What Does It Mean To Be A Faerie Librarian?

I call myself the Faerie Librarian.

I like the slant rhyme.  The rhyme is more pronounced in my Facebook Faerie News page: Faerie Library. Here I curate fairie references and fairy tale allusions in the news and other sources. Even today, faeries are alive and well in conversation and print! “Like” my Facebook page for more information.

And while I aspire to someday be a librarian for Themselves (or do I? I really don’t want to leave this plane of existence), for now it means I curate articles of faerie and fairy tale interest, and I review books about faeries, fairies, and fairy tales.  Plus other books that appeal to me.

One aspiration for 2019 is to start a face-to-face flesh-and-blood Book Group for reading Teen and Adult Books about faeries. Until then, I want to be more proactive about the faerie-themed books I do review.

 

Faerie and Fairy Tale Books I’ve Reviewed

 

The Waters & The Wild  by Francesca Lia Block  (reviewed February 2018)

 

 

 

The Stolen Child  by Lisa Carey (reviewed November 2017)

 

 

 

 

A Green and Ancient Light by Frederick S. Durbin (reviewed January 2018)

 

 

 

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (reviewed April 2017)

 

 

 

Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce (reviewed Dec. 2015)

 

 

 

Arriving at Amen: Seven Catholic Prayers That Even I Can Offer by Leah Libresco (reviewed October 2018)

 

 

 

How To See Faeries by John Matthews and Brian Froud (reviewed July 2014)

 

 

 

Uprooted by Naomi Novik (reviewed March 2016)

 

 

 

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu (reviewed in January 2017)

 

 

 

Six Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente  (reviewed September 2016)

 

 

More book reviews from the Faerie Librarian coming soon!

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Tam Lin: A Faerie Story For Mortals and Christians

A Sacramental Tam Lin: A Response to Leah Libresco

Carterhaugh, near Selkirk, Scotland.
“I forbid all you maidens that wear gold upon your hair to come or go near Caterhaugh, for young Tam Lin waits there” (translation by author). Photo by Richard Webb. Creative Commons License.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Carterhaugh.jpg

Literary Correspondence

  In the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries, it was common for authors to correspond to one another, to offer support or to voice disagreement through letters.  I was fortunate to meet Leah Libresco at the Doxacon convention last year—I spoke on fairy tales—and I picked up a copy of her book Arriving at Amen: Seven Catholic Prayers That Even I Can Offer. Alas, I didn’t get read it until after the convention ended and we went our separate ways, and I am unable to make it to this year’s convention; so I must now resort to written dialogue.

Janet and Tam Lin

In her chapter on Confession, Libresco explains the Tam Lin tale, most commonly known from Child’s Ballad 39:

The Faerie Queen transforms Tam Lin into a bear. Janet “holds him tight and fears him not.”                                    (CCO Creative Commons; Pixabay.)

“… Janet falls in love with the knight Tam Lin, who is in the thrall of the [. . .]  fairies. To rescue her lover, she has to pull him off his horse as the fairy procession passes and hold on to him, even as he shifts through a variety of dangerous forms. As Tam Lin turns into an asp and a dog and a bear and a burning coal, Janet’s task is simply to hold on. She uses no magic in the story, but she is still a partner in freeing him from his curse. She cooperates as her strengths and faculties allow.”

Ms. Libresco uses the story of Tam Lin as a metaphor for the sacrament of Confession, for cooperating with God’s grace. Her observation that Janet uses no magic is one that I somehow never noticed before. Yet I object to Libresco’s characterization of Janet’s actions as a “task.” Task connotes work and duty.

The ballad itself attributes Janet’s perseverance as active love, not merely cooperation, and certainly no obligation. Janet braved her fears and ventured into the dark on Halloween, the night when according to folk belief, the veil between the worlds is thinnest and spiritual entities like faeries and ghosts roam the earth. She waited until the most opportune moment to pull Tam Lin off his horse. When Tam Lin is magically transformed into a progression of wild animals, the ballad explains why Janet is able to hold onto him throughout these vicious enchantments: “She held him tight and feared him not / he was her baby’s father” and “she held him tight and feared him not / as she loved her child.” (Modern language adaptations here and elsewhere are my own.) Janet was the active force who could save Tam Lin when he couldn’t save himself.

