My thoughts have turned perhaps inexorably to the intersection of crime and magic in the Middle Ages, as my interests seem to intensify where they overlap. Or it just amuses me as I turn my mind to other topics to exercise different muscles in my head (so to speak). Missing Strange & Norrell (the series; I have begun the book and am pleased to find a good deal of humour in it) of course and still thinking about this notion (fictional though it may be) of making magic respectable.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, this has led me to the Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale — so much so that I may come up with a paper proposal for Leeds next year. It may seem a long way from Chaucer to Strange & Norrell, but not in my head.
CYT features one of the belated arrivals to pilgrimage in The Canterbury Tales. The canon and his yeoman catch up to the pilgrims and the yeoman launches into a recital of the canon’s alchemical life that soon makes his boss leave in a huff. The yeoman takes this opportunity to show that the canon is a scoundrel in this ‘elvysshe craft’ known as alchemy…
Read the rest at Witches & Pagans.
Over at my History Witch column, I explain something that I’ve come to call ‘The Great Conflation’ or what Michael D. Bailey theorised about how a Dominican theologian might have inadvertently changed history, leading to the specific gendered nature of the witch hunts of the Early Modern era and the so-called Age of Enlightenment. Of course I have been spurred to finally write this in anticipation of the last [sob!] episode of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell this weekend. Those who have shaken fingers at me will be glad to know I ordered a copy of Susanna Clarke’s novel despite my usual trepidation about modern doorstop novels.
If you have an interest in history or magic or both, you may want to check out my essay.
Yes, I may overuse this lovely meme of Mr Norrell expressing the cri de coeur of introverts everywhere, but so what?
FYI if you haven’t done so already, check out John Reppion’s posts at the Daily Grail on the magic & fairy traditions touched on by Strange & Norrell.
Out now! The fourth tale in the Hard-Boiled Witch series. Set in a slightly more magical Dundee, the tales make use of local stories and locations (yeah, had to make a reference to the V&A).
When a new burlesque club opens in Dundee, the owner calls on Hecate Sidlaw to deal with some strange attacks — by a skeleton! She and her familiar Henry need to get to the bottom of the magical threats, if she can get him away from the performers long enough to investigate. Looks like they need someone with expertise in calaveras…
Enter the dark streets and weird magic of HARD-BOILED WITCH and your life will never be quite the same.
There’s a special ‘guest star’ who makes a surprise appearance: I’d already written her entrance when someone on FB posted this link which reminded me of Michael Marra’s song. Thank you, subconscious!
She said she’d never felt so happy in a long long time.
Her mind was relaxed and her body felt fine.
She said, ‘Put on, Perdido. Tonight’s the night.
I want to dance with Jimmy Howie in the pale moonlight…’
Buy US 99¢
Buy UK 99p [and available at all Amazon sites]
I’m working on Abra Cadavra, also known as Hard-Boiled Witch 4, so all this week I’ve put up book 3 for FREE (click the picture for US, for UK click here):
Hard-Boiled Witch: Charms O’erthrown
Book three in the series
Print Length: 25 pages
Hecate Sidlaw finds herself in a wild storm of shady folks all looking for a priceless artifact that’s gone missing. With all the double dealing and surprising murders, it’s a wonder she and Henry can find out what’s really going on — and what this precious treasure could be. An ancient alchemical text may hold the answers if only Hecate and Henry can live long enough to get to the library!
The other two are only 99¢/99p so if you like what you read, there’s more Hard-Boiled Witch! You can read them out of order and each stands on its own as a tale. There is an overarching link that will tie together by book 10, but who knows when I’ll get it done. So many things going on!
Also a free read if you’ve not caught up with it yet. I’ve mentioned it on Twitter and Facebook: I have a short story up at Spelk Fiction called ‘Pink’ — a very dark little tale of small town crime and its repercussions. You can sign up to get Spelk fiction sent to your inbox three times a week. Nice to have a little story to start your day, eh?
And now — to work.
Like many folks here, I am greatly enjoying Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. It’s a terrific fantasy series: I can’t tell you how well it adapts Susanna Clarke’s novel as I haven’t read it yet (so many books, so many of them to write!) but the author seems pleased. The next episode appears to focus on Arabella Strange (Charlotte Riley) so it ought to be very interesting indeed.
Norrell’s obsession, if you don’t know, is to bring back English magic and make it ‘respectable’ (the contrast to his aims has been embodied by the street magician Vinculus, played with great vigour by Paul Kaye). Of course a big part of my interest in the show has been to see how they portray magic, given my own interests in the history of magic.
Even among medievalists, magic has only slowly become a ‘respectable’ sort of topic. Tolkien was one of the first scholars to insist that the fantastic elements in Beowulf were as worthy of study as the linguistic, where dull people had insisted its only charms lay. Societas Magica has done much to bring respectability to the study, following the fascinating history from earliest antiquity up to the present and sharing syllabuses from many different courses. They haven’t quite got Picatrix on everyone’s lips, but they’re working on it.
I’ll be teaching a course on women and witchcraft this autumn. It will be interesting to see what expectations the students bring. One of the aspects of that history we’ll be looking at is how magic moved from being a humble practise to becoming a formal art. I suppose in some ways you could compare it to famous big name chefs taking over simple peasant dishes. Simple charms to protect travelers, reduce illness or restore a field (things I write about in Rook Chant) are very different from the elaborate rituals that learned clerics used to summon demons. But in the late Middle Ages, these two very different strands became intertwined — and by the early Modern era they exploded in the infamous witch hunts.
I write about some of this practical magic in my History Witch column; perhaps I should share some examples here. Just to be respectable.
Rook Chant at Amazon UK