Folklore and fantasy themes aimed at creative writers: to start writing stories and challenge your brain with exciting ideas, dip into this kit-bag. Learn how fantasy worlds draw on real world history, mythology, and folklore. And there’s weekly news from the world of fantasy fiction too, plus fabulous creatures, studies on folk tales, nature fables and lots more mythical, magical fun.
This week I visit Oakley Court castle, where the Rocky Horror Picture Show was filmed. This leads me to think about how science fiction differs from fantasy fiction. I discuss the origins of science fiction, a genre that goes back further than you might think! I also discuss standing stone circles and introduce fantasy fiction fans to the remarkable similarities between aliens and faeries. And, anyway, what’s the official definition of a fairy? I congratulate Zen Cho, the author of “The True Queen” upon her recent win and and explore the tales of wandering knights and Mythopoeia. I also study the beast known as a Griffin and see how you might eat some Fat Hen.
I’m still buzzing, having just returned from my weekend at OAKLEY COURT CASTLE, in Windsor for the Rocky Horror Picnic organised by the fantastic Time Warp Official UK Rocky Horror Fan Club… as I’m sure you know the show is a tribute and send-up of various cult movies including Hammer Horrors (many of which were made in this castle) and B movie science fiction:
Flash Gordon (in his silver underwear) humanoid aliens in “The Day The Earth Stood Still) and Claude Rains in “The Invisible Man.”
Therefore, I thought this was a good time to discuss how Science Fiction compares with the Fantasy Fiction genre of speculative fiction…
The first Science Fiction novel was titled : A True Story by the Greek-speaking author of Assyrian descent named LUCIAN OF SAMOSATA
Lucian wrote it in tongue-in-cheek style, to ridicule the superstition, religious practices, and beliefs in the paranormal that were held then… and still are.
In his novel he covered topics such as: encounters with aliens, travel to outer space, interplanetary warfare and the colonization of planets. He also expounded the idea of crossing the Atlantic to colonize new worlds… This was 1400 years before Columbus. Yes, it seems amazing, but the novel was probably written in year 160 A.D.
Although others, including the ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes could boast they wrote futuristic works before Lucian and Aristophanes produced several works that included SCI-FI elements such as air travel to other worlds… nobody before LUCIAN had created such convincing science.
As well as jinns,mermaids, talking serpents, talking trees, and other forms of life, some stories within One Thousand and One Nights ( the Arabian Nights, 8th-10th century) included SCI Fi elements.
And Shakespeare’s The Tempest included a “mad scientist” character … which was an idea taken-up and expanded upon by Mary Shelley in her Frankenstein, 1818. The Curse of Frankenstein by Hammer Films was made in 1957.
English writer Herbert George Wells (H G WELLS) lived in Woking, Surrey near me (and Oakley Court Castle… did he ever visit? ) — in 1895 — with one of his students, named Amy Catherine Robbins. While in Surrey, he planned and wrote The War of the Worlds (hinted-at in the Rocky Horror Show) and also The Time Machine, and he completed The Island of Doctor Moreau.
WELLS is often called the “Father of Science Fiction.” He wrote “The Invisible Man” in 1897.
One of WELLS greatest contributions to the science fiction genre was his insistence that the story should be as credible as possible, even if both writer and reader knew certain elements are infeasible… this allows the reader to accept ideas and open minds, this today is known as creating “the plausible impossible” So, while neither invisibility nor time travel were new in speculative fiction, Wells added a sense of realism to these concepts which readers found fascinating.
As a visionary author WELLS foresaw : the advent of aircraft, tanks, space travel, nuclear weapons, satellite television and something resembling the World Wide Web. As an author, what have you foreseen? How do you strive to add plausible realism to your fantasy works? Please tweet, I’d love to know…
The Stone Circle of Staines
An Elva Plain Stone Circle lies on the southern slope of Elva Hill. From the hill, the east is dominated by Skiddaw, and seen across the Bassenthwaite Lake. Situated on a level terrace on the Lake District hillside are 15 stones – the tallest is under one metre and they form an almost perfect circle about 40 metres in diameter. Only 15 stones of the original 30 remain.
