Last weekend at World Fantasy Convention 2011 in San Diego, I attended a panel on "The Not-So-Fair Folk," in which the dark side of fae folklore was explored. The importance of keeping mum about the fae was mentioned more than once, making the panel itself feel just a bit dangerous, as if talking about it just might land us all in trouble.
Like the fae themselves, the darker tales are often hidden among the seeming light. In Disney's Sleeping Beauty, the fairies are portrayed as benign and somewhat daft—except for Maleficent, who appears uninvited at the christening of newborn Princess Aurora to "gift" her with a curse after being denied the proper respect. As a child, I was always much more interested in Maleficent than anyone else in the story. Why was she so different? Why didn't they invite her? What was her history?
Another favorite of mine was the Snow Queen. She swept in with the north wind and stole away pretty boys to keep for herself. I was instantly intrigued.
When I was a little older, I discovered the White Witch in C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and recognized her as the same figure, as she turned the world to eternal winter and brought Edmund under her thrall from her sparkling sleigh. And then again in The Silver Chair, the Lady of the Green Kirtle came along and stole away and enchanted Prince Rilian of Narnia.
These mysterious, powerful women are all nods to the Queen of the Fae, who was prone to stealing human children and replacing them with changelings, or captivating the hearts of mortal men who followed her into the unseen kingdom of the fairies. The fear of a powerful woman seems to infuse men's psyches in the oldest of folklore of many traditions. From sirens and mermaids to veela and rusalki, all of them lure men to their hidden realms. (Which I guess pretty much speaks for itself.)
As much as I love my protagonists, I can never quite resist a strong and dangerous woman. When I started my current series, The House of Arkhangel'sk, I had no intention of writing about dark fae. It's a story about angels and demons, and the Russian imperial family. But somehow as I was developing the villainess of the story, I ended up with none other than the Fairy Queen herself. She was the perfect enchantress to lead my fallen angel astray.
I took some liberties, of course. My Fairy Queen comes from a Celtic tradition (the same that inspired C.S. Lewis—the ballad of Tam Lin; as well as Irish poet Brian Merriman's The Midnight Court), but I moved her to the icy Russian north and gave her the qualities of a Slavic veela. Her origins, however, are something I haven't explained. Queen Aeval remains a bit of a mystery. Somehow, it didn't seem appropriate to talk about where she came from. Maybe subconsciously, I, too, was afraid to delve too deeply into her realm, or at least to speak of it. You never know what she might do.
If you dare to speak of the unseen, feel free to leave me a comment about your favorite fae. I'll give away a signed ARC of Book One of The House of Arkhangel'sk, The Fallen Queen, to a commenter chosen at random.
Fascinating article! I certainly agree with you re Maleficent and her back story - lots of room for speculation there. Judicious speculation so as not to upset the inhabitants of her realm of course! LOL.ReplyDelete
I've always argued that Maleficent's only flaw was her hiring practices... so many perfect villains are handicapped by incompetent help! :D Love this article.ReplyDelete
In Greek folklore, the fae are called nymphs and they live in the trees during the day, coming out to dance under the moon at night.ReplyDelete
They are great seductresses though this usually backfires. There are many stories of Greek warriors capturing nymphs and keeping them as wives. The hero Achilles was said to be the son of a nymph captured by a human. Thetis, the nymph in question, was a shape-shifting nymph, changing (according to wikipedia) to flame, water, a lioness and a serpent before surrendering to the human, awed at his courage.
In a way Thetis is my favourite fae because she brings the world of mortals and gods together. She loves a mortal and marries him, bears a son and then sees him die, using her immortality to eternally grieve for him.
It's a little depressing now that I've put it on "paper" and this comment is getting a little too long. I could be talking/writing about fae and nymphs, gods and mortals for ever if I was given space to!
You should have been on that panel! You have so much to add!ReplyDelete
I'm particularly intrigued by the Leanan Sidhe, who are female succubi. You don't think of succubi and fae as the same thing, lately, but it's my opinion that we used to call "faeries" are now called "demons."
I've got to be completely unoriginal here: the Sidhe. Immortal, incredibly powerful and beautiful...but they retreated under the hills. So many old saints and gods come from them, and I have to wish that we'd find some lost bard's tale naming a lot more of the old ones.ReplyDelete
I've always been a big fan of the Little Folk. The pixies, and the brownies, and all the Wee Ones who maybe aren't as glamorous as the Sidhe, but are just as powerful and capricious.ReplyDelete
This is fascinating! I love the world of fae and folklore, especially the Celtic. And you describe it so beautifully!ReplyDelete
I've always been fond of the puck-ish folk. The ones who cause trouble, but not too much. For fictional fae I must say Terry Practhett's Wee Free Men are my favorites.ReplyDelete
Love the title and Celtic magic! Please consider my entry into your contest! I love all fae that have a little fun along the way of creating their havoc.ReplyDelete
Mine are pixies since they were the first I learned about.ReplyDelete
I'll go with Maleficent. When I saw her featured on last week's episode of ABC's "Once Upon a Time" I felt a little giddy! Nice post.ReplyDelete
Glad to see a couple of Maleficent fans. Ya gotta love her. So true, Cathy; it's so difficult to get good help. ;)ReplyDelete
SparksScribbler, one of the panelists actually went into nymphs as well; I love how so many traditions tie in together. Interestingly, the shape-shifting of Thetis is echoed in the ballad of Tam Lin, which C.S. Lewis also used in The Silver Chair with the Lady of the Green Kirtle, who transformed into a serpent.
Mercedes, it was an awesome panel and I particularly loved hearing your story about the Skinwalkers, even if I'm now looking for them under my bed. ;) And I was just watching the most recent Lost Girl episode last night and heard the term Leanan Sidhe for the first time, which is one of the reasons I wrote this post. I love synchronicity. :)
Fascinating post, even if I don't have a favourite fey. I love the shimmering idea of one world overlapping another.ReplyDelete
Cathy, just got to say I loved your comment that villains are undone by poor help :)
I've always been a fan of the troublemakers and tricksters, too. In Russia, every house has a house spirit, called the Domovoi, who is both a protector of the hearth and a trickster. If you're a poor housekeeper or swear a lot, he'll mess with your stuff. Even though I'm not Russian, I think there's definitely one in my house. ;)ReplyDelete
Funny - I never made the snow queen connection with C.S. Lewis' witch, even though I read those books a zillion times along with scads of fairy tales. *slaps head with palm*ReplyDelete
I loved reading your post because I've not thought about this subject before. I love the myths and how traditions came to be, but hadn't correlated the two together. Thanks for bringing me up to par.ReplyDelete
Sorry I'm so late to the party! What a great post. I love hearing more about how you came to bring Aeval to the story. And you know I love the books so much.ReplyDelete
My favorite thing about fairies is that like much of the supernatural, writers can twist the legends to fit the story they want to tell.ReplyDelete
Thanks for the great comments, everyone. The contest is now closed and the winner of the ARC is Mrs. Duff! :)ReplyDelete
Congrats, Mrs. Duff! Email me (jane at janekindred dot com) with your snail-mail address and I'll send your prize off to you.
SOrry to be late, Jane, but this was a fabulous blog!!! :)ReplyDelete
Malificent was always more intriguing to me too!
Congratulations on the upcoming release!
Happy Day! Thanks for the opportunity to read your new book!ReplyDelete