The Asrai

The Asrai: Wights of the water.

Hylas and the Nymphs by John Waterhouse 1896
Hylas and the Nymphs by John Waterhouse 1896

Folklore

In English folklore the asrai are a species of aquatic faery that dwell in freshwater rivers and lakes. (Other aquatic fairies (or “wights”) include sea-dwelling mermaids and nixies, the human-like shapeshifting water spirits of Germanic folklore.)
The asrai are usually depicted as female. They tend to be timid and shy, and may be either quite small, 2–4 ft (0.61–1.22 m) tall, or tall and slender. Being faeries/spirits/wights, they are generally immortal, although they can perish if mistreated.

“Tales from Cheshire and Shropshire (UK) tell of a fisherman who captured an asrai and put it in his boat. It seemed to plead for its freedom in an unknown language, and when the fisherman bound it the touch of its cold wet hands burned his skin like fire, leaving a permanent mark. He covered the asrai with wet weeds, and it continued to protest, its voice getting fainter and fainter. By the time the fisherman reached the shore the asrai had melted away leaving nothing but a puddle of water in the boat, for it will perish if directly exposed too long to the sun. Their inability to survive daylight is similar to that of trolls from Scandinavian folklore.

“Other tales describe the asrai as having green hair and a fishtail instead of legs or may instead have webbed feet. They live for hundreds of years and will come up to the surface of the water once each century to bathe in the moonlight which they use to help them grow. If the asrai ( sees a man she will attempt to lure him with promises of gold and jewels into the deepest part of the lake to drown or simply to trick him. However, she cannot tolerate human coarseness and vulgarity, and this will be enough to frighten her away.”
[“Asrai” – Wikipedia]

Their oldest known appearance in print was the poem “The Asrai” by Robert Williams Buchanan, first published in April 1872, and followed by a sequel, “A Changeling: A Legend of the Moonlight.”

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“The Asrai” by Robert Williams Buchanan

Water fairies, by Arthur Rackham.
Water fairies, by Arthur Rackham.

“Before man grew of the four elements
The Asrai grew of three—fire, water, air—
Not earth,—they were not earthly. That was ere
The opening of the golden eye of day:
The world was silvern,—moonlight mystical
Flooded her silent continents and seas,—
And in green places the pale Asrai walked
To deep and melancholy melody,
Musing, and cast no shades.

“These could not die
As men die: Death came later; pale yet fair,
Pensive yet happy, in the lonely light
The Asrai wander’d, choosing for their homes
All gentle places—valleys mossy deep,
Star-haunted waters, yellow strips of sand
Kissing the sad edge of the shimmering sea,
And porphyry caverns in the gaunt hill-sides,
Frosted with gems and dripping diamond dews
In mossy basins where the water black
Bubbled with wondrous breath. The world was pale,
And these were things of pallor; flowers and scents,
All shining things, came later; later still,
Ambition, with thin hand upon his heart,
Crept out of night and hung the heights of heaven
With lights miraculous; later still, man dug
Out of the caves the thick and golden glue
That knits together the stone ribs of earth.

Nor flowers, nor scents, the pallid Asrai knew,
Nor burning aspiration heavenward,
Nor blind dejection downward under earth
After the things that glitter. Their desires
Shone stationary—gentle love they felt
For one another—in their sunless world
Silent they walked and mused, knowing no guile,
With lives that flow’d within as quietly
As rain-drops dripping with bright measured beat
From mossy cavern-eaves.”

WRITING TIP #4: Read only the best.

Read only the Best

WRITING TIPS 4: Read only the best.This, for me, is an essential writing tip!

Zat Rana wrote, in an article for QUARTZ, published on 18 October, 2017:

QUALITY OVER QUANTITY: You “become” what you read.

“. . . I don’t think most of us internalize quite how much, and sometimes how subtly, what we read determines who we become.
Input shapes your output.

“Language is our primary tool of communication. It’s how we build and organize our knowledge, and it’s what allows us to interact with each other.

“Outside of direct experience, it’s also largely how we create our perception of reality. The information your senses absorb through your surroundings combine to create linguistic (and subconscious) models in your mind about how the world works and the best way to interact with it.

“One part of this occurs through verbal conversation, or listening to something in general, but for most knowledge workers and for the average person in developed countries a larger part of it is directly a result of what we consume [via reading].

You are what you read. The information that you input into your mind informs your thinking patterns, and it influences your output in the form of the decisions you make, the work you produce, and the interactions you have.

Reading a book

“That’s a huge incentive to prioritize a block of time to think about what and how you consume [read], and whether or not you read adequately relative to the progress you want to make. It’s a reason to maybe pause and consider if you can do anything to purposefully shape the direction of your mind.

“Naturally, input doesn’t necessarily mean quantity. The correlation between how much you read or consume and what you can do or who you become begins to even off after a certain point, and more isn’t always better.

“This is entirely about what the quality of your predominant sources of input [books] are, and the importance of those can’t be overstated.”

JRR Tolkien

Professor JRR Tolkien

Which authors have influenced my own writing over my lifetime?

Primarily, Professor JRR Tolkien and Tanith Lee, but also (in no particular order) –
Nicholas Stuart Gray, George MacDonald, John Keats,
William Shakespeare, Isaac Asimov, Eleanor Farjeon,
C.S. Lewis, Arthur C. Clarke, E. Nesbit,
Andre Norton, Ann McCaffrey, Charles Dickens,
George Eliot, Terry Pratchett, Jane Austen,
Ray Bradbury, Susannah Clark, Thomas Hardy,
Simon Winchester, Dianna Wynne-Jones, Douglas Adams,
Alan Garner, CS Lewis, Andrew Lang,
William Allingham, Hilda Lewis, Charles Kingsley,
Emily Brontë, Juliet Marillier, William Morris,
Ursula LeGuin, Jackie French, Walter de la Mare, and more.

Tanith Lee

Tanith Lee

All these writers and poets have strongly influenced my inner worlds and contributed, in their own way. to the creation of the Bitterbynde Trilogy. In addition to giving me inspiration, they have also given me joy, peace, excitement, wonderment and delight. They have increased my vocabulary and helped me to look at the world in new ways.

 

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.

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

And may the new year bring you health and happiness!

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.