Elva Hill is known as a fairy hill and the name may well derive from an old Viking name meaning place of the elves.
The site probably dates from late neolithic times, and has been linked with the trade in neolithic axes. The route was from the factory sites in the central fells through Borrowdale.
Although little is known about the NINGEN STONES, here in Staines, it’s thought we once had our own circular alignment of standing stones on the Southside of the River by the ancient port of Hythe. Curiously, we also have an historic “London Stone” in Staines which marked the western boundary of rule from the City of London. There are other interesting “corporation” marks too. But the Nine Stones perhaps formed a circle and are mentioned in Chronicles from Chertsey Abbey (founded 666) so it seems the Stones were still standing after the Roman occupation of the town. It’s not known when the Stones came down (the Abbey was dissolved by Henry 8th in 1537) but it’s thought they might have been used to create foundations for the Staines bridge circa 1228. But that’s just a guess.
Late neolithic standing stones are common in Northern Europe and the British Isles. There are approximately 1,300 stone circles in Britain and Ireland. The Carnac Stones in France, which I’ve visited, are thought to be among the oldest in the world, and are estimated to have been built around 4500 BC (that’s long before druids.)
Near me are the Rollright Stones (also Rollendrith) of Long Compton, near Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire. The folklore of the area has long suggested that a king and his knights were turned to stone by a witch (possibly Old Mother Shipton aka Ursula Soothtell… she’s the witch who, according to Samuel Pepys, predicted the Great Fire of London.) Legend holds that as the church clock strikes midnight, the King Stone comes alive and, with the knights, they re-animate of on certain saints’ days. Many modern-day Many Pagans believe that the stones harness “energies” and seek to meditate at the site. And Alfred Watkins suggested that the Rollright Stones were part of a long ley line.
Many theories have been advance to explain their use, but no theories adequately explain why folk took such considerable communal effort … quarrying, transportation, digging trenches, laying foundations and final construction. By the way, Henges are slightly different to standing stone circles , though they often share characteristics (see Avebury.) A henge is normally defined as a circular earthwork. The emphasis is on Earth. It’s thought the word henge is a backformation from Stonehenge, and Stonehenge is not a true henge.
Europe is not the only place to find standing stones: Ancient stone circles are found throughout the Horn of Africa. Booco in northeastern Somalia contains a number stone circles. And in the Ethiopian and Eritrean highlands, megalithic circles can also be found.
Since the effort required to plan and build such huge undertaking has been seen as “superhuman” most of these ancient circles have fables or fairy tales attached to them. One of the common myths is that the circles are enchanted. Are they connected with Fairy Rings? The mystery of these stones still attracts inventive storytelling. For example, New Age enthusiasts have maintained that the standing circles are UFO landing pads
When asked whether a fairy and an alien could be the same thing, the Fairy Investigation Society at http://www.fairyist.com reminded readers of the following:
I) Fairies and aliens are both described as non-human humanoids: sometimes with pointy ears.
II) Fairies and aliens are often associated with bright lights.
III) Fairies and aliens need humanity for reasons that are not clear (in either case) which is why they constantly interact with homo sapiens.
IV) Fairies and aliens both kidnap humans.
V) Fairies and aliens are unpredictable in their behavior, in ways that are neither entirely good nor entirely bad
The longer OED defines a fairy as : ‘one of a class of supernatural beings [diminutive in size] and in popular belief is supposed to possess magical powers and to have great influence for good or evil over the affairs of man.’ Though fairyist clarify this definition by adding that fairies are, essentially, “living supernatural humanoids”
Living – they’re not ghosts
Supernatural – mystical, miraculous,
Humanoids – they’re not dragon-shaped or unicorns. So, a mermaid might be the approximation of a fairy and a naiads (see episode 3 of Myth and Magic ) almost certainly.
