Writing, Long Fiction

Dark Fantasy & Climate Change

I am in the final stages of editing my draft dark fantasy novel inspired by North American and Canadian First Nations legends and environment and the influence of developing climate change.

In a fantasy world where the gods, mortals and paranormal beings are dependent on the environment for stability and existence, the threat of a dark shaman destroying the land as his power grows is too much for the gods to remain omnipotent. In the involvement with the mortal realms, the balance of the Land shifts dangerously and the environment begins to suffer, fade and die.

The following images are inspirational only and are not intended to represent any specific character but inspire an internal concept.

research, Writing

The Skogsrå

The skogsrå is one of the important genii loci, the spirit of the Forest from Scandinavia. She will appear to hunters mostly but also to some travellers through the forests of her domain.

The Skogsra is often described as human-like being, but with something uncanny about her. She’s often very beautiful but will have a tail or a back formed like a (rotten) tree trunk. The first morph (a tree trunk back) is common in Denmark, mid- and southern Sweden, but the tail is common in western and northern Sweden and Norway. Normally, the Skogsra has a a cow’s tail, but she can sometimes have a fox tail.

The Skogsra sometimes doesn’t appear to forest travellers as a young woman, but as an old and ugly hag. But these appearances are quite rare.

The Skogsra often approaches and tries to seduce men by various ways.

In folklore material, two types of men were most often approached by the Skogsra – charcoal-burners and hunters. Both of these groups of men were alone in the forest for long periods at a time.

In exchange for sexual encounters, a man might actually became her lover and the Skogsra could help him and grant rewards – like making sure his rifle never missed, and waking him if the charcoal stack was about to burn down. Both these are blessings made possible by the Skogsra and when the men are within her forest.

References

https://folklorethursday.com/folktales/skogsra-and-huldra-the-femme-fatale-of-the-scandinavian-forests/

research, Writing

Folklore of the Cursed Aye-Aye

In Madagascar, a highly unusual endangered nocturnal lemur is associated in regional as taboo or fady. The bizarre habits, secretive nature and distinctive appearance of the aye-aye fills some Madagascan peoples with the horror and dread at the sight of it. This has often lead to the slaughter of aye-ayes.

In other regions of Madagascar, it is considered fady to eat certain lemurs, which means that local taboos can actually shield and protect specific species. The aye-aye’s most striking features likely lead to its persecution.

Aye-ayes are medium-sized nocturnal lemurs and are mostly black but have large, highly mobile ears for tracking minute sounds. They’re also the only primate with continuously growing incisors which make them look rodent-like. Most notable of the aye-aye’s unusual physical features is it’s long, thin middle finger which is used to tap rapidly on decayed wood where their sensitive hearing helps detect insect larvae beneath. They then gnaw holes into the wood with those rodent-like teeth and use the long, skeletal-like finger to skewer and scoop out insect larvae.

According to the local views of fady, anyone who has an aye-aye point its long spindly finger at them, will be met with ill-fortune.

But the aye-aye’s eating habits may also contribute to their unpopularity with rural villages. Aye-ayes raid common Madagascan crops like coconuts, lychees, and mangos. This has led to viewing the aye-aye as a crop pest. But aye-ayes also eat seeds from the ramy tree (Canarium spp.) which grow tall and undisturbed near tombs in the Samanioana region where it is considered fady to cut them down. Aye-ayes are found in the peaceful sacred burial sites and surrounding forest, nesting and foraging without much human disturbance. Unsurprisingly, the aye-aye’s preference for the areas surrounding tombs may have inadvertently caused villagers to associate them with death and bad luck.

Other regions only consider the aye-aye fady when it enters a village.  Locals feel uneasy about an animal intentionally displacing itself from its home in the forest to enter a village. Essentially the unnatural act of entering a “human space” from the forest is what creates the bad omen.  They believe the only reason an aye-aye would display such unusual behavior is to foretell illness as the harbinger of death.