Enduring Love

Janet loves despite the cost, breaking societal norms. When she shows up pregnant, she boldly informs her father, “If I go with child . . . / only I bear the blame. / For there’s no lord about your hall / shall have my baby’s name.” She won’t be married off to a respectable knight for the sake of family propriety or even financial security. She declares, “I will not leave my one true love / for any lord and all his wealth.” Her father could have disowned her; she could have been left a penniless single mother. At this point in the ballad she doesn’t yet know if she will be able to rescue Tam Lin. Since she refuses to be separated from her baby’s father, if she’s unsuccessful in rescuing him, her only other option is to go to Faerie herself to be united with him there and to raise her child in Fairyland. What a choice!

In this, Janet is like the Old Testament heroine Ruth who said, “Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” Or, if you prefer, Orpheus, who braved Hades in order to rescue Eurydice. Janet takes on the indomitable Fairy Queen to win her true love back.

Confession of Faith

Maybe Janet suspected that she wouldn’t have to go live in Faerie. Maybe she has more faith in God than I do. As soon as she found out that she was pregnant, Janet asked Tam Lin, “If e’er ye was in holy chapel / Or Christendom did see?” (Helen Child Sargent’s 1904 text). Tam Lin doesn’t explicitly clarify what today we would call “religious affiliation,” but he confirms that he was mortal, which in the historic context and culture of the original ballad is an affirmative reply.  He confirms that he is a baptized Christian.

Creative Commons License

Were you baptized? Are you Christian? — (paraphrase) — from Child’s Faerie Ballad #39, Tam Lin.  (CCO Creative Commons; Pixabay)

A Sacramental Tam Lin Affirms Confession and Baptism

Janet intercepts the faerie procession at Miles Cross, at a crossroads. In the Celtic culture, crossroads represent potentiality and liminality. It’s the best place to try to change things, because it is an opportunity to literally change one’s course or direction. In that regard, Ms. Libresco shows a keen insight in equating the tale of Tam Lin with Confession. Repentance, from the Greek metanoia, means a change of life, a change of mind and actions. A crossroads represents the opportunity for metanoia. It also is a geographic representation of the sign of the cross.

The Faerie Queen shape-changes Tam Lin into a fiery coal. (CCO Creative Commons; Pixabay)

“Quickly she dropped him in a well, as she loved her soul.” –From Child’s Ballad #39  (CCO Creative Commons; Pixabay)

But the breaking of Tam Lin’s enchantment is more closely related to the sacrament of Baptism. Janet had already asked if he knew “Christendom;” she was counting on the grace of God to claim His own. The enchantment breaks when Janet throws Tam Lin, trapped in the enchanted form of a burning coal, into a well. We may presume it is a holy well; Scotland is full of them. It need not be. In fairy tales, metaphors have a life of their own. The water of symbolic baptism frees Tam Lin.

Janet rescues Tam Lin by demonstrating the self-emptying love of Christ that never lets go. With this divine-empowered love she not only endures but clutches to herself the forms of serpents, dogs, and lions. In our baptism we are made children of God. God loves us with a love that will not let us go, no matter what form our actions may take. Just as nothing can separate Tam Lin from Janet’s love, St. Paul reminds us that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers” can separate us from God’s love. Nor asps or adders or bears or coals.

A baptism font in a church in Amsoldingern, Switzerland. In baptism, we are made children of God. “For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers . . . nor faeries . . . . nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

Resources

Tam Lin’s Well, Carterhaugh, Scotland

Carterhaugh Geography from the website Tam Lin Balladry.

Selkirk, Scotland.

The Faery Folklorist

Fairy Houses in Upstate New York

Look at these Fairy Houses!  There’s even a faerie playground!

I usually don’t care for fairy houses; they are often too cute and whimsical. THESE are, if you’ll pardon the expression, out of this world.  They’re in Tinker Nature Park near Rochester, NY.  This one’s my favorite:

Fairy Houses copyright Angie Armstrong

LOOK! It has a clock! (I thought faeries didn’t follow time!) Photo copyright 2016 Angie Armstrong from the web. https://www.newyorkupstate.com/expo/life-and-culture/erry-2018/10/607784170e2177/fairy-houses-tinker-rochester.html

Each one is a beautiful, unique, creative, artistic creation.

For now, the artists/craftsperson is anonymous.

Read the complete article to see all the incredible pictures!

