One of the most fascinating fairytales to me has always been the ‘The Children of Hameln’ recounted by Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm in 1816 and 1818 editions of their famous fairytale collection. But there are several legends of similar figures like the Piped Piper from surrounding region of Saschen and wider Germany. Another fairytale I found intriguing is the ‘The Singing Bone’ and the variations, including the Scottish legends of an enchanted harp made from bone.
In crafting my own reimagining of the Pied Piper tale and the fate of the children from Hameln, I was inspired by of the gothic folklore of Forests, a common theme in many fairytales. The Forest often represents great dangers and only reason a community taught to fear it might enter would be unwillingly. The Pied Piper is often described as a troubadour or jester-like character, but in this reimagining, I wanted something darker and connected to the Forest. I thought of magicians, a failing harvest in the otherwise fertile valleys where an unspoken agreement between hamlets and magician to restore fertility and abundance to the lands would come at a high price. The magician is feared, not only for his magic but his appearance, a gaunt and physically deformed man, historically not welcome in many medieval communities for the ill-fortune to which they were associated. In keeping with the tales, the hamlets refuse to honour the bargain with the magician and an enchanted harp wrought from human bone becomes the tool to steal away the young and future generations of the hamlets, summoning them to wander forever among the groves and copses of the Forest.
Pleased to announce I will be joining a wonderful lineup of authors for New Tales of Old, Volume 1 to be published in 2021 by Raven and Drake Publishing! All stories and flash fiction in this anthology were inspired by the retelling and reimagining of fairytales. My story “A Trail of Corpselights” is inspired by gothic folklore of forests and the folklore behind corpselights, also known as Will o’wisps. You can read more here. My second story included in the volume is “The Dark Harpist” a reimagining of the Pied Piper of Hameln legends and the fairytales and folklore of the singing bones and enchanted harps. You can read more about this story here.
Release dates and how to purchase a copy of the New Tales of Old, Volume 1 will be updated when available. You can also keep an eye on my publications page here.
One of my favourite fairytales is the story of ‘Hansel and Gretel’ recounted by Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm, with two variations in the tale published in the 1812 and 1857 versions to accomodate a wider selection of similar folktales. From the fairytale and folklore indexes developed by Professor Ashlimanm , the ATU system identified at least ten variants in many countries following similar themes.
The most commonly known version of ‘Hansel and Gretel’ is a tale set during a bitter winter, and poor parents forced to choose between their personal survival and the cost of raising a girl and boy without resources. On the brink of starvation, the children are taken into the woods and abandoned. When they find the cottage where a witch lives, she offers them their desires (mostly food). When the danger of the bargain is revealed, Hansel and Gretel use a trail of breadcrumbs to follow their way back to their village and escape the witch.
In my own reimagining, I thought of the gothic folklore surrounding the Forest, a common themes in many fairytales. The only reason the Forest might be entered willingly would be if the danger outside the Forest was worse than the unknown terrors of the Forest. To reimagine another time when similar conditions in Hesse-Cassel existed, I used s more modern setting such as WWII. Here, Hansel and Gretel equivalents must escape the dangerous of the Forest and it’s haunting presence of a witch. I wanted to create that same dark threat of the witch and her malevolence towards children, choosing corpselights, often thought the souls of murdered or unrestful child spirits, to provide a safe path for the children to follow and escape the Forest.
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.
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.
I recently finished writing a short fiction piece inspired by poisoned apple folklore and legends, the most familiar being the story “Little Snow-White” published by Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm in Children’s’ and Household Tales (commonly known as Grimm’s Fairy Tales) between 1812-1814 . There are, of course, countless folklore and folktales surrounding betrayals and murder often delivered through gifting a consumable item. The apple or similar fruit in folklore is often connected with a betrayal which can be symbolised by a literal poisoned fruit, a cursed future and sometimes, by both. In my short fiction piece, I explored this concept through the idea of dynasty, a kingdom dependent on a ruling dynasty who renew their pledge to withhold their birthright, the use of magic except by the Queen in defence of the kingdom. As with many folktales, civil unrest leads to the Queen’s betrayal, in my short fiction, by her own sister where betrayal sets in motion a greater chain of reactions. I wanted to explore the role of the Queen, in seeking retribution for her betrayal how extensive a curse might be when her vengeance is levelled against her sister’s reign.