The degree of fady varies from village to village and the response to an aye-aye sighting. Regardless, fear is ingrained into this fady. In some northern regions of Madagascar, locals fear any sightings of an aye-aye. If an aye-aye is spotted in the forest, locals believe someone in a nearby village will fall sick and possibly die. If an aye-aye is found in the village itself, sometimes the entire village is abandoned as everyone living there won’t risk sickness and death. Unfortunately, the most common response to seeing an aye-aye is to kill it, hang the carcass or tail from a pole by a crossroads hoping that by moving the aye-aye further from the village, it will protect everyone from sickness or death. There’s also belief that passers-by may unknowingly carry the bad luck away with them when travelling past the carcass.

Aye-ayes are an essential part of Madagascan biodiversity. The challenges of habitat loss, persecution as a crop pest and the damaging effects of fady accelerate their declining numbers. Because aye-ayes are very rare, sightings of one only reinforce the fady through storytelling. One conversationist intended to rewrite that story.

The late primatologist, Dr. Alison Jolly, authored a children’s book titled, “Ny Aiay Ako” (Ako the Aye-Aye) with the book distributed to children’s schools throughout Madagascar to teach and inspire a love of these lemurs. The book’s protagonist, an aye-aye named Ako, transforms fear into fascination and children are inspired to protect this unusual lemur. In fact, the success of the first book led to a six book series, each about a different species of lemur.

Today, the Lemur Conservation Foundation (LCF) continues Dr. Jolly’s work with the Ako Project. A set of 21 Ako Lemur Lesson Plans and accompanying Ako Educator’s Guide were designed to highlight the biodiversity of Madagascar. Educators can use activities featuring characters and themes from the Ako book series to teach about lemurs and their environment. Each teaching kit includes all six of Dr. Jolly’s storybooks and the materials needed to inspire a love of lemurs and encourage conservation action in Madagascar. The Ako Project is now worldwide with all lesson plans and materials available to download free on LCF’s website at http://www.lemurreserve.org/ako-project/. For conservationists, this project is the first step to dispelling the damaging folklore by empowering children with knowledge and empathy for the aye-aye.

References:

Folklore Thursday, Madagascar Superstitions & Taboos: Fighting the Aye-Aye Fady, https://folklorethursday.com/folklife/madagascar-superstitions-taboos-fighting-the-aye-aye-fady/

Duke Lemur Center https://lemur.duke.edu/discover/meet-the-lemurs/aye-aye/

reads, Recent Reads

For the Wolf

Publisher’s Description

THE FIRST DAUGHTER IS FOR THE THRONE.
THE SECOND DAUGHTER IS FOR THE WOLF.

As the only Second Daughter born in centuries, Red has one purpose – to be sacrificed to the Wolf in the Wood in order to save her kingdom. Red is almost relieved to go. Plagued by a dangerous power she can’t control, at least she knows that in the Wilderwood, she can’t hurt those she loves. Again.

But the legends lie. The Wolf is a man, not a monster. Her magic is a calling, not a curse. And if she doesn’t learn how to use it, the Wilderwood – and her world – will be lost forever.


Review

I read the exciting first volume in a new epic fantasy series, For the Wolf (The Wilderwood, #1) by US author Hannah Whitten. Compared to Uprooted and The Bear and the Nightingale, this is a new dark fantasy world, haunting in its exploration of fairytales and folklore.

For the Wolf follows protagonist Redarys, second daughter to the throne and born to be sacrificed to the legendary wolf monster of the Wilderwood. Her twin sister, Neve, first daughter to the throne is born to rule the kingdom. While Redarys (Red) accepts her fate, Neve tries everything to prevent her from entering the Wilderwood. Neve sees the sacrifice as futile, the wolf not seen in generations nor the five kings returned that he purportedly imprisoned and in doing so, created the Wilderwood. Each sacrifice of a second daughter ensures the monsters of the Wilderwood stay within the wood’s boundaries and the continued fortune of the kingdoms.

Once the Wilderwood, Red flees tangled branches that reach for her and trees desiring her blood. She finds neither the monstrous wolf, nor the five kings imprisoned by him. Instead, Red survives the Wilderwood and discovers a crumbling castle shrouded by forest, untouched by the rot growing through most of the Wilderwood. There she meets the tired defender of the Wilderwood; Eammon, the legendary Wolf of the Wilderwood.