(I’m not quite sure why the photos are copyright 2016 but the article is dated October 8, 2018; I’m guessing it’s a repost/update.)

 

—————-

Source article published at https://www.newyorkupstate.com/  “New York Upstate” by Advance Media, New York.

Shamrocks and Four-Leaf Clovers

An Irish culture site I follow posted an infographic with a PSA to avoid confusing the Shamrock with a Four-Leaf Clover.

The same day I was reacquainting myself with faerie folklore and was reminded that the four-leaf clover offers protection against the fey.

I agree that theologically, we would do well to avoid confusing them. But culturally? As a symbol of Ireland? What could be more Irish than the fey? I’ll take all the protections against Themselves that I can get.

The Druids and ancient Irish were already a fan of triads and the number three before St. Patrick started preaching. According to legend, he explained the Trinity by holding up a small trefoil plant. St. Patrick’s Breastplate, a Lorica [protection] prayer attributed to him, begins by invoking the Trinity: “. . . believing in threeness, confessing the oneness of Creation’s Creator . . .”  In many pictures and icons of St. Patrick, he is holding a shamrock.

Technically, a shamrock is merely a small or young clover plant. The term comes from the Irish, seamróg, and even readers with as little Irish as I have may recognize óg as meaning young as in the expression Tír na nÓg, the Land of Youth, more commonly known as Faerie. Fans of the movie The Quiet Man may also remember the character Michaeleen’Og, or little, young Michael; Michael Jr.  (The character is an older man in the movie, but we may presume his father was also named Michael.) Seamair is Irish for clover. Seam + og = seamróg, shamrock.

Botanical descriptions may or may not shed light.  The librarian in me wants to stick to the generally authoritative Encylopedia Britannica, although I wonder if it is reputable when speaking on matters pertaining to Éire. Clover (trifolium) apparently has round leaves. Wood sorrel (oxalis) has the distinctive heart-shape leaves we associate with the Irish shamrock. Britannica calls them both—and others—shamrocks.

Trifolium repens; white clover. By Alvesgaspar (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) via Wikimedia Commons

Common wood sorrel; CCO; public domain via Pixabay

Wood sorrel, by the way, is edible. In the 16th century, English writers Edmund Spencer and Edmund Campion reported that the Irish were eating “shamrocks.” Wood sorrel tastes sour and is rich in Vitamin C., and can be used as a salad, tea, or herbal medicine to treat fever and other ailments.

Whatever its species, the three-leafed shamrock representing the Trinity is the one best associated with St. Patrick.

But let’s not rule out  four-leaf clovers.

I’ll stubbornly argue that four-leaf clovers may also be considered somewhat Irish because the Irish are considered lucky, and four-leaf clovers are rare; to find one is to be lucky.  (And if “everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day,” as the expression goes, then we can consider the four-leafed clover Irish on March 17 too.) Or perhaps, more to the point, one is lucky to escape an enchantment by faeries. Robert Hunt recorded in his 1865 Popular Romances of the West of England the story of a dairy cow befriended by faeries, and the milkmaid who came to see them one day by draping herself in a pile of grass in which a four-leaf clover was intermixed. A similar tale is told by Michael Aislabie Denham in his 1859 Denham Tracts, a Yorkshire folklore pamphlet. According to folklorist Katharine Briggs, four-leaf clovers dispel faerie glamour and break enchantments, which is why the above-mentioned milkmaid could see Themselves that day. An ointment made of four-leaf clovers will enable mortals to see the Good Neighbors – and keep one from being beguiled by them. While there are a few fey folk like the leprechaun who may grant boons to mortals, all the same, I’d just as soon stay clear of them.  I call that very lucky indeed.

CCO via Pixabay

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

 

 

 Resources, References, and Further Reading

Briggs, Katharine. An Encylopedia of Faeries, Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, And Other Supernatural Creatures. N.Y.: Pantheon Books, 1976. Print.

The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. “Shamrock.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. July 20, 1998. Accessed March 16, 2018. Web.

MacConnell, Cormac. “Everything You Know About the St. Patrick’s Day Shamrock Is a Lie.”  Irish Central. March 16, 2018. Accessed March 16, 2018. Web.

“Shamrock.” No author. Wikipedia. March 16, 2018. Accessed March 16, 2018. Web.

