Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Fantasy & Folklore: the importance of belief

Last week, Jenna gave an excellent response to my post on the effect of time and culture on the writer and her audience. This week, I'm hoping to continue to look into culture, but with a focus on belief in mysteries and in magic.

“..the darkness holds it all in:
figures and flames, beasts and me,
        whatever it may catch..

It is possible there might
     be moving a power right next to me

I believe in nights.”


There is some element of the fantastic in the writing we do: Jenna, Mr. Pond, and I.  Each of us deals in myth to some extent.  For me, it is the little myths - folklore and superstitions that weave their way into my writing because they are woven through my life. “I believe in nights” and in those flourishing there; which is why I love to walk under the stars, and why I’m frightened out alone after midnight.

The writer should believe in possibilities, and the writer whose creative world is alive with the fantastic must not, in her daily life, be able to close the door leading to fairy. How she props it open depends on many things, on faith and on dreams, on the past and on the future; but the doorway must stay open. I don’t insist that we believe in everything we create, in the literal sense - or I would never write, too afraid I'd call up some malevolent being - but we should still believe in mysteries. Tales of the miraculous by jaded writers ring false, like listening to an old cynic describe his youthful ideals. It is part of my trouble with many of the writers I see, they often seem to build up worlds as a defense against a life too mundane to love; and because they don't believe, these writers don't see the value and the limits of the symbols they employ.

When the writer who believes makes a world of magic, she builds it in fear and trembling, unwilling to play fast and loose with her myths because she understands them at their core, loves them and refuses to do them harm. I’m disturbed when I see writers who scoop their myths directly from Bulfinch's; who seem to cut and paste carelessly without giving the myth a home and living with it a while in love or fear. They haven’t taken the time to let the myth become real to them before trying to make it real for their readers.

          “You see I want much.
           perhaps I want it all:
          the dark that goes with any bottomless fall
         and the sun-speckled climbing up..”

What do I ask of real writers, living and creating outside the bounds of my imagination? Simply that we who deal in fairy tales ought to believe in them. Read Bulfinch's by all means but don’t start there, or end there. Listen to old tales, live the myths. Go out hunting the fern flower on St. John’s eve, bury statues in the yard, count crows, light candles, and feel the eyes of the unseen watching as you build them up with words. Don’t sacrifice dreams for responsibility and don’t attempt to confine your miracles to the written word. And don't write to escape the mundane, write to color it with the magic you see.  Sleep on a bay leaf and write your dreams.


  1. Oooh love this: "And don't write to escape the mundane, write to color it with the magic you see." Very well said :)

  2. MASHA. I love this. I have no idea yet how I'll respond, but I love it.

    Can you recommend a good book or website on mythic herbology? Or tell me something of what you know? I have a novel to write that involves a girl working for a witch, and I don't want to be stupid about this. :)

  3. I'll look at my books, & I'd love to tell you what I know..let me think a bit and try to figure out where to start! :)

    I'm so glad you liked the post, & really excited to see what you respond with!

  4. "We who deal in fairy tales ought to believe in them."

    Yes. Yes a hundred times.

  5. Thank you Christie!

    Your blog is lovely & I absolutely love the fairy tale contest! What a fantastic idea!