Once Upon a Time...

Whether you call it Faerie or Fairyland (or Faery), the place is the realm of fairy tales and all manner of other spritely or grimm (pun intended) adventures that we all grow up knowing and loving. Tolkien called it the Perilous Realm and I will not bother to describe it as the noble authors below Michael Ende (the Master of Faerie), Neil Gaiman and Patricia A. McKillip and do as far better job than I ever could. I do have more to say though, so do not stop with the quotes (great though they are).

“The idea of fairyland fascinates me because it's one of those things, like mermaids and dragons, that doesn't really exist, but everyone knows about it anyway. Fairyland lies only in the eye of the beholder who is usually a fabricator of fantasy. So what good is it, this enchanted, fickle land which in some tales bodes little good to humans and, in others, is the land of peace and perpetual summer where everyone longs to be? Perhaps it's just a glimpse of our deepest wishes and greatest fears, the farthest boundaries of our imaginations. We go there because we can; we come back because we must. What we see there becomes our tales.” - Patricia A. McKillip

“Once someone dreams a dream, it can't just drop out of existence. But if the dreamer can't remember it, what becomes of it? It lives on in Fantastica, deep under earth. There are forgotten dreams stored in many layers. The deeper one digs, the closer they are. All Fantastica rests on a foundation of forgotten dreams.” Michael Ende

“A question like ‘How big is Faerie?’ does not admit of a simple answer. Faerie, after all, is not one land, one principality or domain. Maps of Faerie are unreliable, and may not be depended upon. We talk of Kings and Queens of Faerie as we would speak of the Kings and Queens of England. But Faerie is bigger than England, it is bigger than the world (for, since the dawn of time, each land that has been forced off the map by explorers and the brave going out and proving it wasn’t there has taken refuge in Faerie; so it is now, by the time that we come to write of it, a most huge place indeed, containing every manner of landscape and terrain.) Here, truly, there be Dragons.”  - Neil Gaiman

"Doorway to the Stars" by Josephine Wall
For my own part (obviously or else I would not bother continuing), I have always held Faerie to be, as Tolkien would phrase it, vast beyond the thoughts of Elves and Men. Let me put it like this: Begin by thinking of the Multiverse concept i.e. a realm of countless separate universes, and then figure that most every Fantasy book takes place within one or possibly more of said universes. This makes the Multiverse quite vast, all but incalculably large and home to most of our favorite books.
So what of Faerie? What of that land that exists down the rabbit hole, through the secret garden door, and under the toy chest? Well, I have always held Faerie to be bigger than the Multiverse, a single realm so limitless that it cannot possibly be contained. Indeed, I like to think that all fairy tales & nursery rhymes the first tidbits of old lore and whatnot we learn as children, often from Mother Goose takes place in Faerie (regardless of their actual historical origins). Hence it is a realm vaster than unfathomably vast which feels magical, and not necessarily in a childish fashion. And if they do seem childish, well, who cares? As Philip Pullman (author of the His Dark Materials trilogy) says, "There are some themes, some subjects, too large for adult fiction; they can only be dealt with adequately in a children’s book." And there is no subject, no world, too large for Faerie. Indeed, I have always held Faerie to be roughly divided into sections: the lighter childlike area full of mystery and wonder tempered with real danger and grief, the regions seemingly governed by capricious forces with a cruel sense of ironic humor where humans are far more likely to encounter danger than not, and the places between. Yet in being so large comes the fact that humans are small in the grand scheme of things there. In his essay On Fairy-Stories, J.R.R. Tolkien agrees, saying "Most good fairy-stories are about the adventures of men in the Perilous Realm or upon its shadowy marches. Naturally so; for if elves are true, and really exist independently of our tales about them, then this also is certainly true: elves are not primarily concerned with us, nor we with them. Our fates are sundered, and our paths seldom meet. Even upon the borders of FaĆ«rie we encounter them only at some chance crossing of the ways." Those who have read The Lord of the Rings will see how this belief shaped Third Age relations between Elves and Men.
Regardless and more to the current point, the quote is quite insightful, for all true Fantasy authors know that even worlds one creates solely from one's own imagination soon become vast to the degree that it takes on a life of its own almost preternaturally independent of the author so writing becomes synonymous with exploration (i.e. the notion that authors have complete control over their worlds and characters is tomfoolery). But Faerie belongs to no author and holds ten thousand tales times ten many and more countless times over, both written and unwritten, for every fairy-tale a child conjures (much less an author) in which they live in fair castles, see dragons out the window, and/or occurs once upon a time takes place there. As Tolkien also said in that selfsame essay, "Faerie contains many things besides elves and fays, and besides dwarfs, witches, trolls, giants, or dragons: it holds the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky; and the earth, and all things that are in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, mortal men, when we are enchanted." The Perilous Realm indeed, and a wondrous one, vast to the degree that even the Founder of Modern Fantasy felt that his knowledge of it amounted to but the smallest nibble of the silver apple. Tis no accident that I myself say atop this not always entirely humble blog that a Fantasy author is just another name for one who has a foot within the borders of Faerie.

