Kristen M. of We Be Reading is hosting a Fire and Hemlock read-along! This will be a reread for me, since I first read Fire and Hemlock the summer before my freshman year of college. I had just finished Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin and was busily zipping through every “Tam Lin” and “Thomas the Rhymer” retelling I could lay my hands on. I did not love Fire and Hemlock the first time I read it - but according to Jenny’s Law anything Diana Wynne Jones writes is better on a reread anyway, and this is so, so true.
To prepare for the read-along I went and looked over my notes. Yes, the last time I read Fire and Hemlock I took notes. Because in both Pamela Dean’s and Diana Wynne Jones’s versions of “Tam Lin” there are so many references, with so much going on in that particularly Jonesian chaos, that I felt the need to write down and explore some of the themes behind the ballad.
What fascinates me endlessly about the ballad “Tam Lin” is the idea of the teind the fairies pay to hell. Because what is more fascinating than human sacrifice? There’s something so gory and primitive and can’t-take-your-eyes-off-the-train-wreck about human sacrifice! I remember reading American Gods for the first time and the part that stuck in my mind was the bit about Hinzelmann and his lake of drowned victims, and the monologue about “How do you make a god?” I am particularly fascinated by the stories of foundation sacrifice, but that is a story for another time.
I read Katharine Briggs’s Fairies in Tradition and Literature to learn about the origins of fairies. Because the question of “What are fairies, anyway?” is a pretty important one, if you’re trying to figure out why exactly fairies are paying a sacrifice to hell.
So what are fairies anyway? Briggs has several theories: That the fairies are ancient gods diminished over time, or memories of an ancient race of people, or the dead (unbaptized children, those in purgatory, ghosts), or fallen angels (
those who were too bad for heaven and too good for hell, or trapped between heaven and hell, or devils masquerading as fairies).
So what does the teind represent? It is a payment to hell because fairyland is a subset of hell, if you go with the fallen angel theory. It represents human sacrifice, which may have been practiced by an ancient cults, or warring tribes of ancient races that might have captured and killed hostages.
I read The Golden Bough, Frazer’s work concerning ancient religion, human sacrifice, and the dying god. Wikipedia says, and I quote, that the thesis of The Golden Bough is that “old religions were fertility cults that revolved around the worship of, and periodic sacrifice of, a sacred king.” Basically the idea is that ancient religions, like the Eleusinian mysteries or the priest-king of Nemi, had a deity who represented the spirit of vegetation, who died at harvest time and was reborn at spring.
There are several similarities between the teind in “Tam Lin” and Frazer’s sacred king theory. First, young men are the preferred victims here. Both
rituals fall in the autumn: one at Harvest Home (Frazer) and one on Hallowe’en (“Tam Lin.”) The full moon after the harvest moon is supposedly the traditional time for slaughtering animals before winter, sometimes called the “blood moon, which may be why Hallowe’en is the chosen date of sacrifice in “Tam Lin.” The teind is from the Queen of Elfland to hell, which represents the underworld, while the sacred king sacrifice is from ancient cults to a fertility goddess, usually chthonic, like Persephone in the Eleusinian mysteries.
So you have Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin. In this retelling of “Tam Lin,” it would seem that the fairies are of the ancient-Greek-gods-diminished-over-time variety - Medeous has an uncanny knowledge of ancient Greek, everyone in her court is a classics major, ect., though her court also has tendencies of the Scottish Unseelie court.
Medeous pays a teind to hell every seven years - perhaps a reenactment of sorts of the ancient Greek mysteries. Medeous’s idea of fun, I suppose. The name Medeous sounds similar to Medea, who was an enchantress and a priestess of the goddess Hecate; Medea did lots of killing for the men she married. (That sounds sounds like Medeous. Hecate, among other things, assisted women in childbirth and the raising of young men, was associated with dogs and horses, and was considered to have mastery over the dead.)
