The Long Tale

Catskin by Arthur Rackham

"[W]e have, each of us, a story that is uniquely ours, a narrative arc that we can walk with purpose once we figure out what it is. It's the opposite to living our lives episodically, where each day is only tangentially connected to the next, where we are ourselves the only constants linking yesterday to tomorrow. There is nothing wrong with that, and I don't want to imply that there is ... just that it felt so suddenly, painfully right to think that I have tapped into my Long Tale, that I have set my feet on the path I want to walk the rest of my life, and that it is a path of stories and writing and that no matter how many oceans I cross or how transient I feel in any given place, I am still on my Tale's Road, because having tapped it, having found it, the following is inevitable. Not easy -- it will probably be hard, and may be steep and thorny or wet and muddy or beset by badgers, but to not follow it is inconceivable because it is mine."   - Amal El-Mohtar

Nattadon Hill 1

The quote above comes from "Tapping the Long Tale," a lovely piece Amal wrote in 2011, which I recommend reading in full.

I'm thinking today about all the places I have travelled through (literally and creatively) as I've followed my own Long Tale...and wondering where it will take me next....

Where will yours take you?

Nattadon Hill 2

Nattadon Hill 3The illustration above is by Arthur Rackham.


Secrets revealed....

Stories

At last, dear people, here is the little project I've been working on (in addition to my manuscript-in-progress, of course, which remains on-going).

You'll have noticed that Myth & Moor has a brand new look, as I hadn't updated the blog in years. I've also updated my author website, as that was getting pretty darn old too.

But what you'll find here is much more than that, as you'll discover if you follow the links on the right-hand side of the page. I've made a large number of essays and articles on myth, fairy tales, and mythic arts available here. Some come from the old Journal of Mythic Arts, others have never been online before -- presented with new art, recommended reading lists, and other resources. I want this work to be freely available to all readers interested in myth and mythic arts.

We've talked about "gift exchange" on this blog, and how certain stories and certain kinds of art pass as gifts through the generations. This is my gift to the mythic arts field: articles on these things we love, put out there for anyone who may be interested, or seeks information, or who simply needs to find them.

I remember being a young girl myself who needed to know about myth and fantasy -- back in the days before the internet, before easy access to fantasy books or fairy tale scholarship, before the mythic arts community existed, before I ever dreamed there could be such a thing.

This site full of articles, art, and other resources is for that young girl, and  every young person like her. But especially it's for you.  I hope it's useful. I hope it's enjoyable. I hope you will accept this gift from me ... and that it has been worth the wait.

Tilly by the stream


The walk off the cliff...

Faith by Jeanie Tomanek

I'm ready now to show you the Secret Something I've been working on -- which, I hasten to add, isn't a huge or elaborate Secret Something, but one I hope you will like nonethess.

Then I woke up this morning and suddenly realized that today is Black Wednesday: the day my adopted country walks off a cliff. Our unelected far-right-wing government has trigged Article 50, the legal beginning of our exit from Europe. I knew this day was coming, of course, but the amount of grief I'm feeling has stunned me nonetheless. My husband and daughter are losing their European citizenship, and we (along with so many millions of others) are losing the country we love.

Tomorrow I'll be back here with stories, art, mysteries revealed, and rambles through this beautiful place we call home. But today I must grieve for all we are losing, for the dark place where we are standing, and for all the ways that life is going to get even harder for those of us in the arts. I'll try to step into that darkness with faith, like the figure in Jeanie Tomanek's painting above. I'll strive to build ladders to help the most vulnerable among us, or at least hold my arms out to cushion their fall. I'll continue to work to build a better world through art, activism, community, and love.

But today, dear friends, I'm just devastated. Today is a day for grieving.

Endurance by Jeanie Tomanek

The paintings above are "Faith" and "Endurance" by Jeanie Tomanek; all rights reserved by the artist.


Tunes for a Monday Morning

A dog from a medieval bestiary

Above: A classic British folk song, " Whilst the Gamekeepers Lie Sleeping," performed by the great Chris Wood and Andy Cutting at the Southwell Festival. (I woke up with the first line of the song running through my head: Oh, I have a dog and a good dog too.... Tilly loves that part.)

