It didn’t take me long, as a child, to realise that the cutesy creatures with wings weren’t the real deal. With access to folklore, I discovered a world of faerie folk and spirits of place that was neither safe nor cute. The Lords and Ladies, The Good Neighbours, The Little Folk. Offend them at your peril. Whether you think they are real or not, they act as representation of our relationship with nature, conveying the message that anything less than care and politeness could cost us dear.
For me, there are certain books that encapsulate my sense of what faerie is. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norris is a fine case in point. Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market and Yeats’ Stolen Child capture both the allure and danger. The suggestion of faerie will cause me to pick up a book and read the blurb. So many times I’ve put those books down again, able to tell that the author just doesn’t get it. More often than not, it’s the sheer otherness that isn’t conveyed. Faeries are not just humans with pointy ears and better costumes. In folklore, they are a race apart, with radically different attitudes and rules.
I came to Giselle Renarde’s ‘Secrets of the Solstice Sacrifice’ as an editor not a reader. (Just so you know I have biases). Renarde’s faeries are not part of some uncanny otherworld, but instead exist in our world, just beyond human perception but occasionally impinging on it. She makes them very much a part of nature, as a significant portion of faeries are (kelpies, piskies, pookas, boccans and so forth are very much in the world). However, she gives them a social structure more suggestive of the Shinning Hordes style faerie who troop between their mounds at Samhain and Beltain. It raises some interesting questions about how we designate an entity as spirit of place, or as fey. I suspect these are rather arbitrary, human ways of looking that don’t reflect the actualities all that well, but we are stuck with our human perceptions, language and understanding when it comes to dealing with that which is other.
The usual way of handling faeries in fiction is to send in a mortal character we can relate to – be that Janet of Carterhaugh in Tam Lin, or Thomas the Rhymer encountering the Queen of Elfland. These two tales pitch mortals against faeries, Janet rescuing the human Tam from captivity amongst the Fair Folk, Thomas enchanted by the Faerie Queen, but eventually returning to the world. It is, in many ways, the easiest way of exploring otherness in fiction – looking through the eyes of someone we can readily relate to. It helps to make the Shinning ones accessible, without bringing them too close.
Renarde takes the bold move of telling her tale from an entirely faerie set of perspectives. There are no human characters to engage with. She runs with two perspectives, characters who are both sympathetic, and very clearly not human. Part of the success of this stems, I think, from her very careful language use, having elements that take her characters away from human experience without making them unreadable. No mean feat, I would say. There’s also a dash of magic. Renarde isn’t a pagan, but she handles ritual and sex magic with a deft touch, creating scenarios I think the majority of pagans would find resonant (and sexy).
The language of faerie, of fey is used by, and about glbt folk. For a while ‘fairy’ meant camp, and probably gay, certainly if used in relation to a man. It doesn’t seem so prevalent as a term at the moment, but it’s out there, and I’ve known glbt folk who adopted fey names as an expression of self. To be fey, and other, may be to be gender-queer, and not part of the mainstream. Which means that it works on many levels to set a transgender tale in the context of faerie folk. Renarde’s faeries can wish themselves into being whatever they desire, so for most, gender change would be an easy option should they seek it. Renarde crafts some startling challenges for her characters. Even in a culture rooted in otherness, it is still possible not to be able to fit, and the journey to becoming who you are, is still a tricky one. This is a story that works well on a metaphorical level as well as being a good piece of folklore rooted fantasy.
Here’s the opening…
Y Tylwyth Teg, the fair folk, have lived on this mount since before there was a country to speak of. After a skirmish with y gwragedd annwn, the wee folk of the lakes and streams, our great-mothers and fathers, settled in these hills and became the gwyllion, good folk of the mountain. There were no human creatures in that time—only the fair folk, existing unhindered in our ways and travels. We used to ride the wild horses over hill and dale. These days, they’ve all been tamed and we’ve taken to riding wild pigs, errant dogs, and even ducks, if we must.
It’s out today from loveyoudivine, and well worth a look. http://www.loveyoudivine.com/index.php?main_page=document_product_info&cPath=6_61&products_id=677 – and there’s another excerpt over there too.