The Spriggans of Cornwall

sprigganSpriggans!

Spriggans are creatures from Cornish faery lore. They’re particularly associated with West Penwith in Cornwall, UK.
These malevolent “unseelie” wights are mentioned in editor Joseph Wright’s 1905 book “The English Dialect Dictionary. Vol. V” and eleven years later in one of my favourite books, Robert Hunt’s “Popular Romances of the West of England”, but the oral storytelling tradition places them much earlier than that.

More recently, in the 21st century, spriggans (or at least the term “spriggans”) seem to have been kidnapped by “The Elder Scrolls”, a series of action role-playing video games.  “Spriggan” is also the title of a Japanese manga series  (スプリガン).

In the original folklore tradition, “Spriggans were depicted as grotesquely ugly, wizened old men with large childlike heads. They were said to be found at old ruins, cairns, and barrows guarding buried treasure. Although small, they were usually considered to be the ghosts of giants and retained gigantic strength, and in one story collected by Robert Hunt, they showed the ability to swell to enormous size. Hunt associated these spirits with the hillfort known as Trencrom Hill in Cornwall.

“Spriggans were notorious for their unpleasant dispositions, and delighted in working mischief against those who offended them. They raised sudden whirlwinds to terrify travellers, sent storms to blight crops, and sometimes stole away mortal children, leaving their ugly changelings in their place. They were blamed if a house was robbed or a building collapsed, or if cattle were stolen. In one story, an old woman got the better of a band of spriggans by turning her clothing inside-out (turning clothing supposedly being as effective as holy water or iron in repelling fairies) to gain their loot.

“On Christmas Eve, spriggans met for a midnight Mass at the bottom of deep mines, and passersby could hear them singing. However, it was not spriggans but the buccas or knockers who were associated with tin mining, and who played a protective role towards the miners.

“Based on the collections of Robert Hunt and William Bottrell, Katharine Briggs characterized the spriggans as fairy bodyguards. The English Dialect Dictionary (1905) compared them to the trolls of Scandinavia.”

[Source: Wikipedia, “Spriggan”.]

Being a fan of the great folklore collector Katharine Briggs, I too depict spriggans as faerie bodyguards in The Bitterbynde Trilogy.

The Trows of Shetland

trowThe trows of Shetland

. . . are among the creatures of folklore that can be glimpsed in the world of the Bitterbynde Trilogy.

Here’s an extract from Book #1 The Ill-Made Mute:
Moonrise came early. Beside Burnt Crag the night orb came up like a copper cauldron and seemed to hang suspended over the hills, at the lip of the horizon. It was then that the music
started up—thin music like the piping of reeds but backed by a rollicking beat made by rattling snares, and the deep thumping thud of a bass drum—music to dance to under the face of the moon.

And, in a clearing not far from the campsite, were those who danced to it—a circle of small gray figures moving awkwardly, without grace.
Thorn laughed softly.
“Come—let us see the henkies and the trows,” he said. “They might bring us joy this night.”
Diarmid demurred, but Imrhien stepped out bravely beside the Dainnan, and they walked together to join the dance.
The quaint, dwarfish folk were silhouetted against the towering shield of the rising moon, black intaglio on burnished copper. Some capered in a bounding, grotesque manner, others
danced exquisitely, with an intricate though uneven step.
From tales told in the Tower, Imrhien knew a little about trows and henkies. They were relatively harmless seelie wights, and their dances did not lure mortals to their deaths in the way of the bloodsucking baobhansith and others. Whether they would take offense at being spied upon was another matter.
The Dainnan did not try to conceal their approach but moved openly across the turf. Tall against the moon’s flare, graceful and lithe as a wild creature, he seemed at that moment
to belong more to the eldritch night than to mortalkind.
The dancers, engrossed in their fun, did not seem to notice the arrival of visitors—the pipers continued to pipe and the drummers to drum. Not as stocky as dwarves, these wights
ranged in height from three to three and a half feet. Their heads were large, as were their hands and feet. Their long noses drooped at the tips, their hair hung lank, stringy, and pallid.
Rather stooped was their posture, and they limped to varying degrees. Imrhien was reminded of club-footed Pod at the Tower—Pod the Henker, he had named himself.
All the wights were clad in gray, rustic garb, the trow-wives with fringed shawls tied around their heads. In contrast with their simple clothing, silver glinted like starlight at their wrists and necks.
The Dainnan turned to Imrhien and swept a bow worthy of a royal courtier.
“Lady, shall you dance with me?”

