Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Symbols and folklore

first posted at MY FAVOURITE BOOKS

If it was up to me, I would write folk and fairy tales. Really. But I can’t, because it’s not up to me. Or rather, I could do if I wanted to, but no one would buy them. Rather like the short story, folk and fairy tales are generally considered hard to publish these days, and to sell, with a few notable exceptions such as Angela Carter’s reworkings. But they are almost my favourite kind of story, and so, ever since I became a writer, I have always tried to find ways of working elements of folklore into my books. 

How? By using iconic images, words with deep resonance, patterns of story telling and certain motifs which remind us, subconsciously at least, of those dark stories we all heard at a tender age.

Midwinterblood is full of these things, my favourite two being the hare, and the moon. Each  of the seven parts of the book takes place under the influence of a full moon, but unlike today, our ancestors had names for each of the twelve full moons of the year. More in touch with the weather, the landscape and the turning of the seasons than we are, most ancient cultures had names such as the Snow Moon, the Grain Moon, the Fruit Moon. I took the ones I liked best from English and Norse calendars, recast them slightly, and it is these moons that shone down upon the protagonists of Midwinterblood. 

And the hare? Such a mysterious creature, little accurate was known about it until relatively recently in our history, allowing all sorts of myths to be created around it. So when I was looking for a totemic creature for Merl to have in the book, the hare seemed perfect - fast, lithe, unknowable - and so a hare appears, as a child’s toy, as a carving, as the real creature, as a grieving lover transformed by a witch. And if I can’t get away with writing new fairy tales, at least I can enjoy plundering our literary heritage to populate my books.

And here’s an extract from Part One of Midwinterblood, Midsummer Sun

Eric explores late into the afternoon.
He finds nothing, at least, nothing that he is looking for.
The orchids, or a production facility maybe, a homespun lab of some sort. He supposes he will know it when he sees it. That’s how it is in his job, and he has always quietly thought to himself that that is why he has been successful in his work. That, and something less easy to admit, that maybe he is never satisfied. Neither in life, or work, nor in love, he always wants more. It has made him a good journalist, this desire in him to search for more, but although he knows it deep inside, he has never admitted to himself that this same thing has left him alone, with a heart that nervously beats for fear of never finding. But something just clicks when he’s on the right track of a story, something just clicks. Like something clicked when he saw Merle’s face.

He finds himself back at the Cross House, and pulls out the map again, trying to decide where to look next.
It is getting late, but that does not matter, because it will not get dark. The flower moon is rising above the hill. He studies the map that Tor gave him.
It looks hand drawn, but he can see it is printed, and there’s a title and a price on the back of it. There is something about it that nags at him, but he’s finding it so hard to think. He wonders if he’s getting ill, it’s twice now that his mind has felt like this. Cloudy. 
With an effort, his head clears, and into his memory comes the image of the map of Blessed, the one that he’d saved on his device.
He realises that the map in front of him is not the same as the one he had recorded back at the office.
That one had two halves, a very distinct shape, like the two wings of a butterfly, though the western half slightly smaller, giving it a lopsided look. The two halves were joined by a narrow strip of land.
Eric looks at the paper map in his hand. Only the eastern half of the island is printed. Half the island is missing.
Now why, he thinks, would they print a map of only half the island?
That would be stupid. Unless, unless, unless you wanted to keep half of it secret.

© Marcus Sedgwick 2011

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