Tuesday, 6 June 2017
I will leave the rest of this to the synopsis on the back of the book, as I couldn't sum it up any better:
"The Man Behind The Glass is based around a character called Septimus Blackwood, a Victorian photographer with a difference. The tale is set in London's East End in the year 1860. A mysterious Gothic adventure of a man's quest to capture life and cheat death through photography. Septimus races against time to discover his family's long lost legacy buried deep amongst the forgotten rivers and cellars of old London. Unbeknown to him a mysterious old woman looks on..."
"The story, along with its highly satirical characters escort the reader on an emotional journey into a world of intrigue, suspense and the supernatural. Atmosphere seeps out of every gulley of this twisting and ever turbulent road; darkness and light, creation and calamity. Encounter magical discoveries that will pick the pocket of your dreams for now and evermore."
Sunday, 28 May 2017
Thursday, 27 April 2017
As Sunday was St. George's Day, it brought to mind two very interesting books on dragons that I read last year, both being started at the same time. 'British Dragons', from 1980 by renowned folklorist Jacqueline Wilson had me annoyed at the beginning, with the scepticism (of any at all ever existing) and unnecessary evolutionary theories in the opening chapter; especially since learning about the actual descriptions of dragons in the Old Testament of the Holy Bible (which she did not seem to credit, but I certainly do to some extent, though most stories elsewhere are obviously later inventions). Getting past that though, the book is quite in-depth and full of interest, containing such chapters and sections on:
Serpents and Sea-monsters in Classical Myths; The Northern Dragons; Treasure Guardians; The Cockatrice; Saints as Heroes; Heroes From Medieval Romances; Village Heroes; Heroic Combats; Dragons In Plays and Pageants, etc... There is also a very funny tale of 'The Knucker of Lyminster', where a greedy dragon gets his comeuppance via a big pudding or "pudden" from a clever peasant.
Here's a bit of the book description from the inner jacket:
"Over 70 villages and towns in Britain still have a tale or a song about a dragon. The Lambton Worm, the Dragon of Wantley, the Knucker of Lyminster and the Muckle Mester Stoor Worm are among the most celebrated, but there are many others, ranging in form and temperament from the benevolent King Snake in Wales to the voracious monster with a taste for maidens at Cnoc-na-Cnoimh. Most dragon tales involve a dragon slayer. It might be a saint, a knight or a local lad who saves the day by despatching the dragon, either, like St. George, in a straight fight, or by an underhand trick: a piece of treacle gingerbread put an end to the dragon at Filey."
From a humourous old Sussex tale: Thisyer ole dragon, you know, he uster go spanneling (traipsing) about the Brooks by night to see what he could pick up for supper, like- few horses, or cows maybe- he'd snap 'em up as soon as look at 'em. Then bimeby (by-and-by) he took to sitting atop o' Causeway, and anybody come along there, he'd lick 'em up, like a toad licking flies off a stone.
This book made a great addition to the other Jacqueline Wilson books I've collected.
The other book is 'Here Be Dragons' by Ralph Whitlock, a prolific writer on country life and folklore. This one, from 1983, also went into the history and wild, fanciful tales of lore and legend, but a large section of the book is a Gazetteer of nearly 200 places, mentioning sites all over Britain, giving the historical insight into carvings, sculptures, and monuments.
A bit from the inner jacket:
"Dragons are everywhere in the British countryside! They are woven into the folk history of villages and hamlets, they snarl from church decorations and they survive in mumming plays and other pageants. Tracing their remains, in whatever form they are to be found, is not only a fascinating pastime but a glimpse into how our rural forefathers thought and behaved, for dragons played the vital role of representing evil and destruction in the pantheon of the country dweller."
Both books are quite good and worth looking for for anyone interested in folklore and legendary beasts!