Uprooted by US author Naomi Novik explores the author’s polish heritage through vibrant folklore in this Fantasy novel. Although Uprooted began like many fairytale retellings with a naive village girl from a rural village, who is taken by the Dragon and trapped in a tower. This is the basic synopsis of Uprooted but the story is significantly more than that. The villages of the valley ordinarily offer an exceptional young woman from their villages as tribute to the Dragon, who is actually a wizard, and the tower is his stronghold. In Uprooted, Agnieszka is unexpectedly taken by the Dragon when she is chosen instead of her friend Kasia, the likely candidate. But Agnieszka unknowingly possesses a unique magic of her own, the type and depth which even the Dragon, the strongest wizard in the realm finds difficult to understand. As Agnieszka begins to learn how to handle her magic, she begins to find Sarkin (the Dragon) not as remote or indifferent as she once thought. Along with this, Agnieszka begins to understand how the valley she grew up in, lies within a shadow of a much larger and darker force than Sarkin. The burden of Sarkin’s position was more than life in the tower, standing sentinel against the real enemy, the Wood. For as the Wood grows closer to the capital city, a corruption leeching from it that destroys everything it touches, consuming the humanity to leaving only darkness and rage behind in a humanoid husk. Sarkin and Agnieszka soon find themselves united in a battle to save their country and the heirs to the throne, both from their own family and the Wood. Although Agnieszka‘s own magic is very strong, she is untrained and her power so unfamiliar to the other wizards that it is baffling to all but Sarkin who manages to work with her, blending her wilder magic sourced from the wandering wood-witch, Baba-Yaga, with his own, organised formulas. In the end, Agnieszka is able to find ways to understand that how the corruption of the Wood spreads from a single source, but her and Sarkin must choose to purge or destroy the source of corruption if they hope to vanquish the Wood and free the country from its grasp. Uprooted was a rich and wonderful tale of magic and transformation. I enjoyed the detailed folklore and historical depth to the novel which made the characters both unique and fitting for the style of a fairytale retelling. A highly recommended read!
I read The Bee and the Orange Tree by Australian author Melissa Ashley. A wonderful historical fiction set during the early stages of the French Revolution but focused on the female literary circles surrounding Baroness Marie Catherine D’Aulnoy established as an author in her own right after successful publication career of several novels and fairytale collections. The darker, more disturbing undertone throughout the novel is that of female oppression during the reign of the French King Louis XIV, where the fairytales of young heroes and heroines overcoming impossible odds is a glittering hope for the oppressed women and subjugated peasants of France.
The Bee and the Orange Tree follows Angelina, Marie Catherine’s daughter, raised in a convent with barely any contact with her mother or father. Angelina is recalled from her only known world of the convent, to aid her ageing mother as an assistant. Soon, Angelina finds herself among the literary salons of Paris, attended by some of the most talented writers and poets but also many wealthy or noble families. Angelina is disheartened to discover the popularization of the craft and art her mother worked hard to establish herself and which Angelina greatly enjoys. Angelina is quickly confined by the existence of a respectable woman, suddenly missing the relative freedom of the convent especially as Marie Catherine has not written a single word after suffering an unusual form of writers block.
At one literary circle, Angelina is introduced to her mother’s protege, a young talented writer named Alphonse. Although unsure of her feelings toward Alphonse, Angelina is soon aware that Alphonse’s attempts to court her are only aimed at gaining Marie Catherine as a potential benefactor. This revelation hardens Angelina’s mistrust of Parisian society, which only deepens further when Marie Catherine’s good friend, Nicola Tiquet is accused of adultery and attempted murder. The subsequent trial of Nicola Tiquet, an independently wealthy and powerful woman without the need of a husband to support herself, becomes a focal point for Angelina’s realization of the oppressive nature of French society and the discrimination against women and any of unequal status. Against this is the greater landscape of the early French Revolution and the the determination of the powerful to hold onto power. Throughout these dramatic social challenges, Angelina learns disheartening truths about both her parents, discovering both are willing to sacrifice for their own aims and Angelina soon finds she has more in common with Alphonse than she imagined.
The Bee and the Orange Tree was an engrossing, complex historical fiction where the stories of each of the characters were as much the focus as the development of the fairytale literature and women’s rights in France during the eighteenth century. A wonderful read and highly recommended!