Saturday, November 21, 2009

Faeries at the bottom of the garden...


When I was quite young, I used to stare very hard at my wardrobe doors, then whip them open as fast as I could, hoping against hope that I might catch a glimpse of that otherworld beyond.  I waited expectantly for my 13th birthday believing against all logical judgement, that something wonderful would happen, that I would discover my TRUE destiny, and I would finally be initiated into the mysteries of some magical land beyond reality as I knew it.  I'm still waiting.  The world of magic and faerytales found me early on and never let go.  My favourite books as a child were the Chronicles of Narnia (of course), Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising  series, and just about anything by Alan Garner, or Rosemary Sutcliffe.  And of course, introduced to me by an art teacher who may well have been part Fae herself, the wonderful, wonderful Faeries  by Alan Lee and Brian Froud.  This book was so popular in my high school library that you had to put in a request form for it, to stop people renewing it over and over again.  As I grew up, I discovered more and more of the fabulous world of myths and legends, reading anything I could find about Celtic mythology in particular, but magic and faery of any brand would do.  At 15 I sat mesmerised through a screening of John Boorman's Excalibur, and to this day, Nicol Williamson is the ONLY Merlin for me.  Listening to a folk music program one evening at age 16, I heard, in its entirety, Robin Williamson's incredible song/poem Five Denials on Merlin's Grave and it has been an enormous influence on me.

Steeped in magic and faery as I was, I always found it odd that other people didn't seem to know the first thing about it.  And rather sad too, because faery stories and myths are the teaching tales of our culture, the life lessons disguised as entertainment to wile away the cold winter evenings, history and anecdotes and important survival information all rolled into one package.  What do they teach in schools these days?!  While a uni student studying literature, I wrote an assignment on John Keats' La Belle Dame Sans Merci.  I'm not particularly fond of Keats, too flowery for me, but I love the Belle Dame...she seems older, archaic, and somehow more genuine that his other poems.  Picture me in my class, discussing with several fellow students and our tutor, the lore of faery/human interaction, particularly the important rules to follow if you ever meet a faery (which the knight in the poem should have known...I thought).  Specifically the rules about faery food.  Now I thought this was common knowledge, I mean, it's common sense isn't it?  Don't accept lollies from friendly but mysterious strangers?  But no, faced with much head-shaking and eye-rolling, I think they all believed I'd made it up entirely.  So imagine my great relief when a fellow classmate, a friend and fellow faery-aficionado, rushed into the class rather late, flushed and out of breath, books falling out of her hands.  Before the poor girl had time to put down her bag, I pounced.  "What's the MOST important thing to remember if you ever find yourself in Faeryland?!"  She looked at me blankly for a moment, cheeks pink and hair askew...and then caught my drift and answered breathlessly "Don't EVER eat the food or you'll be stuck there forever!"  I'm not sure my classmates were convinced but I felt vindicated anyway.


But it seems that faery today means an animated, Disneyfied version of Tinkerbell and her newly invented friends, backed by a massive merchandising machine.  I want my children (and I have two of them so this is not hypothetical) to know that there are OTHER faeries out there, much more interesting, exciting, and sometimes even scary, but never trite.  And they would NEVER tell you to buy a whole lot of plastic stuff packaged up in pink cardboard (with wire ties that take 3 hours for an adult to disentangle)!  So imagine my delight when I discovered the Chagford Filmmaking Group , a group in the UK engaging with and involving the local community while making films of old fairytales, rescuing them from obscurity and bringing them to a new audience.  For more information, here is a lovely article from the BBC about them.  (and no, I'm not getting a commission, I just think they're doing something great).  I'm looking forward to receiving my copy of their first DVD, and seeing my children discover that the world of Faery is so much more, such a rich and varied world, than Disney cartoons.  Of course, I'm also looking forward to seeing it myself.  And in case you'd forgotten about her, here is the Belle Dame  herself, as I see her.








4 comments:

Danielle Barlow said...

Oh, those were my favourite books too, especially the Susan Cooper series. And of course the Faeries book - it is very hard to be a fantasy illustrator and not be influenced by Brian Froud and Alan Lee!
Glad the faery films are finding their way all over the world - I hope you enjoy it :)

ruthie said...

I loved the very same books when i was younger, alan garners weirdstone of brisingamen was an ll time fave with my children, as at the time we lived near to alderley edge. the changford films look stunning don't they! *ruthie

A mermaid in the attic said...

I still go back and re-read 'The Dark is Rising' every now and then...the boxed set with the Michael Heslop illustrations is one of my treasured possessions from childhood. I'm looking forward to introducing my girls when they're a bit older. :)

Tigana said...

Perhaps the doors are inside us - and it is our happy duty to open them for others.

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