Tag Archives: writing

A Review of The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun by J.R.R Tolkien

by Dr Frank Malone

This recently released book of three poems includes notes and commentary by Verlyn Flieger and Christopher Tolkien. Edited by Dr Flieger (Department of English / University of Maryland), this small volume will not only appeal to Tolkien enthusiasts, but also to students of Celtic myths and legends. From Tolkien’s middle period, these poems are the culmination of what appears to be a year (1929-1930) of immersing himself in Breton languages and folklore.

In Britain’s land beyond the seas

the wind blows ever through the trees;

in Britain’s land beyond the waves

are strong shores and strong caves.

J.R.R Tolkien, “The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun,” lines 1-4

“The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun,” the longest poem from which the book is titled, was finished by Tolkien in 1930 and was published in 1945 in The Welsh Review.  It is a re-working of other earlier authors’ published material into octosyllabic couplet (lai) form. Unused and revised sections are reviewed by the editor giving a glimpse into Tolkien’s creative process.  Here a childless husband seeks fertility help from a “witch” (later called “Corrigan”) who is found sitting beside “the fountain of the fay, before a cave.”  Tragedy then ensues.

‘Mary on earth, why dost thou weep?’

‘My little child I could not keep:

A corrigan stole him in his sleep,

And I must weep.

J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Corrigan,” lines 1-4

The two other poems, “The Corrigan,” and “The Corrigan II,” are also retellings by Tolkien.  They involve motifs and themes found in other Celtic traditions. For example, “The Corrigan,” entails a human baby that is replaced by a fairy changeling, and “The Corrigan II,” concerns an attempted seduction of a human man by a fairy woman.  Other elements are specifically Bretonic.  For instance, “The Corrigan” is a Breton word that means “fairy,” with a unique history of connotations differing from other Celtic lands.

Fans of The Lord of the Rings will enjoy discovering how the Corrigan “foreshadows the greatest and best-known of Tolkien’s magical, mysterious, ladies of the forest…Galadriel.” (xvi).

There has been some scholarship of late examining how, and to what degree, Tolkien might be considered a Pagan author (E.g., Dr Ronald Hutton’s paper, “The Pagan Tolkien” in the Tolkien 2005 Proceedings, published in 2008 by The Tolkien Society.”  The folkloric clashes between Christianity and Paganism are firmly maintained in these retellings. However, it is possible nevertheless to bring a psychoanalytic lens to Tolkien’s displayed attitude in these poems and view it as defensive.  This would betray a fascination with the pagan material that he could not relinquish in his mind.  The discipline of applied psychoanalysis (which interprets culture) may thus perhaps further this vein of scholarly inquiry.

Pagan Books for April

We’ve got two fine new books for you this month – a fiction and a non-fiction. Text here is taken from author/publishers sources, it’s a not a review, but as I’ve reviewed one of them, I’m including a link!

The Knowing, by Kevan Manwaring

Pagan fiction

Janey McEttrick is a Scottish-American musician descended from a long line of female singers. She lives near Asheville, North Carolina, where she plays in a jobbing rock band, and works part-time at a vintage record store. Thirty-something and spinning wheels she seems doomed to smoke and drink herself into an early grave, until one day she receives a mysterious journal – apparently from a long-lost Scottish ancestor, the Reverend Robert Kirk, a 17th Century minister obsessed with Fairy Lore. Assailed by supernatural forces, she is forced to act – to journey to Scotland to lay to rest the ghost of Kirk and to accept the double-edged gift she has inherited, the gift of Second Sight: the Knowing.

My review here – https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2017/03/31/the-knowing-a-review/

Buy the book here – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Knowing-Fantasy-Kevan-Manwaring-ebook/dp/B06XKKFGFV

 

Pagan Portals – Animal Magic, by Rachel Patterson

Pagan non-fiction

An introduction to the world of animal magic; how to find, recognise, connect and work with the power of animal magic.

Buy the paperback – AMAZON US AMAZON UK INDIEBOUND

Buy the ebook – AMAZON US AMAZON UK INDIEBOUND

The End of the School Year

If you have school-aged children, this time of year is one you know well. Your kids are excited to not have school for the next three months, and you’ve had to figure out child care arrangements. You may have planned a fun local trip or a larger vacation. You’re hoping your kids have fun, clean up after themselves, and make memories.