Then you have Diana Wynne Jones’s Fire and Hemlock, which of course also has elements of “Thomas the Rhymer.” Morton Leroy seems to portray the sacred king: he must extend his reign and life by sacrificing another man in his place. If he does not find a suitable replacement, he will sacrificed instead. The duel between Tom and Morton towards the end is similar to Frazer’s pet image, the sacred grove at Nemi where the priest-king rules until until he is killed by another man. Even Leroy’s name is suggestive: “Morton” as in “mortal,” and “Leroy” as in “the king.”
The fact that Laurel is named thus also suggests Greek mythology: Daphne changed into a laurel tree after being pursued by Apollo, laurel wreaths crowned victors; in Christian tradition, laurel represented resurrection (and Laurel dies and comes back to life every eighty or so years). Her last name “Perry” suggests the Persian word “peri,” meaning “fairy.” Thomas Lynn is of course a corruption “Tam Lin,” and Polly’s name, as mentioned by the girl Jones herself in her essay about Fire and Hemlock, comes from “poly” or many heroes.
So, teinds and human sacrifice! It’s all fun and games until someone gets ritually murdered. Thomas Tryon’s novel Harvest Home is also a good read if you’re interested in the sacred king human sacrifice business, and of course the film The Wicker Man and the novel it was based on, Ritual by David Pinner, were heavily influenced by The Golden Bough and The White Goddess by Robert Graves. There was also a fascinating episode of Supernatural that focused on terrifying scarecrows and harvest sacrifices that I particularly enjoy.
Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish.
Top Ten Books I’d Quickly Save If My House Was Going To Be Abducted By Aliens
(or any other natural disaster…you get the drift. )
1. My worn-out copy of Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin. My copy has a bent and pealing spine, water stains, and dogears. It has traveled with me throughout my adult life and I can’t see myself fleeing my burning house without it. It was out of print for a long time, and now you can buy brand-new copies off Amazon, but I love the gorgeous Thomas Canty cover on my copy.
2. My library-bound copy of Richard Peck’s Blossom Culp and the Sleep of Death. I worked too darn hard to get my own copy of this book and I don’t want to ever work that hard to find a book again. After scavenging used bookstores and Friends of the Library sales, I finally scored a copy from PaperBackSwap two years after I started my account.
3. The Complete Shakespeare given to me by husband as a birthday gift. It is beautiful, bound in lovely red cloth, and very sentimental.
4. My first edition copy of Jean Webster’s Dear Enemy. I paid $25 for my copy and it is, believe me, more than I’ve ever paid for a used book in my life. Also it is the most recent book purchase I have made.
5. My lovely illustrated copy of Anne of the Island. This is the edition that I read for the first time, and the gorgeous drawings are forever entwined with my memories. There is one particular drawing of Anne and Gilbert by the apple tree that I would love to frame and hang up on a wall.
6. Jim Jump, which was, according to my mother, my my most favorite book when I was a baby. What I believe is in fact the case is that Jim Jump was my mother’s favorite baby book. Sadly, in the process of raising four daughters Jim Jump was lost forever and my mother laments over it to this day. A few years ago, I found a copy and snatched that sucker up! I’ve got a secret plan - when I have children of my own, I’m going to give my mother this copy of Jim Jump as a pregnancy announcement.
7. My omnibus edition of The Enchanted Forest Chronicles. This copy was given to me by my best friend in high school - we both adored these books. We’d doodle donkeys with wings on our binders and point at people we didn’t like and say “Argelfraster!” What I would really love is the hardcover editions illustrated by Trina Schart-Hyman, I look for them at every used book sale I visit.
8. Mary Engelbreit’s The Snow Queen. My grandmother had few children’s books in her house, but she did have this one. I loved this book to pieces. My grandmother still has the copy I loved so much at her house, but recently I acquired my own copy (thanks PaperBackSwap!) and I’m saving it for when we have children.
9. My hardcover copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The rest of my Harry Potter collection are paperbacks, but when Deathly Hallows came out I went to a midnight release party with a good friend to buy my own copy. The first and only time I have done such a thing! We stood in line for an hour, got our copies, and the first thing I did was flip open to the last page and read the final sentence.
