Levitas and Gravitas, Fairies and Mystics: A Response to Christiana N. Peterson

David Russell Mosley

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Eastertide
7 April 2016
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Last week, Image Journal, posted to their blog an essay by Christiana N. Peterson. In the essay, Peterson talks about her daughter’s longing for fairies and its relation to the mystics longing for God. I posted the article to my personal Facebook page saying, “There is more that could be said, but this is a good beginning.” Today, I would like to say a little more.

Some of my friends responded to the article noting that the depiction of mystics was rather sanitized and romanticized. This is true. Peterson writes:

The mystics’ words make me think of wings again, of living in the trees of Middle Earth with the elves. Why, I wonder, would reading the mystics feel like reading Tolkien or searching for fairies in the dying light of summer?
I so want to encounter God in the way of the mystics. I want to know God is with me, right now in the moment, in tangible, visible ways. So I pour over their words and spiritual practices, wishing to have visions but knowing that God often comes to us in more mundane ways.

For Peterson, reading the mystics is like reading Tolkien, but I’m not sure if it’s like reading Tolkien in the right way. For Peterson, the connection is between the deeper realities glimpsed by the mystic and a land populated with things like elves, dwarves, and dragons. Yet when I read the mystics, I feel less like I’m reading Tolkien, in that sense anyway, and more like I’m reading Ezekiel or Dante or Tolkien in a very different sense. Let me explain.

The mystics, who really can’t be categorized together like this, are often giving us insight to one of two things if not both. Often they are giving us translated visions of the deeper reality, of the angels, thrones, and powers, the logoi that stand behind and uphold, through God, the things we experience everyday. Or else they give us an insight into ourselves. Peterson mentions Theresa’s interior castles, but it is precisely that these are castles that exist within us. I think of Augustine’s Confessions where he turns from searching for God in creation to searching for God within himself and as he plumbs the depths of his soul is raised to higher heights. Or again, I think of Dante who takes us through Hell (our own sinfulness), purges us in Purgatory, and gives us that first glimpse of the Beatific Vision and the ecstatic understanding that will be given to us on how God could be so joined to man in the person of Jesus Christ, by extension (or better participation) in us. Or again, I think of Denys and how the Celestial Hierarchy stands behind, upholds, and gives reality to the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy.

For me this reminds me of Tolkien not because of Middle-earth, per se, but what Middle-earth represents, namely the reality of Faërie. Tolkien writes in On Fairy-stories, “It was in fairy-stories that I first divined the potency of words, and the wonder of things, such as stone, and wood, and iron; tree and grass; house and fire; bread and wine.”⁠1 I’ve written before about this, and other, quotations from Tolkien’s On Fairy Stories, but I want to draw attention to this line again because of the examples Tolkien uses. It is perhaps not inappropriate to see in bread and wine the Eucharist. Here, in a way, we get at the heart of the mystics. For many mystics things we see in everyday life, or fantastical combinations of them (e.g., the griffon), stand for deeper, spiritual realities. They images that serve as symbols of a deeper reality. In the Eucharist (and other sacraments) it is not just pictures but physical objects themselves that serve as real symbols of deeper realities.

What is more, however, is that for Tolkien, Faërie itself is the Perilous Realm. A land in which, should we venture, we will not come out unchanged (as Aragorn says to Boromir before they enter Lothlorien). If, as a friend has suggested, Peterson’s view of mystics is sanitized, so too is her picture of Faërie. The angels, it would seem, are terrifying to behold, if we take seriously their injunctions to “Be not afraid” when they appear to mortals. Lewis uses this to an interesting effect in his Perelandra when the two guiding intelligences of the planets Mars and Venus ask Ransom, the human protagonist of the Cosmic Trilogy, to tell them which will form will be most suitable for introducing themselves to the King and Queen of Venus. Ransom is terrified as they appear to him in forms whose depictions are lifted almost word for word out of Scripture (notably Ezekiel).

Now, like Peterson, I will be raising my children to look for fairies, though perhaps not in broken potsherds, but in large mounds. I hope that this investment in their imagination will do for them what it did for me, open up the possibility that there are things we cannot see or cannot comprehend and categorize. That along with angels and the logoi (insofar as those two are separable) there may be lesser beings both like and unlike us who belong to this world in a way even we do not, and that we might be able to catch a glimpse of them if we correct our vision (which often takes holiness). Yet I hope my children will also learn to seek these things in the right spirit, the spirit that says these things are not safe, they are not tame, to borrow language from Lewis, but that at least some of them are good.

