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.

 

My Fantasy Movie Soundtrack

BlackbirdSoundtrack

In the Fantasyland of my daydreams, if the Bitterbynde Trilogy were made into a movie, what would be on the soundtrack?

Birdsong

Birdsong is the soundtrack of my life. I live in a rural area that abounds with wild birds and their carolling is the backdrop to the hours of my days. In particular I love the pure, natural, non-studio-modified, songs of the blackbird, the Australian magpie, the grey shrike thrush and the pied butcher-bird.

Why is birdsong so calming?

BBC News reports, ““People find birdsong relaxing and reassuring because over thousands of years they have learnt when the birds sing they are safe, it’s when birds stop singing that people need to worry. Birdsong is also nature’s alarm clock, with the dawn chorus signalling the start of the day, so it stimulates us cognitively.”

If you want to listen to recorded birdsong, make sure it’s from a company that does not “mix” the sounds in a studio. Listening Earth produces recording that are pure as nature intended. Why is this important? Because, as Andrew from Listening Earth explains – in nature, each bird species has its own “bandwidth” on the sound frequency spectrum. This is important for their survival, because it means that one species doesn’t drown out another. When humans “improve” on natural birdsong by overlaying tracks in a studio, that natural separation can be lost. We may not be consciously aware of it, but something in our primitive brain areas detects a wrongness about the mixed sound, which can give rise to a feeling of unease.

Nature, natural habitats and wild creatures are an integral part of the Bitterbynde Trilogy, which is why birdsong is so perfect for the movie soundtrack.

Traditional British & Celtic folk music

Two traditional British folk-songs that – in my opinion – might have been taught to us by the faeries are Brigg Fair, and Bushes and Briars.

Brigg Fair

“Brigg Fair is a traditional English folk song sung by the Lincolnshire singer Joseph Taylor. The song, which is named after a historical fair in Brigg, Lincolnshire, was collected and recorded on wax cylinder by the composer and folk-song collector Percy Grainger. It is known for its use in classical music, both in a choral arrangement by Grainger and a subsequent set of orchestral variations by Frederick Delius.” [Wikipedia, Brigg Fair]
When I first heard Brigg Fair, I was instantly enchanted. I heard the old, crackly  version first recorded on the wax cylinder (now digitised and copied) , sung unaccompanied by Mr Taylor. You can hear him singing online at the British Library Sound Archive as part of the Percy Grainger Collection. Or here on YouTube.
I dislike both Grainger’s and Delius’s versions of Brigg Fair; they sound too melancholy and haunted, and far too pretentious for a folk song. I am, however, a huge fan of the fact that they both loved the tune, and that Grainger collected original folk melodies, (and as a side note, for many years I used to walk past his childhood house on the way to the dentist).
What is it about the tune of Brigg Fair that makes it so strangely appealing? It’s hard to say…
It’s the entire melody. For example, the placement of second last note in the eighth bar seems to be somehow elusive and surprising, like the song of some wild bird. (There’s a note like that in the fourth bar, too.)
It’s only a middle G (G4) but it’s a tone above the note you are expecting at that point. In fact I have heard people who’ve not properly learned the melody singing or playing the notes you expect, the notes they expect, rather than the notes in Joseph Taylor’s original. It makes the tune seem bland – just those tiny differences.
Too much nerdy information? Probably, but hey – this is my blog. 🙂

 Bushes and Briars

“Bushes and Briars is an English folk-song. A phonograph recording was supposedly made in 1904 of Mrs Humphreys of Ingrave, Essex by Lucy Broadwood and Ralph Vaughan Williams, although the version available in the British Library Sound Archive is more likely to be of Broadwood herself. The recording of Mrs Humphreys was included in 1998 on the EFDSS anthology ‘A Century of Song’. ” [Wikipedia, Bushes and Briars]
I adore the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams. I also like this version of the song by The Bread Witch on her YouTube channel Eat, Bake, Sing, and I think you will, too.

Contemporary folk music

In no particular order: The Chieftains, Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman (the soundtrack to Last of the Mohicans), The Battlefield Band, Clannad, Riverdance, Loreena McKennitt, The Bothy Band, Steeleye Span, Fairport Convention, Joan Baez and more . . .