10. My entire collection of Saddle Club books. I have some serious doubts about my ability to swiftly pack up all 100+ of my Saddle Club books before my house is beamed away. But I have never been able to let go of them, despite the fact that I know some young girls who would have loved to be given these books. I spend every cent of allowance I received for years on these books.
October is here and I am staring a certain book in the face, as it were. I have been carrying my battered copy in my bag for two weeks now, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to open it up again until I knew for certain that autumn was here in its crimson and brown and blood-red glory.
Seven years ago, in the middle of the summer between my high school graduation and my first semester of college, a high school friend told me to come over to her house. There was a trailer in her backyard that she was in the middle of cleaning out, and she invited me to ransack the trailer with her and take home some books. I remember that I picked up, among others, an omnibus edition of The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, and Pullman’s Lyra novels. There was another book I grabbed, a filthy paperback with a bent spine and a Thomas Canty cover, that I picked up solely because I recognized Terri Windling’s name on the front.
Seven years ago, the only books I’d ever read about college had been Anne of the Island and Daddy-Long-Legs. I had been trying very hard not to think too much about starting college in the fall, though I already knew I was going to be an English major: my stated ambition was to be an editor at a publish company, but secret desire was to write Star Wars Extended Universe novels like Aaron Allston.
At some point in those last few weeks before college, I picked up Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin. I remember starting the book in the late afternoon and finishing it sometime well after midnight because I couldn’t sleep until I’d finished. The next morning, I woke up and started the book all over again. I read it a third time a month into my first semester at college, just to see how my experience measure up to Janet’s. After that I lost count of how many times I’d read it, but I do remember rereading it while working the night shift at a fast food restaurant the next summer, reading chapters on my break at 4:30 in the morning. The image of the sunrise over the interstate is woven into words and pages.
Tam Lin means more to me than any other book in the wide world, and I am about to slip between its pages once again.
Last Friday was the autumnal equinox. Two years ago, harvest moon rose on the night autumnal equinox. This year, the equinox marks the beginning of a writing season for me as I begin to write a book that been smouldering in my brain for quite a while now.
What I’ve found out is that the best time for writing is when I get up from bed and head straight to the computer and pound on the keyboard for an hour and a half, before I have to stop what I’m doing, hit SAVE, and get dressed and head off on my hour-long commute to work. Unfortunately, this hour is hard to seize. I get up rather early already and getting up even earlier has been very hard to manage - I’ve already skipped out on the early-morning write twice now. And at the library, so leisurely in the summer, has become a hectic place, and I’ve been saddled with new responsibilities that have devoured any spare time. Weekends are out, as far as writing goes - the weekends are for time with my husband - and for the housework I don’t have time to do during the week, and troupe dance practice early Saturday morning, and sewing projects that I never have enough time to finish.
In other words, this is hard. Fully as hard as I expected it to be. But the consolation? When I write in the morning, the words come out. They flow in a way that astonishes me, as I usually struggle to get words onto paper when I’m trying to write after the headaches of daily life have made themselves known. And unlike other writing projects, I’ve lived with these characters for a long time and I know them much, much better - it’s easier to hear their voices.
Recently read: The Dubious Hills, by Pamela Dean. This is Pamela Dean at her very, very best. This book is an amazing read - it is utterly unlike anything I have ever read before. Rich and strange: the images Dean conjures are haunting and lovely. I love the magic: how poems are used as spells, and how children grow out of their magic, and how one comes of age by receiving knowledge, particular to each individual. I love the setting: the bleak early months of February, and the descriptions of Arry’s house and Oonan’s pastures and Mally’s house.