So, I agree with Peterson, there is a connection fairies, or better Faërie, and Mystics. But this connection has to have the right tenor, the right level of both levitas and gravitas. We can at once find both joy and terror in the presence of God, so to in the Perilous Realm, and we need both in order to see them more clearly. A joyless God is not a God worth our worship and yet neither is one who does not inspire us to say, “Woe is me, I am a man of unclean lips.” What we do not need are safe fairies, nor a safe God. Safe reality is not worth our existence. We need stories and a reality that rightly reflect the deeper truths. Consider again the Eucharist. Here is the source, in so many ways, of all our joy. We are united to Christ as we eat his flesh and drink his blood. Yet consider precisely what we are doing, we are eating flesh and blood. We are re-visiting not only the night on which Jesus was betrayed, but his crucifixion, his body torn, his blood poured out. The source of all our joy is a moment of horrific torture unto death. This is something the mystics most certainly understood as their visions make clear (I think of St. Perpetua and her dream about the ladder covered in nails and spikes with a dragon at its base. Yet once she reaches the top, there is joy and peace). It is both levitas and gravitas, life and death, joy and danger, that unites our search for fairies and our search for God and the deeper truths of reality.

Sincerely,
David

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1 J. R. R. Tolkien, ‘Tree and Leaf,’ in The Tolkien Reader (New York: The Ballantine Publishing Company, 1966), 78.

Catholic or Pagan Imagination: A Response to Colleen Gillard

David Russell Mosley

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Epiphanytide
7 January 2016
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Yesterday an article went up on The Atlantic by writer Colleen Gillard titled, “Why the British Tell Better Children’s Stories.” A friend sent it to me today and I will admit initially to being sympathetic to the title. After all, as most of you will know, fairy-tales, of which the British have many and Americans few, are my bread and butter. Nevertheless, as I continued to read the article, I could not bring myself to agree with the precise reason why British children stories are superior to American ones.

Things were going along fine at first. The first line of the article, a kind of one sentence summation of the article in toto, says, “Their history informs fantastical myths and legends, while American tales tends to focus on moral realism.” Gillard goes on to provide evidence for this by first contrasting Huckleberry Fin to the Harry Potter stories. As Gillard writes, “One defeats evil with a wand, the other takes to a raft to right a social wrong.” American children stories especially from the nineteenth century onward tend to focus on life in the frontier and usually have a strong moral ethic to them that involves working hard, or being cunning enough to get others to work hard for you, sticking to your guns against an immoral society or an amoral nature. Gillard, citing Harvard professor Maria Tatar, connects the American side to the Protestant work ethic. Again, I find myself agreeing. Yet it is when Tatar suggests that it’s simply that, “the British have always been in touch with their pagan folklore…. After all, the country’s very origin story is about a young king tutored by a wizard.” Now Gillard, and Tatar, is going a bit awry if you ask me. First of all, King Arthur, while an essential story within British culture, is not exactly the country’s origin story. That’s not quite the role it’s meant to fill. But putting that aside, Merlin being a wizard and Arthur’s tutor (which sounds much more like Gillard is getting her Arthurian legend through T. H. White rather than, say, Chretien de Troyes or the Gawain Poet or many, many others) doesn’t make those stories pagan.

The rest of the article goes on to pit Britain’s pagan past against America’s protestant, and particularly puritanical foundations. This is, I think, quite, quite wrong. I’m not adverse to giving the pagans their due in forming some of the foundations for what would become later British fairy-tales and children’s stories. But there is something else I think that is missing from this picture: Britain’s Catholicism, both Roman and Anglo. Gillard seems to forget that if Arthur is famous for having a wizard as a counselor, he is just as famous, if not more so, for the quest for the Holy Grail, the cup in which Christ’s blood and water was caught when he was pierced by the centurion. She forgets that Tolkien, who’s riddle game in The Hobbit is given as an example of pagan folklore, was a devout Roman Catholic who admitted that The Lord of the Rings existed in Catholic, albeit pre-Christian, Cosmos. She forgets that Lewis was a High Church Anglican and Christian apologist, that Philip Pullman wrote his stories as an atheist anti-Narnia. She forgets that Rowling herself admits that Harry Potter is an essentially Christian story. Paganism, or better Faërie, plays an important role in the British imagination, one that is often lacking in the American imagination, but it is Faërie baptized more often than not.

