“We”re all misfits here,” he says, almost proudly. “That’s why I started this squat, after all. For people like us, who don’t fit in anywhere else. Halfies and homos and hopeless romantics, the outcast and outrageous and terminally weird. That’s where art comes from, Jimmy, my friend. From our weirdnesses and our differences, from our manic fixations, our obsessions, our passions. From all those wild and wacky things that make each of us unique.” — Holly Black and Terri Windling in their ‘Welcome to Bordertown’ novella in the Welcome to Bordertown anthology.
Hear that piper playing off in the distance toward the edge of the Wild Wood? Whoever it is is a damn fine piper and has apparently come this time of year for decades now. No one can say with any certainty who it is, though many of us have our suspicions based on the style of their playing and their choice of tunes, which lean heavily towards Northumbrian tunes such as those composed by Billy Pigg and Kathryn Tickell.
The Library, all six levels of it (or is it seven? It keeps changing), is getting a once-in-a-decade thorough cleaning and painting from the wee House brownies and the more-or-less human staff. So that’s why I’m outside this morning listening to that piper. Gus and Reynard insist it’s a green man, one that they’ve met and played with several times. Might be, might not be.
So let’s take a look at this edition…
Cat has a fondness for Jane Yolen. One of her collections, Once Upon A Time (she said), warrants his opinion of her as one of the truly great writers of short fiction. As he says in his review: ‘We here at Green Man get more fiction for review than really bears thinking about. Some of it is very good, some of it is serviceable if somewhat uninspiring, and a lot of it is just plain awful. I personally always look forward to a book by Yolen coming in as I have a fondness for Jane Yolen, both as a writer and as a really cool person.’
Jane Yolen, Shulamith Oppenheim and Stefan Czernecki’s The Sea King is also appreciated by Grey: ‘This lovely folk tale has many old friends in it: Vasilisa the Wise, a beautiful princess who is also a bird; Baba Yaga the witch in her house that runs by itself on chicken legs; the King of the Sea in his underwater palace of crystal; and the innocently wise boy who finds his way because he’s generous and observant. And it has one of the most poignant story lines of all: the father who promises to sacrifice the first thing he sees when he returns home — only to find out that he’s just been borne a son.’
Marian looks at a trilogy by Jane Yolen that deserves to be a classic. First up is The Books of Great Alta, which is the compilation of Yolen’s two books in the series, Sister Light, Sister Dark and White Jenna. ‘It is the story of the women of Dale, who worship Great Alta the mother goddess,’ Marian says, and what happens to them for better or worse. If you’ve read these already, then do read Marian’s review of the final volume, The One-Armed Queen, but otherwise do not as it has major spoilers about what happens in the first two novels.
Robert notes that ‘unlike many of my colleagues here at Green Man Review, my experience with the work of Jane Yolen has been limited, although I’m happy to report that what experience I have had has been very positive. That, coupled with the fact that I’ve turned into a comics freak, made it inevitable that I would jump at the chance to take a peek at her new book, Foiled, a graphic novel about a teenager who is an expert swordsman — among other things.’
Popcorn Behaviour gives us a trio of contradance recordings, of which Naomi says ‘It is rather disconcerting at first to listen to this group. The music is impeccable and surpasses much of what I have heard in my life. This in itself is not all that remarkable. However, when you realize that the musicians are only 10, 13, and 14 years of age, it kind of makes you suck back and reload, if you know what I mean. These Vermont youngsters are all musical marvels who have been playing together for years! Actually, they are not so young now; that was their age at the time of the first recording six years ago. However, listening to it, I would never guess that it was a bunch of kids playing these great contradance tunes! There is a maturity to their playing that really is unbelievable, and totally enjoyable!’
Jay Ungar and Molly Mason’s Harvest Home: Music For All Seasons is to the liking of Brendan, who says, ‘With their 1999 release Harvest Home, they have given themselves a new challenge. Arranging a set of tunes from the broad variety of American rural music traditions, designed to celebrate the seasons and labor of farm life, they also decided to try their hand at incorporating these folk themes (both original and traditional) into an orchestral piece called “The Harvest Home Suite.” The result is a beautiful, surprising complex CD which showcases the many rural traditions of the United States while, just as Ungar and Mason hoped, giving all of these pieces a new energy.’
Gary says the Kathy Kallick Band provides us with a winner: ‘On Foxhounds Kallick is joined by Annie Staninec on fiddle, Tom Bekeny on mandolin, Greg Booth on Dobro and banjo, and Cary Black on bass. Everyone contributes to the vocals and the arrangements. There’s nothing on this album but 14 tracks of rock-solid acoustic country music, from old-time to bluegrass to contemporary folk to some tasty covers.’
Don’t Roost Too High is from Red Mountain White Trash, which Gary says ‘is a traditional band with a decidedly untraditional name. But don’t let the moniker put you off. This outfit plays old-time fiddle-based dance music with roots deep in the rich Southern soil.’ This was an early album from them and they’ve since their name to a more respectful Red Mountain.
We really like food and drink here, so it won’t surprise you that our staffers have strong convictions on what they like for ale as does Paul Brandon who has a Proustian moment when telling his tale: ‘I hold up an empty ghost glass for the long-passed Kentish Fremlins Bitter, which was a wonderful fruity, hoppy explosion of happiness best sampled in an English beer garden at 10 pm in midsummer, when the sun is going down, smoking and the bats are flitting after midges. Alas now just a memory. Wychwood’s organic Circle Master Golden Ale is just wonderful (and I’ve sourced some here in Brisbane, though at a kidney a bottle my quaffing options are becoming limited), and of course there’s Cider. Best bought from a rickety farmyard door somewhere in deepest, greenest Somerset. It comes in plastic containers that probably recently carried pink agricultural diesel, and upon first chug, one feels one’s left eye start to involuntarily twitch. Ah…’
Not every one here is fond of Tolkien and his fiction and Deborah Grabien explains why so: ‘I can’t stand Tolkien. Literally, allergic to his stuff. I read The Hobbit when I was a precocious 14-year-old at the behest of my much-older sister’s pompous university chums, and it was made clear to me that I was rooting for the wrong side: I’d have turfed the annoying wizard and told him to take his bloody destiny and stuff it somewhere. I adored the dragon and wept when they killed it. I wanted it to eat all those irritating dwarves. All the twenty something students blathering on about Herman Hesse and Robert Heinlein stared at me as if I’d just dropped in from Mars.
And the trilogy? Ugh. Worse. When I have to stop at page 60 and go back and see what species one of the characters is, there are too many damned species in there.
No Tolkien for me. He makes my teeth itch. That particular meeting is not one I attended.’
We started off with a piper today, so let’s finish with one. This is uilleann piper David Sproule performing Buaile Mhaodhog on the uillean pipes. Irish music being one of the roots that become old-time, bluegrass, contradance and other music loosely labeled Americana, it’s an appropriate music to take our leave of this edition.