haven’t got a cross

March 30, 2020

‘You aren’t going to wave a cross at me?’

John shook his head. ‘No. I haven’t got a cross.’

The vampire seemed a little happier, for he ceased to tremble, though he continued to watch John with a wary eye.

‘You’re sure? Everyone I’ve met in the past hundred and fifty years has either waved a cross at me, or smothered me with garlic flowers, or – worst of all – tried to drive a stake through my heart. Everyone is rotten and mean – all because I have the misfortune to be a vampire.’

R. Chetwynd-Hayes
The Sad Vampire

The novelist Robert Holdstock died in November 2009 aged 61, leaving behind a series of science fiction, fantasy, horror and mystery novels (the latter under the pseudonym Ken Blake). The cycle he is best known for is the Mythago Cycle/Ryhope Wood (the terms are used interchangeably by the novelist and his publishers: here I will opt for “Mythago Wood Cycle”; and use Holdstock’s plural “mythagos”) series of novels, six in total running from 1984-2009. John Clute, co-editor of the The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, summarizes the cycle thus:

The sequence as a whole is a central contribution to late-20th-Century fantasy, and is almost embarrassingly dense with fantasy tropes.

The first novel to be published in the series, Mythago Wood (1984), starts with the disappearance of the scholar-father, George Huxley, which leads to his two sons (Christian, and his younger brother, Steven) returning in 1947 to the family home, a lodge on the edge of Ryhope: a small section of ancient woodland situated in Herefordshire, on the Borders between England and Wales. They are shocked to discover the woodland’s boundaries seem to have moved, and it has overwhelmed the lodge. The father’s journal is unearthed and it relates an increasing obsession with the woodland and various “mythagos”, the core concept of Holdstock’s cycle.

The author provides several definitions of this slippery term. The first is offered in Mythago Wood by Christian Huxley to his brother, Steven – explaining how in ancient woodland the “aura” around all living things, creates “a sort of creative field that can interact with our consciousness”. Paraphrasing their father, Christian says:

And it’s in the unconscious that we carry what he calls the pre-mythago – that’s unconscious that we carry what he calls the pre-mythago – that’s myth imago, the image of the idealized form of a myth creature. The image takes on substance in a natural environment, solid flesh, blood, clothing, and – as you saw – weaponry. 

The sons venture in the various “zones” (ash, oak, thorn, et cetera) of Ryhope asynchronously, resulting in dramatically different consequences. They find themselves sucked into the mythic landscape of Ryhope, which is an extended portal or “Time Abyss” (Clute 1999: 946-947): the further in you go, the bigger (or older) it gets. This trope appears throughout Fantasy fiction, it is “common to fantasy, uncommon anywhere else” (ibid.: 586). It crops up in Jorge Luis Borges’ The Aleph (1945) as an object that contains the whole universe, in the year the first atomic bombs were used in warfare and, as such, is not surprisingly a lingering device of the Atomic Age. However, the sense of expansive interiority and dilatory disjuncture are common descriptors in tales of “hollow hills” and other portals to the “Otherworld”.

Kevan Manwaring
Ways Through the Wood: The Rogue Cartographies of Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood Cycle as a Cognitive Map for Creative Process in Fiction

something fantastic

March 27, 2020

This was going to be a talk about fantasy. But I have not been feeling very fanciful lately, and could not decide what to say; so I have been going about picking people’s brains for ideas. “What about fantasy? Tell me something about fantasy.” And one friend of mine said, “All right, I’ll tell you something fantastic. Ten years ago, I went to the children’s room of the library of such-and-such a city, and asked for The Hobbit; and the librarian told me, “Oh, we keep that only in the adult collection; we don’t feel that escapism is good for children.

Ursula K Le Guin
Why Are Americans Afraid Of Dragons?

At last the revenants became so troublesome the peasants abandoned the village and it fell solely into the possession of subtle and vindictive inhabitants who manifest their presences by shadows that fall almost imperceptibly awry, too many shadows, even at midday, shadows that have no source in anything visible; by the sound, sometimes, of sobbing in a derelict bedroom where a cracked mirror suspended from a wall does not reflect a presence; by a sense of unease that will afflict the traveller unwise enough to pause to drink from the fountain in the square that still gushes spring water from a faucet stuck in a stone lion’s mouth. A cat prowls in a weedy garden; he grins and spits, arches his back, bounces away from an intangible on four fear-stiffened legs. Now all shun the village below the chateau in which the beautiful somnambulist helplessly perpetuates her ancestral crimes.

