I recently finished the latest Alan Garner book, Boneland.
With this, Garner completes a trilogy which began with The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and then onto the Moon of Gomrath leaving its protagonist twins, Colin and Susan, with uncertain destinies. Fifty years on, Boneland is a grown-up, strangely sad end to the twins' journeys. Garner explores Colin's dsturbed psyche
which has been formed by his relationship with the ancient haunted landscape of Alderley Edge and its beginnings rooted in folklore.
It remains a brilliant, mystifying story which I read because I was entranced by the magical realism of The Weirdstone. I was Colin (he was more interesting than Susan) and I was captured by Alderley Edge as much as he was. Garner is impressive. His story is huge but can be held in your hand because it's a world he makes local to its foundations.
Garner brings the stars and the earth and the poetic story of a people and makes this whole big story universe local.There are stories out there for the taking, shaping and remaking, endlessly told and retold and none the worse for that. They fascinate because they are based in a reality we know or used to know, a place just out of reach but still within remembering and possible.
I will confess that I LOVE legends and folklore in all its forms. I'm a shameless watcher of 'Merlin' and' Game of Thrones'. Both are familiar and still differently realised. So, bring them on... witches, demons, fairies, screaming skulls, hidden treasure, phantom beasts, drowned villages, spirits, secret passages, Arthur and his Sleeping Knights etc etc, all these archetypes and characters and places are woven into the British landscape for anyone who cares to look. I keep a copy of not one but two Oxford Dictionaries by the bed - Superstitions and Folklore of England. Both are fantastic for dipping into. But my regional folklore bible is:
It is packed with stories about people and the landscape, about simpler times when explanations were not so forthcoming, when logic and science still bordered on bonkers. When you could just make it all up and folk would be inclined to believe you, especially if you were sitting round a fire and the dark was outside and well, really the only explanation for your dead livestock was that funny look Old Mother Tweddle gave you.
|They' re not my black crows|
There are many similar stories but they are all made different, peculiar to their locality. How to choose an example when there are so many. What about bogey beasts like the Black Dogs?
A cross between a big, rough-coated dog and a monley with big shining eyes.Hmmm, sounds like the East Anglian, 'shuck'. In 1850, the Reverend E.S.Taylor of Ormesby wrote of, 'a black, shaggy dog with fiery eyes...who visits churchyards at night.' Of course it does Reverend! How brilliant! But hang on, in 1830 a Reverend (naturally) Robert Formby in Suffolk reported sightings of a, 'shock':
'a mischievious goblin, in the shape of a great dog , or a calf, haunting highways and footpaths in the dark. Those who are so foolhardy as to encounter him are sure to be at least thrown down and severely bruised and it is well if they do not get their ankles sprained.'Yikes.
|A likely place for a beastly bogey encounter|
'I went to see a place, between Sanclif and Conisby, called the Sunken Church, the tradition concerning which says that there was a church there formally but that it sunk in the ground with all the people in it.'According to an 18th century story from Norfolk, a deep hole called Seagar-ma-hole' was said to be a 'Fairies' Bay'. A church which stood on the spot was swallowed up by the boggy, rushy ground. Prosaic reasons for terrible events become lyrical, endlessly repeatable and fabulous.
|Looking up to where Dunino Church is sited|
|Can you see the face?|
|Talismans draped from trees in the dell|
|Dunino pool - a natural rock basin above the dell and a place of ancient tales - photo thanks to Land of the Fae|
There is so much to be found, so many stories stored in the stones and the woods and the water which when told, gather some sort of creeping substance. Sometimes I feel spoiled for choice. So, bit stuck with a story? Go for a walk, scrape at some moss, dig down a little and you may find gold.
Don't be too much of a cynic. be like the so-called Shepherd-Lord of Brougham Castle in Cumberland who found beauty and wisdom everywhere he looked:
Love had he found in huts where poor men lie,
His daily teachers had been wood and rills;
The silence that is the starry sky,
The sleep that is among the lonely hills.
|Here be giants or fairies or witches or...|
Got any favourite bits of folklore?