Nearly Midsummer, and life around the Kinrowan Estate offices has started getting a little weird. Oh, all right, a little weirder. I’m reporting in from the Estate building on a beautiful warm day. I’ve been noticing that the young plants in the gardens and window boxes have started hitting their stride and the baskets outside the doors are approaching full speed on the floral display. But there’s other stuff going on. The Midsummer Solstice is our namesake’s time, sure, mischievous nature and all, but this is ridiculous.
Things have been going missing a little more often; one puts something down and it disappears — a week later, one finds it in a totally different room than the room from which it went missing. Poltergeists? The early onset of senile dementia? One of The Cats has developed opposable thumbs? Hmmmm.
Inanimate objects — computers, sound equipment, bicycles, you name it — have started developing what might be called personalities, or perhaps a migration path. Surely that computer desktop was different yesterday when you put it to sleep, but you can’t quite think how. One of Reynard’s taps has gotten cranky (okay, so that’s not all that unusual, but throw it in anyway) down in the Green Man Pub, and the musicians in the Neverending Session have recently started complaining of strings that won’t stay in tune, cracks in previously entirely stable reeds (all right, pipers’ complaints can’t be called unusual either), and rosin going missing.
And don’t get me started on the kitchen staff complaints.
Significantly, there’ve been some magnificent displays put on by lightning bugs in the gardens the last few evenings, and the cats have been very alert indeed.
I suppose you could make a case for overflow of life-force, or biorhythms going off kilter, or just that the midsummer energy has gotten into us all (and the building). But I’m plumping for a slight rash of fairies.
Mind you, not the tall, Seelie noble-looking fairy or elf of literary and celluloid fame, but the average, household, put-the-milk-out-in-a-saucer-so-we-don’t-end-up-cursed-Mildred kind of fairy, common as measles.
I can’t be the only one who has suspicions. The woman on the flower and herb cart at the corner out front is completely out of St. John’s Wort, rue, forget-me-not, rowan, and rosemary, and someone has risked the wrath of old Augustus, our concertina-playing gardener, by taking clippings off the young morning glory vines on the brick wall outside the kitchen garden. I even noticed a new horseshoe hanging up over the door of Gus’s shed near the old stables the other day; I expect not so much for its luck, but for its iron.
And now I’m wondering if it wasn’t Gus who’s been cleaning up the twigs under the rowan copse on the east side of the grounds.
Mind, one wouldn’t want to rid oneself totally of fairies. Besides the fact that they can be just as capriciously generous and benign as they can be suddenly irritable and malign, there’s the wonder factor; life without them might be a bit too grey and predictable. Anyway, when odds and sods go missing, they make excellent scapegoats.
Mackenzie’s off in Stockholm with his wife, Catherine, to check out residencies for the Several Annies interested in an immersion in all things Swedish so I’m doing the Sunday post which I’m writing up very late at night, as it was busier than expected in the Pub even for a Saturday evening. After my end of the week post on some things Irish, I decided to delve into the Archives to see what we had for worthwhile looks at this music…
First, let’s give you Geoff Wallis and Sue Wilson’s The Rough Guide to Irish Music, which our dear Jack thinks is flawed but which I think does a superb job of hitting upon all aspects of recorded Irish trad and not so trad music.
For a listening guide to this music, I recommend the Rough Guide to Irish Music and the Rough Guide: Irish Music.
As I noted there, Breandan Breathnach‘s Folk Music and Dances of Ireland is a slim volume you can read over several pints of stout in the evening and gain a complete knowledge of this subject.
The rich traditions of County Connacht are the subject of Maire Nic Domhnaill Gairbhi’s A Traditional Music Journey 1600 – 2000: From Erris to Mullaghban, which looks at what she believes is an overlooked region.
Irish music owes much to The Chieftains, and John Glatt’s The Chieftains: The authorized biography is a damn fine look at this group. You ask what my favourite album by them is? That’d be Irish Heartbeat, their collaboration with Van Morrison.
Just as important to Irish music is Christy Moore, whose autobiography is titled One Voice: My Life in Song. It’ll keep you entertained for many, many an evening. I’m very fond of his ‘Faithful Departed’ and ‘Hiroshima Nagasaki Russian Roulette’.
I’d be remiss to overlook the influence of the Pogues in taking Irish music and kicking it in its fucking ass. For the best look at them, I recommend reading Jeffrey T. Roesgen’s Rum, Sodomy & The Lash which looks at what is one of their best albums.