Wearing an antique bridal gown, the beautiful queen of the vampires sits all alone in her dark, high house under the eyes of the portraits of her demented and atrocious ancestors, each one of whom, through her, projects a baleful posthumous existence; she counts out the Tarot cards, ceaselessly construing a constellation of possibilities as if the random fall of the cards on the red plush tablecloth before her could precipitate her from her chill, shuttered room into a country of perpetual summer and obliterate the perennial sadness of a girl who is both death and the maiden.

Her voice is filled with distant sonorities, like reverberations in a cave: now you are at the place of annihilation, now you are at the place of annihilation. And she is herself a cave full of echoes, she is a system of repetitions, she is a closed circuit.’ Can a bird sing only the song it knows or can it learn a new song?’ She draws her long, sharp fingernail across the bars of the cage in which her pet lark sings, striking a plangent twang like that of the plucked heartstrings of a woman of metal. Her hair falls down like tears.

The castle is mostly given over to ghostly occupants but she herself has her own suite of drawing room and bedroom. Closely barred shutters and heavy velvet curtains keep out every leak of natural light. There is a round table on a single leg covered with a red plush cloth on which she lays out her inevitable Tarot; this room is never more than faintly illuminated by a heavily shaded lamp on the mantelpiece and the dark red figured wallpaper is obscurely, distressingly patterned by the rain that drives in through the neglected roof and leaves behind it random areas of staining, ominous marks like those left on the sheets by dead lovers. Depredations of rot and fungus everywhere. The unlit chandelier is so heavy with dust the individual prisms no longer show any shapes; industrious spiders have woven canopies in the corners of this ornate and rotting place, have trapped the porcelain vases on the mantelpiece in soft grey nets. But the mistress of all this disintegration notices nothing.

Angela Carter
The Lady of the House of Love

BARDIC DREAMS

March 26, 2020

Bold warriors and women, shield mates, sat
wrapped in the darkness, sheltered between knees
warmed by their lovers and heat of kettle fire.

A bard regaled with tales and love song
Bold warriors and women, shield mates, sat
toasting their fallen friends with ale and tears.

Mist rose from the surface of the enchanted lake.
Wrapped in the darkness, sheltered between knees
a sprinkle of fireflies crowned the knight’s heads.

Some stood like shields behind their ladies back
warmed by their lovers and heat of kettle fire.
Heads lolled; golden strands were drawn through fingers.

Seated knights cradled ladies between armoured thighs.
A bard regaled with tales and love song
washing the weary of bloodlust and death cries.

Mere hours before, they had held swords not cups
toasting their fallen friends with ale and tears.
Now, cameo visages flushed in firelight

revealed ice-blue eyes of Viking descent.
Mist rose from the surface of the enchanted lake
as each weary warrior visited, in tale,

the halls of Beowulf, and Artur’s Camelot.
The daytime was bent on war, but the night,
sprinkled with fireflies, was meant for lovers.

Deborah Guzzi

a mountain of bones

March 26, 2020

Through all this horror my cat stalked unperturbed. Once I saw him monstrously perched atop a mountain of bones, and wondered at the secrets that might lie behind his yellow eyes.

H.P. Lovecraft
The Rats in the Walls

Wolf

March 26, 2020

For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.

Rudyard Kipling
The Jungle Book

WILL SWORDS RISE UP

March 25, 2020

Will swords rise up
from the mists of time?
Swords, knives, helms
tossed into
watery depths —
at the end of the world
will they be reforged?

Mist rising in wisps, forming
hilt and blade
Swords of fire and earth
rusted away, ages ago
in lakes long vanished,
pools of myth.

Forged anew of
water and air,
on the last day
will weed-draped
ladies of the lake
rise to hand them forth,
girding the worthy?

J.R. Sparlin

The Three Little Pigs

March 25, 2020

The little pig began to pray
But Wolfie blew his house away.
He shouted, “Bacon, Pork, and Ham!
Oh what a lucky wolf I am!”
And though he ate the pig quite fast,
He carefully kept the tail till last.

Roald Dahl
Revolting Rhymes