“Wood Sorrel.” No author. Wild Edible. 2010-2018.  Accessed March 16, 2018. Web.

 

The Wildness of Growing Up [Book Review]

           

             Francesca Lia Block’s The Waters & The Wild is as beautiful and evocative as her other books, moving and full of longing, with a surprise bittersweet ending.  The teen years are a time when belonging is essential, and the faerie/changeling metaphor is perfect to describe the despair of not-fitting-in.

Bee wakes up one morning to find her doppleganger, a look-alike who declares that she wants her life back, and promptly disappears.  In her search for answers, Bee befriends a brilliant nerd Haze, who thinks he may be the progeny of aliens, and Sarah, a plump would-be starlet who sings like Billie Holiday and believes she is a reincarnated slave girl.  The three new friends are powerful together and create their own tribe.  They pretend to be invisible to give them the moxy to crash the popular girl’s party. Finally, Bee belongs.

Or does she? Who is the look-alike girl whose life Bee may have unknowingly stolen?

            Block creates rich, dynamic characters and deftly shifts point-of-view to give voice to each of the friends. On the downside, the plot is a little thin.  The ending has not been seeded well; it bears the surprise of the unexpected and not a fulfillment. Still, Block writes beautifully as always and can get away with just about anything. The occasional poem inserts contribute to the theme and tone.  The optimistic resolution demonstrates that the despair of high school doesn’t last forever. This is a near-perfect book for outcasts and ‘alternative’ teens longing to belong.

 

Block, Francesca Lia. The Waters & The Wild. N.Y.: HarperTeen, 2009.

 

Ms. Block’s website: www.francescaliablock.com

 

 

When the Fey Envy Humans

The original Little Mermaid wants to become human, not to marry a Disnified prince, but because she longs for a human soul.  In my favorite Irish folktale, “The Priest’s Supper,” the fey ask a priest about their eternal destiny.

You and I secretly or not-so-secretly wish magic was real, but it’s  a curious quirk of many of the old tales: our favorite supernatural entities want to be human.

quotation from A Green And Ancient Light by Frederic S. Durbin

In Frederick S. Durbin’s A Green and Ancient Light, a young man’s Grandmother has an old family friend who is eventually revealed as Otherworldly.

Durbin’s book offers the same appeal as one of my childhood favorites, Bette Greene’s The Summer of My German Soldier, although his is a fantastic setting to Greene’s realism. Durbin’s nearly-teen protagonist helps rescue an enemy soldier in a conflict that is never named but feels like an alternate-Earth World War II. The appeal of these books is their exploration of what it means to be human and what it means to be “other.”  In both of these books, enemy combatants/reluctant soldiers have more humanity than some fellow citizens.

The family friend, the fey Mr. Girandole, eventually reveals that he loved Grandmother, but did not want to deprive her of the normal life of growing old with a person who ages beside you. As long as Grandfather was alive, Mr. Girandole kept a respectful distance.

At one point he confesses:

“I knew that humans have a gift that is not granted to us in Faery: this gift of giving the heart in devotion to one other soul, and walking through days of a limited number. This love of which your people are capable . . . It’s warmer than the warmest hearth in winter. It’s like a meteor, lighting the sky before it passes beyond” (215).

He offers an important insight regarding the importance and strength of love. Love is all the more valuable when offered, knowing that one day we will be separated from our beloved.

Cold days are upon us. Give thanks for your humanity this wintry season. And remember to love. Love deeply.

Love like a blazing hearth. Love cosmically, like a meteor.  In the words of the poet Kathleen Norris, may our love be

“starlike
and wild, as wide as grass,
solemn as the moon.” (from her poem “Little Girls in Church”)

Love like a human. Love with wild abandon. Love big enough to make the Good People envious.

 

Works Referenced

Durbin, Frederic S. A Green and Ancient Light. N.Y.: Saga Press, 2016.

Greene, Bette. Summer of My German Soldier. N.Y.: Bantam/Dell/Scholastic, 1973, 2006.

Norris, Kathleen. “Little Girls In Church” [poem] in Little Girls In Church. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1995.

What I’m Reading Now (October 2017)

I’m reading Franz Xaver Von Schonwerth’s “The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales” now.

Jacob Grimm said of Schonwerth, “No one in Germany has gathered tales so thoughtfully and thoroughly and with such finesse.”

Here’s a great quotation from the introduction: