The love of poets
Happy May Day!

The cauldron of dreams

Thomas the Rhymer by Kinuko Y. Craft

May Day seems like the perfect time to re-visit this passage by Ellen Kushner on Celtic myth and legend in fantasy fiction, from a piece published years ago in Brigit's Feast magazine:

Thomas the Rhymer illustration (Russian edition) by Folda"For a long time, one almost felt that Celtic myth and legend had too much of an influence on American writers of fantasy," she says. "It was as though, in one little corner of literature, the sun had never set on the Celtic Twilight...lovely as far as it went, but it seemed a shame that modern American fantasists were ignoring all of the other remarkable myth and magic traditions that exist in the world. I remember discussing this with other writers and editors in the 1980s. Theoretically, I was in favor of more multicultural fantasy; but in practice, it was hard to imagine how it would work. Fantasy is, paradoxically, both a radically innovative and a highly conservative tradition. The images and tropes of the Celtic world were so pervasive. Writers could rely on a sort of mythic shorthand: cloaks and swords, weirds and geases, bards and harps...they needed no translation, no explanation; the writer could launch right into the story and expect the audience to follow.

Thomas the Rhymer cover art by Janis Jaunarajs"But fantasy literature does not exist in a vacuum. Just as popular culture, from fairy tales to  folk-rock groups like Fairport Convention, Pentangle, and Steeleye Span had made us familiar with Celtic and British folkways, so, now, the popularity of world music -- whether it be healing music from Morocco, women's singing from Bulgaria, or Cajun dances from the bayous of Louisiana -- has aroused a curiosity in the world's traditions; a sense of magic and possibility, even of personal connection with places our families have come from, or places we have dreamed of.

"When I wrote my novel Thomas the Rhymer, I had spent years absorbed in British folkways. Since I was a teenage girl, I had read tales, collected ballads, even sung them. I loved them passionately, finding a deep mystery in their illogic and poesy that was very much like the magic of my favorite fairy tales and children's books. It makes me profoundly uncomfortable these days when I hear someone say, 'I've got Celtic blood in me, so I really love Irish music/Scottish legends/(what have you)...'

"I have no Celtic blood in me. There is nothing in my face or ancestry that is not Jewish. The myth of 'blood rights' has caused a lot of trouble in the 20th century. I was born in America. The Christian-dominated Western culture I have grown up in comes from the British Isles, and I love the English language. If I do need a right to the Celtic material, it is from there that I stake my claim. And so I would beg everyone who enjoys fantasy, myth, and music these days to be respectful of the traditions that appeal to you, but to also consider the myth of the great human cauldron of dreams, from which we all dip our nourishment. It is not only blood that calls to us."

Indeed.

The remnants of the Rhymer's Tower in Earlston, Scotland

Thomas the Rhymer art by Thomas Canty

Ellen and Tilly in FaerielandArt above: Cover art and illustrations for four of the American and foreign editions of Ellen's novel  Thomas the Rhymer -- by Kinuko Y. Craft, Folda, Janis Jaunarajs, and Thomas Canty. Photographs:the remnants of the Rhymer's Tower in Earlston, in the Scottish Border country, and Ellen & Tilly in Faerieland, 2013.

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