The Land of the Green Man: A Nonfiction “Five Things I’ve Learned” Review…

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Today’s book is one of those that most people wouldn’t pick up for light reading, but it is a thumping good choice for anyone planning to write a fantasy book set in England, Ireland, Scotland or Wales.  The Land of the Green Man – A Journey through the Supernatural Landscapes of the British Isles by Carolyne Larrington does exactly what it says on the metaphorical tin – and it does so in a super-accessible fashion.  I requested, somewhat warily, this book from the publisher via Netgalley and was pleased and surprised to discover a comprehensive yet not overwhelming overview of the context behind the legends that feature in many a modern fantasy novel.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The folklore of Britain abounds with local tales about the activities of one sort of supernatural being or another giants, elves, hobs, boggarts, dragons or shape-changing witches. The stories are vivid, dramatic and often humorous. Carolyne Larrington has made a representative selection, which she re-tells in a simple, direct way which is completely faithful to the style and spirit of her sources.

Most collectors of local legends have been content merely to note how they may serve to explain some feature of the landscape or to warn of some supernatural danger, but Carolyne Larrington probes more deeply. By perceptive and delicate analysis, she explores their inner meanings. She shows how, through lightly coded metaphors, they deal with the relations of man and woman, master and servant, the living and the dead, the outer semblance and the inner self, mankind and the natural environment. Her fascinating book gives us a fuller insight into the value of our traditional tales.

the land of the green man

I could actually feel my neurons connecting and reinforcing pathways as I read, so here are Five Things I’ve Learned From…

The Land of the Green Man – A Journey through the Supernatural Landscapes of the British Isles

1. If you are walking along the moors/near a church/down a back alley/across a marsh and you see a black dog, the outlook is not likely to be good. Unless of course, you are in one of the few localities in which black dogs are portents of luck and protection, rather than death.

2. If you are walking along the moors/near a church/down a back alley/across a marsh and you see a PACK of black dogs, I have no advice for you, except to say that I hope your will is in order.

3. While a shady tree may look like a promising place under which to have a noontime nap, under no circumstances should you succumb to this incredibly poor idea. 

4. If you happen to be propositioned by a beautiful suitor who you suspect is out of your league, you should probably decline the offer on the grounds that said suitor could well be a hag in disguise, hoping to ensnare you for nefarious purposes.  If, on the other hand, you are propositioned by  someone who would be lucky to make the cover of “Hag Fancier’s Monthly”, you should probably accept on the grounds that your suitor is likely to be a member of fairy royalty under some kind of curse, waiting to reward you with magical bounty aplenty.

5. Never, under any circumstances, piss off a mythical creature.

As I mentioned earlier, this book should be essential reading for anyone planning to draw on British myth and legend in their writing.  Larrington manages to deeply explore the origins of a whole range of myths and legends within the context of various localities.  She notes how certain landscapes and the people who dwell in these have put different spins on similar myths – black dogs, for instance, could be lucky or dangerous, depending on where you hang out; and the part of the country in which you live could see you with giant neighbours who are violent, or cheerfully disinterested in the lives on puny humans.

The content is divided into categories that link legends of a similar vein.  The author also notes how modern authors such as JK Rowling, Susan Cooper and Tolkien have used certain legends in their works.  Sirius Black (or Padfoot, to his friends) has obvious connections to the Black Dog stories of various regions, while The Dark is Rising sequence (among other works) makes use of a reworking of the Sleepers under the Hill legends.

Even if you’re not planning to write the next fantasy bestseller, this is a very involving read for lovers of fantasy who would like to know more about the popular legends and mythical beings that call the British Isles home.  I’m sure other readers will have a few “A-ha!” moments, as I did, upon discovering some snippet of information that showed aspects of some recent reads in a new light.