One of my favourite fairy-stories, the Middle English poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, makes the connection between Faërie and Christianity quite firm. Gawain is on a quest to find the Green Knight and receive from him a blow with an axe on his neck, Gawain had given the knight such a blow and severed his head, which the Green Knight summarily picked up and rode off with. During his quest to find this knight and receive the blow from him, Gawain quite clearly enters into Faërie. This is clear when he enters “countries unknown” where “with worms [dragons] he wars, and wolves also,/at whiles with wood-trolls that wandered in the crags,/and with bulls and with bears and boars, too, at times;/and with ogres that hounded him from the heights of the fells.” Here we see Gawain, who it should be noted had a picture of the Virgin Mary painted on the inside of his shield, battling normal creatures one might meet in the wild––wolves, bears, bulls, boars––but also with the darker creatures of Faërie: dragons, wood-trolls, and ogres. Clearly, Gawain has left the human world behind and has entered Faërie. But perhaps the most obvious connection between  Faërie and Christianity is when Gawain is lost in Faërie on Christmas Eve and prays for a place to celebrate Mass and a castle appears before him. The people he meets there are evidently denizens of Faërie and yet the worship the Holy Trinity. You see Catholic Christianity as it spread throughout Europe did not simply do away with the old stories and beliefs; neither did they simply change out gods for angels, heroes for saints, pagan celebrations for Christian ones. Instead there was a baptism of the pagan. The old stories were seen in a new light, in the light of Christ, God become man and the cosmos attendant to that. For Christianity during this period angels moved in the heavenly spheres, bread and wine became the body and blood of Jesus Christ, water and oil became vessels of God’s grace. All of creation, from the highest Empyrean to basest matter is imbued with grace, is upheld by and participates in God at all times. It was a cosmos where angels were attendant at the Mass and in the home. And it was a cosmos that had room for the longaevi, the long-lived, the elves, the fairies.

This is what Gillard, and in my opinion the experts on folklore, are missing. They don’t understand the relationship between Christianity and Faërie. They don’t understand that Arthur is a Christian King whose exploits often take him into Faërie or at least its edges. Now, they are quite right that much American story-telling is missing this as well. The kind of protestantism that served as the religious foundation of America was a denuded one (though it should be noted that the Puritans were often famous for reading omens from God in everyday events). Nature slowly became an un-Christian space to be conquered, rather than our fellow creatures. This is not to say that Faërie is necessarily absent from America, but that white-American culture at the least lost the ability to see it, if they ever had it.

A final point before I leave you: I read fairy-tales still. They are not, as the article somewhat suggests, only or even especially for children. This is a lesson Tolkien learned after he wrote The Hobbit when he wrote and delivered his lecture On Fairy-stories. Instead, fairy-tales and fantasy ought to serve as continued reminders that creation is a gift (something the article somewhat notes), that it is graced, and that for those who have the eyes to see it is enchanted. And all this is so, not because it is pagan, but precisely because it Christian. Precisely because reality is sacramental, because the cosmos is itself liturgical, is it enchanted, is there a place for Faërie. This is what the Beowulf Poet, the Gawain Poet and earlier Arthurian authors understood, what Chaucer understood, what Shakespeare understood, what MacDonald, Chesterton, Lewis, and Tolkien all understood: British fairy-tales aren’t better than American ones because they are more pagan, but because they are more Christian.

Sincerely,
David

What I’m Reading: December 2015 Edition

David Russell Mosley

Advent
16 December 2015
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

I’ve written these sporadically, but I’m going to try to write them a bit more regularly, at least once a month.

On the Incarnation by Athanasius of Alexandria

15106299This is one of my annual Advent/Christmas reads. If you’ve never read it, or if you’ve never read a book by an ancient Christian, then I recommend it, especially this translation. The Popular Patristics Series (patristic means relating to the early Christian theologians, often called the Church Fathers) by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press is a great series for getting translations of ancient texts in understandable English. However, it’s also a great series for the scholars out there. If you are a scholar or are interested in getting into the original languages then I’d recommend picking up this edition which has the Greek on page and English on the other. This book has been formative for me as a theologian. It’s one of the foundational pieces for understanding deification and it helps situate the Incarnation as the central cosmic event. It’s a must read for me every Advent to help prepare me for the coming of our Lord.

