Today, a personal post on how writing the fae works for one author, Louise Bohmer. Feel free to share your own stories of inspiration and peering into the fickle eye of fae in the comments!
Peering into the Fickle Eye of Fae
by Louise Bohmer
When Katey kindly extended an invitation to me to participate in Fae Awareness, a tiny pitchfork poked me in the back, and the pesky imp that rides my shoulder whispered “Do it,” so here we are.
Faerie, and the many forms of the word, hold a wealth of meanings. These are some of the aspects of fae that really embody the lore of the Fair Folk for me, and why I find them such a versatile storytelling trope.
Illusion and Enchantment
In his book The World Guide to Gnomes, Fairies, Elves & Other Little People Thomas Keightley illustrates how the word faerie was used, over time, to describe four different states, or senses, as he calls them. One of these was the state of illusion or enchantment. Fae lore is rich in stories of a beautiful faerie producing a rich treasure, or table laden with a feast, out of nothing. Soon the bedazzled human learns this bounty woven out of thin air is just a mirage, when he tries to scoop up a handful of glittering gold coins that turn to dust, or he bites into a succulent turkey leg only to get a mouthful of mossy bark. In the distance, he swears he hears the cruel laughter of the faerie who tricked him.
Faerie enchantment embodies that clichéd idiom: all that glitters is not gold. It’s similar to that state one falls in when a relationship is new, and one looks at a lover through rose-colored glasses. Then the illusion of perfection fades over time, and we notice how he never cleans his beard trimmings out of the bathroom sink. (In my case, this isn’t true. My husband always cleans up his beard trimmings!)
In my stories, I sometimes use faerie as a metaphor for life challenges, for the inevitable obstacles and hurtles living throws in a person’s path (unless that person lives in a box and never leaves it). The unresolved issues of a character can be personified through the use of a faerie challenger of some sort. Take Sarah in the movie Labyrinth. [Ed. note: it’s the movie for 11th June! – Katey] Her issue is her new stepmother and new baby brother. She’s feeling resentful of the attention her father pays to her new mother and sibling, and she wishes her baby brother would be taken away by the goblins. Soon after Toby is kidnapped by a band of goblins, at the order of the Goblin King Jareth, and Sarah learns that getting your wish isn’t always so wonderful.
The labyrinth Sarah travels through, on her quest to retrieve young Toby from the Goblin King, is filled with illusions that challenge her. At one point one labyrinth inhabitant tells her, more or less, that what you see within these walls isn’t necessarily what you get. Walls that appear to be dead ends hide corners that veer off into whole other sections of the labyrinth. Sarah has to examine the labyrinth closely, pay attention to every detail, to see through the illusions the walls use to hide the labyrinth’s secrets.
Jareth acts as Sarah’s faerie challenger along the way, sending out his minions to distract and misdirect her, and casting illusions to throw her off course. The film uses faerie illusion and enchantment as a metaphor for growing up, and the challenges an adolescent faces when a parent remarries and has another child with the new parent. The illusion that her life is so terrible falls away as Sarah faces the challenge of Jareth and retrieving Toby, and as the film comes to an end, Sarah has made peace with the new members of her family.
Take my story in the Old School anthology , “When Tylwyth Teg Walk Among Us”. Dafydd and Griffith are challenged by the Welsh fae after they steal a prized faerie head from Glastonbury Tor. The fae personify a challenge to the two men, when they are charged to bring the head back to the Tor or lose their lives. The fae become a representation of how greed splits up these two friends, inevitably turning them on one another. But the fae also aid Dafydd in this tale, for fae are rarely simply evil or good. They shrug off this simplistic human concept of duality with a sneer, and they certainly don’t play by our rules. As Brian Froud tells us in Good Faeries / Bad Faeries: “Good and bad coexist in some degree in all of Faery’s creatures.” And: “…even bad faeries have their gifts to bestow when we understand their contrary natures.” (Incidentally, Mr. Froud and his wife, Wendy, worked with Jim Henson and company on the creation of the creatures found in Labyrinth, and their then infant son Toby played Sarah’s baby brother.)