Fantasy Fiction News 28AUG – Zen Cho
A work by a Malaysian author has won a Hugo Award, widely considered to be the premier award for science fiction. If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again, by Zen Cho, received the Hugo Award for Best Novelette at a ceremony during the 77th World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) in Dublin, Ireland, on Aug 18
According to Cho, the story was written after she had struggled with a very challenging writing project that had left her feeling like a failure.
She told the Star: “It’s about how life is about more than success and failure, but also how it’s important that you don’t give up on the things you really want…”
Born and raised in Selangor, Cho, 33, is currently based in Britain, where she works as a lawyer.
She is the author of two novels, Sorcerer To The Crown (2015) and its sequel, The True Queen (2019). She also edited the anthology Cyberpunk Malaysia (2015).
The Hugo Awards are a set of literary awards voted on by members of the current World Science Fiction Convention and presented annually by the World Science Fiction Society for the best science fiction or fantasy works of the previous year.
First awarded in 1953, they are named after Hugo Gernsback, the founder of the pioneering science fiction magazine Amazing Stories.
Cho’s Hugo Award-winning story is about an imugi (a Korean dragon) who wishes to ascend to dragonhood.
The British educational writer William Edward Hickson is credited with popularizing the proverb:
‘Tis a lesson you should heed:
Try, try, try again.
If at first you don’t succeed,
Try, try, try again.
Although it’s often attributed to King Robert, the Bruce, who his in a cave after the Battle of Methven [ 1305] and observed a spider spinning a web yet failing time and time again until finally succeeding. The story is, of course, linked to the maxim: if at first you don’t succeed, try try try again, though it has never been suggested that Robert the Bruce ever said those words. It’s thought the entire account might in fact be a version of a literary trope, probably invented by y Sir Walter Scott and shares similarities with the story of Tamerlane and the ant
Check the author: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Zen-Cho/e/B0087QJ6OA
The KNIGHT ERRANT is a figure of medieval chivalric romance literature.
The WANDERING KNIGHT is a character who breaks free from his world and (perhaps humble or magnificently grand) origins, to right wrongs and to assert his own chivalric ideals.
Because he is motivated by idealism his goals are often illusory.
The template for Knight Errant fiction are the heroes of King Arthur’s Round Table who wandered the realm in search of the Holy Grail.
Cervantes brilliantly caricatured these knights in his 1605 novel Don Quixote
A knight-errant typically performs his deeds in the name of a lady, so at the heart of the tales is Romance. The love is often forbidden or secretive.
They often find themselves facing almost impossible foes, such as dragons, lions, giants and enchantresses.
Fantasy Writers Definitions – Mythopoeia
Narnia, Middle Earth, Westeros and Blake’s Albion all share the same approach : a determination by the author to create a substantial new world [world building] with its own mythology that is distinctive and, perhaps, varies from “real world” mythology.
Mythopoeia aims at imitating and including real-world mythology, and is often designed to to bring mythology to mainstream audiences…
Mythopoeia literally means “myth-making” and has been used since ancient Greek writers used the notion as a device. It was popularized by Tolkien in his poetic book: Tree and Leaf.
It incorporates the essay “On fairy-stories” , originally meant for a lecture, where Tolkien defends the right of writers to create beautiful stories with little or no apparent connection to “The real world”.
Works of mythopoeia are often categorized as fantasy or science fiction but they fill a niche for mythology in the modern world,
“Circe” is a good example. This feminist re-telling of “The Odyssey” given from the perspective of a minor character [Circe, who is the daughter of Helios and a naiad] conveys the essential nature of Greek mythology without taking anything away, but, rather, adding complexity and depth to create what can certainly be described as a “believable” mythological universe.
Harry Potter book series also live exist within a mythopoetic universe and many of Neil Gaiman’s novels, but especially Neverwhere and American Gods function in a similar way.
Phillip Pullman created an alternative Judeo-Christian mythology in His Dark Materials.
