark things that rest in its heart.”
I had head many wonderful things aboutSilver in the Wood, the first novella in the Greenhollow Duology by UK author Emily Tesh and decided I had to experience this for myself. I’m thoroughly pleased I did.
Silver in the Wood follows the protagonist Tobias, the so-called Wild Man of Greenhollow wood, a centuries old protector of the woodlands near Greenhollow Hall. The arrival of the new young lord Henry Silver to Greenhollow Hall begins an unexpected friendship and bond between both men. Silver is intent on discovering the many secrets of Greenhollow woods which includes the stories of a mysterious historical figure “Bloody Toby”, once accused of murder alongside a fellow criminal, Fabian. But the legends surrounding Tobias and Fabian are not entirely true, and Tobias must confront the Fae being who stalks Greenhollow wood in the guise of Fabian. For when Silver starts digging up the past, he uncovers a darkness best left sleeping beneath the woods. The promise of acceptance and romance between Tobias and Silver can only be fulfilled if Silver is saved from Fabian and Tobias must confront Fabian one last time.
Silver in the Woods explores of the mysterious folklore surrounding legends of the Fae, the Green Man and the Oak and Holly King without specifying either lore, this maintains the sense of mystery and wonder to Greenhollow. Connected to this vital part of the storyline are the vibrant characters and the deeper discussions of humanity and acceptance of the other.
A recommended read for any folklore fans, historical fantasy fans, LBGTQI readers, and readers who enjoy character diversity with vivid storytelling. A wonderful book!
“ The year is 1806. centuries have passed since practical magicians faded into the nation’s past. But scholars of this glorious history discover that one remains: the reclusive Mr Norrell, whose displays of magic send a thrill through the country. Proceeding to London, he raises a beautiful woman from the dead and summons an army of ghostly ships to terrify the French. Yet the cautious, fussy Norrell is challenged by the emergence of another magician: the brilliant novice Jonathan Strange. Young, handsome and daring, Strange is the very antithesis of Norrell. So begins a dangerous battle between these two great men which overwhelms that between England and France. And their own obsessions and secret dabblings with the dark arts are going to cause more trouble than they can imagine.”
I recently read Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by UK author Susanna Clarke. Despite my initial hesitation at the daunting and considerable detail and length of the novel, I found like those before me, these misgivings paled in comparison to the wonder of the book itself.
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell follows two main protagonists in the early 1800s in their efforts to reinstate English magic. Both are talented magicians and while Mr Norrell asserts himself as England’s magician and hoards all books ever published of magic, he soon takes on an enterprising student in the gentleman Jonathan Strange. While Norrell is fearful of new things and sudden changes, Strange is his opposite. The two magicians serve the English parliament through their combined efforts to defend England and defeat Napoleon Bonaparte. However, Norrell can never shake his fear that Strange will better him and deliberate actions to undermine their trust and future partnership are laid down from the first. But the darkest secret of Norrell’s early magic that causes the greatest danger. In very early attempts to gain favour in London society, Norrell performed magic beyond his own talents by seeking the aid of a Faerie which he bound to himself as a servant. Norrell keeps this secret from Strange and much of English society even after the two magicians quarrel and the friendship is broken.
The following years of bitter rivalry between Strange and Norrell see the exploitation of both magicians’ greatest weaknesses. Norrell has his fear and paranoia played against himself and Strange has his arrogance and rashness turned against himself. Throughout it all, the beings of Faerie manoeuvre and plot to overthrow both magicians and so retain hold on the dominion of a Faerie kingdom. The final battle between Norrell and Strange becomes a partnership to save innocent mortals stolen into Faerie including Jonathan Strange’s wife.
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is a delightful and often dark tale, and a skilful alternate history of the Georgian era. The prose feels realistic as though truly compiled from Georgian authors. Despite the seemingly slower pace of the book’s action, the tone does not feel overburdened by it. High praise for the philosophical accounts, a detailed history and characters, and the introspection of morality led to a lingering sense of satisfaction, of closure, for the ending of the stand-alone novel.
Highly recommended for fans of alternate history, Gaslamp fantasies and gothic fantasies. Despite the daunting size of the book, it is a beautiful story, masterfully written and compelling. Well worth the read!
“Dr Ruth Galloway is called in when a child’s bones are discovered near the site of a prehistoric henge on the north Norfolk salt marshes. Are they the remains of a local girl who disappeared ten years earlier – or are the bones much older?
DCI Harry Nelson refuses to give up the hunt for the missing girl. Since she vanished, someone has been sending him bizarre anonymous notes about ritual sacrifice, quoting Shakespeare and the Bible. He knows that Ruth’s expertise and experience could help him finally to put this case to rest. But when a second child goes missing, Ruth finds herself in danger from a killer who knows she’s getting ever closer to the truth…”
The Crossing Places (Dr Ruth Galloway Mysteries, #1) by UK author Elly Griffiths is a crime thriller with a considerable difference. The protagonist is slightly awkward, overweight, nearing middle-aged female forensic archaeologist, Dr Ruth Galloway who’s primary role is teaching and researching in Archaeology in the new university of North Norfolk, United Kingdom. The discovery of a body ritually displayed on the remote salt marshes near where Ruth lives soon brings local police detective Harry Nelson into Ruth’s sphere of work and life and his desperate search for the body of a child missing ten years, the case he cannot forget nor forgive himself for not solving.
The following events involve a series of archaeological investigations into the ritualised burial and likely sacrifice of the young girl whose remains Ruth discovers are not recent but from an Iron Age civilisation that built hedge sites and other ritual structures in the North Norfolk area during the Iron Age. For detective Harry Nelson, Ruth’s academic excitement in the Iron Age burial only saddens and frustrates him in the callousness of human nature, that centuries before, young girls were being ritually killed on the salt marshes. It seems Ruth and Harry have little in common except an interest to discover the fate of the respective young girls, one more recent, another from the Iron Age. But events quickly escalate with the new discovery of the Iron Age burial linking to a series of antagonistic letters detective Nelson has received over the ten years from the suspected killer, which now begin again in earnest along with another child abduction. When another child burial is found, Harry Nelson recruits Ruth to excavate and to provide her expertise on ritual sacrifices and Iron Age culture near the salt marshes. It is the beginning of a partnership and a case that focuses on the importance of the ‘crossing places’ to Iron Age belief systems, the role of landscapes which are neither shore nor sea, sky nor land.
The Crossing Places was an enjoyable crime mystery, the combination of unlikely but personable characters, the depth of research into archaeological techniques and academic institutions gave the plot a sense of reality. The detailed research into Iron Age belief systems of ‘crossing places’, the importance of these liminal landscapes within our natural landscapes of land and sea contributed to a fascinating read.
A highly-recommended read for anyone who enjoys ancient history, crime or mystery, quirky and complex characters and archaeology.