The jack-o’-lantern can be traced to Irish morality folklore. On route home after a night’s drinking, Jack encounters the Devil who tricks him into climbing a tree. A quick-thinking Jack etches the sign of the cross into the bark, thus trapping the Devil. Jack strikes a bargain that Satan can never claim his soul. After a life of sin, drink, and mendacity, Jack is refused entry to heaven when he dies. Keeping his promise, the Devil refuses to let Jack into hell and throws a live coal straight from the fires of hell at him. It was a cold night, so Jack places the coal in a hollowed out turnip to stop it from going out, since which time Jack and his lantern have been roaming looking for a place to rest.
Human nature seems to abhor a blank space on a map. Where there are no human habitations, no towns, where villages dwindle into farms and farms into woods, mapping stops. Then the imagination rushes to fill the woods with something other than black darkness: nymphs, satyrs, elves, gnomes, pixies, fairies.
Diane Purkiss, At The Bottom of The Garden
Probably no legendary sea monster was as horrifying as the Kraken. According to stories this huge, many armed, creature could reach as high as the top of a sailing ship’s main mast. A kraken would attack a ship by wrapping their arms around the hull and capsizing it. The crew would drown or be eaten by the monster. What’s amazing about the kraken stories is that, of all the sea monster tales we have, we have the best evidence that this creature was based on something real. (x)
i. unknown // ii. bob eggleton
At The Bottom of The Garden: A Dark History of Fairies, Hobgoblins, and Other Troublesome Things, Diane Purkiss.
Maps of the world in older times used to fill the blanks of exploration with an array of fantastic creatures, dragons, sea monsters, fierce winged beasts. It appears that the human mind cannot bear very much blankness - where we do not know, we invent, and what we invent reflects our fear of what we do not know. Fairies are born of that fear. The blank spaces on the village map, too, need to be filled; faced with woods and mountains, seas and streams that could never be fully charted, human beings saw blanks which they hastened to fill with a variety of beings all given different names, yet all recognisable as fairies. Our fairies have become utterly benign only now, when electric light and motorways and mobile phones have banished the terror of the lonely countryside.
Diane Purkiss, At The Bottom Of The Garden
The Wild Swans | Hans Christian Anderson
In a faraway kingdom, there lives a widowed King with his twelve children: eleven princes and one princess. One day, he decides to remarry. He marries a wicked queen who was a witch. Out of spite, the queen turns her eleven stepsons into swans and forces them to fly away. The queen then tries to bewitch their 15-year old sister Elisa, but Elisa’s goodness is too strong for this, so she has Elisa banished. The brothers carry Elisa to safety in a foreign land where she is out of harm’s way of her stepmother.
There, Elisa is guided by the queen of the fairies to gather nettles in graveyards; she knits these into shirts that will eventually help her brothers regain their human shapes. Elisa endures painfully blistered hands from nettle stings, and she must also take a vow of silence for the duration of her task, for speaking one word will kill her brothers. The king of another faraway land happens to come across the mute Elise and falls in love with her. He grants her a room in the castle where she continues her knitting. Eventually he proposes to crown her as his queen and wife, and she accepts.
However, the Archbishop is chagrined because he thinks Elisa is herself a witch, but the king will not believe him. One night Elisa runs out of nettles and is forced to collect more in a nearby church graveyard where the Archbishop is watching. He reports the incident to the king as proof of witchcraft. The statues of the saints shake their heads in protest, but the Archbishop misinterprets this sign as confirmation of Elisa’s guilt. The Archbishop orders to put Elisa on trial for witchcraft. She can speak no word in her defence and is sentenced to death by burning at the stake.
The brothers discover Elisa’s plight and try to speak to the king, but fail. Even as the tumbril bears Elisa away to execution, she continues knitting, determined to keep it up to the last moment of her life. This enrages the people, who are on the brink of snatching and destroying the shirts when the swans descend and rescue Elisa. The people (correctly) interpret this as a sign from Heaven that Elisa is innocent, but the executioner still makes ready for the burning. Then Elisa throws the shirts over the swans, and the brothers return to their human forms. The youngest brother retains one swan’s wing because Elise did not have time to finish the last sleeve. Elisa is now free to speak and tell the truth, but she faints from exhaustion, so her brothers explain. As they do so, the firewood around Elisa’s stake miraculously take root and burst into flowers. The king plucks the topmost flower and presents it to Elisa and they are married. (x)
Illustrations by Anne Yvonne Gilbert.
The Girl Who Turned In Her Grave
On a farm in the western district of Alptamyra, in the nineteenth century, there lived two brothers and a sister; there was nobody but themselves to work on the farm. Now, their lands lay in such a way that they had to cross a certain fjord or bay in order to reach their meadows. One evening as they were all three three returning, the ferried a load of hay across with them, and loaded the boat so fully that there was nowhere for the girl to sit except right at the stern, so that they brothers’ view of their sister was obscured by the pile of hay. In this manner they crossed the fjord, and came to land at the most convenient spot. But when the brothers went to unload the boat, they found the girl had disappeared; she had fallen overboard. As the evening had grown very dark, they took no steps to search for her, being certain that she would never be found alive.
So they went home, and slept. That night, one of the brothers dreamed of her; he thought that she came to him in his sleep and showed him where to look for her. Next morning the brothers both went out in the boat to search, and they drew her body from the water at the very spot where she herself had pointed out in the dream. After this she was made ready for burial, and laid to rest in the churchyard.
Now it so happened that this girl had been in love with a man in the neighbourhood, but he had refused to take any notice of her. After her death, this man started having nightmares about her, and complained of this. Not long after this same man disappeared one day, and nobody knew what had become of him. A band of men went out to look for him, and he was found down on the beach at the foot of some high cliffs, all battered and crushed. The general assumption was that the girl must have walked, and must have thrown him over the cliff, and so killed him. As soon as this rumour reached them, her brothers went and dug her up, and when they opened the coffin they found there was indeed something wrong.
The girl had turned round inside it, and was now lying face down.
They did not like the look of this at all, so not only did they turn her the right round, they also drove two sharp steel nails into the soles of her feet, and closed the coffin up again and went home. After this, there was no more sign that their sister went wandering about.
- from Icelandic Legends and Folklore, Jaqueline Simpson.
At the end of the 1812 edition of the Brothers Grimm tales, Rumpelstiltskin “ran away angrily, and never came back.” In the final revised 1857 edition however, the ending is more gruesome; Rumpelstiltskin “in his rage drove his right foot so far into the ground that it sank in up to his waist; then in a passion he seized the left foot with both hands and tore himself in two.”
i: Unknown // ii. + iii: Arthur Rackham
First, an apology that this blog hasn’t updated for a month. Wow. A lot has been happening lately but even so I didn’t intend to go this long without posting and for that I’m sorry!
To make up for it I’m going to be trying to post every day from now on - I’ve recently acquired some new books so I have lots of new material - and I hope you’ll enjoy them.
Thanks for sticking with me! You guys are the best.
from Silver Magic, Romer Wilson.