10 August 2023

Celtic themes in fantasy literature and literary genres

Here's an interesting review of a collection of essays on the influence and use of Celtic mythology, or themes from Celtic mythology in fantasy literature. 

I'm unlikely to find the book in a bookshop, or to be able to afford it even if I could, but I found the review itself very interesting and informative, and it sparked off several ideas. If you find these things interesting, you might like to read the review. and possibly the book if you can get hold of it. Strange Horizons - Imagining the Celtic Past in Modern Fantasy edited by Dimitra Fimi and Alistair J.P. Sims By Debbie Gascoyne:

In her introduction to this useful and insightful collection, co-editor Dimitra Fimi writes: “This edited volume aims to open a conversation about fantasy's multifaceted and enduring fascination with the Celtic past, and its various perceptions” (p. 4). Fimi notes that, while previous scholarship (including her own 2017 monograph) has focused on work written for children, the essays in this volume examine texts aimed at adult readers. The collection is divided into four sections: the first deals with what is loosely defined as “intrusion fantasy,” in which a Celtic “otherworld” overlaps with our own; section two looks at “worldbuilding” and the way authors use Celtic elements to create a fantasy world; section three has discussion of works in languages other than English; and the fourth and final section looks at how “the fantastic is situated within cultural practices perceived as Celtic” (p. 5).

The first thing that struck me about that was the notion of "intrusion fantasy", a term that I was unfamiliar with, but which seems to me an apt description of the novels of Charles Williams and the early children's novels of Alan Garner, which are among my favourites. It also seems to describe most of the fiction I have tried to write (examples of which you can see in the side panel on the right).

 Since  I had not heard of "intrusion fantasy" before I did a web search to make sure that it meant what I thought it did, and came across some interesting web sites, such as this one: Bring These 5 Intrusive Fantasy Books Into Your World

If you’re wondering what intrusive fantasy is—apart from sounding like something very rude and impatient—you’re not alone. In Rhetorics of Fantasy, Farah Mendlesohn argues there are four categories of fantasy, one of which is “intrusive.” (The others, in case you’re interested, are portal, immersive, and liminal.) If a portal fantasy is one in which the protagonist and the reader travel from the ordinary world into a magical one (Alice in Wonderland and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe are classic examples), then an intrusive fantasy is the reverse. In intrusive fantasy, magic comes from an Elsewhere into the ordinary world, changing it and the protagonist forever.

Of the five books mentioned there, I've read 1.15. I read The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova about 12 years ago -- see my review here: At last, a good vampire story. I did find Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell among the new books in our local library, but it is an enormously long book, and after reading 150 pages and realising it would take forever to finish, I returned it to the library to give other readers a chance.

For more on Farah Mendlesohn's four categories of fantasy, see here.

Concerning Celtic mythology and its use by fantasy authors, Debbie Gascoyne goes on to say:

Several of the chapters in this volume make it clear how many of the most popular ideas about “Celtic mythology” or “Celtic traditions” actually arose from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Robert Graves and Jessie Weston (among others) have a lot to answer for. For example, I was quite shocked to learn from Gwendolen Grant’s chapter on Alan Garner that the “triple goddess figure” he weaves through his Weirdstone trilogy owes more to The White Goddess (1948) than to any Irish or Welsh source material (p. 44). Juliette Wood’s chapter on “The Celtic Tarot” describes an “imaginative, though unhistorical link between current ideas about Celtic myth and a divination device that dated back only to the eighteenth century” (p. 175).

...from which I infer that most of the authors of the book disapprove of the rather loose way in which many fantasy writers use mythological themes and tropes, or at least Celtic ones.

Without having read the essays themselves it is hard to tell, but I don't think that in writing fiction one can treat mythology and folklore as if one were documenting them for an academic study. Alan Garner, for example, borrows eclectically from Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, Nordic and 20th Century English mythology and folklore, and stirs the mixture quite vigorously. Though the blurb mentions "Celtic mysteries", he freely links the Anglo-Saxon Herlathing with the modern notions of ley lines and the "old straight track" with nothing Celtic about either. He does include Celtic mythology in the mix, but also Norwegian (the strömkarl), more old English (mara - related to nightmare), Nordic (the lios alfar and the svart alfar, as well as Ymir, whose maggot brood they were). The Morrigan is Irish, and hence Celtic, and the bodachs and brollachan are Scottish but Garner gives each of them some characteristics derived from his own imagination, to suit his story.

I haven't made much use of specifically Celtic mythology in my own writing, but as most of my stories are set in southern Africa, there are other mythologies to draw on, but I assume that what the essaysts say about Celtic mythology would apply, mutatis mutandis, to any other system of mythology.

07 August 2023

Trouble Pug -- a fun book for kids aged about 8-10

Trouble PugTrouble Pug by Kathryn Judson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Two girls, Morgan and Kisa, find a stray dog in a park, and decide to adopt it. Kisa already has a dog, so they decide it is Morgan's dog, but Morgan's mother doesn't like dogs, so Kisa keeps it for her.

Trouble begins when they discover that the dog can travel in time and take people with her, and Kisa and Morgan have some scary trips until they can communicate to the dog where they want to go.

Adult readers, even those who normally enjoy children's books, might be put off by the way some characters are overdrawn so as to appear almost as caricatures. Morgan's mother, for example, is rude and abrasive, and has a sense of entitlement that seems larger than life. But kids of the target age usually don't notice such things, and subtlety tends to be lost on them. It's the kind of story that most children aged about 8-10 would enjoy reading, even though some adult readers might think it's a bit over the top.

View all my reviews


Related Posts with Thumbnails