elves and faeries

The Hallow [2015]

I’m pretty blunt about the fact that one of my main criticisms with horror as a whole is that there’s a world (literally) of folklore out there but the genre keeps coming back to the same handful of mythical themes over and over again.

I have a parallel argument about how the only images we get out of certain branches of world mythology are those that were heavily modified by the Victorians. I’m trying to be deliberately vague here as I don’t want to give away too much of this movie, but if you’ve been following this blog for any length of time-or know your Irish folklore-you’ll probably pick up on what I’m talking about via the details I do relate.

According to Internet land, the production team of The Hallow holds a similar mentality to mine and decided to rely on traditional Irish folklore to form the base of this movie. And it’s really a solid entry into folkloric horror-though it’s not without its weaknesses (the actual scares aren’t terribly deep in that they occur and then are almost immediately ended, and the film is overall not gothic enough to really carry its weight as a gothic piece. But that being said, there’s some fairly startling imagery and the traditional/unconventional aspects of the storyline make up for whatever the movie lacks in depth of characterization).

I will grant that the film is in fact solid enough to overcome some  of my normal pet peeves with horror that play with the tropes that are presented here-I’ve been pretty upfront with my annoyances with using babies and children to amp up the tension, but with one of the superstitions forming the base of this film it’s actually necessary to keep putting the baby front and center. Even the use (misuse?) of the family pet here links back to folklore like Black Shuck (I know Shuck is English, but there are dogs in the Irish folklore as well).

What impressed me about the movie, which is hard to explain without spoiling too much of the film or being too extremely vague, is the attention to detail-folkloric detail. The travel into mounds, the ownership of lands,the iron on the windows, light sensitivity, throwing of glamours that fail at dawn. It’s actually really refreshing- especially the incredibly unattractive creatures (seriously, do your reading, the idea of a glamour was to hide the real nature of the thing, to make it that much more appealing to humans than they were. They were never really considered truly, fully beautiful, at least not all of them. -Them- being that vagueness I want to put into this review, because I really want you to see a movie with a non-traditional/traditional monster.)

[I am not exactly certain what they’re supposed to be, to the minute detail. I know what the Internet says they are, but I’m not sure the description fits the behavior.]

Wicked Little Things

I am finding myself falling into a pattern of wanting to watch and rewatch movies I’ve already seen for comfort. I’ve already watched Sleepy Hollow five times since they put it on Netflix. I watched it this afternoon.

Coupled with issues with my joints making typing less than comfortable I haven’t been really been in the mood to want to sit down and blog.

But I have been spending time finding new blogs to put on the blog roll for when the weather turns (which I’m expecting it to do, like, tomorrow) and thinking a lot about folklore and the nature of modern folkloric thought versus the traditional (Holly voiced an opinion that long time readers of mine will recognize, that modern ‘followers’ of fae lore wouldn’t know what to do with a fae if it bit them, because they confuse Victoriana with faerie lore).

I put on Wicked Little Things as one of my fall back, comfort horror movies. I have seen this movie probably a dozen times since it hit cable and Netflix style viewing close to a decade ago now. On this viewing though I can tell you that I think that there is an element that I haven’t really paid attention to before-this could easily be a fairy (or faerie tale).

Karen moves her daughters Sarah and Emma into the woods on the mountain after her husband dies and leaves her the family homestead. She has no choice, the medical bills were too high for any other decision. Her new neighbors are spooked when they find out that she has moved her children into the woods and there is a continual warning to stay inside after dark. She is unsettled by her neighbors and their behavior, which begins to border on magical thinking.

Karen begins to find hints of a darker history in the community, one that’s linked to children and the mines further up the mountain. Her youngest daughter begins to talk about a child named Mary, and Sarah comes home with stories of dead children that straddle the line between zombies and ghosts. After a series of freakish nocturnal events, Karen begins to realize that her daughters have stumbled into something that she is forced to confront, violently.

Not a true faerie tale film, there is a heavy undercurrent of folkloric thought. It is not a stretch to make the band of children wandering the woods looking for the offspring of their captor the slaugh or an American Wild Hunt. The move into the cabin in the woods feels a lot like Vasilisa going deeper into the forest looking for Baba Yaga. The blood that’s used as the boundary between the living and the dead, that’s straight out of Celtic fae lore-amongst other world mythos. Is this all deliberate? Probably not, but having it on the forefront of my mind while rewatching this movie takes this film in a whole new direction on what is probably my 12th watch through since the movie came out in 2006.