Faerie as Archetypes
Carl Jung posed that archetypes are the subconscious mind’s way of challenging the ego and the conscious mind. He described the anima (animus), which was the female aspect in the male, the male aspect in the female, along with the shadow man and the wise man archetype. Archetypes, he believed, helped to unify the personality through recognizing, teaching the conscious mind, that seeming opposites can indeed share commonalities. (For instance, a man can be just as sensitive as a woman is perceived to be, or a woman can be just as aggressive as a man is perceived to be, when either one steps out of taught social roles and unifies these aspects in their personality. Through acceptance that these seeming opposites can exist in harmony, the person becomes whole.) Through a rich inner journey of the mind, archetypes can teach us about aspects of ourselves we might repress, and these archetypes can also be used to anthropomorphize intangibles, which we can then question, work out, in the playing field of the mind. Though we won’t find definitive answers to these intangibles, the inner journey can certainly enrich our personality. Think of it as being similar to the shamanic journey an initiate might take on a spirit quest, or some other form of initiation.
Faeries, therefore, can act as an archetype, whether that be to present ourselves with a challenge, question intangibles, or to teach us something about ourselves we didn’t realize was there. Many practitioners and students of the occult use visualization to engage in journeys via the mind’s eye. The process can lead to self-illumination, but one should not confuse this with channeling. The practitioner is fully aware they are creating this archetypal imagery to challenge themselves, illuminate a problem, or come to a deeper inner understanding of themselves. There is no supernatural being present. It is simply a symbolic exchange used for inner work and personal insight.
I often use archetypal faerie imagery in this way (and every now and again, I talk out loud to thin air, scolding it for hiding my socks, because I just don’t want to blame it on my terrible housekeeping). In storytelling, I often envision my characters and dialogue with them, using this archetypal imagery that represents my character to learn more about them. Sometimes I picture us sitting at a non-descript table while I ask them questions. Other times I might picture them on one of the ‘sets’ the story includes, and I’ve come to interview them. For instance, via this method I learned Lucifer in Netherworld Syndicate (my unfinished series) hates to be called Satan, and he’ll get in quite a huff about it. (Although, he isn’t speaking to me as of late.) This is how I flesh out a character’s quirks, likes, dislikes, their secrets, fears, wishes, and dreams. It might sound kooky, but it helps the character become more real to the reader, I believe, making them more of a fully fleshed, realistic persona, rather than a two dimensional character readers won’t relate to because the character lacks any depth.
So what is faerie then? A construction of the human mind to challenge ourselves? An energy that permeates nature? The fanciful dreams of superstitious rural folk? I can’t definitively say. I can only say I’ve been fascinated by the lore since I was a child, although I didn’t fully realize that fascination until I was an adult. Almost every culture throughout the world has some sort of unseen fae-ish creature lurking in their legend lexicon, and in the British Isles faerie traditions still live on, where many people claim to still see the Shining Ones, the Wee Folk, the Fair Folk. They go by many names, and hate to be labelled. Don’t you dare try and pin a faerie down! They’ll just waggle their tongue at you and flit away. And if you should happen to notice your socks are going missing, or your hair is tied in nasty knots when you get up in the morning, you just might want to hang a horseshoe upside down over your front door.
Link 1 – The World Guide to Gnomes, Fairies, Elves & Other Little People
Link 2 – Labyrinth
Link 3 – Old School
Link 4 – Good Faeries, Bad Faeries
Quote 1: Brian Froud, Good Faeries, Bad Faeries, 1998 Simon and Shuster, ed. Terri Windling.
Quote 2: Brian Froud, Good Faeries, Bad Faeries, 1998 Simon and Shuster, ed. Terri Windling.