A lot of the old folklore and fairy tales and myths are intensely dark, particularly once you get away from Victorian watered-down versions.
Terri Windling in our interview with her
Autumn for me arrives really when the middle of October arrives as my feelings towards it start their shift into accepting it will soon be noticibly colder here. And I’m very likely to pull a volume of the Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling edited folk tale based stories, say Snow White, Blood Red or Black Heart, Ivory Bones, from the shelf here in the Kinrowan Estate Library, and sit reading one of them by the fireplace in our quarters.
We’ve reviewed hundreds of books over the past thirty years after Windling and Datlow essentially created the modern fascination with folklore retold in fiction. Below you’ll see but a small selection of such anthologies and novels as I’ve asked the Editors to choose their favourite ones.
My pick is the ones set in Bordertown, a City on the Border of Faerie which can reached by walking towards the centre of any ruined city in our World. The latest anthology, Welcome to Bordertown as edited by Holly Black and Ellen Kushner, is a good place to start as it gives the reader enough background on that City to full appreciated what’s been created here.
Denise takes a look at a Young Adult story, Temping Fate. You may have thought that was a typographical error, but nope; in this YA novel, a young girl begins a very unique temp job. In fact, you could say that it’s otherworldly; she’s an assistant for The Fates, which opens up a door to all sorts of mythological…things. Denise found that “Friesner creates an interesting world where gods and goddesses require outside help in order to get their jobs done. Instead of sounding goofy or just too cute, this idea works, and the story takes off at a surprisingly brisk pace.” Who says YA is all dark and emo?
Welsh mythology in the guise of a well-loved novel gets looked at by me: ‘I must have first read Alan Garner’s The Owl Service some forty years ago when I was interested in all things concerning Welsh mythology. I wanted a hardcover first edition which cost a pretty penny at the time. I mention this because it’s now been at least twenty years since I last read this novel, which is long enough that when Naxos kindly sent the audiobook, I had pretty much forgotten the story beyond remembering that I was very impressed by the story Garner told.’
Speaking of Welsh mythology, Robert has a look at a fairly heavy-weight discussion of Welsh Mythology and Folklore in Popular Culture: ‘ The editors make some large claims for the influence of Welsh mythology and legends on modern popular culture in their introduction, “Re-Imagining Wales,” which does make one important point: the Wales of the Mabinogi, the central body of Welsh myth, is not the “real” Wales.’
And on a related topic, another scholarly anthology: ‘I would suggest that those looking for a full telling of the Arthurian cycle stick to Malory and his successors: The Arthur of the English is not about Arthur, it is about the creation of the Arthurian Cycle itself. It is the work of scholars of literature – all with substantial credentials – and, while its relation of cultural and social circumstances is fascinating to a student of the period, its focus is still critical, historical, and linguistic. . . .’
Oh, and about those anthologies from Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling: Robert has a particular fondness for Tricksters, and so The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales was right up his alley: ‘Trickster gods have long fascinated me, mostly because they are the most entertaining characters in mythology. They also represent the element of chance in the universe, and point as well to an underlying truth about our conception of godhood: Tricksters are the polar points on the continuum of “good” and “bad” — heroes and villains, buffoons and sages, creators and destroyers — and most points in between.’
Robert brings us a taste of an Organic Dark Chocolate Espresso that was not made in Italy: ‘In spite of the name, Vivani Organic Dark Chocolate Espresso is made by a German company, Ludwig Weinrich GmbH, which been in the business of producing fine chocolates for a century. Like so many contemporary confectioners, Weinrich uses only organic ingredients.’
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.’
Jack says of The White Horse Sessions by Nightnoise that ‘I spent years looking for this album after Reynard, a bandmate of mine in Mouse in the Cupboard, said it was an album that I should hear. (He heard it on some late-night Celtic radio programme, but couldn’t find a copy either! Nor could he remember who the DJ was.) But literally nowhere was there a copy to be had at any price or in any format. We both began to suspect that perhaps this was one of those fey albums that only existed across the Border, but a copy showed up in the post here a few months ago at Green Man with a scribbled unsigned note and a smudged postmark that might have said ‘Bordertown’ but I can’t be sure. It simply said that the sender had heard that I was looking for the White Horse Sessions, and here was a copy of the CD! Whoever you are, thank you!’
Gary reviews Richard Thompson’s second solo acoustic release of 2017, this one called Acoustic Rarities. This is not standard singer-songwriter fare, he says. ‘The song selection, the playing and the arrangements all highlight the diverse skills of Richard Thompson, a non-pareil entertainer of studio and stage.’
Saffron Ensemble adds touches of jazz to the music of Indian sitarist Shujaat Husain Khan and Iranian vocalist Katayoun Goudarzi. Will You is their second album, and Gary says, ‘The musicians seem to have really hit their groove. The Western players contribute beautiful colors to the pieces and a slightly different style of improvisation, but they all seem to play off of each other quite ably, which further enhances the moving experience of listening to Khan and Goudarzi.’
Christine Primose’s Gràdh is gonadh – Guth ag aithris (Love & Loss – a Lone Voice) was a difficult one for Lars to review: ‘This is a hard one to review. I usually listen for nice arrangements, how the instrumental backing fits to the song’s temper and the style of the singer. I am also very interested in good lyrics, clever lines and unusual rhymes. And here comes a CD where every single song is sung a capella, hence the part of the title that says”a Lone Voice” sung in a language where I do not understand a single, and I really mean not a single, word.’
This week’s What Not ushers in October with something spooky; a look at Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol, that famous/infamous theater in Paris that literally set the stage for the horror genre as now stand. (For better or worse.) The folks at Stuff You Missed In History Class did a fine podcast about this theater, so listen…if you dare!
Some of the Child Ballads which are three hundred and five traditional ballads from England and Scotland, and some of their American variants, as collected by Francis James Child during the second half of the 19th century are grim indeed.
Many of them made their way into the repertoire of groups such as the Old Blind Fogs, Clannad, Steeleye Span, Fairport Convention and Pentangle. Searching the Infinite Jukebox, our digital server of all things digital, I found Clannad (here is one of the myriad best off anthologies by them) doing ‘The Two Sisters’ (Child #10) more commonly known as ‘The Cruel Sister’. It was recorded in Koln, Germany sometime about forty years ago.