Tuesday, 2 April 2013

This Fairytale World of Mine

"The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords. " - J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy-Stories
"She lived happily in her nest, standing at the edge in the sunset looking upon the beautiful world," Little Wildrose, Artist Henry Justice Ford

Once upon a time there lived a girl-child, very young and very eager. She lived in a little room papered with Flower Fairies, and hung with twinkling lights. She slept in a little bed, guarded by a menagerie of stuffed toy animals, each with their own personality. In a garden there were flowers and butterflies and sunshine, and she had two (later three) little brothers with whom to play and adventure. This child was always surrounded by love and possibility - and books. Every day her mother (or father) would read to her - children's stories or poems; little songs, Aesop's fables and fairytales.

The Nine Peahens and the Golden Apples
Artist Henry Justice Ford

Snow White and Rose Red
Artist Henry Justice Ford

Most important of all to her developing sense of self, were the fairytales. In a bookcase of dark, richly stained wood, on the top shelf (beyond the grasp of stretching little fingers) stood a row of magical tomes, the Lang Fairy BooksRed, Blue, Yellow, Orange, Brown, Violet, Lilac and (a truly ancient first-edition with gold embossed Art Nouveau cover) Crimson. More stories than a child could count - and so they blended in her mind together into a tapestry of story, a window to a world... Every day - or almost every day, her mother would read a tale to her. The stories in these books spoke of something true within the child's soul; something strange and infinitely marvellous - a perilous beauty that enriched every instant and added an incomparable colour to the world. The stories told of heroes, male and female, of cunning and courage, of speaking animals and shape-shifting spirits, and of the restless desire to go beyond the realm of the ordinary - to climb into the sky and bring down a singing harp; to divine the secrets of the wizards' book; to be stronger than fate; to seek the Bird of Truth and learn the shivery wonder of the words "East of the Sun, West of the Moon".

"The crown returns to the Queen of the Fishes" , The Girl-Fish
Artist Henry Justice Ford
How Ian Direach Got the Blue Falcon
Artist Henry Justice Ford

You will have guessed by now the name of that girl-child. My own fairytale began this way, snuggled between my mother's legs, resting my head against her stomach and looking with wide, wondering eyes at the pages she held before my face - the arcane script I was to understand a few years later, and the pictures which I understood immediately on a deep, instinctive level. These were in truth pictures of Faerie, full of a life, emotion, beauty and detail - and more, a solemnity that I trusted. They took themselves seriously; they contained no falsity and cliché. They were not confined to any particular time-period or culture, and so felt at once universal and uniquely faerie. They helped to mould my own imaginings. As I heard the words of each story, other, vivid images bloomed in my mind, in beauty and kind like unto the Lang illustrations by Henry Justice Ford. I would find later that music, as well as words, evoked such fantasies in my mind - and even later would be able to name that joyful gift as synaesthesia. 

"When she stood upright her ugliness had all gone", The Groac’h of the Isle of Lok,
Artist Henry Justice Ford

"Pivi dives for the shellfish", Pivi and Kabo
Artist Henry Justice Ford

"Under the golden apple tree", The Nine Peahens and the Golden Apples,
Artist Henry Justice Ford

Later I would be able to create my own stories, and to depict some of my imaginings with pencil and paint. I would discover that I had an inner world that I could quite literally explore and recount and describe the things I saw along the way... I would eventually discover my potential for heroism. But that would be later. The first notes of the "horns of Elfland" echoed in my mother's voice, and my first glimpses of Faerie were through beguiling, beautiful illustrations of H.J. Ford.

Lung Lung
Artist Henry Justice Ford

Mother Holle,
Artist Henry Justice Ford

This was the first page of my fairytale. But in my life there have been (already) many chapters and many developments of my persona from the baby girl to the young woman - many stories. Let us turn the pages...

"The Princess at the Curtain",  The Enchanted Knife
Artist Henry Justice Ford

"The kitchenmaid listens to the nightingale", The Emperor and the Nightingale
Henry Justice Ford

Once upon a time there lived a girl-child, who walked half her waking hours in Faerie; an adventurer and a dreamer, avid for knowledge and story. She read anything and everything she could find: natural history, ancient history, children's stories, recipe books and first-aid guides, and - smuggled into her bed when she was supposed to be having her afternoon nap - Anne of Green Gables.  She read poetry too - anthologies that filled her mind with half-understood images and scenes of far-off times. She thrilled to them.

"Petru is forced to turn back", The Fairy of the Dawn
Artist Henry Justice Ford
"The King sees the Snow-Maiden", The Snow Maiden and the Fire-Son
Artist Henry Justice Ford

Once upon a time there lived a girl-child who, when bullied at school, garbed herself in invisible armour and saw scales on the skin of her tormentors; a child who turned every obstacle, in her own mind, into just another a trial in a heroic quest; a child who whispered to the trees in her garden and made offerings of berries and hair to the spirits of the flowers and the trees. 