Below, so the poachers don't get the last word:  "I Am the Fox," performed by Nancy Kerr (whose work I just love) and James Fagan (of the The James Brothers) at the Bath Folk Festival.

Above: Nancy Kerr and James Fagan again, performing their gorgeous song "Queen of Waters."

Below: "Seven Years," a beautiful tune by Andy Cutting, performed by Cutting with Martin Simpson and Nancy Kerr.

And one more: "Atheist Spiritual: Come Down Jehovah," written and performed by Chris Wood. I'm not an atheist myself (I'm an earthy old pagan), but this song speaks to me deeply nonetheless.

Dog in paradise


Retreating....

Woodland gate

Howard is up in London this week (teaching puppetry) and our house is remarkably quiet. So I'm using this opportunity to take a "Work Retreat" over the next few days, focused on getting my little Secret Project finished at last.

Woodland gate

The Secret Project has taken longer than I ever expected -- but then, it's just a side project, not my main job (which is a manuscript-in-progress), so I've been piecing it together in fits and starts, before and after my regular work day. I've turned into a Studio Hermit this month, with little time left for anything else -- so it's high time to get the SP done. (And the manuscript too. But that's a another story.)

Please wish me luck. Tilly and I will see you all again on Monday.

The Thorny Paradise

Hillside selfie


A morning coffee break in the woods, with good companions

Fairy Tales in the woods

Coffee and Angela Carter

Lesser celantine

The two Virago fairy tale books edited by Angela Carter are essential reading in the fairy tale field; as is Carter's reworking of the tales in her brilliant, influential story collection The Bloody Chamber -- the text (I'd argue) that sparked the "adult fairy tale literature" revival we've been enjoying for three decades now.

Little Red Riding Hood by G.P. Jacomb HoodCarter was younger than I am now when she died of lung cancer in 1992. She'd finished compiling the manuscript for her second Virago fairy tale collection, but illness prevented her from writing the introduction she'd planned. Only these short notes for it remain:

* 'Every story contains something useful,"
says Walter Benjamin

* the 'unperplexedness' of the story

* "No one dies so poor that he does not leave something behind," said Pascal

* fairy tales -- cunning and high spirits

"Fragmentary as they are," fairy tale historian Marina Warner points out, "these phrases convey the Carter philosophy. She was scathing about the contempt the 'educated' can show, when two-thirds of the literature of the world -- perhaps more -- has been created by the illiterate. She liked the common sense of folk tales, the straightforward aims of their protagonists, the simple moral distinctions, and the wily stratagems they suggest. They're tales of the underdog, about cunning and high spirits winning through in the end; they're practical and they're not high-flown. For a fantasist with wings, Angela kept her eyes on the ground, with reality firmly in her sights. She once remarked, 'A fairy tale is a story where one king goes to another king to borrow a cup of sugar.'

The Second Virago Book of Fairy Tales  edited by Angela Carter

"Feminist critics of the genre -- especially in the 1970s -- jibbed at the socially conventional 'happy endings' of so many stories (for example, 'When she grew up he married her and she became the tsarina'). But Angela knew about satisfaction; and at the same time she believed that the goal of fairy tales wasn't 'a conservative one, but a utopian one, indeed a form of heroic optimism -- as if to say: 'One day we might be happy, even if it won't last.'

"Her own heroic optimism never failed her -- like the spirited heroine of one of her tales, she was resourceful and brave and even funny during the illness which brought about her death. Few writers possess the best qualities of her work; she did in spades."

P1370717

Wild violets and nettles

In the same essay, Warner paints this wonderful portrait of Carter:

"She was a wise child herself, with a mobile face, a mouth which sometimes pursed with irony, and, behind the glasses, a wryness, at times a twinkle, at times a certain dreaminess; with her long silvery hair and ethereal delivery, she had something of the Faerie Queen about her, except that she was never wispy or fey. And Angela Carterthough the narcisissim of youth was one of the great themes in her early fiction, she was herself exceptionally un-narcissistic.

