Summer Solstice Newsletter 2019

 

 

Hello, and welcome to the Folklore & Fiction newsletter. At the summer and winter solstices, I mimic the sun and pause to reflect on my own creative work. In this edition, I'll be discussing folkloric elements in my new short story entitled "B is for Burned/Every Broken Creature," which was recently released in the F is for Fairy anthology of short fiction.

An Excerpt from the Story

Among the humans, it was said that Óðinn once guided the mighty, eight-legged steed called Sleipnir too close to the Earth, and where his great hoof grazed the ground, Ásbyrgi Canyon came to be. The álfar were not the ancient gods of the North, nor did they worship these holy ones as some of their hálf álfur children did. Neither had they created the canyon with the ship that had brought them to it and transformed into the capitol their descendants inhabited now. Rather, it was as if the álfar had begged permission of the stones, the trees, and the water to abide there. Rugged cliffs held a council chamber, concert hall, and other compartments filled with contrivances that performed enigmatic tasks. Stands of birches bent together with the help of artful silverwork to become dwellings. Tall spires draped in lichen brought water up from beneath the valley floor to rain on the gardens. It was a city only the álfar understood fully, a refuge for people who had transmuted both their bodies and their science to suit the place they had come to inhabit, whose true appearances, names, and histories were only spoken amongst themselves, and whose gods, if indeed they had any, were inscrutable as those who worshipped them and belonged to the distant star from whence they had all come (MacCath 2019, 36).

The Folklore Behind the Fiction

Ásbyrgi Canyon (Shelter of the Gods)

Before the first settlers came to Iceland, the place that would become Ásbyrgi canyon was the site of a glacial river. As rivers do, it carved the distinctive horseshoe-shaped geological formation Icelandic mythology would later attribute to a mis-step on the part of Odin's eight-legged horse Sleipnir, whose hoof imprinted the ground there when he flew too low across the sky. This placard, posted at the head of a canyon trail, tells both tales. Likewise, two narratives occupied my thoughts as I hiked down to Botnstjörn pond, up the cliffside to a wide ledge, and then across the park through an educational plant walk peppered with information about the flora growing there. My inner conservationist was awestruck and careful to go gently on the land. My inner poet was especially kind to everyone I met, remembering that one of Odin's kennings is Gangleri, the wanderer who might appear as a stranger on the road seeking hospitality. In the summer of 2016 and again in the spring of 2017, I visited the canyon, and it was during these two visits that the seed of a novel series took root in my mind. "Every Broken Creature" is a precursor to that series, which I'm presently preparing to write.

The Huldufólk

Ásbyrgi is a busy place folklorically; it is the shelter of the Gods and the capitol city of the álfar or huldufólk. These elves or hidden people are said to live in the rocks of the canyon, where they've constructed lovelier, sturdier versions of the houses, concert halls, and other buildings found in our world. It is possible to imagine there that just beyond the veil between us, a jagged rise of stone is a turret, and a resonant howl of the wind is a pair of voices raised in conversation. It was my own experience of this that inspired the name of the elven father of my half-elven twins, Vindgnýr, which means "the sound of the wind" in Icelandic. With these bits of folklore and travel memory in mind, I created a fictional Ásbyrgi canyon that serves as both a refuge and a capitol for the unearthly beings who live there.

I would add that fairy lore is a special interest of mine, so my 2017 visit to Iceland was partly taken up with interviews of two Icelandic women about their experiences of the huldufólk. You can read more about those interviews in the blog entries I wrote about them here and here.

Fairies and Aliens

Fairy abductions and alien abductions share a number of folkloric similarities. In reference to a 1988 article in the National Enquirer, folklore scholar Barbara Rieti writes that some of these are "...small size and green colour; the power to disappear at will, to make humans see things that aren't really there, and to levitate themselves, objects, and human beings into the air; the "missing time" experienced by fairy and UFO abductees, and the circular patterns made by landings of UFOS" (Ruehl, cited in Rieti 2013, 160). These similarities found their way into "Every Broken Creature" by way of the story's assertion that the huldufólk come from a "distant star." Contemporary extraterrestrial literature often asserts that fairies and aliens are kin anyway (Rieti 2013, 160), so it isn't a terrible stretch to give them the same otherworldly ancestry in fiction, I think.

There's a bit more I might discuss; the story is built on a historical event, and the unfortunate man at its heart is caught between an old religious paradigm and a new one. But I'll leave those things for you to explore in the reading of it. So that's all for now. Thanks very much for your time! I'll be back next month with a discussion of the ballad.

Bibliography

  • MacCath, C.S. 2019. ‘B Is for Burned/Every Broken Creature’. In F Is for Fairy, edited by Rhonda Parrish. Poise and Pen Publishing.
  • Rieti, Barbara. 1991. Strange Terrain: The Fairy World in Newfoundland. St. John’s: Institute of Social and Economic Research, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

F is for Fairy can be found at:

 

My name is Ceallaigh S. MacCath-Moran. I'm a PhD candidate in the Folklore Department at Memorial University of Newfoundland, and I'm also a speculative fiction writer under the pseudonym C.S. MacCath. The Folklore & Fiction newsletter synthesizes these passions with a focus on folkloric scholarship aimed at writers. You'll find the newsletter archive (and the rest of my work) online at csmaccath.com. #FolkloreAndFiction #csmaccath #FolkloreThursday