Progress toward Nonfiction Reading Challenge Goal: 17/10

Nonfiction 2015Until next time,

Bruce

 

An Adult Fiction Read-it-if Review: Heraclix and Pomp…

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Welcome to a Read-it-if for grown ups who like swords, sorcery, fairies, monsters and general villainy and  mystery.  I received a copy of Heraclix and Pomp by Forrest Aguirre from the publisher via Edelweiss after being intrigued by a tantalising blurb which promised monsters and fairies acting in cahoots.

Heraclix is a reincarnated creature patched together from random body parts.  Pomp is a fairy who is facing certain disembowelment at the hands of villainous sorcerer.  From this happy beginning springs a friendship that is destined to cross the borders of life itself.  After escaping with only their lives from the aforementioned villainous sorcerer, Heraclix and Pomp set out across a land rife with conflict to discover who and what they are.  Pursued by various groups and individuals that seem to want them dead (or at least imprisoned), Heraclix and Pomp befriend a warlord-turned-healer, inveigle themselves into a secret society and even make a depressing jaunt into Hell before getting to the crux of the matter and facing off against the sorcerer at whose ill-advised dabbling this story began.

Heraclix and Pomp

Read it if:

* you believe monsterism is as monsterism does

* you are firmly convinced that spending too much time hanging around in front of the mirror can be hazardous to one’s health (and soul)

* you are of the unwavering belief that tattoos can be redemptive

* you have learned, by experience or otherwise, when being pursued by a mob with torches and pitchforks, it is best to run first and gauge the general mood later

When deciding to pick this book up, I was drawn to the heady atmosphere of oddity that seemed to emanate from the descriptions of the main characters.  A patchwork man of monstrous countenance and open heart? Wonderful.  A cheeky fairy learning to exist in the mortal world? Sure, bring it on.  All the other stuff would sort itself out, I thought, if I could just read a story with these interesting characters leading the way.  And for the most part, thoughtful, purpose-driven Heraclix and well-meaning, curious Pomp were enough to keep me engaged in this complex world.

I must admit that I was utterly astounded when I saw that the print version of this book has only 280 pages, because reading it on the Kindle had me thinking I was wading through a 500 page epic.  Aguirre has packed a lot of action into this tale and it certainly felt to me to be a hefty read, and not one that I would pick up for a bit of light diversion.  It’s more a tale that needs a committed reader, because the magical elements dip in and out and interweave themselves with real places, and if you’re not paying attention, it would be easy to lose the thread of the whos and whats and wheres of our intrepid pair.  I found that after the eventful and enlightening trip to Hell that the pair undertake (about two thirds of the way through) I began to lose the thread of the story just a little, and never quite regained it to my satisfaction.  I could fully grasp the events of the final third of the plot, but I suspected I was missing some important nuances.

Overall, this is a story that features a very strong sense of place and culture: as Heraclix and Pomp traverse Europe, the places that they visit seem to have their own life and exert an influence over the pairs’ decisions.  If you are very familiar with the lore of various old cities in Europe, you’ll probably appreciate this far more than I did, as my vague knowledge about the magical history of Prague (for instance) didn’t really cut it in terms of understanding the nuance of the story.  As it was, I simply appreciated the changes in atmosphere as Heraclix and Pomp moved about the place.

What I did find refreshing and fun and brain-building was the need to use the Kindle’s dictionary feature reasonably often during my reading, thanks to Aguirre’s vocabulary-expanding text.  I quite enjoyed hovering over a certain word or phrase (just to double-check its meaning, you understand!)  as I don’t often run across a book containing hitherto unforeseen (or rarely seen) words.  Some of the crackers I picked up included fumarole, janissary, senescence, celerity and concrescence.   Go on, look them up. Of course, on having embraced the use of this feature on the Kindle, I am now continually frustrated that I can’t do the same in printed books.  Ah well.

If you like a bit of magic, philosophy and sword-thwackery presented in a well-executed package, Heraclix and Pomp could be the book for you.  While it’s not for the fainthearted, it will definitely draw you in and have you pondering what it means to be human, and how redemption can be earned.

Until next time,

Bruce

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