Just as essential to Irish music is Mike Scott and the Waterboys. Read Waterboys: A Journey Beneath the Skin to see why.
Diana Boullier’s Exploring Irish Music and Dance is a guide for teachers imparting the traditions of Irish music and dance to children. It’s also worth reading if you’d like a great primer on the subject.
Erin Hart’s Haunted Ground is a mystery set in the West of Ireland and it has, not surprisingly, some great seisiun scenes.
Erin Hart being American, it’s apt that I look next at Mick Moloney’s Far from the Shamrock Shore: The Story of Irish-American Immigration through Song, as much of the Irish music experience has been changed by the waves of immigration into America.
Pair that work with Nuala O’Connor’s Bringing It All Back Home: The Influence of Irish Music at Home and Abroad, which is the work written as a companion to a BBC series. There’s also an excellent CD.
If you must read just one book, it’s the one I’m ending with for recommendations: Ciaran Carson’s Last Night’s Fun: In and Out of Time with Irish Music, if only for the chapter on the importance of a full fry-up the morning after playing an all night seisiun!
A bit of Irish music to finish off this post in a proper manner, to wit Skara Brae’s ‘Bánchnoic Éireann Ó ‘ off their unreleased reunion concert. Quite superb, isn’t it?
I’ll be back next Sunday with a look at my favourite Irish trad and not so trad bands.
Gwyneth Jones, winner of the Arthur C. Clarke award in 2001 for her novel, Bold As Love, says, ‘Here’s my list, the books of ’03 for me. Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel trilogy — Kushiel’s Dart, Kushiel’s Chosen, and Kushiel’s Avatar (Tor). I read the third one first and the second one last, which I don’t exactly recommend, but it proves how keen I was. Alternate-Mediaeval Erotic fantasy, well over the top in many ways, highly enjoyable and a great page-turner. Lian Hearn’s Across The Nightingale Floor, and Grass For His Pillow, (Bloomsbury) Young Adult romance, intrigue and adventure set in a fantasy version of sixteenth century Japan. Gripping: can’t wait for volume three.
Falling Angels, Tracy Chevalier (Plume). Straight historical novel, about the Victorian Way of Death, and suffragettes. Yes, it’s a bit farfetched in places but the quality of the writing is outstanding; I now want to get hold of everything Tracy Chevalier has ever written (starting with the huge bestseller Girl With A Pearl Earring). Then, the best of the science books. They’re neither of them published in ’03, but The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (Oxford Press), by Charles Darwin, is absolutely fascinating, still perceptive today, and full of anecdotes and human touches. Vision and Art: The Biology of Seeing, by Margaret Livingstone (Abrams,) is both riveting popular science and such a beautiful book, full of great images. Happy Holidays — G’
I’m playing recorded music this afternoon as the Neverending Session took advantage of this warm May day to decamp to the Courtyard to play among the gathering of punters who are enjoying the weather too. Yes, that’s Drive the Cold Winter Away by The Horslips, a group which most folks don’t realize did some rather superb trad music. And yes, I know an Englishman by the name of John Playford composed that piece but it’s been adopted by Irish musos as if one of their own was responsible for it!
The Mountain of the Women: Memoirs of an Irish Troubadour is the autobiography of Liam Clancy, the youngest member of the Irish folk music group, The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. If you’ve any interest in Irish music, you need to read this.
A crack Irish album from a Breton native? Alan Stivell‘s Brian Boru proves you don’t have to be Irish to make a great Irish album! Of course, Irish music flows from Irish culture and history so reading R.F. Foster’s The Irish Story: Telling Tales and Making It Up in Ireland is an excellent work for you to read.
Next up is the Bothy Band, a most outstanding Irish band, and I will lead off with ‘Old Hag You Have Killed Me’ from their appearance at the Lisdoonvarna Folk Festival in the summer of 1976, as I think it’s one of their best tunes. I’ll follow that up with ‘Music in the Glen’ from their appearance at 1977 Sidmouth Folk Festival.
Speaking of old hag tunes, here’s a quote about them:
She looks like the wizened old crone in that painting Jilly did for Geordie when he got into this kick of learning fiddle tunes with the word ‘hag’ in the title: ‘the Hag in the Kiln,’ ‘Old Hag You Have Killed Me,’ ‘The Hag With the Money,’ and god knows how many more. Just like in the painting, she’s wizened and small and bent over and … dry. Like kindling, like the pages of an old book. Like she’s almost all used up. Hair thin, body thinner. but then you look into her eyes and they’re so alive it makes you feel a little dizzy.