Theo-Poetics: Hans Urs von Balthasar and the Risk of Art and Being by Anne Michelle Carpenter

25434467This is the other theological book I’m reading right now. I picked up at the recent AAR/SBL and have become acquaintances with the author. Now, my reading of Hans Urs von Balthasar has been fairly limited, but that’s not an issue with Carpenter’s book. She explains Balthasar’s thought very clearly so that you get a sense of what he’s saying without having read all the books and essays Carpenter has. That said, this is a definitely an important book in Balthasarian scholarship. Carpenter, so far anyway, is doing an excellent job explaining the importance of art and poetics to Balthasar’s theology. While she uses the word theo-poetics differently than I do in my thesis, her use is, I think still connected. For Carpenter, theo-poetics is about a poetic theology, poetic logic and images that help undergird and connect theological reflections (whereas my own use is to connect it directly theopoiesis or deification). So far the only glaring problem with this book is that it is making me want to buy more Balthasar books than I can presently afford.

Letters from Father Christmas by J. R. R. Tolkien

593985This is another of my annual Advent/Christmas reads. Tolkien, that wonderful sub-creator, began writing his children letters from Father Christmas in 1920 when his eldest son, John, was three years old. From that first simple letter comes many more with more and more characters and events each year for the next 26 years (he stopped when his daughter Priscilla was 17). These letters are full of wonderful stories, as you can well imagine, but also wonderful pictures. Tolkien was a rather good artist in his own way and the pictures as well as samples of the handwritten letters that adorn this book are wonderful in the truest sense of the word.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

5175x9z9v8LYet another of my annual Advent/Christmas reads, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is really a book everyone should read, full stop. In this book both the meanness, the grotesque, the worst of human nature and the best are on display. Dickens perhaps knew people, and possibly even humanity in general, better than almost any other author (Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Tolkien, and a few others would perhaps also vie for this honor). In this book we get a glimpse into dark recesses of fallen human nature and even a reminder that we cannot crawl out of those recesses completely on our own. The story has, it’s true, become perhaps a bit too familiar to us with umpteen different versions of it in existence on the big and small screen. Still, if you can, try to read the story with fresh eyes and I will be much surprised if you don’t come away having been changed by the story.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

27402335For the last few years when I decided I wanted to read through the Sherlock Holmes stories, I would pull out a single-volume edition of the complete stories that I have (it’s a facsimile edition from the originals in the Strand Magazine) and attempt to read them. I say attempt because the book is massive and the pages fragile. So, this year, after reading half of A Study in Scarlet in this format I decided enough was enough, popped over to the library, and picked up several smaller volumes in order to read all the stories without the pain of using my beautiful, but unwieldy single-volume edition. If you’ve never read Holmes, I highly recommend it. These stories are witty, interesting, full of life. I will give a warning however, the majority of the second half of A Study in Scarlet is generally uncharacteristic for the rest of the Holmes stories, taking place in America and having nothing directly to do with the primary protagonists, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John H. Watson.

On the Back Burner

Advent is a funny time of year for me when it comes to reading. I usually have, as you’ve seen above, several books that I like to read during Advent and Christmas time. In fact, all the books listed above as Advent/Christmas reads, are really books I’d prefer to read during Christmastide (from roughly Christmas Eve to Epiphany eve). But I’m also usually finishing books during this time and don’t like to wait before picking up a new book. But then I have to try and find books that I can actually read during Advent so that I’m done with them before Christmas, but not too much before so that I’m not just waiting around bookless for Christmas to come. For that reason, and others that make even less sense. I also have two other books that I’ve begun in the recent past but not finished and may not get back to until after Christmas.

543164The first of those books is The Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang. This is the first in a series of books that are collections of fairy-tales and folk stories from around the world. When I first started writing my novel 8 years ago, it was to this series of books that I turned reading every story about dwarves, goblins, elves, brownies, and more to try and ground my characters and creatures in the stories we have told ourselves about them.

1063075The second book on the back burner is The Shaping of Middle-earth by J.R.R. Tolkien. This is the fourth book in the History of Middle-earth Series put out by Christopher Tolkien. This particular volume takes through the stories as things begin to shift from Book of Lost Tales version of them to The Silmarillion version. This isn’t a great book (nor are any in the series) to serve as your “fiction read” if you divide up your reading like I do. That said, the stories in them are always fascinating, as is the insight we’re given into how Tolkien wrote and how his stories developed over time.

Well, that’s it, that’s everything I’m reading right now. What are you reading?

Sincerely,
David

My Faërie Romance: Chapters 5 and 6

David Russell Mosley

 

IMG_2835
14 June 2014
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

I’ve been hoping to do a response post to a recent Mere Fidelity podcast on the Trinity and the Bible with Fred Sanders. I was hoping to have it done by Trinity Sunday (tomorrow). This seems unlikely as I have one son sleeping on my chest and a loaf of bread that I’m baking. In short, I think Sanders approach to the Fathers, while sensical from a sola scriptura approach, is simply wrongheaded. I will try to defend this (and inherently reject sola scriptura) eventually. For now, however, I leave you with the next two chapters of my Faërie Romance. Please, let me know what you think.

