Myth & Moor update

Legend of Rosepetal illustration by Lisbeth Zwerger copy

I'm out of the office again due to health care issues, but hope to be back very soon. For your morning reading in the meantime, I highly recommend Sabrina Orah Mark's "Happily" series of essays on fairy tales in Paris Review.

Sleeping Beauty illustrated by Honor Appleton and William Heath Robinson

Art:  "The Legend of Rosepetal" by Austrian book artist Lisbeth Zwerger. "Sleeping Beauty" by Honor Appleton (1879-1951) and William Heath Robinson (1872 - 1944).


The mystery of stories

The Wild Swans illustrated by Anton Lomaev

"I find it so difficult to talk about how I write. There are those who are unnervingly articulate about what they’re doing and how they’re doing it....I am not particularly articulate, unnervingly or otherwise. I do believe there is, in fact, a mystery to the whole enterprise that one dares to investigate at peril. The story knows itself better than the writer does at some point, knows what’s being said before the writer figures out how to say it. There’s a word in German, Sehnsucht. No English equivalent, which is often the case. It means the longing for something that cannot be expressed, or inconsolable longing. There’s a word in Welsh, hwyl, for which we also have no match. Again, it is longing, a longing of the spirit. I just think many of my figures seek something that cannot be found."

- Joy Williams

The Wild Swans illustrated by Anton Lomaev

"When I’m at work I’m highly superstitious. My own superstition has to do with the voice in which the story comes out. I believe that every story is attended by its own sprite, whose voice we embody when we tell the tale, and that we tell it more successfully if we approach the sprite with a certain degree of respect and courtesy. These sprites are both old and young, male and female, sentimental and cynical, sceptical and credulous, and so on, and what’s more, they’re completely amoral: like the air-spirits who helped Strong Hans escape from the cave, the story-sprites are willing to serve whoever has the ring, whoever is telling the tale. To the accusation that this is nonsense, that all you need to tell a story is a human imagination, I reply, ‘Of course, and this is the way my imagination works.' "

 - Philip Pullman

The Wild Swans illustrated by Anton Lomaev

The Wild Swans illustrated by Anton Lomaev, page design, pages 14-15

"It's a big question -- where do writers get their ideas, where do artists get their visions, where do musicians get their music? It's bound to have a big answer. Or a whole lot of them. One of my favorite answers is this: Somebody asked Willie Nelson how he thought up his tunes, and he said, 'The air is full of tunes, I just reach up and pick one.' For a fiction writer -- a storyteller -- the world is full of stories, and when story is there, it's there; you just reach up and pick it.

"Then you have to be able to tell it to yourself.

The Wild Swans by Anton Lomaev"First you have to be able to wait. To wait in silence. Listen for the tune, the vision, the story. Not grabbing, not pushing, just waiting, listening, being ready for it when it comes. This is an act of trust. Trust in yourself, trust in the world. The artist says, 'The world will give me what I need and I will be able to use it rightly.'

"Readiness -- not grabbiness, not greed -- readiness: willingness to hear, to listen carefully, to see clearly and accurately -- to let the words be right. Not almost right. Right. To know how to make something out of the vision; that's what practice is for. Because being ready doesn't mean just sitting around, even if it looks like that's what most writers do; artists practice their art continually, and writing happens to involve a lot of sitting. Scales and finger exercises, pencil sketches, endless unfinished and rejected stories. The artist who practices knows the difference between practice and performance, and the essential connection between them. The gift of those seemingly wasted hours and years is patience andf readiness; a good ear, a keen eye, a skilled hand, a rich vocabulary and grammar. The gift of practice to the artist is mastery, or a word I like better, 'craft.'

"With those tools, those instruments, with that hard-earned mastery, that craftiness, you do your best to let the 'idea' -- the tune, the vision, the story -- come through clear and undistorted. Clear of ineptitude, awkwardness, amateurishness; undistorted by convention, fashion, opinion.

