Story Time: The Beauty of Things Unseen

Today’s Story Time is “The Beauty of Things Unseen,” originally published in 1999 in Quantum SF, edited by Kurt Roth. As I mentioned previously in my post on Katherine Briggs, this was one of the early stories I got from the notion of the “fairy funeral.” Of course, that’s not exactly what the story is about–you can work that out for yourself–but I do come up with at least one suitable theory along the way.

 

 

 

As always with these things, “The Beauty of Things Unseen” will remain up until next Wednesday, December 6th. Until then, I hope, enjoy.

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Podsnappery

Podsnappery (n).

Yep. It’s a real word. Not much in vogue these days, but big back in Victorian England and still in the dictionary. Supposedly linked to a character from Dickens’s novel Our Mutual Friend, a Mr. Podsnap, who lived in a state of blissful denial completely unsullied by unpleasant facts, and thus raised a child who grew up with absolutely no understanding of what the world was really like outside her home, and met it unprepared. I think this word is overdue for renewal, seeing as how so many of my fellow citizens seem to be living under its influence, and nothing else serves so well. “Ignorance” and “denial” come close, but neither does the full job.

English as a language is like that, he said, which should be perfectly obvious to anyone paying attention. We invent new words, borrow new words, and the language evolves. Anyone who doubts that, remember the prologue to the Canterbury Tales? That was proper English, once. Now the average English speaker can still sort out what it means, but only to a certain degree of accuracy. Words drop out of use, or gain new usages over time. “Gay” used to mean one thing, and not very long ago. Now it means something else. People stopped arguing over the difference between “affect” and “effect” and simply borrowed “impact” to mean what they used to mean by “affect.” Can’t say I’m in favor, since “impact” still means “hit” so far as I’m concerned, and being hit does affect you, true, and often effects a change, but that doesn’t mean they’re the same thing. Still, I admit the war is over on that one and I think English lost. Some battles are still being fought, however. For instance, do not attempt to use “irregardless” as a real word around First Reader. She will pin your ears back.

It’s right and proper that new words meet some resistance. They need to be tested and proven before they join the language. Regardless, new words enter usage all the time, sometimes driven by technology (how long before “lol” or “afaik” is accepted spoken usage?), sometimes by necessity, as in “We need a word for that!” whatever that may be. I’m in favor of an import from Japanese, “aware.” No, not “ah-ware” but “ah wa re,” the concept that a transient thing is beautiful, not necessarily because it is pleasing to the eye (though it may be), but also because it is ephemeral and will not last. Like a sunset, or a flower in full bloom, or the turn of a leaf in autumn. Fleeting. I’m not holding my breath or anything, but just putting it out there. It’s a favorite word of mine and I’d love to see it come into English usage, but I know the odds are long.

After all, to think otherwise is to be a tad podsnappy.

Story Time: Brillig

This week’s Story Time, with apologies to Lewis Carroll, is “Brillig.”

I’ve always loved the poem “Jabberwocky,” partly because it never made a lot of sense, mostly for the wordplay. Reciting it aloud, which at one time I could do, always struck me as asking for trouble, however. Why? Darned if I know. But I thought it worth thinking about, which is one way a story will manifest–just thinking about something and writing it down. About the same time, Sean Wallace at Prime Books (later publisher of the Yamada series) was putting together a short run of weird fiction chapbooks called, wait for it, Jabberwocky. This one appeared in Jabberwocky #2.

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.

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.