My Schedule @Worldcon75

header-1200x200WorldCon in Helsinki is coming up shockingly soon. Hope to see you there. I’m unlikely to have much time to post while I’m there, but I’m sure to be tweeting. I hope to meet up with a lot of friends I’ve not seen in a while (relatives, too!). My schedule is conveniently grouped for single day attendance (though I’m arriving Wednesday night):

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For the academic track I will be talking once again about Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (yes, when I get obsessed, I stay obsessed to adapt John Irving’s words). The title of my presentation is ‘Lollard Magician: Jonathan Strange & the Reform of English Magic’ so you can get a sense of where it’s going (assuming you know who Wycliffe is).

But I better get back to finishing it —

Sounds of Dundee

I’ve put up a recent field recording that I made in Dundee last month. On Peter Street just off the Murray Gate there’s a little passage way where you’ll find the Grissell Jaffray memorial, a blue plaque and pair of mosaics. She was the last witch executed in the city. I just hung out for a few minutes with my DR-40 and captured ambient sounds (and a little wind–need a better wind sock). Close your eyes and listen.

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I’ve got a new sound project coming out on Monday: you can get a preview of the Cities & Memory project here. More about it then. Yes, obsessing a bit about sound lately. So many things colliding in my mind. You’ll be hearing (!) more about medieval Scots literature, too. I just submitted a recording for a fascinating project, Soundmaps for the Dreamer at Sonoscape. And there’s more: my presentation at the Ken Russell conference will be about sound, too.

And of course I’ll be writing up my experience curating WeTheHumanities for a week. So many things — and also Respectable Horror is almost here!

Revisiting Anglo-Saxon Magic: #FolkloreThursday

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The days are just packed! So forgive me if I offer a little repeat: my first two posts for Witches & Pagans as ‘History Witch’ dealt with Anglo-Saxon traditions of magic and healing. Just the thing for the #FolkloreThursday madness.

Introduction to Anglo-Saxon Magic, Part 1

Introduction to Anglo-Saxon Magic, Part 2

Check out all my posts at W&P to find out about magical history. Or you could just buy Rook Chant (click image):

Magic & Moonlight

Drunk on the MoonThere’s a blue moon tonight: won’t be another for three years. If you can, get out there and howl a little. The full moon brings a little magic out in everyone — and maybe the wolf, too.

I have a piece up at the Cultural Gutter: Strange Men and Magic looks at my new obsession, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. I just finished reading the novel and have begun Susanna Clarke’s short story collection The Ladies of Grace Adieu. Wow, if someone had mentioned it’s illustrated by Charles Vess, I might had snapped it up faster. And I just got the blu-ray set because Mark read a review that said how much more you could see on the BR discs (oh god, the American version makes it look like a superhero film [insert moue of disgust]). I have a feeling I’m going to be writing more on this topic, perhaps in my History Witch columns — recent ones have been influenced by the series, like Disreputable Magic and The Great Conflation, though there’s also bee charms (who doesn’t love bees?). Also, the Gutter is currently running a fundraiser so they can pay their writers. If you have surreptitiously enjoyed their coverage of disreputable entertainment, cough up some money so they can continue to bring you the gold. I’ve ordered one of the sweet Gutterthon posters and I’ve donated a perk: genuine handwritten medieval charms! Donate: even $1 can help.

I *love* this image from topofthemuffin on tumblr! I want it in a poster. She’s also doing an amazing tarot set.

My alter ego has been reviewing: finally getting around to writing up Una Baines’ comics memoir I’ll Be Your Mirror which I highly recommend for anyone who likes stuff (music, Manchester, women, growing up, rebellious jukeboxes, etc.), and the doco It’s Not Repetition, It’s Discipline, which I recommend to people who are already Fall fans (the rest of you may find it a bit bizarre — then again, you to may become obsessed with the mad man, Mark E. Smith.

Oh, also I made a little tune.

Also check out The Neon Moon, the second collection of Roman Dalton tales. Mr B AKA Paul D. Brazill has put together a bunch of belters from folks like Matt Hilton, Vincent Zandri, Carrie Clevenger and many more. You will love this collection. I guarantee it with a howl of delight. But wait, as they say, there’s more — let me just whisper the title: The Neon Boneyard. All Brazill, all Dalton, plenty of bite. Out soon — I just have an early peek at it, so I can tell you, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Disreputable Magic

21canons_yeoman1bMy 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.

Why Women Witches?

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.

Making Magic Respectable

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