"This is a very radical job, dealing with the ideas you get if you are an artist and take your job seriously, this shaping a vision into the medium of words. It's what I like to do best in the world, and what I like to talk about when I talk about writing. I could happily go on and on about it. But I'm trying to talk about where the vision, the stuff you work on, the 'idea,' comes from, so:

"The air is full of tunes. A piece of rock is full of statues. The earth is full of visions. The world is full of stories.

"As an artist, you trust that."

- Ursula K. Le Guin

The Wild Swans illustrated by Anton Lomaev

The beautiful fairy tale paintings in this post are by the Belarusian artist Anton Lomaev. He was born in Vitebsk in 1971, studied at the Russian Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg, and has been illustrating children's books and designing book cover art since the 1990s.

The paintings above come from Lomaev's edition of "The Wild Swans" by Hans Christian Andersen.  Below is his cover art for the Russian edition of East by Edith Pattou (a wonderful novel based on the Scandinavian fairy tale"East of the Sun, West of the Moon"), and a painting of his desk. Please visit Anton Lomaev's website to see more of his magical art.

Anton Lomaev's cover art for East by Edith Pattou

"And telling a story, I suppose, is like winding a skein of spun yarn -- you sometimes lose track of the beginning."  - Edith Pattou

Anton Lomaev's desk

The Joy Williams quote is from "The Art of Fiction No. 223" (Paris Review, Summer 2014). The Philip Pullman quote is from his introduction to Fairy Tales by the Brothers Grimm (Viking, 2012). The passage by Ursula K. Le Guin is from her essay "Where Do You Get Your Ideas From," publishing in The World Split Open: A Literary Arts Reader (Tin House Books, 2014). The Edith Pattou quote is from her novel East (Harcourt Children's Books, 2003). All rights to the text and art above reserved by the authors and artist.

Further reading (related to The Wild Swans fairy tale): Swan's Wing, Swan Maiden & Crane Wives, and When Stories Take Flight: The Folklore of Birds.


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Leaves of the wood

Many of our friends and colleagues in the fantasy publishing field have been in Dublin over the last several days for the World SFF Convention, and so music and poetry from Ireland seems an appropriate way to start off the week. All the videos here were shot by filmmaker Myles O'Reilly, who specializes in documenting the work of Irish musicians at home and abroad. I love his work, which beautifully captures this moment in time in the Irish music scene.

Above: O'Reilly's short film Backwards to Go Forwards (2019), which he describes as "a little snapshot" of contemporary Irish folk music. The film features This is How we Fly, Cormac Begley, Saileog & Muireann Ní Cheannabháin, Radie Peat, Cormac Mac Diarmada & Brian Flanagan, Ye Vagabonds, Slow Moving Clouds, The Bonny Men, Zoe Conway and John McIntyre, along with interviews conducted by O'Reilly, Martin Mackie, and Donal Dineen.

Below: "Rí Rua" by This is How We Fly, fusing traditional music of Ireland and Sweden with jazz improvisation and clog dancing. The performance was filmed at Fumbally Stables in Dublin, 2017.

Above: "I Courted a Wee Girl" performed by Ye Vagabonds (brothers Brían and Diarmuid Mac Gloinn), who grew up in rural Carlow but are now based in Dublin.

"In the summer of 2018," says O'Reilly, "I was invited to document a tour with Ye Vagabonds who were performing on six islands off the coast of Ireland. The result is Seven Songs On Six Islands, a musical and visual odyssey through some of the most remote and beautiful edges of the country."  The full film can be viewed O'Reilly's Patreon page, where, if you make a pledge, your funds will help him to make one similar music documentary per month. 

Below: "Willie O Winsbury" (Child Ballad #100) performed by Ye Vagabonds in Dublin, 2014.

Above: "Factory Girl" performed by two stalwarts of Irish music: Lisa O'Neill (from Cavan) and Radie Peat (of the band Lankum, from Dublin). The video was filmed for O'Reilly's This Ain't No Disco series showcasing Irish music and spoken word.

Below: "Morning," a gentle song by the folk duo LemonCello (Laura Quirke and Claire Kinsella), who started performing together at university in County Kildare. Cello, harmonies, scones, adorable dogs...there's a lot to like here.