Further reading:

The Trows of Orkney and Shetland. From the Faery Folklorist blog.

Shetland folklore series: Trows. From the “Shetland with Laurie” blog.

What is a trow? From Orkneyjar.

 

Writing tips 1: Learn from real people.

WRITING TIPS 1: Real peopleReal people make the best characters

Real people are pretty much more interesting (not to mention hilarious) than any character you’re likely to invent out of thin air.
Listen, look and learn from the people around you. You’re surrounded by a goldmine.

Sianadh the red-haired pirate

In the Bitterbynde Trilogy, for instance, I drew inspiration for the red-haired pirate Sianadh by observing a friend of mine.

PiratesHere’s an extract from The Ill-Made Mute, in which we meet Sianadh for the first time:

The pirate’s crew were thieves and cutthroats recruited
from the dregs of cities, or simple country lads who had been
seduced to piracy by tavern talk and could not now go back,
or disillusioned soldiers; men who looked for rich rewards
preying upon the Merchant Lines or who sailed in the sky
for their own reasons. One of these stood now before the
prisoners, his feet braced apart on the planks, his brawny left
arm roughly bandaged where he had sustained a wound from
a poniard. The lad squinted up at the head outlined against the
sails. Tangled red hair like stiff wire had been randomly knotted
with thin braids; in the thickets of it, a gold disk winked from
his left ear. Blue eyes squinted over a ginger mustache that,
although bushy, was clipped short. A copper torc clasped his
bull-neck, from which also hung a tilhal of amber with two
coupling flies trapped inside. A stained taltry hung from his
shoulders.
The-Ill-Made-MuteHis barrel chest was swathed in a torn shirt that
had once been white, overtopped with a rabbit-skin jerkin, and he wore olive-green breeches belted with gold-worked, purple leather with a wicked-looking skian scabbarded at his side. His feet, ginger-tufted and sporting dirty nails like goats’ horns, were bare and tattooed with scorpions. The nameless youth
had a good view of these feet because he was lying in front of them. To his left lay Captain Chauvond and the cabin boy. To his right reclined half a dozen merchant aeronauts, also bound with ropes.
“Deformed!” proclaimed the red pirate. “Twisted, ugly, and deformed!” He leaned closer to the youth and said confidentially, breathing garlic, “Hogger has one eye, Kneecap’s got a wooden leg, Black Tom is missing three fingers, Fenris be earless, and Gums ain’t got a tooth in his head. A man has to
be ruined to sail on the Windwitch. Fires of Tapthar! You’ll fit in
well here, mo reigh, you’ll fit like an egg in its shell!”
He laughed, revealing gaps in his dentition that seemed to
go through to the back of his head.
“Me, I’m physically perfect. See that?” He flexed bulging
sinews in his right arm, which was tattooed with ravening birds,
their toothed beaks gaping, looking faintly ridiculous.
“I wouldn’t like to meet me in battle, mo reigh. It’s the brain—
the brain that’s twisted. I’m mad, see?” His jutting eyebrows
shot up and down rapidly. “Sianadh the Bear, unconquerable
in battle!”
He roared, a wide grin splitting his weather-lined face. The
cabin boy whimpered.
“What is the matter, tien eun? See, I unbind you and your
reigh friend.” Squatting, he did so. “You two lads are to join
us! You shall be buccaneers on the upper drafts. Every now
and then, such as today, we lose a few hearty hands. Captain
Winch needs to replace ’em with young ’uns nimble in the
rigging. Don’t look so sad! ’Tis better than being sold as slaves
in Namarre like these shera sethge shipmates of yours here.
And you, Captain, are to be ransomed to your Cresny-Beaulais Line.”
Captain Chauvond groaned, licking blood from his lips.
“Now, don’t bleed all over the clean deck. You lads, see
that keg over there? Go and fetch water for yourselves and your
shipmates. Make yourselves useful or Winch will notice you
and you’ll taste the lash. We sink anchor at dusk, then we eat
and suffer.
’Tis a shame we left your cook in a tree—ours is a
sadist and poisoner—’twould have been kinder to our aching
bellies to have swapped one for t’other. Look lively there!”
The two youths hurried to obey.

