In Praise of: Katherine Briggs

Yes, I’m late. Between a doctor’s appointment and errands on Monday, I didn’t get started on a blog post until late yesterday…where I promptly fell asleep at the keyboard. If I was putting myself to sleep I can only imagine what I would be doing to anyone else. So today is a fresh day, fresh start, and I am here, not to do a book review as such, but rather  to sing the praises of  Katherine Briggs, D. Litt from Oxford.  Specifically, her work An Encyclopedia of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures. (the first edition title was a little easier to handle: A Dictionary of Fairies) I have the later 1978 edition, long out of print but still available here and there. Probably $35+ minimum, and well worth it to the right people to track down.

The reason in my case is pretty simple. One of my favorite things to write has always been new riffs on old folklore, taking a basic theme or seed, if you will, from older stories and running with it. Doing the old “what if” and Asking the Next Question, as Theodore Sturgeon used to say. Or Looking at it “slantwise,” to paraphrase Mark Twain. Regardless, they were both talking about process, but everything has to start somewhere. An image, a character, a situation, whatever triggers the process, and that varies from day to day and story to story. Everyone uses references of one sort or another because everything you know, love, or follow is a reference, and which ones are going to vary depending on the person’s own interests and resonating themes. I’ve spoken about the references I used for the Yamada series here before, and more than once. This time I’m concentrating on what led to some of my favorite short stories, and this book by a past president of the British Folklore Society has to be near the top of the list. It’s not alone, surely, and there are others: A Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels, and Other Subversive Spirits by Carol K. Mack and Dinah Mack is a jewel, as is A Field Guide to the Little People by Nancy Arrowsmith and George Moorse. Or In Search of the Supernatural by Kenneth DeWoskin and J.I. Crump, Jr. (translation of the Sou-Shen Chi, also known as The Account of Seeking Spirits, 4th C CE by Kan Pao). Yet it is the Briggs I keep coming back to time and again.

For instance, as appropriate to something that started life as a dictionary of sorts, all entries are in alphabetical order. One day I was browsing and came across the entry for Fairy Funerals, an event said to be witnessed by mortals on more than one occasion. Which had me thinking. “Given that fairies are immortal, why would they need funerals?” One theory was that they were doing it to imitate or mock mortal customs, but that didn’t  satisfy me. So what could the real reason be? Out of that came “The Beauty of Things Unseen,” first published in Quantum SF and later collected in The Ogre’s Wife: Fairy Tales for Grownups .

Then there was “My Lord Teaser,” triggered by an article on teaser stallions plus accounts of the Wild Hunt found in Briggs. The two notions combined to make another favorite. Or “Death, the Devil, and the Lady in White” (White Ladies and no, not that kind) or “Conversation in the Tomb of an Unknown King” (Tomb Wights).

Then there was…well, you get the idea. The book has paid for itself many times over, and is currently helping me on a new novel project. Every time I’ve moved house, this book has come with me. When I’m gone, it’ll likely still be here. Maybe someone with sense will be at the estate sale to grab it.

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Awards and Local News

This year’s World Fantasy Convention just wrapped up in San Antonio, TX. I wasn’t there this year but I do remember San Antonio from the 55th World Science Fiction Convention I attended back in 1997. I remember the Riverwalk and I remember (yes) the Alamo. It’s a beautiful, diverse city and I’m a little bummed I couldn’t make it this year, even if my convention going has been less than sporadic lately. The World Fantasy Awards were given out on Sunday and congratulations to all the winners. I do want to give a special shout-out to Kij Johnson for her win for best long story, The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe and to Jeffrey Ford, winner for best collection, A Natural History of Hell, which I reviewed last November here.

On the local front, on Sunday, even as the awards were being given out, I finished the submission draft of the third story in my Daoist series, “An Account of the Madness of the Magistrate, Chengdhu Village,” which is the longest title I’ve ever used, beating out the previous record by two whole  words. Once I have a publication date and venue I’ll post it here. In the meantime you could do a lot worse than checking out the works  and writers above.