"Her voice was soft, with a storyteller's confidingness, and lively with humour; she spoke with a certain syncopation, as she stopped to think -- her thoughts made her a most exhilarating companion, a wonderful talker, who wore her learning and wide reading with lightness, who could express a mischievous insight or a tough judgement with scapel precision and produce new ideas by the dozens without effort, weaving allusion, quotation, parody and original invention, in a way that echoed her prose style. 'I've got a theory that...' she'd say, self-deprecatorily, and then would follow something no one else has thought of, some sally, some rich paradox that would encapsulate a trend, a moment."

I wish I'd known her.

Last month, Howard and I went to see Strange Worlds, the Angela Carter exhibition at the RWA in Bristol...and I'm afraid we found it rather disappointing. Here's what I can recommend, however: the new biography of Carter,  The Invention of Angela Carter, by Edmund Gordon; Angela Carter & the Fairy Tale (a special issue of Marvels & Tales), edited by Cristina Bacchilega; and Marina Warner's article "Why The Bloody Chamber Still Bites" (The Scotsman).

Along with Carter's splendid work itself.

The First Virago Book of Fairy TalesThe passage above by Marina Warner is from her introduction to The Second Virago Book of Fairy Tales (Virago Press, 1993). The Angela Carter quotes in the picture captions are from her introduction to the first Virago Book of Fairy Tales (Virago Press, 1991). All rights reserved by Dame Warner and the Carter estate. The Little Red Riding Hood illustration is by G.P. Jacomb Hood (1857-1929).


Lloyd Alexander on blessings in disguise and the value of fantasy

Hillside 1

Lloyd Alexander (1924-2007) was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, served in military intelligence during World War II, studied at the University of Paris after the war, then worked in advertising and journalism (as a cartoonist and layout artist) while launching his career as a novelist. He initially wrote books for adults, but when he finally found his way to children's literature, he had found his true home. Generations have now grown up with his Prydain Chronicles and other extraordinary novels, which are classics of the fantasy field.

"I have to smile, remembering myself as a very much younger man," Alexander recalled in his Newbery Award acceptance speech (for The High King in 1969). "I was still looking for a way to say -- whatever it was, if anything, I had to say.

"Although it didn't feel that way at the time, those years were a blessing, heavily disguised. Or, say, the kind of gift the enchantresses Orddu, Orwen, and Orgoch bestow on the unwitting recipient. Perhaps we have to serve an apprenticeship to life before we can serve one to art. We can't begin doing our best for children until we ourselves begin growing up.

Hillside 2

"I still can't say,  precisely what unreasonable reasons brought me to write for children -- beyond saying I simply wanted to. Even though I can't analyze what led me to children's literature, I do know what I found there. For me, a true form of art that not only helped me understand something of what I wanted to say but also let me discover ideas, attitudes, and feelings I never suspected were there in the first place....

Hillside 3

Hillside 4

"At heart, the issues raised in a work of fantasy are those we face in real life. In whatever guise -- our own daily nightmares of war, intolerance, inhumanity, or the struggles of an Assistant Pig-Keeper against the Lord of Death -- the problems are agonizingly familiar. And an openness to compassion, love, and mercy is as essential to us here and now as it is to any inhabitant of an imaginary kingdom."

Which confirms my belief that we need literature now, and especially fantasy literature, more than ever.

Hillside 5

Hillside 6

Hillside 7The text above is from Lloyd Alexander's acceptance speech for the Newbery Medal in 1969; all rights reserved by the author's estate.


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Caravan by Remedios Varo

Today, the music of Rebekka Karijord, which seems to echo the introspective mood I'm in as the week begins....

Karijord is a Norwegian singer/songwriter, sound technician, and composer for film & dance, based in Sweden. She has a new album out this year, Mother Tongue -- partially inspired by the traumatic arrival, three months early, of her first baby. It's darker than her early work, and very beautiful.

Above: "Home," a stunning song from the new album.