A foot, for by my definition very few Fantasy authors truly sojourn into Faerie proper since capturing that fairy-tale/fable quality/world and atmosphere is difficult at best. The twins keys, I think, are beginning with the understanding that your story – however grand is just one small segment of an incomprehensibly vast land, and of giving the reader a sense of that vastness.
To date, I can only name five Fantasy books that do so (not including the works of the Brothers Grimm and the like):
1. The Neverending Story by Michael Ende
2. Stardust by Neil Gaiman
3. Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees
4. The Golden Key by George Macdonald
5. Eli and the Mystery of the Hallowshine Dragon by Eve Cabanel
Which one of these books is best? Well, Michael Ende has the Master of Faerie title in my mind...so I highly recommend you read The Neverending Story last, as my father and I did (indeed, we read all four of then together), so as not to make the others ones seem...well, that is another story and shall be told another time. See you in the apex of Faerie; see you in Fantastica.

"Faerie is a perilous land, and in it are pitfalls for the unwary and dungeons for the overbold...The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords. In that realm a man may, perhaps, count himself fortunate to have wandered, but its very richness and strangeness tie the tongue of a traveler who would report them. And while he is there it is dangerous for him to ask too many questions, lest the gates should be shut and the keys be lost." - J.R.R. Tolkien

“I think readers like faerieland because it is a source of power, a source of imagination which becomes a very powerful tool.  Maybe that’s why I keep digging into it, because it is something that’s totally imaginative, and yet it’s also a very ancient way of looking at the world. Maybe people look at these characters as symbols of something they want to be or to have. It’s also a way of looking at real people. If you look at a person that way, they become more powerful because you don’t know them; all you can see of that person is something that you want to be or to possess. Maybe that’s partly where faerie comes from.” - Patricia A. McKillip

“When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” - C.S. Lewis

How many miles to Babylon?
Nursery rhymes. The first tidbits of old lore and Fairyland we learn as children, often from Mother Goose. Everything from "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep", "Doctor Foster", "Humpty Dumpty", "Jack and Jill", "Little Boy Blue", "London Bridge Is Falling Down", "Mary Had a Little Lamb ", "Old King Cole", "Ring a Ring o' Roses", "Rock-a-bye Baby", "There was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe", and "Three Blind Mice".
Yet there are some nursery rhymes filled with a more primal, deep power, invoking a sense of mystery. Including one that appears in the novel Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones (who of course uses it in an unforgettable scene that sticks out even by her top-tier standards) as well as in Neil Gaiman's Stardust. Indeed, while my father and I have read countless books together, from the best of Fantasy to other such masterworks as Tolstoy's War and Peace and Shakespeare's Hamlet, we still remember that night from Deep Secret. We still judge the time Jones took us to Babylon as one of our collective literary high points. If I ever write a Tale of Faerie, I swear that I shall use them myself.

How many miles to Babylon?
Three score miles and ten.
Can I get there by candlelight?
Yes, and back again.
If you feet are speedy and light
You can get there by candlelight.

Where is the road to Babylon?
Right beside your door.
Can I walk that way whenever I want?
No, three times and no more.
If you mark the road and measure it right
You can go there by candlelight.

What shall I take to Babylon?
A handful of salt and grain,
Water, some wool for warmth on the way,
And a candle to make the road plain.
If you carry these things and use them right
You can be there by candlelight.

How do I go to Babylon?
Outside of here and there.
Am I crossing a bridge or climbing a hill?
Yes, both before you're there.
If you follow outside of day and night
You can be there by candlelight.

How hard is the road to Babylon?
As hard as grief or greed.
What do I ask for when I get there?
Only for what you need.
If you travel in need and travel light,
you can get there by candlelight.

How long is the way to Babylon?
Three score years and ten.
Many have gone to Babylon
But few come back again.
If your feet are nimble and light,
You can be back by candlelight.

No comments:

Post a Comment