 

Story Time: A Pinch of Salt

3rd Story Collection“A Pinch of Salt” originally appeared in 2006 in Mythic #2, edited by Mike Allen and later collected in On the Banks of the River of Heaven. It’s about foolish men and mermaids. Sort of. Other than that, I do not have a lot to say about it. The story speaks for itself a lot better than I could, which is pretty much the case for all of them.

Story Time

 

Standard Reminder: “A Pinch of Salt” will only be online until Wednesday, November 8th.

Story Time: Kallisti

Maybe I’m a Discordian* at heart. Also an Animist with a little Buddhism and Southern Baptist thrown in. None of which is a contradiction when we’re talking about chaos/disorder in general, which is probably why, of all the Greek Gods, Eris, Goddess of Discord, has always been a favorite of mine, if one could be so presumptuous as to pick favorites among mythical deities without inviting at least a metaphorical thunderbolt. One shouldn’t take such things lightly, after all. There are all sorts of thunderbolts.

I’ve written two stories featuring Eris. A revisit of Eris’ role in the Judgement of Paris,  “Kallisti” was first published in Realms of Fantasy back in 2002 and later reprinted in the collection Worshipping Small Gods in 2007. With the passing of Realms the second remains in my files until the right market appears. Or until I lose patience and do it myself. Probably even money on which occurs first.

 

Standard Reminder: “Kallisti” will remain online only until next Wednesday, November 1st, 2017.

*Discordianism. If you’re not an old-school fan, Google is your friend.

 

Review: Tales of Falling and Flying by Ben Loory

Tales of Falling and Flying by Ben Loory, Penguin Books, 2017

I picked up Tales of Falling and Flying on the recommendation of Jeffrey Ford. Since I’d also discovered the weird and wonderful Strange Tales From a Chinese Studio from the same source, I was more than inclined to give this one a try, and was definitely not disappointed, especially in the weird and wonderful department. Tales of Falling and Flying excels in both categories.

At first glance, this looks like a collection of short stories. Once you’re into it, that perception gets stretched a bit, or at least mine did. Not that the tales within ran roughshod over classic definitions of a short story. I mean, they were about something. They had a beginning, middle, and end in the sense that they started somewhere, went somewhere, ended somewhere. It’s those “somewheres” that need a bit of a mental adjustment.

Take for example, the very first piece in the book, “The Dodo.” I’m just going to quote the opening line: “Once there was a dodo, and he died with the rest, but then he suddenly got back up again.” So what does a dodo who should be dead but isn’t do? If you guessed “Get forced into an identity crisis because he’s alive but all the dodos are dead, therefore everyone says he can’t possibly be one,” then you have the idea. Or consider “The Sloth,” which features, yes, a sloth, one who decides he doesn’t really want to hang around the jungle eating leaves and decides to go to the city and get a job.  What sort of job is there for a sloth in the big city? It takes the sloth a while to find out, but the answer follows very reasonably from what the sloth discovers in his search along the way. Or “Death and the Lady” where a woman goes to church and discovers Death sitting next to her, and if you think you might know where that particular story is headed, you’re both right and very wrong. If I had to pick one, I’d likely say that was my favorite, which is silly because you don’t have to pick one. The very idea is limiting.

One thing I can confirm is that there will be tales of “falling and flying.” Along the way the reader could be forgiven for thinking she was reading a book of special kinds of stories called parables, deep into double meanings and lessons and metaphors and whatnot. But then you hit a story like “The Ostrich and the Aliens” which, in its own metafictional way, pokes fun at the very idea. So maybe they’re not parables, or perhaps they are, or some of them, and I found myself thinking about each one even while I was reading it. Normally that sort of thing kicks me right out of a story, but not in this case. The stories invite a bit of consideration. Invite? Say rather they demand it. As for classification, well, I can’t speak for other readers, but after a while I stopped worrying about that and just gladly went wherever Loory was going. Plenty of time later to think about where that was. No conclusions yet, but I’m still thinking.

Which is just about the highest compliment I have to give.