It’s excerpted from Charles de Lint‘s ‘The Moon is Drowning While I Sleep’ story which is collected in Dreams Underfoot.
Likewise I suggest knowing William Butler Yeats better is a good idea as well. Start off with John Unterecker’s A Reader’s Guide to William Butler Yeats which gives you a well-rounded look at his verse; after that, Eily Kilgannon’s Myths and Magic of the Yeats Country which she says is about ‘The beautiful region of Ireland that includes Sligo and northwest Leitrim is rightly called the Yeats Country because it was the source of some of W. B. Yeats’ finest verse. He may have brought fame to it, but it gave poetry to him.’
Bring this conversation full circle is my last reading recommendation, to wit Breandan Breathnach‘s Folk Music and Dances of Ireland which is a slim volume you can read over several pints in the evening and gain a full knowledge of this subject.
Now some music to finish off. Hmmm, what to play? Ahhh, how about A Jig of Sorts by Nightnoise? Yes, that’ll do nicely!
Another stout for you?
Shadows Fall is set in Simon R. Green’s multiverse. All of Green’s fiction, and I mean all of it, from the Deathstalker space opera series to the new Secret Histories series, takes palace in the same multiverse. So characters from the Drinking Midnight Wine one-off novel show up in the Nightside series; a character here will in a few brief comments explain how key players who are Rodents of an Unusual Size in Drinking Midnight Wine came to be in that strange town; Giles Deathstalker will play a role in the Secret Histories series; and the importance of werewolf blood will show in the multiple stories. (Don’t ask — it’s literally a bloody story.) It’s obvious to me that Green has had a great deal of fun writing his complicated, intertwined stories over the past few decades. And Shadows Fall allows him to make very, very good use of all of the stories which have come before in Green’s sprawling universe.
We’ve reviewed this novel a long, long time ago so I’ll let Michael Jones who reviewed it tell you about it: ‘Shadows Fall is definitely one of Simon Green’s odder, more ambitious done-in-one books. Released a good fourteen years ago at this point, it’s an odd beast, reflecting an earlier style that defies easy description. Present are characters and organizations and concepts that will come back in later books, such as the Warriors of the Light and Bruin Bear, and the idea of overlapping genres; fantasy, science fiction, comic books, and children’s cartoons all mingle and interact in Shadows Fall, giving it an epic feel of anything goes. Also present are the bizarre ideas, catchy names, and evocative descriptions that can be found in just about any Simon Green book you care to name, from Lester Gold the Mystery Avenger, to Jack Fetch the silent (yet deadly) scarecrow. However, in a distinct change from the norm, Shadows Fall lacks the over-the-top uber-characters that populate his Nightside, Deathstalker, and other series. For all that Leonard Ash cannot die because he’s already dead, the Fae are scarier and nastier than anything alive, and James Hart wields unimaginable power, there’s a very strong sense of most characters as, well, human and vulnerable. And that’s not a bad thing at all. It’s oddly refreshing to see such normal characters, and ironic that they should exist in a town populated by faded legends and forgotten heroes.’
Shadows Fall is, along with , oone of the only two works of fiction set in his multiverse that are not part of a series. And until now, they were the only two works not produced as audioworks. Now Audible, one of my favorite sources for good things to listen to, in the guise of Audible Frontiers has produced both.
I hadn’t read this book in I’d guess five years, so I was ready for another encounter with it and I generally find that listening to a work I’ve read several times gives me a fresh perspective on it. Shadows Fall proved to be true to this belief.
Kevin Stillwell is the narrator here. His first credited acting job is on Star Trek: Voyager in 1997 where he played Moklor, a holographic Klingon in a program run by B’Elanna Torres in the Day of Honor episode, so he has proper sf credits to his name as in addition, done Steven Brust’s The Phoenix Guards and the Viscount of Adrilankha series, and Fritz Leiber’s The Ghost Light (a novel I’ve never heard of to my surprise), to name but a few of the genre works he’s narrated.
So how does he do here? Quite magnificently. Audioworks always make me listen to everything in a way that reading never quite does. I was catching details here that I overlooked when reading the novels, including references to the rest of the multiverse that I missed when reading it. Certainly that is due in large part to Stillwell nicely voicing each character, and there’s myriad characters here!, in a manner that catches the essence of that character.