The Death Coach

myth and meme month

I’m becoming more interested in the ways that European folklore traditions were brought over to the States and integrated into American folklore traditions. Many of the stories are effectively the same, or similar to where the stories are told in the same way-just-different-locations. I don’t find that off-putting, I like seeing how the stories were reworked to account for different environments.

I was reminded of the death coach (Cóiste Bodhar) while watching Hitchcock’s The Trouble With Harry this weekend. An off hand comment is made to the phantom coach. Set in Vermont, it’s suggestive that the story was familiar enough in New England at least as late as the 1950s to make it worth a passing mention (I can’t be the only one who notices stuff like this).

(Completely unrelated, The Trouble With Harry is a wonderful, adorable movie with just enough black humor and death to make it enjoyable for a horror fan, but definitely a comedy and definitely not one of Hitchcock’s heavy movies. Perhaps not a family film, but much more lighthearted than what people think of when they think of his catalog).

The phantom/death coach legend is both lingering and fairly straightforward. The coach is a harbinger of death; those that see it will either die or experience a death close to them. The coach is suggested to not be able to return to the other side empty-therefore, someone -has- to die in order to fulfill its obligations when it enters the mortal plane. The story has evolved over time to begin to include versions and/or related legends about driver-less or cursed motor vehicles that fill a similar role. Further, both the car and the coach are often described as black. Where there seems to be the largest departure between the car and the coach variations of the legend is that the coach, depending on era of telling and location where the legend is set, is driven by the dullohan (a type of faerie known for its decided lack of a head). Alternatively, the Devil Himself drives the Death Coach I’ve not heard of a version set in the States with a headless driver (though the headless entity motif is definitely present in the New York folkloric tradition), but if someone knows of one, let me know.

The Coach seems to be a fairly low level, underground legend in the States, with a lot of passing mentions and “oh yeah, it’s around here” types of transmissions. I’ve seen references to the coach in New York, Vermont, and West Virginia. There’s very little in the way of concrete information on the presence of the coach in specific regions, which may (or may not) suggest that it’s an old oral tradition.

Storm Hags

myth and meme month

It was 85 degrees when I left work tonight. Well past sundown. In September.

I am so ready for this to end. The mums I bought this weekend are already dying from the heat. I am slowly going mad, and not just for want of my normal fall behaviors (I am due an Operation Autumn update, I know).

But I know that when the weather shifts, it’s going to shift hard and fast and we’re due a year with November Witches (the storms that come in during late fall on the Great Lakes). To that end, I’ve decided to write about the storm hags tonight-since I’ve finally found reference to them.

My googling skills are odd. Things will show up once and then never show up again for me, if they show up at all. I read one reference to the hags years ago, that placed the hags in Buffalo-I can tell you that in the decade that I’ve been here (give or take a decade, at least) I’ve never heard about this story. Mid has no idea what I’m talking about either, but he did mention a cryptic lake monster. More digging will be needed there.

I think that this is like that photo series that came out last year-maybe not made up completely, but misplaced. Because the storm hag is a myth, though perhaps one born out of modifications to older legends. The way that I heard the legend was a green, fairly angry fairy that rises out of the lake to throw storms at the city.

The way that the more developed American legend goes is that the Hag is a water spirit, green skinned and ugly as dirt who rises up out of the lake (Lake Erie) and drags entire ships down with her. She is not terribly nice, and yes, at least one version of the story links her to faerie, though whether the legend actually intended to suggest that she is a faerie or just to invoke an image that would have been more familiar at one point than it is now, I don’t know. There are multiple faerie like, not entirely nice (there’s that trend again, faeries not being ‘nice’) creatures known for their strong interest in drowning innocents.

The most obvious answer is that the Irish and English who settled this part of the Great Lakes (Buffalo was at one point broken between the Polish, the Italians, and the Irish) brought preexisting faerie belief (mainly in a spirit called Jenny Greenteeth, who meets the same physical description and hobbies as the Storm Hag) and used it to explain weather patterns on a lake notorious for taking down ships, often quickly.