You can find The Ill-Made Mute on Amazon or at all good bookstores.

Writers you need to read . . .

Dart-Thornton, Reilly, Mieville, Williams.

Here’s a photo by @hartpix. It’s myself with a trio of amazing writers at a Writers’ Festival, pre-Covid.

Matthew Reilly, China Miéville and Sean Williams. Living the dream!

Matthew Reilly wrote his first book, Contest, at the age of 19, and self-published it in 1996. It was rejected by every major publisher in Australia, leading him to self-publish 1,000 copies using a bank loan. He was discovered when Cate Paterson, a commissioning editor from Pan Macmillan, found a self-published copy of Contest in a bookstore. Pan Macmillan signed him to a two-book deal. He has since sold over 7 million copies of his books worldwide, in over 20 languages.

China Miéville often describes his work as weird fiction and is allied to the loosely associated movement of writers called New Weird. He has won numerous awards for his fiction, including the Arthur C. Clarke Award, British Fantasy Award, BSFA Award, Hugo Award, Locus Award and World Fantasy Awards. He holds the record for the most Arthur C Clarke Award wins (three).

Sean Williams is the author of over eighty published short stories and thirty-nine novels, including Twinmaker and (with Garth Nix) the Troubletwisters series. He has co-written three books in the Star Wars: New Jedi Order series. His novelisation of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed was the first novelisation of a computer game to debut at #1 on the “New York Times” bestseller list. He is a multiple recipient of both the Ditmar and Aurealis Awards.

✨✨✨
Check out these three incredibly popular authors, if you have not yet done so.

And may the new year bring you health and happiness!

Tanith Lee and Kinuko Y Craft

The Silver Metal Lover

This book cover represents the confluence of my favourite female author with my favourite female cover artist. ✨✨✨

I was fortunate enough to be a personal friend of Tanith Lee and her husband John Kaiine, and now that the world has lost the amazing Tanith, I take comfort in John’s continuing friendship. ✨✨✨ @johnkaiineartist

Tanith’s work is utterly glorious, and strongly inspired my own writing. ✨✨✨ I highly recommend The Silver Metal Lover (which ought to be made into a movie) and in later posts I’ll recommend some of her other titles that I love best. ✨✨✨

Kinuko’s art is beautiful beyond description. ✨✨✨ I follow her on IG @kinukoycraft and on Facebook.

Alan Lee – One of the great Tolkien illustrators

Alan Lee

One of the great Tolkien illustrators.

Here’s a photo of myself with Alan Lee at his home in Devon, a few years ago. This gentleman is famed for his iconic Lord of the Rings artwork, which has defined the look of Middle-earth for generations of Tolkien fans. At the time, he was also working on concept art for the Narnia movies. What an absolute privilege it was to meet him!

“Alan is best known for his artwork inspired by J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy novels, and for his work on the conceptual design of Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit film series.”[Wikipedia]

“ALAN LEE was born in Middlesex in 1947. His illustrated books include Faeries (with Brian Froud), Castles and Merlin Dreams, and the three ‘Great Tales’ of Middle-earth: The Children of Húrin, Beren and Lúthien, and The Fall of Gondolin. He has worked on such prestigious films as Erik the Viking (Terry Gilliam), Legend (Ridley Scott), and the acclaimed NBC miniseries Merlin. He is best known, however, for his work on the books The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and now the film versions.” [amazon.com]

The Otherworldliness of Elves

Image courtesy of Mysticsartdesign on Pixabay.

ON HIS BLOG “Every Day Should Be Tuesday”, H.P. has posted a piece titled “Pre-Tolkien Fantasy Challenge: Howard, Moore, and Dunsany“.