And, of course, the best example of Mythopoeia comes from the movies: with Star Wars as a fine example of modern myth-making. George Lucas once said, “I consciously set about to re-create myths and the classic mythological motifs [in Star Wars.]”
Fabulous Creature of the Week – Griffin
The gables and pinnacles at OAKLEY COURT are surmounted by heraldic beasts. Most of these creatures resemble MEERCATS (though I’m sure they’re not ha ha ) But some might be talbots (hunting dogs) otters, thylacines, and griffins. But WHAT’S A GRIFFIN?
Griffins have the back legs of a lion; the head and wings of an eagle; and sometimes they have talons as front feet . In heraldry, they are most often used a symbol of divine power.
Grypos (in Greek) means “hooked” so it’s thought the name comes from that root word (an eagles head has a curved beak.)
Griffins first started appearing in Ancient Iranian and Ancient Egyptian art in about 3000 BC and although griffins were popular in Persian and Egyptian cultures, they were also depicted in the Throne Room at the Bronze Age Palace of Knossos in (now) CRETE. That’s circa 1,100 BC.
The etiological ( origin myth – see Episode 2 of Myth and Magic) that might explain the origins of this magical beast are the fossil remains of “beaked” prehistoric creatures including, perhaps, Protoceratops [see below.] They might also be based upon sightings of the griffon vulture, in flight. The Eurasian griffon vulture is one of the largest of the “old world” scavenger birds and has been known to feed on animals as large as a red deer.
In legend, griffins mated for life. If either partner died, the other would continue their life alone. This made the griffin an emblem of the church’s opposition to re-marriage.
A hippogriff is supposedly the offspring of a griffin and a mare
In heraldic shields, the griffin is used to denote strength, military courage and leadership…
Perhaps that’s why Dumbledore has a griffin-shaped knocker???
By the way, Gryffindor means golden griffon
The English fairy tale “ Jack the Giant Killer” (compiled around 1711) and set during the reign of King Arthur includes reference to a griffin. If you see a Griffin around your town, or while you’re on vacation, send me your photo!
Wildflower of the Week – Fat Hen
Common names include Lamb’s Quarters, Bacon Weed, Dirty Dick, Goose Foot, and FAT-HEN
These days its seen growing on disturbed, nutrient-rich soils in places like waste ground and rubbish tips. It’s the commonest English “Goosefoot”
Chenopodium is extensively cultivated and consumed in Northern India as a food crop
The leaves and shoots are eaten like spinach (it’s from the spinach family) and the seeds are high in protein, vitamin A, calcium, phosphorus, and potassium.
Napoleon Bonaparte relied on the seeds to feed troops during hard-times.
Archaeologists have found carbonized plant remains at archaeological Iron Age, Viking Age, and Roman sites in Europe and some Stone Circles… as far back as 2,400 ago, suggesting this plant was eaten by hunter-gatherers as well as cultivated as a crop after the Neolithic Revolution.
The wild-flower names (lambs, pigs, geese, hens) suggest this plant was also used extensively as livestock fodder.
Tollund Man is a naturally mummified corpse of a man who lived during the 4th century BC, during the period characterized in Scandinavia as the Pre-Roman Iron Age.
He was found in 1950 on the Jutland peninsula, in Denmark.
British author Margaret Drabble employed the image and study of the Tollund Man symbollically in her 1989 novel: A Natural Curiosity.
In the second stanza of The Tollund Man by [shay-mus] Seamus Heaney, the poet mentions the last meal of the human sacrifice:
“In the flat country near by
Where they dug him out,
His last gruel of winter seeds
Caked in his stomach…”
His last meal was likely to have been FAT HEN
Julie released her novel “A Fool’s Journey” in May.
She says it’s a “magical fairytale for grown ups” and the tale follows gallant a young man ( a character based on “The Fool” from the tarot deck) who begins a journey filled with mystery and discovery As he moves between characters, he wonders if they truly do have his best interests at heart…
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