The Lady Mab

myth and meme month

I promised you more fae stuff.

The Lady Mab is an interesting case because she is slowly regaining (or gaining, potentially) popularity. I don’t remember ever running into anyone working with her, but I have encountered at least four people interacting with her in the last two months. It’s not a huge jump, but it’s a name that’s starting to get spoken of.

It is also interesting because she may be a completely fabricated figure. She may not actually have a direct line back into ‘true’ folklore, in that while she is cited as the Queen of the Faeries (which is an actual folkloric figure), she is named by Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet but there have been suggestions made that he was playing off of word origins and meanings to create her name, not pulling from existing folklore. Mab, however, began to be used throughout other English works after Shakespeare until she became a fully fleshed folkloric and pop cultural figure, going so far as to be incorporated into certain tellings of Arthurian legend.

At some point it becomes questionable if it matters where the image comes from, if it slowly becomes ingrained.

There is a possibility however that Mab has become the stand-in for -all- Queens of Faerie, with the name being a convenient shorthand to access that type of energy. There are ballads and other folkloric records naming the last queen Oona, so there is an established history of naming a particular individual to that role. The descriptions of the Faerie Queen, which frankly give the whole thing a certain Daisy Fay Buchanan feel for me, give the impression of a woman/entity who is beautiful enough to know the power of it and not really enough empathy to care. This is a creature with her own motives. Mab/the Queen is also in charge of the presentation of the Seven Year’s Sacrifice, the blood sacrifice that keeps the fae out of hell.

There have been suggestions made (only briefly, via Wikipedia, though I don’t know enough about Dianic derived Wicca to say anything in either direction) that Mab/the Faerie Queen’s re-emergence is a development out of teachings from Charles Godfrey Leland and Morgan McFarland. My experiences have found that people working with Mab have also made her a leader of the Wild Hunt, and using a more aggressive energy with her than may be first apparent. She is not necessarily a war or ‘dark’ energy, but practices invoking her seem to pull from a more gray area than a light one.

Into the Mounds

myth and meme month

The host is riding from Knocknarea
And over the grave of Clooth-na-Bare;
Caoilte tossing his burning hair,
And Niamh calling Away, come away:
Empty your heart of its mortal dream.
The winds awaken, the leaves whirl round,
Our cheeks are pale, our hair is unbound,
Our breasts are heaving, our eyes are agleam,
Our arms are waving, our lips are apart;
And if any gaze on our rushing band,
We come between him and the deed of his hand,
We come between him and the hope of his heart.
The host is rushing ‘twixt night and day,
And where is there hope or deed as fair?
Caoilte tossing his burning hair,
And Niamh calling Away, come away.

The Hosting of the Sidhe, William Butler Yeats

There’s been increased requests for fae information coming from various areas of my life, so I’ve decided to cheat a little and put together a list (which I’m going to try to keep updated) of the faerie and fae lore that I’ve collected thus far.

Fae folklore is hard, because it’s slippery and often based heavily on oral lore, which means it’s dependent on who is teaching you. A lot of what I know is orally taught as well, so there may be differences between what you know and what I know.

…It also tends to run much darker than what most people are currently familiar with. There’s a lot to be said on why (and I will be touching on that eventually), but the shorthand is that the Victorians had a lot to do with ‘toning down’ the folklore because it wasn’t child or society friendly-therefore a lot of the darkness was stripped out of the stories. This is why there is a subculture of people working with fae energy and folklore tend to emphasize that no, actually, the fae are not actually creatures of joy and light-the beansidhe is still a faerie, like it or not. It’s like anything else, some are, some aren’t.

I don’t classify a folklore that includes things like ‘turning into dust coming out of the mounds’ and ‘rivers of blood, waist deep’ to be a ‘light’ tradition. As with all things, balance.

I will also include on this list some of the pop cultural pieces I’ve reviewed with a heavy fae influence.

Alp Luachra

Bansidhe

Baobhan Sith

Barghest

Black Shuck

Brownies

Cat Sith

Dullohan

Facen and Saci

Fae (Overview)

Fae in Pop Culture

Glamour

Pooka

Sluagh

Tuatha De Danann

The Whole Victorians and Fae Thing

 

Black Forest

The Faeries of Blackheath Woods

House of Dead Leaves

The Hum and the Shiver

Inhabited

Tam Lin

The Dullohan

This isn’t a particularly pretty or fluffy folklore entry but hey you know. They can’t all be.

