Wednesday, March 20, 2019

On Finding a Special Book

This week, when I was browsing in one of my local bookshops I came across a fascinating little book called: ‘Images in the Margins’ by Margot McIlwain Nishimura; published by J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 2009.

Fascinating to me because it opened my eyes to all the interesting creatures, tales and symbols found in the pages of medieval European illuminated manuscripts. I’ve always looked at the beautiful text and large initials and I can’t believe I never noticed all the other things –serious and amusing - contained on the pages.

What caught my eye are a couple of categories which have reminded me how far back our interest in folk tales and popular entertainment goes. Themes that I am trying to capture in my children’s books.

Children's Games

Children’s games must have been important in the Middle Ages as they are a main subject depicted in the manuscripts. There are illustrations of children playing checkers, chess and an early form of bowling. There are other games now lost to history including a rough game called ‘hot cockles’. A person hides their face in another player’s lap while another player hits and pokes him. The player will only be freed if they know who their attacker is. It’s a good thing this game died out.

It seems that fantasy was popular in the Middle Ages as it is also a major category in the manuscripts. There are creatures with the heads of humans and the bodies of animals, unicorns and griffins and other strange creatures.

Reynard the Fox

The book includes a manuscript which depicts that cunning creature ‘Reynard the Fox’.  Apparently stories about Reynard were very popular. Wikipedia tells me the stories can be traced back to the twelfth century. I had no idea these tales went back so far.

This unique little book is stuffed full of fascinating information and I’m already thinking about how to weave some of it into my children’s books.

I’m now going to find out a bit more about the character ‘Reynard the Fox’ and also learn what other stories were popular in the Middle Ages. Do you know of any?

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Reading and Writing Fairy Tales

What’s In a Fairy Tale?

I’ve always loved reading fairy stories and science fiction so it’s no surprise that I wanted to write a few for myself. And what is amazing is that people from many cultures have been listening to and reading what we call fairy tales for centuries.

So I was very conscious that in writing my two fantasy books that I needed the stories to reflect and build on a long tradition. Fairy tales typically include beings such as dragons, elves, fairies, giants, gnomes, goblins, unicorns and talking animals. They also usually include magic and enchantment.

I’ve managed to include fairies, gnomes, goblins, elves and talking animals plus other magical beings and lots of magic. 

To make sure I didn’t stray too far from traditional folklore I consulted a really informative book – ‘An Encyclopedia of Fairies – Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures’ by Katherine Briggs.

The Enduring Love of Fairy Tales and Fantasy

Even before the publication of Grimm’s Fairy Tales (published 1812) and later the stories by Hans Christien Anderson (first stories published 1835) people were reading about ghosts and fairies.

And now the love continues through film, television and computers.

I watched Walt Disney’s animated movies about ‘Snow White’ and ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and later ‘The Little Mermaid’, ‘Rapunzel’, ‘Beauty and The Beast’ and so on. And then there’s the great success of the books and films ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘Harry Potter’.

It doesn’t look like interest in fairy tales and magic is going to disappear any time soon.

Wikipedia says that the name ‘fairy tale’ was first used by Madame d’Aulnoy in the late 17th century. I’m not sure what they were called before that. Any ideas?

Between Books

  Taking a Break After I sent off the third book in my planned trilogy about the magical world of The Tenth Gateway I t...