Below: "Wear it Like a Crown," an old favorite from her first album, The Art of Letting Go.

Above: "Paperboy," performed live in Paris -- a simple accoustic rendition, just harp and voice.

Below: "This Anarchistic Heart," performed live in Stockholm. The video ends a bit abruptly, but is well-filmed otherwise. I'd love to see Karijord in performance one day; I hear that her concerts are magical.

The art today is by Spanish painter Remedios Varo. I love her work, which partially inspired one of the characters in my desert novel, The Wood Wife. I recommend "The surrealist muses who roared" by Joanna Moorhead, a Guardian article about Varo and her best friend, English painter Leonora Carrington -- published back in 2010, before Carrington's death the following year. There's also a very good biography of Varo: Unexpected Journeys by Janet A. Kaplan.

The Flautist by Remedios Varo


Daily Myth

Ponies 1

Fridays are my day for re-visiting posts from the Myth & Moor archves. This one comes from March, 2014....

Animal encounters often come in clusters -- one month there are deer bounding constantly through the woods, another month brings several badger sightings in a row or the frog population exploding in the pond or hedgehogs appearing under every hedge and bush. In naturalist terms, this is easily explained by the seasonal cycles of animal life -- but in folkloric terms, the meeting of animals has deep mythic significance, for in traditional stories and sacred texts the world over animals are both themselves and more-than-themselves: creatures who negotiate the Mysteries, the elders and the teachers of humankind, messengers from the gods, the fates, the faeries, the nonhuman realms and the lands of the dead, speaking in the language of symbolism, metaphor, riddle, taradiddle, and dream.

Ponies 2

For Tilly and me (and indeed for many in Chagford), the month of March has been marked by encounters with wild ponies...for this is the season they come down to graze and give birth on the village Commons. We often see them sunning on the Commons, or climbing the slope of Nattadon Hill, walking the path in a single file as they come and go from the open moor.

Ponies 3

Tilly is fascinated by them, though knows she musn't bark or get underfoot. They're gentle with her and allow her to pass close...though this will change when the foals are born.

Ponies 4

Looking down on the valley from my studio windows, I can watch the herd as it drifts across the land -- stopping now in this field and now in that one, disappearing for days and then back again. As they roam across the moor and the lanes and fields nearby, Dartmoor's famous, much-loved ponies are iconic creatures of flux and flow, of duality and liminality -- not entirely wild, not entirely tamed.  They are spirits of edges, borders, interstices, and the faery paths betwixt and between. They are modern and archaic, common and uncanny, gentle and fierce. They are only ponies. They are so much more.

Ponies 5

In mythic symbolism world-wide, both horses and ponies represent the following things:

Physical strength, inner strength, vitality, appetite for life, the driving force that carries you forward, the driving force that overcomes obstacles, passion, movement, flow, self-expression, and that which makes you thrive. They are also symbols of vital life forces held in perfect, exquisite balance: love and devotion paired with freedom and mobility; the wild and instinctive supported by the disciplined and domestic; strength balanced with vulnerability, mastery with modesty, power with compassion.

Tilly

Movement. Flow. Vitality. That's just what I need -- what many of us need -- as winter slowly turns to spring. If winter was the time for staying still and dreaming deep, spring is when the sap rises and pushes us back up to the sun again; a time to open to new ideas, new possibilities, new creative directions. "May what I do flow from me like a river," said Rilke, "no forcing and no holding back, the way it is with children." The way it is with wild ponies too, as they flow across the Devon landscape.

Tilly and the ponies

And here's the other gift the ponies bring, and it's one I value equally:

In an age when Beauty is so often defined by the tall, the slim, and the ethereal, the ponies show me that there is also Beauty to be found in what is small, shaggy, sturdy, and built for endurance. Like me. And like so many of us. We are ourselves and more-than-ourselves; ordinary and extraordinary. It's good to be reminded.

Ponies 6

Ponies 7

Photographs above: Dartmoor ponies grazing on the Commons. The pony in the 4th & 5th picture was carrying a foal in her belly at the time; it was born on the Commons just a few days later. You can see a picture of the wee newborn here. Another lovely foal is here.