Final Thoughts

For the Wolf was a lush and dark reimagining of fairytales ‘Red Riding Hood’, ‘Beauty and the Beast’, ‘Snow White, Rose Red’. The folklore of the Greenman was explored in the finale’s battle between giant deities. A dark fantasy, fairytale reimagining, folklore-infused, romance that was a refreshing read.

Conclusion

For the Wolf is a highly recommended read. Those readers of dark fantasy, fairytale reimagining, slow-burn romances and blending of genres will love this book. A great read!

research

Legend of the Pussy Willow


“The Legend of the Pussy Willow”

In an old Polish legend, many springs ago, a mother cat was crying at the bank of the river where her kittens were drowning.

The willow at the river’s edge longed to help her, so they swept their long graceful branches into the waters to rescue the tiny kittens who had fallen into the river while chasing butterflies.

Each of the kittens gripped tightly to the willow branches and were safely brought back to shore.

According to the legend, each springtime since, willow branches sprout tiny fur-like buds at their tips where the tiny kittens once clung.

research

Folklore of Bluebells

The feared fairy bell and impending death


According to English folklore, Bluebells were often used to call fairies…If you “rang” a bluebell like you would any normal bell, it was believed fairies would come to you. But fairies are notoriously dangerous bargainers and the need to call fairies for aid must be great to risk the summons.

There is another folklore that states if you hear a bluebell ring, somebody close to you will die. Bluebells growing en masse in a field were best avoided.

reads, Recent Reads

Dark Nature

*** I received an ARC/Review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review ***

Publisher’s Description

Generation after generation, humans have ripped apart the world, leaving garbage and desolation in our wake.Burning, destroying, and stealing from the earth. We see it happening day by day and do nothing about it. Our air is toxic with pollution along with our waters and the earth cries as it watches the destruction.

Until now.

From the depths of the darkest minds of horror comes mother nature’s final retribution. It’s time for Gaia to fight back, and karma really is a b*tch. Dark Nature is an anthology of thirteen dark tales of nature.


Review

My latest read was a horror anthology Dark Nature by Macabre Ladies Publishing.
Particular favourites of mine included “In the Wych Elm” by Emma Kathryn, a nice portrait of past and present uniting in a darkly woven tale of folklore and magic. “She Weeps Vermilion (O, Harbinger)” by Hayden Waller is an ocean themed tale of the destruction wrought by humanity and the vengeance that rises as a colossus from the depths. Lastly, “Pt. Reyes” by BF Vega was another good blend of environmental disrespect, cause and effect, with surreal folklore of the natural world creating new horrors for the mind.

Final Thoughts

Dark Nature is a unique horror anthology exploring scenarios when natural forces seek revenge on humanity for abuse and desecration of the environment. Although some stories were slow to build action or create tension, there were particular favourites of mine that underscored vengeance sought by the darkest of nature.

Conclusion

Recommended read for readers seeking an unusual anthology of different voices on the darkest natures of humanity and our environment. Well worth reading!

research, Short Fiction, Writing

Inuit legend of the Qallupilluk

I am always fascinated by First Nations legends and lore. One of my current research projects has focused on the Inuit legends of the Qallupilluk, monstrous female beings who lurk in the frozen waterways and beneath the ice sheets, snatching unwary children beneath the icy water.

My latest short story examines this legend from the perspective of an outsider, someone who is not of the Inuit, and to whom the legends are foreign, placing her and her child at risk.

research, Short Fiction

Dark Legends of the Thunderbird

In writing a flash fiction story, I explored in the legendary Thunderbird, a powerful elemental being, found in many First Nations religions across North America.

The Thunderbird is a being found in many First Nations legends stretching from the desert plateaus and lands, the prairies and plains to the redwood forests and the Rocky Mountains. The Thunderbird is a powerful being, the beating of its wings makes the thunderclaps and gales, the silver of its eyes is the lightning. The Thunderbird also has an association with battle to many First Nations cultures, the bringer of storms both literal and metaphorical. I have a post here on the Thunderbird, or ‘Wakinyan’ in the Lakota-Sioux dialect.

As with any reimagining of a legendary being, I was conscious of cultural appropriation. My own reimagining of the Thunderbird, I focused on the connection between the prairie and desert landscapes, the reliance on the life-giving thunderstorms, and as a being invoked to protect land but also warriors and their horses.