Rock Music

In no particular order: Apocalyptica. Pink Floyd, Metallica, The Dandy Warhols, Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, Nightwish and more . . .

High school recorder bands

What? High school recorder bands are on this list? Yes. All I can say is, their music sends delicious chills up and down my spine. I am captivated by their unpolished rawness. It’s probably something to do with the fact that each instrument is usually slightly out of tune and indeed slightly out of synch with the others. High school recorder band music is plaintive, thrilling, bittersweet, and underrated!

Quote, unquote

Humbled?

WHEN I STUMBLED across some quotes from my work on the website AZ quotes, I felt surprised and deeply honoured.

I won’t say I felt “humbled”, because in the 21st century that word is often skewed to mean the exact opposite of its original definition. Correctly, when someone is “humbled” they are made to feel less important or less proud. Seeing my quotes online did not make me feel less important or less proud. Quite the reverse!

There’s a current fad for using “humbled” in the sense that a person feels they really don’t live up to a compliment. Of course, language is always in a state of flux, and “humbled” has just fluxed big-time. But I don’t have to go along with it! Using a term to mean its opposite is anathema to my pedantic word-nerd instincts.

Pedantic word-nerd instincts

I have no problem with typos. I make plenty of them myself. Typos are generally made by busy people getting things done.

Spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors, on the other hand, I find annoying, particularly when they’re made by professional scribes such as journalists and authors. So many “trained” journalists are dangling their participles these days that it threatens to derail my sanity and that of my fellow pedants entirely. This keen awareness of the rules of language is part of my DNA. According to some, this means I’m probably an introvert. Who’d have guessed?
I’m not the only one afflicted by this issue – check out Weird Al’s song “Word Crimes” on YouTube. Love ya, Al.

Furthermore, the idea that one should always say “[insert name here] and I”, every single time, no matter what grammatical case one is employing, is a fallacy.

You don’t have to know what the cases are called, just use common sense.

“My friend and I went to the beach”. Correct! “The postman handed the parcels to my friend and me.” Correct! Simply imagine the sentence without the words “my friend and”. Then, if your English is good, you’ll instinctively know which form to use.

“I went to the beach”. “The postman handed the parcels to me.”

Quite the Irritant

Sweeping the English-speaking world, there seems to be another sudden fad for using the definite article (“the”) before the word “quite”, for example, “It’s quite the steep hill, isn’t it,” and “It’s quite the hot day today.” Noooo!

The Cambridge English Dictionary, bless its paper heart, explains that “Quite is a degree adverb. It has two meanings depending on the word that follows it: ‘a little, moderately but not very’ and ‘very, totally or completely’:

A little or a lot but not completely: “It was quite a difficult job.”
To a large degree: “School is quite different from what it once was.”
Completely: “I’ve not quite finished yet.”
Really or truly: “It was quite a remarkable speech.”
Here are two examples in which using “quite + the” is correct:
“He’s not inefficient; quite the contrary.”

Pairing “quite” with “the” was especially popular during the 1920s. In the perfectly grammatically correct and utterly delightful novels of PG Wodehouse, for example, a character could be described as “quite the cad”, (meaning a a man who behaves dishonourably). A trend could be described as “Quite the thing,” meaning “socially acceptable”. In this sense, something or someone  is being compared to a stereotype; the stereotypical cad, or the stereotypical trend.
The steep hill and the hot day mentioned above are not stereotypical in that sense.

Why it matters

As David Shariatmadari writes in The Guardian, “I feel something akin to having a stone in my shoe when I see a mistake. It acts as an irritant.”
Me too. Does this mean that I am an introvert? That I have OCD? I don’t know. The way I see it, language is an exquisite, precise tool for conveying meaning, and when a precision tool is blunted, the result is usually pretty poor. Meaning can be confused or lost. And it need not be!

I don’t correct anyone’s use of language unless they ask me to, because, well, I like to show some respect. Also, I don’t judge people (except journalists and editors) on their use of language. Journalists and editors are trained in language, as the tool of their trade!
By the same token, I am happy to be corrected if I err. Like anyone else, I can make mistakes.