In it he notes that “One of the things that struck me rereading The Lord of the Rings this summer . . .  is the otherworldly nature of the elves. The movies of course miss this entirely, as do his imitators. [In The Lord of the Rings] Legolas isn’t a superhuman archer; he doesn’t really come off as human at all. The otherworldliness of the elves in The King of Elfland’s Daughter is much more marked. . .

“. . . It is the otherworldliness, evoking a sense of wonder, that most stands out, as distinctive in Dunsany’s tale, present but more subtle in Tolkien’s, and entirely absent from his imitators.”

I must agree with H.P. and extend the idea to cover not only elves, but also the Faêran, wights and vampires. In modern literature, movies and games, elves and vampires are usually depicted simply as good-looking humans with supernatural abilities. They think like human beings. Their emotions are typically human.

Yet Dunsany, Tolkien and students of the great folklore collector Katharine Briggs know that this is as far from the original conception of these creatures as it is possible to be. These magical, non-human beings have a completely different, unhuman mindset.

H.P. writes, “an elf can never understand a human,”  and I would add that human beings can barely fathom the minds of elves, the Faêran, wights, or indeed vampires as they were originally conceived. Even the look of these beings has changed. Vampires, for example, were first described as  being bloated, with flushed or dark faces – very different from the slender, pallid vampires that became fashionable in the early 19th century.

Take, for example, the Drowner in my novel The Ill-Made Mute. This unseelie wight takes the form of Sianadh’s sister and calls to him with her voice, to lure the man to his death beneath the river. When her attempt is sabotaged and she fails:

‘The drowner, cheated of her prey, did not scream in rage. No recognizable expression crossed her delicate features. She reacted in no human fashion.
“Kavanagh, Kavanagh,” she called, or chanted,
“If not for she,
“I’d have drunk your heart’s blood,
“And feasted on thee.”
Having spoken, she subsided gracefully, leaving a faint turbulence.’

Of course, since elves, the Faêran, wights and vampires are fictitious, it could be argued that there is no right or wrong way to depict them, but to discard their otherworldliness is to strip away their most magnetic and intriguing qualities.

It is too easy to transform them into superhumans. Too easy, and far too boring!

 

The true origin of the term “Faêran”

Image courtesy of Dieterich01 on Pixabay.

THE FOLLOWING is probably far too much geeky/nerdy information for most people, but it’s important to me because I invested a lot of time and thought coming up with the term “Faêran” for my books. And it should never be confused with an Old English word that has nothing to do with it!

Question for CDT: What is the correct usage of the term ‘Faêran’? And did you invent it?
Reply: Yes, I did invent it. It first appeared in print in 2001, when The Ill-Made Mute was published. Since then, the word ‘Faêran’ has sometimes been mistakenly confused with the Old English ‘faran’ – ‘to frighten’. The confusion arose due to the normal dictionary practice of using phonetic spelling. The phonetic symbol ‘æ’ represents the short ‘a’ vowel sound, as in ‘sad’, so the word ‘faran’ is shown in dictionaries as ‘færan’, to ensure that it is pronounced properly. In the International Phonetic Alphabet, this letter is called ‘ash’.

Wikipedia: ‘Æ (minuscule: æ) is a grapheme formed from the letters a and e. Originally a ligature representing a Latin diphthong, it has been promoted to the full status of a letter in the alphabets of many languages. As a letter of the Old English alphabet, it was called æsc ‘ash tree’ after the Anglo-Saxon futhorc rune which it transliterated; its traditional name in English is still ash.’

As for my thoughts on the correct usage of the term – it can be used as a collective noun or an adjective. For example, no one is ‘a Faêran’. They must be ‘one of the Faêran’. To get it wrong would be like saying someone is ‘an English’. An artefact can be of Faêran make, but no one speaks ‘Faêran’ – they speak ‘the Faêran tongue’ or ‘the Faêran language’. Ideally the written word should include ê (e-circumflex) – i.e. ‘Faêran’.
If you managed to read through to the end of this post, you are a word-nerd after my own heart.