I particularly like the dry, flat voice given to Leonard Ash, the walking dead man, and the fussy Victorian feel to Father Time. Oh and the Sea Goat sounds like the drunken, offensive being that he certainly is. None of which will make any sense to you until you listen to Shadows Fall which you certainly should!
Go here to order this superb work of fantasy. And science fiction. And horror…
Imagine an old forest witch, a crone with a cackle and gnarled hands. Well Justina did one of those when she was here the first time. Alas the Troll proved more elusive in design. Much more elusive. And of course, this troll was not the vision of just Justina, the potter, but instead was created on a collective basis.
There aren’t many descriptions of them in Old Norse and what exist are more intent on describing their personality as in the Prose Edda: ‘Troll kalla mik trungl sjǫtrungnis, auðsug jǫtuns, élsólar bǫl, vilsinn vǫlu, vǫrð nafjarðar, hvélsveg himins – hvat’s troll nema þat’ which roughly translates as ‘They call me a troll, moon of the earth-Hrungnir, wealth sucker of the giant, destroyer of the storm-sun, beloved follower of the seeress, guardian of the “nafjord”, swallower of the sun: What’s a troll if not that?’ Other Old Norse sources note they are magical creatures with special skills, but that doesn’t say if that was good or evil. In J. R. R. Tolkien’s universe, trolls are large humanoids of great strength and poor intellect.
What they found with the help of Iain, who called on what he calls L-Space to ask private estate librarians in Norway to dig deep into their archives for folk material not commonly accessed by folklorists, was that they are dark and slow of movement and covered with a tangle of foliage, like a forested mountain brought to life. Now this of course added a whole new level of complexity to this project as most trolls under the bridge projects use a smooth looking design with almost no fine work. Justina however noted this actually made the project easier as the leaves, moss and such would make hiding the seams easier.
The first step was what is called a one sixth scale model of the troll-to-be. Now keep in mind that no one expected Justina to work full-time on this so she danced a lot, gossiped in the Pub while listening to the Neverending Session, spent hours reading in the Library, taught the Several Annies (and anyone else interested) basic and advanced pottery, and indeed, as I noted she did the first time, had a torrid romantic encounter, this time with one of the Several Annies.
That model went through, I think, at least a dozen iterations before it was considered right by just about everyone present here this Winter. It was indeed leafy, mossy, and similar to what one of Tolkien’s Ents might have looked like if it was far more stocky and a great deal shorter. (One of the models now lives in a museum in the home city of the Norwegian Several Annie who got the project going; Justine took one with her; and four got sold by us on behalf of her.) And so the project stood until after Candlemas as we agreed no one should would work on it during the Winter Holidays.
And that’s where I’ll the tale for now, as Chasing Fireflies, the contradance band that I’m calling for this coming weekend, wants to go over the list of dances they’re considering. Gossip has it that they’ve been intensely interested with the dances of John Garden, the Australian composer and Jane Austen scholar, so it’ll be interesting to see what they’ve come up with!
OK, a little bit about myths. Perhaps not so strangely, we have a fair number of works on the mythology of various peoples. Equally unsurprising is the number of these works devoted to the myths and folklore of the British Isles.
For example, take W. Y. Evans-Wentz’ The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries. Although somewhat dated, it says here, it does pull together a lot of folklore from the Celtic lands.
And as long as we’re going all Celtic, let’s take a look at some of the Irish myths and folktales as related in Mary McGarry’s Great Folk Tales of Old Ireland. You’re never going to understand the Irish until you know their stories, we’re told.
Of course, no discussion of Irish myth and folklore would be complete without William Butler Yeats — or maybe not. See what you think after you read our comments on his Mythologies.
Let’s take a slight detour for a look at a story filtered through the great Welsh cycle, The Mabinogion, namely Louise Lawrence’s The Earth Witch. It’s about a boy.
Broadening our scope a bit, we have a short commentary on Jane Yolen’s collection, Favorite Folktales from Around the World, which is just what it says it is.
And finally, an attempt to fill the shoes of the late Joseph W. Campbell — J. F. Beirlein’s Parallel Myths. Is it successful? Read the review.
There’s lots more in the bin (someone’s been at the Archives again), so we’ll be back soon.
There are everything from ashrays (sea ghosts) to wulvers, a sort of werewolf but, alas, no trolls in Scotland. There is however now a splendidly ugly and rather large troll under the bridge over the river below the Mill Pond. How it got there is a story worth knowing which is why I’m telling you in this letter.