Reading now: Thorn In My Heart, Fair Is the Rose, and Whence Came a Prince by Liz Curtis Higgs. When I was in high school and on vacation, I came across Fair Is the Rose at a restaurant on St. George Island, Fl. There was a corner where you waited to be seated for your meal, and it had bookshelves of novels and board games that you could borrow and return later. It was part of a series of books that retold the Biblical story of Jacob and Esau, set in Lowland Scotland in the 1700s. Well, I really loved these books in high school, even though they were written by a Christian author, and these books were, fun fact, the first books I ever bought off of Amazon, immediately after my parents allowed me to open a bank account. Now I’m rereading them, and it’s rather odd. I still like the books quite a lot, though they’re nothing as good as I’d thought they were seven years ago. I mean, the whole story of Jacob and Esau is kind of messed up anyways, and there are parts to the story that don’t translate well when placed in the Scottish setting - like Jacob taking two wives, for instance. And I found Rose to be thoroughly unlikable and Leana to be thoroughly martyred. The message here seems to be It sucks to be married to someone who doesn’t like you at all. Which, you know, I’m sure it does.
In other news, interlibrary loans are headed my way again: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (joy! I’ve head so many good things about this book), The Dark Horn Blowing, Seaward by Susan Cooper, and Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman. Oh, and Monarch of the Glen, by Compton MacKenzie - my husband and I have been watching the BBC show recently. It’s so darn good - I love how Molly wears wellies at all times, and Lexie’s unusual outfits and lilting accent, and Archie’s facial expressions of woe, and the shenanigans of Hector and Killwillie, and Duncan’s leather jacket and kilt ensemble.
Monday I woke up with an urgent need to read some Pamela Dean. And since I’m saving Tam Lin for October, I grabbed the Secret County books off the Pamela Dean row on my bookshelf.
The Secret Country is a game the Carroll cousins - Ted, Ruth, Patrick, Ellen, and Laura - have been playing every summer for the past nine years. They pretend to be the princes and princesses of the Secret Country; they have sword fights and courtly intrigue and wizards and sorcerers and unicorns and a plot to poison the king. Until Ruth, Patrick, and Ellen move to Australia, and their summer plays must come to an end.
Until Ted and Laura, visiting a set of hide-and-seek and television-obsessed cousins, find a sword in a hedge in front of a mysterious house and are transported to the real Secret Country. But this Secret Country is different than the one they created: there’s a new character, the Lady Claudia; Agatha the old governess is pretty and young; and Randolph doesn’t seem like a poisoner. And what happened to the real Royal children?
I didn’t read these books until just a few years ago, but I loved them immediately. I’ve never been a huge fan of low fantasy, when the protagonists enter into a magical world through some sort of portal. So Patrick is a delight to me - a “mad scientist” suddenly having to make sense of magic, and whether or not it is real; if the game the Carroll cousins played was made up by them or real all along. Time doesn’t stand still for the children as they cross the boundary back and forth; they keep getting into trouble by their respective guardians for being gone.
What do I love about these books? The Shakespeare quotations, using poetry as spells (it is simply such a good idea, why didn’t anyone ever think of using it before?); the uncastle-ly pink walls of the High Castle; Randolph and Ruth; sly, mischievous, cat-like unicorns and their “unicorn footprints.” The ending, I feel, is perfect. The children have to make a choice, and they don’t all make the same choice, and it is permanent (unless Ruth can figure out another way), and they have to say goodbye to each other.
There are parts that confuse me. Some of the courtly politics makes my head spin. But they are so good. And The Dubious Hills, a semi-related book that takes place in the Secret Country, is even better. Pamela Dean is currently writing the joint sequel to The Secret County books and The Dubious Hills. I’ve been reading her blog for years, drooling every time she mentions it. I love Ruth and I love Arry and I want them to hang out in Heathwill Library and speak sorcerous words at each other.
Let me first say that I have no intention of giving offense to anyone, and that I respect all religions and those who practice them. I certainly don’t intend to stir up any anger or to cause bad feelings here on Tumblr. What I do intend, and what I would like see to happen, is a reasonable discussion about the following question.
What is the line between a pagan and a folklorist?
I have a pendant with a labyrinth design. I have a horseshoe hung above my front door. Thyme and rosemary grow in my front garden. I’m superstitious - when I spill salt, I toss some over my shoulder, and I knock on wood A few weeks ago, a ring of mushrooms cropped up in my front yard, and I danced in it.
I don’t consider myself to be anything other than someone with an avid interest in folklore. I do not consider myself to be pagan.