I really wanted to write another folklore entry and sometimes the only thing that sounds appealing to write about are headless fairies. What can I say. I’m an odd creature.

This is actually a fae spirit that American school children, at least those raised in the Northeast would probably recognize on sight. While most likely not a dullohan, though potentially a cousin, the horseman that chased Icabod Crane around the Hudson Valley is the prototypical dullohan-a headless spirit that has very little interest in playing nice with the living.

The only issue with Irving’s image in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is that the dullohan actually has its head, it simply doesn’t wear it. It carries it with it while it rides through the night. As with many of the dark faeries it functions as a death omen, bringing nothing good to those who see it.

The dullohan is Irish but the image is fairly common through European folklore. However, the image is not always fae; often headless ghosts fall into the same role. Saturdays may have been particularly popular (Saturdays actually factor into death folklore with some frequency), but whether or not that’s a regional invention, I’m not sure.

I suppose just be glad that I’m not writing about Crom Dubh or Crom Cruach, since he’s who I really wanted to write about today-you can thank my knitting of all things for that one.

Phantoms and Hauntings

Dullohan

The Hum and the Shiver

The Hum and the Shiver

Alex Bledsoe

Tor Fantasy (paperback)

349 pages

I have a not so secret dream, one that keeps me reading through urban and rural fantasy, only to discard most of them before I finish them.

I want a series that has fantastical elements, but avoids most of the urban fantasy tropes-it’s all well and good if you’re looking for a romance series with an overly attractive super special man with pointy ears or whatever. That’s fine, if that’s your thing, and there’s plenty of them out there to fill that niche.

But I feel like there’s a void in the genre where a middle ground shows up-where the people aren’t necessarily human, the situations aren’t necessarily ‘normal’, but the fantastical sort of lurks in the edges. Something seen but not necessarily commented on. If the character is fae, awesome, but I don’t want to be hit over the head with how gorgeous, amazing, bizarre they are.

Bledsoe’s Tufa novels are the closest that I’ve found yet. Bledsoe writes like he’s telling a story out loud (which is a strength here) which makes for a read where you don’t feel like you’ve spent a lot of time with the book but have managed to finish a 100 pages. The characters are believable and sympathetic. As much as the plot centers on their differences (which are there), the same situations would still be entertaining if those elements were removed. The book falls much closer to magical realism than to ‘true’ urban fantasy and that may be the saving grace of the book-these things are accepted as just being, and while some space is spent in universe building, the writing is actually fairly restrained in that area.

Bronwynn Hyatt returns home to Cloud County Tennessee after being injured while serving in Iraq. Returning home would be hard enough but she is forced to address situations that she left behind after enlisting, and the rumors surrounding both herself and her family-family that local folklore claims has been in the hills when the first European settlers arrive. The tensions that she left behind threaten to destroy both her and her family unless she addresses both her past and her future.

 

Never Trust Your Eyes-The Oddity of Glamour

Instagram filters-glamouring for the digital age!

Glamour as a pop cultural and magic(k) concept is one of those weird topics, where the word is tossed around a lot but never really talked about.

My personal experience with the concept is that like a lot of the practices that are centered fully in the body, you just don’t do it (blood and sexuality, nothing will get people going faster than blood and sexuality). It doesn’t matter if you can’t get people to tell you what it is that you’re not supposed to do-you just don’t do it. In this area, however, I feel like you can make the same argument about contouring (the act of redefining the facial plane via the use of multicolored foundation or other cosmetics) or corsetry-and you could make the argument that you’re looking at mundane glamouring.

My suspicion, as a Pagan trained in sociology, is that the issue here is deception; at its core glamour is about the illusion of a changed appearance. Therefore, if we acknowledge the potential of such an ability (which you’ll notice I’m not saying that there is-this is a folklore column and this is an idea rooted in Scottish fae lore) we are acknowledging that we have the ability to deny our base appearance. This is where I made my cosmetics analogy-if you are not comfortable with the concept of an empowered glamour, where does the act of -literally painting ourselves into a new facial structure- fit into the ethos?

Glamouring is where two of my current favorite hobby horses slam head first into each other-fae lore and beauty. The glamour, at its most basic, was the way that the fae were able to move through the mundane/human realm without being ‘outed’ as the non-human entities that they are. I actually -will not- split the lore away from pop culture right now because I honestly feel that the symbol has shifted enough that you would be talking about two different concepts and honestly I find the current sign more interesting right now.

Humans are magpies when it comes to body modification. We have been for a very long time-whatever your personal stance on the subject, we really like to paint ourselves pretty colors and shove shiny things into our skin. I think that the love/hate relationship with glamours has to do with that draw-why wouldn’t you want to change yourself if you could? As with most, if not all, things fae, pop culture has slowly shifted the meaning of the intention to emphasize the hiding aspect of the spellwork-and the deception. We have a weird relationship with the idea in a culture where no-make up make up is arguably becoming the beauty norm.  The tension between the drive for beauty and the desire for authenticity in social interaction is best highlighted by the warning that I discussed at the beginning of this entry; it’s hard to find a Pagan discussion that doesn’t warn about the ‘Harm None’ aspect of the Rede.

They just aren’t fond of telling you who exactly it is that’s being harmed.

The pop culture association is where things get interesting for me-and why I said I’m actually more concerned with the current sign more than the folklore. As time went on, the deception turned into manipulation; glamour isn’t about being pretty, it’s about being pretty and powerful. I have actually written on the beauty imperative in academic settings, and beauty is a dual edged weapon in western society. It’s terrible to be ugly, but it’s even more terrible to be attractive-for to be attractive is to take (potentially unworthy) power in a social setting. Pop culture isn’t full of images of people being jealous or blindly following the ugly characters; it’s the pretty ones you have to watch out for. Mean Girls anyone?

As with all of these type of columns I write about I am neither confirming, nor denying, or even commenting on, the nature of the belief set. But if you read enough urban fantasy novels, watch enough fantasy style media, or play enough table top games, the glamour will start creeping in as a concept. It has its own TV Tropes entry.

You know you’re onto something if you have your own TV Tropes entry.

 

House of Dead Trees

House of Dead Trees

Joseph Duncan

372 pages

Accessed as an ebook

4.99 on Amazon at the time of review

Fair warning, I may get a little bit rambly with this review.

There are a fair number of tropes that I normally can’t stand in a horror novel, mainly because I feel like they’re shortcuts to creating tension. You want to make a person feel bad for a character/emphasize how evil/deplorable/nasty a character/situation/setting is? Play the assault card! I mean, you’re totally not going to use something that -actually ruins people’s lives- so that you don’t have to worry about advancing plot or characterization via other methods or anything!

This book has assault in spades.

And yet…I still found myself being pulled further and further into the plot. I actually found myself enjoying this book-and I think that a lot of it is that Duncan actually manages to fall on the right side of a very, very thin line: while the sexual violence in this book feels like throw-away, tropish action it actually does work to drive home just why we should -not- empathize with certain characters. It’s a very, very feather light balancing act that normally doesn’t work for most books, and somehow manages to work here.

The other area that was impressive the Dead Trees is that it reads like a poor man’s The Shining. That’s a compliment, by the way. Duncan manages to develop similar imagery and tone with the haunting that runs through this book, without the heavy psychological horror that runs through King’s work. That’s fine, sometimes you want to wade around in a person’s brain and sometimes you just want to run through the halls screaming. Much of the paranormal action throughout the novel feels like the overtly paranormal sections of The Shining, if the Overlook was set in the woods along the yellow brick road. This is not a slow burn novel, with action hitting fairly early in the plot-complete with what may be one of the more inventive usages of a not terribly overused image in modern horror where everything wants to be a Walking Dead rip off.

So yes, in the end I really, really wanted to hate this one and ended up making friends with it and actually thinking that if there were to be any major weaknesses with the book, I’d like it to be slightly more fleshed out and longer [Billy. Billy, I know why your character arc went the way it did…but it sort of just…stopped].

Major Content Warning

Language, violence, sexual content, assault references, the whole R rated tool box. Definitely an ‘adult only’ novel.

 

[About the elves and faeries tag for this post: without going too far into the plot for risk of spoilers…kobalds. Can we get more authors to work with European folklore? Even if it is a mutation/derivative of the legend?]