East of the Sun, West of the Moon
Artist Henry Justice Ford

Once upon a time there lived a girl-woman who, restless, began to seek new knowledge and new stories - who discovered ugliness, triteness, evil and cynicism in her quest to find the Bird of Truth, and who learned "what fear was" on her quest. A girl-woman who discovered true friendship, love (and loss), confidence (and doubt). A girl-woman who discovered further insights into Faerie through the books of Tolkien, Jordan, Hobb and Dart-Thornton; the paintings of Burne-Jones, Kinuko and John Howe; the poems of Tennyson, Keats and Yeats; and the music of Enya, Loreena McKennit and Kitaro, among a galaxy of other inspiring luminaries. A girl-woman who named herself for the hero she wanted to be - a magical, strong and beautiful "second self" - then later realised that "alter-ego" was herself. A girl-woman who stumbled and despaired; knew exhaustion and elation and uncertainty; who was understanding, and unfair; who knew great bliss and shone most gloriously.

"The North Wind seizes the wreath", The Fairy of the Dawn
Artist Henry Justice Ford

"Fairer-than-a-Fairy summons the rainbow", Fairer-than -a-Fairy,
Artist Henry Justice Ford

Once upon a time there lived a girl-woman who began to set her feet on "the Road less traveled", and who decided on a monster to pursue, and a gleaming goal to strive towards... Who pushed herself to create, and to excel - but who nonetheless found many distractions along the road. A girl-woman who understood that the heart of Faerie is Mystery, and the heroic quest a journey towards "that untraveled world whose margin fades/Forever and forever as I move". 

"Among the flowers were lovely maidens who called to him with soft voices", The Fairy of the Dawn
Artist Henry Justice Ford
"Then she reached the three cutting swords, and got on her plough-wheel and rolled over them", The Glass Mountain,
Artist Henry Justice Ford

Here I pause, where the ink is wet. 

The rest of the page is blank. This is my fairytale - so far. But it is part of the beauty of a fairytale, that it can be told again and again with slight variations and in different voices, and yet mean much the same thing... The heroes (female and male) of the Lang books are all archetypes that we contain within us. Thus while my story is uniquely, magically mine - many of you may have stories that are similar in kind, though not in form.

"The Witch-Maiden sees the youth under a tree", The Dragon of the North,
Artist Henry Justice Ford

"The Blue Fairy transforms Prince Darling", Prince Darling
Artist Henry Justice Ford
Tolkien wrote:

"In the Trees of the Sun and Moon root and stock, flower and fruit are manifested in glory". 

"The hero Makoma and the spirit of the river-fever", The Hero Makoma
Artist Henry Justice Ford
"Queen of the Snakes, give me back my husband!", The Queen of the Snakes
Artist Henry Justice Ford

Whatever our twists our paths may take - no matter how long the road, or how dark the forest, or whether we meet with dragons, demons or fair Fortune herself - this is truth. For those of us who choose to walk partway in the world of Faerie - all reality and all our journeys are given a particular dimension and added joy. 

The Magician's Wife
Artist Henry Justice Ford

"The Queen saves the prince from Death", The Story of the Prince Who would Seek Immortality
Artist Henry Justice Ford

Once upon a time there was a writer... and a reader. And a path.

"The shepherd comes to the arch of snakes", The Language of the Beasts
Artist Henry Justice Ford

And see ye not yon bonny road
That winds about yon fernie brae?
That is the road to fair Elfland,
Where thou and I this night maun gae. - Thomas the Rhymer 

In the Forest
Artist Henry Justice Ford

1 comment:

  1. What a beautifully told tale, Mistress Athena!

    I know some people might object to bringing "science" or "analysis" into faery, but I believe you have intuited the archetypal within our common human psyche. These are powerful psychological resources that have enabled our ancestors to survive and thrive down the millennia. You might like to broaden your reading to include the works of Jung and Joseph Campbell.

    The world, and every individual in it, desperately needs a re-injection of myth and enchantment.

    I believe we are living in a new Dark Ages. We are blinded by apparent knowledge which is masking an even more terrible darkness of soul, darkness of vision, which has been largely produced through an excessive focus on the materialist reductionist forms of modern science and economics.

    These have shaped the mental paradigms of the majority of influential writers and artists in the media, who appear to look upon people as "nothing but" (a tell-tale phrase of reductionists) atomistic bundles of biological urges, deceived in thinking they have "free will", and existing for no purpose but to be manipulated for commercial or ideological agendas.

    Better knowledge of the way people respond to the mythic archetypes might allow authentic artists to incorporate these elements more confidently, to fight against the reductionist mindset, and to uplift and reinvigorate the spirit of individuals and of our society.

    That, I believe, is the true purpose of art. It is the bond linking humanity across cultures and generations and across aeons. It is the expression of our deep psychological needs and yearnings. It is therefore therapeutic at a personal and societal level.