For many years, I have been fascinated by mythology and folklore. I have always been drawn to fairy tales, and I love and eagerly read books that draw on British folklore and ballads, like Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin or the works of Diana Wynne Jones.
I am also a writer of fantasy, and consequently spend a good deal of time researching and reading about folklore topics that I intend to write about - the customs of May Day and Midsummer, for example, or herb lore, fortune telling, or theories of sympathetic magic.
I suppose that what I am really asking is this: Is participating in pagan events or reenacting folkloric or mythic rituals crossing a boundary between folklore and paganism?
I read a book a while ago by Donna Tartt, called The Secret History. A group of classics majors at a Vermont college reenact a Bacchanal ritual and, during the ritual, kill a local farmer. In Dodie Smith’s classic I Capture the Castle, Cassandra builds wreaths of herbs and flowers, dances around a bonfire, and chants invocations on Midsummer eve. Does the act of participating in a pagan ritual make these characters pagan?
I am also very interested to know about other writers of fantasy When your work is folklore, and it begins to seep into your daily life, how do you keep your distance?
The absolute best thing about working at a library is being surrounded by books. Every day, I go home with a stack of new books to read. And if my library doesn’t have a book I want, well then, they will get it for me! They are very obliging in that way.
Today I have requested all the books by Jo Walton that I haven’t read yet (which is most of them), all of Megan Whalen Turner’s books, the Alvin Maker series by Orson Scott Card, the five volumes of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s journals, and all the books in Terri Windling’s Borderland series. It will be an orgy of books! I just wish I had a summer vacation so I could have the time to read all of them at leisure.
I was supposed to get The Dalemark Quartet, Volume Two: The Spellcoats and The Crown of Dalemark through PaperBackSwap, but it fell though and I am hugely disappointed. I was looking forward to attempting to read The Spellcoats again and maybe understanding it this time.
I’m currently reading Elizabeth Bear’s Whiskey and Water and it is rather slow going. I think the problem is, I don’t actually like her characters. Whiskey is the only reason I’m plodding through her Promethean series. He gives out strong whiffs of Emma Bull’s Phouka.
I read Jo Walton’s Lifelode two weeks ago, but I simply don’t have the strength to review it thoroughly. It requires serious thought. Ever since I finished it, I’ve been going over it over and over in my head. I loved the domestic parts, Taveth keeping house and Chayra throwing pots and all of them living harmoniously at Applekirk. I kept thinking, “But this should have been written by Pamela Dean!” Except it was not, it was written by Jo Walton and written very very well indeed. It did remind me strongly of The Dubious Hills, which I adore. I suspect I love domestic fantasy quite a lot. I’d like to write one myself, someday. I loved the East and the West and time moving slower or faster the further you travel. That was inspired. I would love to have my own copy of Lifelode, but it is expensive on Amazon.
I just had a mild sort of orgy this week as books I’ve ordered from Amazon and PaperBackSwap have trickled in. I’ve read The Time of the Ghost and Hexwood by Diana Wynne Jones, which were both rather wonderful, and I’m currently reading The Folk of the Air by Peter S. Beagle, and yesterday I read Jo Walton’s latest book, Among Others, which is the one that has blown me away.
Ever since I first heard of this book, I knew I’d love it, and I wasn’t wrong. It was exactly the kind of book I’ve been waiting for, the kind of book I’d love to have written myself. I loved all the book talk, especially the nods to Jane of Lantern Hill and I Capture the Castle, even though a lot of the references were science fiction, which I don’t read nearly as much as fantasy. But clearly I’m going to have to now, since Mori made Zelazny sound so wonderful. It reminded me of Tam Lin, all the references. And Tam Lin is my very favorite book.
Mori herself is who I was at fifteen, though I was not Welsh, nor trapped in a boarding school, nor scarred by the loss of her twin sister and the use of her leg. Mori lives for books the way I did (and still do), gleefully snatching up SF magazines and rapturous over the joys of interlibrary loans and counting down the days until the next trip to the library. And the magic. Jo Walton has written about magic, magic that acts exactly the way I’ve always thought it did: retroactive, not safe to use except for defense. The way Mori senses the way cooking is magic, and using the same objects over and over, and hanging onto rocks: that’s something that was a joy to read about. I’ve always appreciated a quieter magic. Oh, this book was a joy to read, though parts of it were very sad. When Mori sees Mor’s ghost, for instance.