We “Grammardian Angels” have our role to play, as Roslyn Petelin, Associate Professor in Writing, at the University of Queensland points out in her article In Defence of Grammar Pedantry. Petelin includes a light-hearted quote from BBC journalist Jeremy Paxman;

“People who care about grammar are regularly characterised as pedants. I say that those who don’t care about it shouldn’t be surprised if we pay no attention to anything they say — if indeed they are aware of what they’re trying to say.”

I’ll conclude as I began, with a reference to some quotes from my books that are popular on the Internet.

If you are the lantern, I am the flame;
If you are the lake, then I am the rain;
If you are the desert, I am the sea;
If you are the blossom, I am the bee;
If you are the fruit, then I am the core;
If you are the rock, then I am the ore;
If you are the ballad, I am the word;
If you are the sheath, then I am the sword.

 

~ Cecilia Dart-Thornton: Most popular quote on A-Z Quotes.

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.

Tolkien’s House

ON 24 MARCH Locus Magazine reported that the campaign to buy Professor JRR Tolkien’s house at 20 Northmoor Road, Oxford and turn it into a literary centre dedicated to Tolkien, had failed.

He and his family lived there between 1930 and 1947 while he was professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University, It was there that he wrote The Hobbit and the first two volumes of The Lord of the Rings.

Some years ago I visited that address and viewed it from the street, it being a private residence. My visit was part of an informal tour ‘In the Footsteps of Tolkien’, organised by a couple of friends, with whom I travelled.

What a glorious jaunt it was. We went to every place he was known to have set foot in the UK. These included the Eagle and Child pub where The Inklings used to gather, the cave houses at Alderley Edge that are said to have inspired hobbit homes, the hotel room in which Tolkien and Edith spent their honeymoon, at The Plough and Harrow Hotel in Birmingham, the old mill at Sarehole, Mosley Bog, the Rollright Stones, King Edward’s School, Birmingham, and 264 Wake Green Road, one of Tolkien’s childhood homes. And there were more.

Along the way we dropped in for a cuppa with Tolkien artist Alan Lee in Chagford, Devon.

I was disappointed to read that the scheme to purchase Northmoor Road had failed, until I read this: ‘The Tolkien Society refused to support the project, noting that “the property itself is a listed building in a conservation area – with a blue plaque proudly showing its connection to Tolkien – meaning the property is well protected under the law and not in need of rescue.”’

This is indeed true, and as Locus states, ‘ the organizers [of the campaign] announced that “we have been offered an alternative home for the first literary centre dedicated to Tolkien in a very suitable venue in the heart of Oxford that fits our needs perfectly for in-person courses and a base for tours visiting the locations that inspired Tolkien.”’

It has, for a long time, bemused Tolkien fans that there exists no centre dedicated to him in the UK, as there is for other authors such as the Bronte sisters, Beatrix Potter, Arthur Ransome etc. Let us hope this oversight is soon rectified.

 

Back to Facebook

Image courtesy of Piqsels.

I’VE RECENTLY returned to Facebook, and it’s been an unexpectedly lovely experience. I’ve been away from it for a long time – some years, in fact – and it was a delight to find such a warm community of long-time FB friends greeting me on my return. I’ve greatly enjoyed catching up with their posts.
Years ago, when I first joined Facebook, I decided to make my personal page a place free from argument and anger; a place dedicated to the sharing of posts on topics of interest to fans of Fantasy/Sci-Fi (and other subjects, such as gardening and music).
I wanted it to be a refuge, if you will, from the seemingly constant social media focus on world events. After all, I doubt whether any important political issue has ever been resolved by arguing about it on Facebook. Besides, your Facebook Page is YOUR page, and can be what you want it to be.  There is no obligation to discuss politics. There are better places to do that.
I don’t know how long I will remain back on Facebook, because yes, it can be distracting, and writers need to concentrate on writing. But while I’m there, I am loving it.

Sain thee,
Cecilia

Welcome!

WELCOME to my new blog. I will be stopping by occasionally to keep you up to date with my latest news (which might also be posted to Facebook.)
Sain thee,
Cecilia.