Several years ago, we had a potter in residence here, Justina, for an entire winter, during which she built a most magnificent kiln of a rather frightening size as she was interested in creating life sized men, women, and other creatures. Most are now in museums and private collections around the world but we kept several including the one of Robert Graves that lives in the Reading Room named after him. More than one visitor has been startled by it late at night while doing research as it seems to shift location by itself when they’re not looking. Or someone has an odd sense of what’s funny. It’s very fast, and quite strong!
But nothing she did was on the scale of what was contemplated by the Several Annie from Norway that decided the area under the Mill Pond bridge needed a troll. A full-sized troll to be precise, which meant it had to be created in sections given it would be fourteen feet tall and ten feet across its shoulders. So I had the Steward contact Justina and ask her if she’d like to be here for an extended winter contract. Not surprisingly, she was delighted.
She arrived in late October and set up a studio in the cottage she used years back. The Troll Under the Bridge project she figured would take ’till Candlemas at least. (I think she was looking forward to a long winter of conversations, music, contradances, good food, and reading.) Though she could’ve lived in the cottage, she asked if she could have one of the third floor rooms and the Steward agreed with a note of amusement in his voice. Did I mention she had an affair with one of the musicians the year she spent here?
Iain lost his entire current crop of Several Annies for an entire fortnight while they met with Justina to brainstorm this project. We had the clay needed on the Estate but a considerable amount of other supplies were needed that caused the Steward to become a whiter shade of pale, as a fourteen foot troll is best constructed of solid weather proof pieces and that required an even bigger kiln. Justina’s stay would likely be through Beltaine, at least as she openly admitted that this was going to a trick project with likely several spectacular failures before she and her crew got it right as she has an idea for it that would nake it look truly living.
Ahhh that was a knock on the door… I see I’m needed in the apiary right now as the lads are moving the hives out to the gardens for the growing season and I need to check over their preparations. I’ll finish the story in the next letter.
With affection. Gus
PS: You’ll find the books on the history of ravens in our folklore you wanted enclosed with this letter. As always, Iain grumbled when I checked them out so please be careful with them!
The overarching premise in the All Souls trilogy is that there are four intelligent and separate species on Earth: Humans, Demons, and Witches are warm-bloods, Vampires are cold-bloods. Humans and Witches reproduce by the usual way, Demons appear to be the equivalent of the mythical Fey children who are placed in the cribs of Humans in English folklore in our world, and Vampires, well you know how they are created.
At the heart of this trilogy, which started off with A Discovery of Witches, are Diana Bishop, a Witch whose parents were murdered when she was young, and Matthew de Clairmont, a geneticist with a passion for Darwin who is a fifteen-hundred-year-old Vampire. Now, keep in mind that there is a very ancient concordance that prohibits on pain of death any romantic relationship among the species in order to keep Humans from getting restless. Or at least that’s the story told.
At the end of A Discovery of Witches, Diana and Matthew are on the run from, well, just about everyone, save their families. So Matthew comes up with a clever solution: make use of Diana’s time-walking abilities as a Witch. So they walk back in time to 1590, landing first near Oxford before moving on to the de Clairmont estate in war-torn France.
The story really gets going when they settle into Elizabethan London, a world torn asunder by religion and sorcery. We also meet Matthew’s old friends, including Christopher Marlowe and Walter Raleigh, and two characters named Gallowglass and Hamish. (Marlowe and Raleigh are part of the secretive School of Night.) Their mission in Elizabethan London is to locate an agreeable Witch to assist Diana in controlling her erratic but powerful talents, and to locate the much sought after Ashmole 782.
The real joy in hearing Shadow of Night is that Harkness has brought to vibrant life what London felt like in the age of Elizabeth the First in all its terrible beauty and overwhelming squalor, from the street markets to the houses of the powerful families who ruled society there. Interestingly, food and wine were the manner in which the setting was evoked, although food and wine are less important than historical features and characters are in this book. Harkness, like all writers, is less interested in the historical reality than she is in fleshing them out as characters, as you’ll discover with, say, Marlowe.
It’s a lovely, tale provided you’ve listened to the first book in the trilogy, and I’ll assume you have or you wouldn’t be reading these words. Jennifer Ikeda once again does a superb job of giving voice to each character here from the major characters down to minor ones that you would never notice if you passed them in the street in Elizabethan London.
And no, I won’t tell anymore about the story, as you don’t want me to do so! Suffice it to say that I’m very much looking forward to hearing the yet-to-be-released final novel, which apparently is still being written, to see how she wraps this fascinating story up, as true trilogies are rare indeed.