The end did not explain all the questions I wanted answers to, like why Mori was so terrified of getting her ears pierced. When that happened, I thought the story was going go in the direction of Mori having psychosis and the magic being just her hallucinations.
And then there was the part when Mori makes a vow and signs it “Morganna” instead of “Morwenna,” and when she says that after Mor died, she took Mor’s name, though her family could tell. That confused the heck out of me. Does that mean Mori’s really Morwenna, but still pretending to be her dead sister? Or was Morwenna the twin that died, and Mori’s taken on her identity completely? Her father calls her Morwenna. The book flap calls the main character Morwenna. I like this theory about it, that Mori cast a retroactive spell to make it Mori who died. Though it is confusing.
Also, I kind of wish we learned more about why her mother was supposedly so evil that the twins had to stop her. I thought it was going to turn out that Mori’s mother wasn’t crazy, that Mori was, and that she’d been pretending her mother was a witch all along. And I would have liked to see more of the school librarian, Miss Carroll towards the end; she just kind of faded away.
Among Others was such a joy to read and I can tell I’m going to need to reread it understand it better. I love it when I find a book like this.
For the past five years or so I’ve been trying to read books by all the members of the Scribblies writers’ group, which includes Patricia C. Wrede and Pamela Dean, my two favorite authors. I am utterly fond of urban fantasy and read everything I can find on the subject. The current Scribblie I’m reading is Kara Dalkey.
I found this book in the mail Saturday morning from a PaperBackSwap member. She had told me that she loved Kara Dalkey’s books and that I should read her historical fiction books next. I sat on the couch, unwrapped Steel Rose and started reading. Despite two family birthday parties, five loads of laundry, and a trip to the house we’re trying to buy, I finished Steel Rose that evening.
It reminded me a lot of Emma Bull’s The War for the Oaks, which has been one of my absolute favorite books since I read it last year. In fact, it’s a complete role-reversal of The War for the Oaks, with the protagonist on the side of the Unseelie rather than the Seelie court. T.J. accidentally conjures up two Unseelie knockers while practicing for a performance art piece at a Pittsburgh park, who want her to help them overthrow the Queen of the Sidhe.
T.J. meets various Seelie and Unseelie characters roaming the streets of Pittsburgh and Under the Hill, including a lascivious Italian brownie, Luigi, folk legend Joe Magarac, a Ganconer hit man, and Queen Mab herself. It was a great fun, quick read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I loved the desecriptions of Pittsburgh and the local folklore that appeared in the book.
Some of the writing was a bit uneven. T.J. had issues both with her father dying and her mother’s pressure for her to grow up that were mentioned several times but never really wrapped up. T.J.’s superstitious grandmother was a great character that I had hoped would show up more towards the end.
I was very interested in the dynamics between the Sidhe and the Unseelie in Steel Rose. The Seelie court is depicted as Mother Earth-loving hippie types that protest pollution in Pittsburgh and want an end to the factories. The Unseelie court consists of average Joe blue-collars workers. The Unseelie are the instigatiots of this partiuclar turf war, claiming they want more respect from the Seelie court. They also want the steel mills to stay open. T.J. kind of waffles back and forth, wondering if she should really be on the Sidhe side, because she loves the earth, too, but the fact that her father was a steel mill worker keeps her loyalties to the Unseelie court firm. It was an unusual take on the Seelie/Unseelie court situation, and I really, really liked it.
I just wish that in the end, there was more of a resolution. The Unseelie are ready to die for their mills and the Seelie are ready to die for their plants and the only reason the fight is stopped is because T.J. makes them have a truce. But the truce doesn’t mean anything, because nothing is resolved and the war will only start again.
Still, it was great to read urban fantasy again and I’m keen to read more of Kara Dalkey’s writing.