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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Nigel Read On Fairies and Folklore

Today’s guest post is by Nigel Read. Nigel has had stories published in quite a few magazines and anthologies. It’s true he had some fiction in Andromeda Spaceways; what he doesn’t mention in his bio is that he was at one time a member of the co-operative – before me, actually – edited an issue and wrote the official ASIM jingle, which you can read on the web site.

When he isn’t writing jingles for funny science fiction magazines, Nigel is a lover of folklore. I know quite a bit about folklore myself, having written a book about monsters for children and agree that, as he says, fairies are not beautiful beings. Unless, of course, they're strong forest fairies who fall for the local blacksmith...

Nigel’s Mythic Resonance story, “Holly And Iron”, tells of the romance between an artistic blacksmith and a lovely, decent fairy lady. I found this intriguing, given that the Good Neighbours tend to be allergic to iron; his heroine is, but the couple manage anyway.

Nigel will tell you all about it. Welcome to the great Raven, Nigel!

 About the story:

"Holly and Iron" was motivated by a story of the same name by Garth Nix, in the Dark Alchemy anthology. Garth's story of a culture clash between Norman and Briton, between iron magic and the magics of holly and rowan, really bugged me. I suspect it was the historical re-enactor in me that couldn't stand the casual mashing together of different time-periods and different English legends. It was silly, really -- Garth is an accomplished author, and the story received decent reviews. Nevertheless, I determined to write a cleaner story of mythical culture clash; with magic, but of a subtler nature than most fantasy. Of course, like all stories, the initial inspiration got derailed. I think I read McKillip's The Forgotten Beast of Eld around that time, and without realising it my story drifted away from 'culture clash' to 'love story'. In hindsight, I don't mind that much. On a personal level, I'd much rather marry the exotic woman with the sexy accent, than have to fight her brothers. I guess I'm just a child of multi-cultural Australia! :)

About myths, legends, folk stories and fairy tales:

I love and hate, with equal measure, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I love it, because the writing is clever and wacky. And I hate it, because it takes powerful archetypes from our folk stories -- vampires and werewolves and so on -- and makes them banal. If Buffy was a one-off, it wouldn't be so bad, but it started a trend.

Nowadays, whenever I walk into a bookstore I feel like asking a sales assistant to direct me to the non-vampire section. They're obviously very popular, which isn't a bad thing in itself. But somewhere along the line vampires lost their bite, so to speak. They have become the stuff of teenage girls' fantasies.

It is possible to forget that people once believed that vampires really existed. In the eighteenth century, traditional folk tales about vampires spread out from the Balkans and eastern Europe. Superstitious belief in vampires in western Europe grew into a kind of mass hysteria. There were reported cases of corpses being staked, and of people being accused of vampirism. Now that's a powerful archetype! Add to this the vampire's symbolic role in the socio-political battle between Christianity and the older belief systems, and you have what they call mythic resonance. Vampires aren't sexy. They scare the fucking daylights out of us (at least, done well they do). They are the thing outside your window at night -- the nameless night-thing we all fear, from time to time. They are corruption and death. They are the stuff of nightmares.

As fantasy writers (and readers), I feel like we need to reconnect with these older, less tame versions of things. Elves aren't beautiful, graceful creatures that dispense wisdom -- they're tricksy creatures that steal babies and lure travellers into bogs. Werewolves aren't eco-terrorists -- they're unwelcome reminders of the violent, bestial nature of mankind. Of course, this doesn't mean that every fantasy story also has to be a horror story. They can still have happy endings...
Can't they?

Nigel is currently a public servant (boo! hiss!), but has at various times also been an amateur actor, historical re-enactor and writer. He's had stories published in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Neo-Opsis Science Fiction Magazine, and various themed anthologies (including Mythic Resonance, of course). His 2004 story, "The Dove", was recommended reading in The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror: Eighteenth Annual Collection.

1 comment:

Satima Flavell said...

I'd like to think your loving pair had a happy life in the forest, Nigel! It's a lovely story and it was a pleasure to be involved in selecting and editing it. I hope you write more for The Specusphere when we open up for an new antho!