Summer vacation presents challenges and opportunities, but we often let opportunities slide away from us. I’m talking about learning opportunities. Few parents I know require their children to keep up basic skill practice over the summer. Math, reading, and writing are skills. Like any skills, when they lie dormant, they atrophy. Summer loss is a real problem that is completely preventable.

From the time my kids were small, we required that they read, write, and practice math over the summer. When they were little, math workbooks were easy enough to find at the store, as were free worksheets online. One of my kids struggled with adding and subtracting fractions. We found practice sheets online, helped her learn the concept, and she practiced them. Now she’s in advanced math. My other daughter took an even greater interest in math, and she’s three years ahead in math. (No, we did NOT push her. If anything, we held her back. When they wanted to put her in Algebra in 5th grade, we compromised on 6th grade advanced.) I attribute this to our dedication to making sure they practiced their skills over the summer.

Reading is another skill that’s easy to keep current. Require your kids to read for a minimum of twenty minutes every day. Make it a routine. Many kids report that reading before bed allows them to fall asleep faster. (The light from screens actually makes your brain take about 30 minutes longer to fall asleep.) This will improve their comprehension, stamina, and speed—all critical factors that hold kids back when reading difficulty increased at around the 4th grade. Make this fun for them—visit a library together to select books, have a time when the whole family reads together, and talk to each other about what you’re reading. Keep track of pages read and celebrate milestones.

Visit www.lexile.com to find a list of age-appropriate reading suggestions. You may not know your child’s Lexile range (unless you ask the school—some standardized test like the NWEA/MAP report a Lexile as part of their score, though the school may not report it to the parents), but you can ballpark it based on books they are reading in school. The best way to ballpark a reading level is to have your child read the first page or two of a book they may like. If they encounter more than five words they don’t know and can’t figure out using context clues, then it’s too hard. Conversely, if they breeze through it quickly, then it’s too easy. You want kids to choose a combination of “challenge” and “fun” books to grow their skills without frying their brains.

Writing is perhaps the most difficult skill to keep current. Most parents have no idea what to expect, and that makes them reticent to require their kids to write. Don’t make this into a big deal. Yeah, I assigned my kids a research project last summer, but it was to figure out which National Parks they wanted to visit on vacation. They looked up specific places they wanted to visit, created a presentation in Google Slides, and we ended up visiting most of their choices. This grew organically out of a family discussion. You don’t have to be that elaborate (unless your kids are driving that train—then let them run with it.)

You can have them write their thoughts, opinions, or ideas in a journal. You can email them a question and have them respond with at least a paragraph. Grow the dialogue from there. If they have an opinion about something, have them find evidence and reasons to support it. Make them cite their sources. If they send you short responses, ask questions to help them draw out their thoughts. The more you do this, the easier it’ll get. Can’t think of topics? Let your fingers do the walking. I searched “writing topics for middle school/elementary students/high school” and came up with hundreds of hits. Here are two of them: http://www.dailyteachingtools.com/journal-writing-prompts.html and http://journalbuddies.com/journal_prompts__journal_topics/fun-writing-prompts-for-middle-school/

Once you have a starting point, have them set a goal for what they want to improve. Perhaps they want to have better description, use dialogue or similes, explain their reasoning better—whatever it is, keep it simple and be supportive. You’ll likely find 50 things wrong with their writing, but only work on improving 1-2 at a time. Anything more is too much, too fast. If you’re struggling to look for goals, check out this website: http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/

Select “Writing” and choose the grade level you want. The standards are pretty straightforward, but note that examples and resources aren’t provided.

This sounds like a lot, but if you set an expectation for your child to read every day, and practice writing and math twice each week, when the new school year begins, your child will hit the ground running.

On Nurturing Creativity with Elizabeth Gilbert

This video comes from TED, a small nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading.

This talk is with Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray Love. The focus is on writers nurturing creativity and ego from a spiritual sense, and the information is too good not to share.

 

 

From the website:

“The annual TED conferences, in Long Beach/Palm Springs and Oxford, bring together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes).”

“On TED.com, we make the best talks and performances from TED and partners available to the world, for free. More than 700 TEDTalks are now available, with more added each week. All of the talks are subtitled in English, and many are subtitled in various languages. These videos are released under a Creative Commons license, so they can be freely shared and reposted.”