And one more to end with:  "iomramh" by Dublin poet and playwright Stephen James Smith, filmed for the Ain't No Disco series. "The poem," says Smith, "was written at Cill Rialaig in County Kerry. An iomramh is a class of old Irish tale concerning a hero’s sea journey to the otherworld. Each of these journeys ostensibly takes place in the physical world, but in parallel with this they are, on a deeper level, also journeys to oneself."

The Cill Rialaig artists' retreat in County KerryThe Cill Rialaig Artists' Retreat, Co. Kerry, Ireland.


A day out at Chagford Show

Chagford Show 1

Chagford Show 2

Chagford Show 11

Yesterday I went to our village's agricultural show, now in its 119th year, celebrating the skills, crafts, and lore of the local farming community, and its central place in life on the moor. Reflecting on the nature of community, I was reminded of this passage from "The Common Life" by essayist Scott Russell Sanders:

"The words community, communion, and communicate all derive from common, and the two syllables of common grow from separate roots, the first meaning 'together' or 'next to,' the second having to do with barter or exchange. Embodied in that word is a sense of our shared life as one of giving and receiving -- music, touch, ideas, recipes, stories, medicine, tools, the whole range of artifacts and talents.

"After twenty-five years with [my wife] Ruth, that is how I have come to understand marriage, as a constant exchange of labor and love. We do not calculate who gives how much; if we had to, the marriage would be in trouble. Looking outward from this community of two, I see my life embedded in ever-larger exchanges -- those of family and friendship, neighborhood and city, countryside and county -- and on every scale there is giving and receiving, calling and answering.

Chagford Show 4

Chagford Show 5

Chagford Show 3

"Many people shy away from community out of a fear that it may become suffocating, confining, even vicious; and of course it may, if it grows rigid or exclusive. A healthy community is dynamic, stirred up the energies of those who already belong, open to new members and fresh influences, kept in motion by the constant battering of gifts. It is fashionable just now to speak of this open quality as 'tolerance,' but that word sounds too grudging to me -- as though, to avoid strife, we must grit our teeth and ignore whatever is strange to us.

Chagford Show 6

Chagford Show 7

Chagford Show 8

"The community I desire is not grudging; it is exuberant, joyful, grounded in affection, pleasure, and mutual aid. Such a community arises not from duty or money but from the free interchange of people who share a place, share work and food, sorrows and hopes. Taking part in the common life means dwelling in a web of relationships, the many threads tugging at you while also holding you upright."

Chagford Show 9

Prize-winning sheep

In an interview in 2004, writer and activist Terry Tempest Williams also spoke of the value of putting down roots in an increasingly peripatetic world:

"It just may be that the most radical act we can commit is to stay home. What does that mean to finally commit to a place, to a people, to a community? It doesn't mean it's easy, but it does mean you can live with patience, because you're not going to go away.

Chagford Show 15

Chagford Show 16

Chagford Show 17

"It also means commitment to bear witness, and engaging in 'casserole diplomacy' by sharing food among neighbors, by playing with the children and mending feuds and caring for the sick. These kinds of commitment are real. They are tangible. They are not esoteric or idealistic, but rooted in the bedrock existence of where we choose to maintain our lives.

Chagford Show 14

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Chagford Show 20

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Chagford Show 19

"That way we begin to know the predictability of a place. We anticipate a species long before we see them. We can chart the changes, because we have a memory of cycles and seasons; we gain a capacity for both pleasure and pain, and we find the stregnth within ourselves and each other to hold these lines. That's my definition of family. And that's my definition of love."

Chagford Show 21

Chagford Show 21

Chagford Show 22

Words: The passage above is from "The Common Life" by Scott Russell Sanders,  published in his essay collection Writing from the Center (Indiana University Press, 1995). The passage by Terry Tempest Williams comes from an interview by Derrick Jensen in Listening to the Land: Conversations about Nature, Culture, and Ethos (Chelsea Green, 2004). All rights reserved by the authors.

Pictures: Chagford Show, 2019. I've blurred the faces of the children displaying their sheep for privacy's sake.