If you'd like a few more ponies today, try John O'Donohue's beautiful "Philosophy of Compassion," or "Entering the Realm of Myth."

The poem in the picture captions is from Above the River by James Wright  (Wesleyan University Press, 1990); all rights reserved by the author.


And the horses rush in

Stu Jenks


Before the birth, she moved and pushed inside her mother.
Her heart pounded quickly and we recognized the sound of horses running:

                                                                                     the thundering of hooves on the desert floor.

Her mother clenched her fists and gasped.
She moans ageless pain and pushes: This is it!

Chamisa slips out, glistening wet and takes her first breath.
                                                                                     The wind outside swirls small leaves
                                                                                     and branches in the dark.

Her father's eyes are wet with gratitude.
He prays and watches both mother and baby -- stunned.

This baby arrived amid a herd of horses,
                                                                                      horses of different colors.

- Luci Tapahonso (from "Blue Horses Rush In")


Stu Jenks

Stu Jenks

I'm mixing the two lands that I love today: photographs of the ancient, mythic expanse of Dartmoor; and words from the ancient, mythic expanse of the Arizona desert.

The photographs are by Stu Jenks, who lives and works in Tucson, Arizona. He's best known for his gorgeous desert imagery -- but these pictures were taken when he visited us here on Dartmoor a few years ago. (To my eye, he has captured the spiritual connection of these two vastly different landcapes.)

The poem excerpt above is from Sáanii Dahataal/The Women Are Singing by Navajo poet Luci Tapahonso, who is also from Arizona.

Stu Jenks

''A Brown Pony Rubbing His Ass Against An Ancient Stone  A White Pony Scratching Her Neck Against Another  Scorhill Stone Circle  Dartmoor'' by Stu jenks

"The combination of song, prayer, and poetry," writes Tapahonso, "is a natural form of expression for many Navajo people. A person who is able to 'talk beautifully' is well thought of and considered wealthy. To know stories, remember stories, and retell them well is to have been 'raised right'; the family of such an individually is also held in high esteem. The value of the spoken word is not diminished, even with the influences of television, radio, and video. Indeed, it seems to have enriched the verbal dexterity of colloquial language, as for instance, in names given to objects for which a Navajo word does not exist, such as béésh nitsékees or 'thinking metal' for computers and chidí bijéí or 'the car's heart' for a car battery. I feel fortunate to have access to two, sometimes three languages, to have been taught the 'correct' way to use these languages, and to have the support of my family and relatives. Like many Navajos, I was taught that the way one speaks and conducts oneself is a direct reflection of the people who raised him or her. People are known by their use of language."

In this contentious political and social media age, "talking beautifully" is a concept worth thinking about, practicing, and spreading.

Stu Jenks copy

Stu Jenks

My online reading recommendation today also comes from the Arizona desert: "One Morning, a Stranger at Home" by Aleah Sato. It's one of my many book-marked pages from her beautifully ruminative blog, The Wild Muse -- but do have a look at some of the more recent posts too, if you're not already following Aleah's work.

And while I'm recommending treasures from the desert, Greta Ward's artwork is simply stunning, rich in the ineffable numinous spirit that the Sonoran Desert and Dartmoor share.

To end with, here are three Dartmoor pictures by Stu that I love for more personal reasons:

The first, called "Chagford Hoop Dance," brings spiral magic to our village Commons. The second is a portrait of Howard, performing with his band The Nosey Crows. The third is a portrait of our Tilly, in the woods behind my studio.

Chagford Hoop Dance

Howard Gayton performing with the band Nosey Crows  by Stu Jenks

Tilly by Stu JenksThe photographs above are by Stu Jenks (the titles can be found in the picture captions); all rights reserved by the artist. The poem except above is from "Blue Horses Rush In" by Luci Tapahonso, which can be found in the collection of the same name, and in Sáanii Dahataal/The Women Are Singing. Both books are published by The University of Arizona Press. All rights reserved by the author.