Why do you read what you read?

My youngest step son doesn’t like fiction. It’s made school difficult since most of what he’s been assigned to read, until now, is fiction. Give him a science book or a how-to book and he’ll stay up all night. Give him a novel and he’ll volunteer to clean the litter box.

As an author, I always love to know the reasons why people read what they read. Why do you read the back of the cereal box? Why do you choose non-fiction over fiction? Why do you insist on having an explosion in your fiction? Why do you hate it when people fall in love? Why do you read this blog? Why do you read the morning paper?

So, today, my post is for all of you – why do you read what you read? (And, please, if you read the cereal box, I really want to know what’s so engrossing on there!)

Character flaws in fiction

Having started poking around the subject of flaws yesterday, I thought it worth exploring in further detail. From a writing perspective, character flaws are very important (Druid perspective tomorrow!) Real people are flawed, after all. Perfect people are dull, and predictable, so once you get beyond very simple children’s stories, flaws become very important in character creation.

A rounded character needs weak points, failings, blind spots, and things they are rubbish at. These open the way for narrative, as through them, events unfold that the character cannot quickly or easily deal with. Failings actually make a character more endearing, I’ve found. People who are too nice, too good, too kind, too reasonable can actually be hard to empathise with. They might be the sort of people we ought to like, but they aren’t quite human and are a lot harder to engage with.

So, how do you go about putting flaws into a character? You might need to consider it in light of the needs of the plot. The character may need to be blind, or agoraphobic, or clumsy for the story to work. You might grow the flaws out of their personal history – in the form of fears and anxieties, beliefs about themselves or the world, old problems that haunt them, and so forth. You might want to give your character a physical disadvantage of some sort – from injury, illness or birth. You might consider a mental disability. Then there are personality traits – anger, jealousy, paranoia, depression, and so forth. Obsessions compulsions and phobias can flaw a character in some very interesting ways, giving you all kinds of scope to play with them creatively. You could make them a bit lazy, bad at handling money, gullible. A combination of flaws can make for a very convincing person.

Of course, if you make a character too flawed, they become unsympathetic or hard to engage with. A selfish, lazy, clumsy heroine who swears compulsively and hates cats and children may be hard to engage readers with. She might however, make a very good problem ex-girlfriend to have complicating the main plot. Getting the balance right with enough flaws to make a character plausible and likable, is not entirely easy.

Acknowledging the Flaws

As a writer and a pagan, I want to write about pagan people. That creates some interesting tensions. As a writer, I know that interest and sympathy come from flaws. Overly perfect people aren’t realistic, and it’s the problems that create plots and interest. As a pagan, I want to represent paganism well. In reality, there are some problem folk in our community – as there are in all communities. There are people who are drawn by a desire for power, who claim knowledge they don’t have, who use their status for abusive or sexually predatory reasons. There are nutters, (as in any community) there are airy fairy fluffy types and hard core intolerant folk. Pagans are people, and people tend to be complicated, messy, flawed entities.

There isn’t, to the best of my knowledge, much fiction out there dealing with real life modern pagans. (If you know of anything good, please comment!) Much of it is more on the fantasy side, delving into magic and witchcraft in ways that bear no resemblance to the realities of being an ordinary pagan. I think because so many pagans have a non-conventional relationship with reality, we tend to write more ‘magical realism’ than not, but a great deal of what I’ve seen claiming to show pagan characters, looks more like full blown fantasy to me. This may be because at least some of the writers of such fiction are writing fantasy, not speaking from experience. 

I have absolutely no idea what market (if any) there might be for stories that reflect the reality of pagan life. I haven’t the faintest idea what affect it might have putting such material out there. How would other folk relate to us if they knew about the bitchcraft and witch wars, the in-fighting, the predators, the politics, and the challenges of ‘normal’ paganism. Stories about happy functional groves, hearths and covens aren’t going to make good reading. Plots require tension. Fiction that makes use of the very real and actual flaws, isn’t necessarily going to make anyone comfortable.

The writer in me rather fancies taking what I know of the pagan scene, and making a story of it. The pagan in me is horrified by the idea. So for now, my pagan work is also more on the magical realism side, and I’ve not tackled the personalities, politics, and weirdness that I know is out there. If anyone else has braved it and written honestly about modern paganism, in all its complexity, I’d be very interested to know about it.