Observations on the Good Neighbors

Anyone with an interest in either the literal or the more general “fairy tales,” specifically writing them, needs references. For one thing, a good reference is chock a block full of story ideas waiting to be discovered. For another, and just as important, they help you avoid the Dunning-Kruger Effect of thinking you know more about a subject than you actually do. So with that in mind, I’m going to list my own top five references for information about fairyland (in the very broadest sense) and legends.

Number 1, as should be obvious, is An Encyclopedia of Fairies: Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogles, and Other Supernatural Creatures by Katharine Briggs, Pantheon Books, 1976.

As far as I’m concerned, this the Bible on the subject. I’ve lost count of the story notions I’ve gleaned from it, and if there’s a supernatural denizen of the British Isles and Ireland that’s not gotten its due somewhere inside, I’ve missed it. It not only described what is believed known about such creatures, but includes at least some stories/foklore surrounding them to place them in proper context. It’s not going to say much about, say, kitsune, but what it covers it covers very well.

Number 2: A Field Guide to the Little People, By Nancy Arrowswmith w/George Moorse, Hill and Wang, NY, 1977.

This book goes a little further afield, with stories from Britain, Ireland, Russia, Scandinavia, Italy, Germany, etc. Like Briggs’ book, Arrowsmith includes illustrative stories about each creature, and divides the book into sections concerning Light, Dark, and Dusky folk, depending on their temperament. It is not as comprehensive as Briggs, but far wider reaching and a great complement. If I want to get information on a folletti or rusalka, this is where I go.

Number 3: The World Guide to Gnomes, Fairies, Elves, and Other Little People, Thomas Keightly, Crown Publishers, 1978, reprint of 1878 edition.

A bit more archaic in style but covers well what it does cover, mostly Persia, Scandinavia, Germany, Ireland and Britain. Again, illustrates the folklore of the individual creatures rather than giving a simple description. A good book to get lost in.

Number 4: A Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels, and Other Subversive Creatures, Carol K. Mack and Dinah Mack, Henry Holt, 1998

Don’t let the title fool you. “Demons” in this context mostly refers to ancient spirits and gods which were demoted when later religions moved into the area. Sometimes fairies suffered the same fate, but the book does try to distinguish between the two. Not as exhaustive as the earlier books, but covers an even broader swath of the supernatural, including creatures from the Middle East, Asia, Australia, South America, etc. If what you’re looking for isn’t in any of the previous references, this is the place to go.

Number 5: The Children’s Hour, Vol 8: Myths and Legends, Marjorie Barrows, Ed., Spencer Press, 1953 edition.

I’m including this because it’s a sentimental favorite of mine, is still a useful reference, and is exactly what the title describes. It’s a compendium of folklore and stories from around the world, including the New World. There’s Paul Bunyan and John Henry, tales from Africa, tales from Greek Legend, Robin Hood, The Apples of Iduna from Norse legend, King Arthur, Cuchulain, The Song of Roland…you get the idea. This is one of the books that gave me my early love of reading and, well, you see where that led.

I regret nothing.

The Children’s Hour

None of what follows negates what I said in the previous post, “The Selfish Meme,” but as with anything more complicated than a carpet tack–say, for instance, a human being–there’s always more to the story. I was recently reminded of a writer friend who had asked a question in her journal about early influences. Lots of people contributed but I wasn’t much help. It occurs to me that’s because the biggest very early influence–so early it was many years before I even thought about writing–wasn’t necessarily a single author–it was a collection of books ( I said I couldn’t hold it to 15). Specifically one of those cheap sets of children’s books they used to sell to young mothers back in the fifties and sixties. My mother was a hard working single mom with not a lot of cash back in the day and she was certainly the target audience, so to amuse me and my sisters she bought one.

This one was called The Children’s Hour  edited/compiled by Marjorie Barrows, and I have to say that Mom got her money’s worth. The set had everything–A volume of folktales. A volume of adventure stories. A volume of myths and legends. A volume of poetry. A volume of science fiction, for gossakes. This was my introduction to fairy and folk tales, which took a while to sink in properly but re-emerged as a dominant theme in my work. It was my introduction to poetry, of which (poets) I’ll never be one, but learned to appreciate. Also to The Song of Roland and the Arthurian cycle, and to sf (stories by Asimov & Heinlein, plus “Miss Pickerel Goes to Mars,” and “Lancelot Biggs of the Saturn.”) In hindsight it’s obvious to me that almost everything I do, nearly everything I’m interested in as a writer has a precedent in that one set of books.

It’s also probably why I’m not a proper “Southern Writer,” for better or worse. By the time Faulkner and Welty came along for me it was too late–I was already imprinted with a different strain of the fantastic, and remain so to this day.