The last event for me in October was NEPCA at UMass-Amherst where I gave a presentation on Elisabeth Sanxay Holding’s The Blank Wall; at PCA National this spring I’ll be talking about the film adaptations, too. I also finally visited Emily Dickinson’s house. Despite living in New England for many years, I had not managed to get there.
It was magic, as you might imagine. I didn’t know this enigmatic middle child had auburn hair. It was odd to see furniture that was like the vintage stuff Robert has bought for our house which is about the same age as the Dickinson house. Her actual bed is there, reproductions of some of her letters and the many scraps of odd paper on which she wrote in flashes of imagination before revising over and over.
Down a well-worn path next door her brother and sister-in-law lived in The Evergreens
with a mad swirl of activity. Unlike the increasingly retiring poet, they hosted soirees and had a bowl full of visiting cards. They also stuffed the house with art, many from the Hudson River Valley school as well as landscapes and ‘orientalist’ works. Our lively guide Keeley not only filled in the history about various objects and rooms but quoted from the poems often. The words rang vividly in the places the poet had lived and loved. Make the time to visit. I plan to go back when I can do so more leisurely.
WorldCon 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):
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 —
Spring break has mostly been work but I did manage to make another escape to spend the day with the fabulous Stephanie down in the city. Just before another collaboration escapes on Monday, Respectable Horror, which I edited and she supplied the wonderful cover art featuring cover model Poppy. She’s not just skin and bones either!
More photos in a FB album — they’d take up too much of my storage space here — but here’s a few highlights which included stops at the NYPL, Society of Illustrators and the Met as well as fine Belgian and Thai food. Click to embiggen any of the images.
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.
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!
Although a classic I’d not read this novel before, but stumbling across it at the Oxfam Bookshop this winter, I found the combination of the title and the folk horror revival vibe in Michael Heslop’s cover irresistible. Will is the seventh son of a seventh son, which he did not know as one of his brothers died very young. He’s been born to a special task, uniting the forces of light against the darkness:
‘It is a burden,’ Merriman said. ‘Make no mistake about that. Any great gift of power or talent is a burden, and this more than any, and you will often long to be free of it.’
It’s full of history, pagan symbols and eternal struggles. The struggle of dark against light is rather simplistic as many myths are. The contempt for women is striking within the narrative: ‘typical females’ are silly. There are maiden, mother and crone for symbolic purposes, but the maiden has to be rescued by Will, the mother falls and sprains her ankle to provide emotional ammunition and the crone has to be brought back by Will as well. Not that any of the characters are especially well drawn: they’re just pegs to carry the narrative forward, and it moves at a good clip.
This sounds more negative than it is in sum. The vivid scenes of magic and myth really leap off the page. The mysterious mask, the snow that falls for days, the almost sentient fire Will discovers in the past all offer a thrill. Her poetry sings:
Fire on the mountain shall find the harp of gold
Played to wake the Sleepers, oldest of the old;
Power from the green witch, lost beneath the sea;
All shall find the light at last, silver on the tree.
The Wild Hunt at the end that awakens Herne is truly magnificent. We all need inspiration to fight the dark that is rising now. There’s much to inspire here.
See all the overlooked gems at
Patti’s blog make that Todd’s blog.
I dropped by the McManus to check out what was on and caught the Reflections on Celts exhibit which combined a few of their own treasures with borrowed items from the British Museum and the National Museums of Scotland. You can see my pictures here (along with the other two exhibits on) and read more about it here. I was unable to resist buying things in the shop but mostly kept myself to buying cards to send off to other people and a book on medieval Scotland because that is a woeful lack in my knowledge (and a potential site of new research). As you can see, Duncan’s Riders of the Sidhe has come down from the upstairs gallery to gallop through this exhibit.
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.
Check out all my posts at W&P to find out about magical history. Or you could just buy Rook Chant (click image):