Friday, 17 March 2017
|Portrait of Lady Lavery as Kathleen Ni Houlihan, by |
Sir John Lavery
There was nothing brutal in their ideal of life; no hideous images or revolting cruelties; and the beautiful and graceful Sidhe race, with their plaintive music and soft melancholy, and aspirations for a lost heaven, is the expression in a graceful and beautiful symbol of the instinctive tendencies of the Irish nature to all that is most divine in human intellect, and soft and tender in human emotion.
Ireland is a land of mists and mystic shadows; of cloud-wraiths on the purple mountains; of weird silences in the lonely hills, and fitful skies of deepest gloom alternating with gorgeous sunset splendours. All the fantastic caprice of an ever-varying atmosphere stirs the imagination, and makes the Irish people strangely sensitive to spiritual influences. They see visions and dream dreams, and are haunted at all times by an ever-present sense of the supernatural...They are made for worshippers, poets, artists, musicians, orators; to move the world by passion, not by logic. Scepticism will never take root in Ireland; infidelity is impossible to the people. To believe fanatically, trust implicitly, hope infinitely, and perhaps to revenge implacably-these are the unchanging and ineradicable characteristics of Irish nature, of Celtic nature, we may say; for it has been the same throughout all history and all ages. And it is these passionate qualities the make the Celt the great motive force of the world, ever striving against limitations towards some vision of ideal splendour; the restless centrifugal force of life, as opposed the centripetal, which is ever seeking a calm quiescent rest within its appointed sphere.
The very tendency to superstition, so marked in Irish nature, arises from an instinctive dislike to the narrow limitations of common sense. It is characterized by a passionate yearning towards the vague, the mystic, the invisible, and the boundless infinite of the realms of imagination. ...the Irish love youth, beauty, splendour, lavish generosity, music and song, the feast and the dance. "
|Riders of the Sidhe|
In 'The Oxford Book of Ireland', there is a delightful story recounted by Mary Colum in her book 'Life and the Dream', from 1928, of herself and her friends who adopted the theatrical artistic Irish dress, which went unappreciated by some of the locals...they just didn't understand these girls with their lovely noble tendencies! I give them full credit for trying:
"In decorating themselves in a traditional Irish manner, the female sex were not behindhand, especially the youthful members thereof. It may be doubted, however, if the women's garment which really had been concocted from pictures was especially Irish: it was probably simply the costume of the Medieval European lady with a few fancy Celtic fixtures attached. A girl poet, friend of mine, Moirin Fox, never wore any other garb. She would appear in the Abbey in gorgeous purple and gold, a torc on her forehead, a Tara brooch fastening her brath, and various other accoutrements of the ancient Irish, including the inevitable amber. The rest of us only occasionally appeared in Gaelic costume, which, of course, had to be Irish manufactured material. For dressy wear I had a white garment with blue and green embroidery, a blue brath, copper brooches, and other archaeological adornments. For more ordinary wear I had the Irish costume in blue green, a brath of the same colour with embroideries out of The Book Of Kells. These, as I remember, were chiefly of snakes eating one another's tales. With this went a blue stone necklace, a little silver harp fastening the brath, a silver Claddagh ring, and a silver snake bracelet which I'm afraid was early Victorian rather than early Celtic. This getup was alright for the Abbey Theatre of Gaelic League dances, but once when myself and a friend, Siav Trench, in a similar getup and a more striking colour scheme, walked down a street where the fishwomen were selling their fish, we were openly derided. The fishmongers called out, 'Will yez look at the Irishers trying to look like stained glass windows? What is the country coming to at all, at all? Them Irishers are going daft!' We were not too sensitive to ridicule, but we did not again wear such garments in parts of the city where anything out of the ordinary was mocked at so vociferously."
|Illustration by Katherine Cameron, from 'Celtic Tales' by Louey Chisholm|
The Hill of Howth
Delightful to be on the Hill of Howth, very sweet to be above its white sea; the perfect fertile hill, home of ships, the vine-grown pleasant warlike peak.
The peak where Finn and Fianna used to be, the peak where were drinking horns and cups, the peak where bold O'Duinn brought Grainne one day in stress of pursuit.
The peak bright-knolled beyond all hills, with its hill-top round and green and rugged; the hill full of swordsmen, full of wild garlic and trees, the many-coloured peak, full of beasts, wooded.
The peak that is loveliest throughout the land of Ireland, the bright peak above the sea of gulls, it is a hard step for me to leave it, lovely Hill of delightful Howth. Irish 14th century
The Wayside Fountain
Cenn Escrach of the orchards, a dwelling for the meadow bees, there is a shining thicket in its midst, with a drinking-cup of wooden laths.
The Blackbird's Song
The little bird has given a whistle from the tip of its bright yellow beak; the blackbird from the yellow-tufted bough sends forth its call over Loch Loigh.
The Hermit Blackbird
Ah, blackbird, it is well for you where your nest is in the bushes; a hermit that clangs no bell, sweet, soft, and peaceful is your call.
Spring of Traigh Dha Bhan, lovely is your pure-topped cress; since your crop has become neglected your brook-lime is not allowed to grow.
Your trout out from your banks, your wild swine in your wilderness; the stags of your fine hunting crag, your dappled red-breasted fawns.
Your nuts on the crest of your trees, your fish in the waters of your stream; lovely is the colour of our springs of arum lily, green brook in the wooded hollow...
Sliabh gCua, haunt of wolves, rugged and dark, the wind wails about its glens, wolves howl around its chasms' the fierce brown deer bells in autumn around it, the crane screams over its crags.
Cold is the night in the Great Moor, the rain pours down, no trifle; a roar in which the clean wind rejoices howls over the sheltering wood.
Look before you to the north-east at the glorious sea, home of creatures, dwelling of seals; wanton and splendid, it has taken on flood-tide.
There is a great wealth and treasure of folk legends and fairy tales from Ireland. W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory laboured intensely at gathering material in this area and re-telling these imaginative tales; and so did Lady Francesca Speranza Wilde, Oscar Wilde's equally eccentric mother, of whom I relayed some of her observations of the Irish at the beginning of this blog.
In Irish fairy tales, the fairies were not pretty little creatures of a generally kindly disposition, they were tricky and easily offended, and having a darker and more sinister nature, and were not to be crossed.
'A Donegal Fairy' by Leticia Maclintock:
"Ay, it's a bad thing to displeasure the gentry, sure enough-they can be unfriendly if they're angered, an' they can be the very best o' gude neighbours if they're treated kindly. My mother's sisterwas her lone in the house one day, wi' a big pot o' water boiling on the fire, and ane o' the wee folk fell down the chimney, and slipped wi' his leg in the hot water. He let a terrible squeal out o' him, an; in a minute the house was full o' wee crathurs pulling him out o' the pot, an' carrying him across the floor. "Did she scald you?" my aunt heard them saying to him. "Na, na, it was mysel' scalded my ainsel', quoth the wee fellow. "A weel, a weel," says they, "If it was your ainsel' scalded yoursel', we'll say nothing, but if she has scalded you, we'd ha' made her pay."
On the white wall flickered the sputtering lamp
And lit the shadowy kitchen, the sanded floor,
The girls by the painted dresser, the dripping men
Late from the sea and huddled,
These on the settle, those by the table; the turf
Sent up faint smoke, and faint in the chimney a light
From the frost-fed stars trembled and died and trembled again in the smoke.
'Rise up now, Shane', said a voice, and another:
'Kate, stand out on the floor'; the girls to the men
Cried challenge on challenge; a lilt in the corner rose
And climbed and wavered and fell, and springing again
Called to the heavy feet of the men; the girls wild-eyed,
Their bare feet beating the measure, their loose hair flying,
Danced to the shuttle of lilted music weaving
Into a measure the light and the heavy foot.
One of my all-time favourite television series adapted from the humorous Somerville & Ross Irish R.M. books: