Fantasy and Faery
Hi my faerie friends,
I hope you did your homework from last week and you took some time of to relax and to see the world through the eyes of enchantment.
In this chapter of the Faery Course we will have a look at Faeries in Fantasy literature and movies.
Like the last lesson, this is not something for you to „study“ or to have any kind of homework, we will just have a little exploration around this topic and maybe I can give you some food for thoughts.
It will not surprise you that I will begin this topic with our dear Mister J.R.R. Tolkien.
In his books and the world he describes in it, we definitely find parts of the Faery Realm. Goblins, dwarves, dragons, and elves are part of his world. The magic he describes is subtle, nonetheless powerful and strong. You can compare his elves with the ljósálfar of northern mytholgy, or even compare them with the Sidhe. They are tall and beautiful and they shine with their inner light.
Tolkien dwarves also resemble the Norse Dwarves as they live in caves and mines int he mountains where they dig for gold and gems. They are skilled craftsmen and forge magical Weapons and Rings in their forgeries.
You can find many similarities in northern mythology and in the stories of Tolkien but I’m not going to write everything down, this is a topic in itself.
Fantasy has actually a bad reputation, as it is often thought of escapism, however let’s have a look at what Tolkien said about that:
„I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which “Escape” is now so often used: a tone for which the uses of the word outside literary criticism give no warrant at all. In what the misusers are fond of calling Real Life, Escape is evidently as a rule very practical, and may even be heroic. In real life it is difficult to blame it, unless it fails; in criticism it would seem to be the worse the better it succeeds. Evidently we are faced by a misuse of words, and also by a confusion of thought. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it. In using escape in this way the critics have chosen the wrong word, and, what is more, they are confusing, not always by sincere error, the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter.“
― J.R.R. Tolkien
So what do you think of when you hear the word escape? Is it sometimes necessary, is it something you need to do for yourself sometimes? Where do you draw the line?
Tolkien was serious about his story writing, he not only wanted them to be exciting and captivating but he wanted them to be believable.
That attitude made him so successful as a Fantasy writer. There is a large group of people who feels that longing for Middle-Earth, many may even described it as echoes of a past memory, something we don't have any evidence anymore but which is felt as something which is true.
I’m not talking about a bunch of teenagers who wish to be as brave as Aragorn, or teenage girls who would love to find a man like Aragorn, no, the people I talk about are mostly people who have both feet firmly set on the ground and they are not unhappy with their life. Yet something inside them draws them to this world, to middle-earth.
There is so much of our own mythologies weaved in this book, and whatever you might think of those mythologies, there is always some truth to it.
Tolkien also wrote about the idea of being a sub-creator, he stated that we like to create things because we were created in the image and likeness of God, and because God Himself enjoyed creating things, it is perfectly normal and natural for mankind to enjoy creating things. Tolkien termed this as sub-creation, because man cannot create something out of nothing like God, but rather can take things and form them into something new.
So let’s take this idea a little further and let’s think about what that could mean in a broader perspective. Are we capable of creating entire new worlds, if we spent time writing about, and creating a world, with all the many different landscapes, different beings, and we nurture this world and give it life, is it possible that this world really comes into existence? Can it become a new parallel universe of some kind? Or is it possible that we don’t create it at all, and we just catch ideas, or maybe something whisper in our ear while we sleep, and we just write down what already exist, but we don't know about it?
Or does it need a collective so it can become a reality? So when more and more people read about the same world, like middle-earth for example, and this collective of thoughts brings it to life.
Is this possible?
I would love to hear your thoughts about that.
Tolkien gave us familiarity of his secondary world, not only with the landscapes and links to mythology but he also included the eternal themes that all human beings experience in life, like friendship, courage, and the constant struggle between good and evil.
He also used magic sparely in his work, in his essay “On Fairy-Stories,” he explains how magic in fairy- story is too frequently used as a tool of power, control, and manipulation. His Elves, on the other hand, use magic to enhance and beautify the world around them. It is not a tool for domination, but an outlet for creativity. Enchantment is art.
Tolkien expresses this beautifully in the beginning of the Silmarillion. Eru, or Ilúvatar the supreme being creates from his own mind the Ainur. These bodiless creatures begin to sing at Eru’s command, each according to their individual knowledge of what he has revealed. But one of the Ainur, Melkor, attempts to disrupt Ilúvatar’s music with his own melody. At each attempt, Ilúvatar re-incorporates Melkor’s discordant music into the greater song, causing his own music to swell more and more beautifully. This cycle repeats three times until Eru stops the music and tells Melkor and the Ainur all that they have sung will now come to pass. Thus, all will see the evil that Melkor has sown, and the glory of the great deeds Eru will accomplish.Tolkien’s narrative does not deny evil’s existence, but affirms that God is capable of larger, grander, and more beautiful acts than those sown with evil intent.
I often referred to R.J. Stewart during this course, and I like many of his ideas and the way he works, yet he makes it very clear that he doesn't agree with Fantasy. In his book earth light he says that "Fantasy is the fake sugar in the poisoned cake of materialism. "
I don’t think I have to tell you how little I agree with this statement.
In a way I get it, he makes clear that we shouldn't use the images of Fantasy entertainment to do our visualizations, because it will bring us a false perception of Faery, and we will not make real contact to the Otherworld. Yet I wouldn't judge Fantasy so harshly.
Especially when we work with Faery it is often said how important our imagination is, and Fantasy is a wonderful way to train our imagination.
Imagination is a tool for accessing subtle energies. We can paint pictures with our mind, pictures that are alive, pictures that move, and that we can hear and feel and even smell. We need imagination to enter Faery, and reading Fantasy may help us to develop imagination.
This is just my own opinion so feel free to disagree.
Now let’s have a look at a few other Fantasy books or movies that contains Faery.
Before that, I just want to mention that I’m very okay if they are not depicted like in traditional folklore, again I like fantasy and I will not make a fuss if it’s not „historical“ correct. Also they may not have your classical faeries in it, like my first suggestion for example :
- „Root Rage“ by Stephen Watson is a book that I’ve read a few years ago.
It is about a dryad, called Melia who’s out for revenge because her ash tree was cut down to make way for a motorway. She and other dryads are then recruited into a mysterious organization where they are trained to control the minds of humans to lead them to their own destruction.
But then they are sent to Jack, a tree-loving boy who lives in the country side with his family.
Everything becomes more complicated and we see a story evolving about a deadly struggle against spiritual and political corruption.
I loved this book so much and I can highly recommend it, it’s short but very entertaining and hey it’s full of trees, some good, some bad, just read it. It’s available on Kindle for 1$ or so.
- Then we also have the" Iron Fey" series by Julie Kagwa.
We see some folklore in these books with changelings and also Puck from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream makes his way into the story. Oberon plays his part as well in the book. I have to say I absolutely loved the world she has created, and her idea about the modern, more technical faeries fascinated me. However I never finished the whole series, because there was also teenage drama, triangle relationship things going on, which I personally don't like.
But it might be an interesting read for you.
I’ve seen a few times that „Lord and Ladies“ from Terry Pratchett is recommended. I didn't read it yet, as I just started the Witches series in the Diskworld but I can imagine it will definitely be a good read. I enjoy the Diskworld and as much as you can laugh while reading these books, you can also find the golden nuggets of wisdom in them.
- "War for the Oaks" by Emma Bull is currently on my reading list. Here is the blurb :
„Eddi McCandry sings rock and roll. But her boyfriend just dumped her, her band just broke up, and life could hardly be worse. Then, walking home through downtown Minneapolis on a dark night, she finds herself drafted into an invisible war between the faerie folk. Now, more than her own survival is at risk-and her own preferences, musical and personal, are very much beside the point.
War for the Oaks is a brilliantly entertaining fantasy novel that's as much about this world as about the imagined one.“
- Another book I can highly recommend is „Quiet Places: A Novella of Cosmic Folk Horror“ by Jasper Bark.
As the title gives it away this is more in the genre of Folk Horror but entails definitely elements of Faery as well. Here is the blurb for you:
The people of Dunballan, harbour a dark secret. A secret more terrible than the Beast that stalks the dense forests of Dunballan. A secret that holds David McCavendish, last in a long line of Lairds, in its unbreakable grip.
It’s down to Sally, David’s lover, to free David from the sinister clutches of the Beast. But, with the whole town against her, she must ally herself with an ancient woodland force and trace Dunballan’s secret back to its bitter origins. Those origins lie within the McCavendish family history, and a blasphemous heresy that stretches back to the beginning of time. Some truths are too terrible to face, and the darkest of these lie waiting for Sally, in the Quiet Places.
Give it a try, it’s definitely a great read.
There are of many, many other books that involves Faery, so if you have and recommendation let me know.
Let’s have a look at a few movies:
- Labyrinth by Jim Henson comes immediately to my mind. I love, love, love this movie and we have some nice folklore references in it.
If we are in this area I can also recommend the Dark Crystal by Frank Oz. There will also be a Netflix series released in 2019.
- Another beautiful movie is of course The Last Unicorn, I’m pretty sure most of you have seen it, if not go ahead and watch it, it’s a classic.
- As I stated probably more than once already, I’m also a big fan of Merlin, a movie with Sam Neil. It is the story about Merlin and King Arthur, but we will also see many Otherworldly beings, and that stone giant… I cannot even, it’s just to good. I love the magic in this world!
- Another beautiful movie is I am Dragon, or Dragon - Love is a scary Tale. This is a Russian movie by Indar Dzhendubaew. Unfortunately this movie is not well known, but it such a wonderful story and you will be enchanted if you watch it. By the way you may want to watch this in Russian, it fits the Dragon theme so well.
- Pan’s Labyrinth by Guillermo Del Toro is another movie you might want to watch, much darker and grimmer than the others, but a beautiful work of art nonetheless.
- Let’s go from grim to absolute cute and whimsical, I present you the Disney Tinkerbell movies. Yes I admit I love them, and I know most of the serious Faery folklorist out there, will hate me for that. But there are definitely some hidden truths in these movies, and they are very entertaining, so if you're up for that go ahead and watch them, there is nothing wrong with a bit of childlike wonder.
Another series you can find is Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, I think there is only one season but it involves a lot of British faery lore.
And I think I will end this exploration of Fantasy and Faery for now, I will probably come back to this topic at some point. And like I mentioned already, if you have any interesting Fantasy movies or books that you can recommend, I’m wide open for suggestions.
Your Faery Homework
- Read a book or watch a movie for Fun