Chapter 5

As Alfred and Balthazar entered deeper into the wood, Alfred noticed a change. The air seemed richer, more fulfilling, the colours seemed more vibrant. ‘That’s the air of Elfland you’re breathing in, my son,’ Balthazar said without turning around, as if he knew what kinds of affects it was having on Alfred. ‘For most humans it makes them confused, it’s why they get lost. For seers, however, it has the opposite effect. You will feel your senses getting clearer, sharper. Goodness becomes amplified in the good, badness in the bad.’ This made Alfred afraid and so he checked the pride beginning to well in his heart.

‘Can non-seers ever be taught to see?’ he asked the gnome.

‘Not in the way you do. They can never see dreams of Elfland, or anywhere else for that matter. They can, however, be taught to see Elfland with their waking eyes. The air here can have the same effect on them. Even when it does confuse it almost always has a positive effect on those who breathe it. But while true seers are born, great seers are first born and then made.’

Alfred pondered this. ‘You mean the ability is innate, but its application must be practiced.’

‘Tried would be truer, but yes, that is the general idea. You must learn how to see with the sight you have been given.’
‘How will I learn?’

‘By patience, by exposure to Elfland, and by telling me all you see in dreams.’

They marched on for several more hours, with no sign of relenting. It was now that Alfred realised Balthazar was not walking on top of the ground, but wading through the forest floor as if it were water. ‘Is that how you always walk?’ he asked, hoping he was not being impolite.

‘Gnomes are at home in the dirt in nearly the same way fish are in water. Or perhaps more like whales, we do not draw our breath from the earth, but we swim and glide through it. It is our home.’

They continued on in silence. Balthazar stopped. At first, Alfred thought he had offended the gnome with an impertinent question. Balthazar, however, turned to Alfred and whispered, ‘Go stand behind one of these trees, and be quiet. I’ll be back quickly.’ With that, Balthazar burrowed into the dirt, or perhaps dove better describes his entrance into the earth so that he vanished from Alfred’s sight.

Alfred did his best to remain quiet as he moved behind one of the trees. He heard voices in the distance and a loud plodding as if feet which were marching to different beats were trying to keep pace with one another. He crouched down behind a tree and held his breath. What he saw frightened him, and had he not been in Elfland for many hours now, he might have fainted from fear. As it was, it took all of his courage not to scream and run away.

Lumbering before him standing perhaps four and half feet high and three feet broad, with arms that would drag on the ground if not folded, skin a muddy mixture of black, brown, and green, eyes fierce and large, and teeth razor sharp walked two goblins. From how very wicked they looked did Alfred guess rightly that they were goblins.

‘Ar, I hate walking in the sun, even if the trees are dense. It hurts my eyes and makes me feel too warm’ said one goblin to the other.
‘You’d hate the punishment you’d get if refused to do your duty,’ replied the other.

‘That’s the truth of it. Oh, I can’t wait to be done. We’ll take over that mountain and never have to venture into the sun again, except when we want to torture someone. Oh it will be nice.’

‘Keep your voice down, you lumbering idiot. We’re in enough danger as it is.’

‘I still say you were smelling things as weren’t there, Hogsnout.’

‘And I’m telling you, I smelt human, and a human this close to those accursed elves and dwarves will do us no good. I promise you that. My nose has never failed and I tell you there was human nearby. If the smell’s getting dimmer it either means he’s spent too much time in this accursed place and is beginning to smell like it or he’s gone. Neither option is good for us, nor our mission.’
‘Well then let’s get on with what we’ve come to do. Do you think they’ll join us?’

‘Oh I’m sure of it. Our king will offer them land, and plenty of human and elfin flesh to eat. The trolls and giants will be on our side, no worries there. The hobgoblins may be harder to convince. Anyway, let’s move on. You’re right about one thing, whatever’s happened with that human, our best bet is to finish with our mission and get back.’

The two goblins lumbered off, making more racket than was probably good for them. Alfred breathed a sigh of relief and then jumped with a start when he felt something tapping him on the shoulder. He grabbed stick nearby him and swung as he jumped away from whatever it was that had accosted him.

‘There you go, knocking my hat off again. I shall have to make a new one, or have the brownies do it for me, before my time with you is done,’ said Balthazar as he picked up his crumpled hat and dusted it off.

‘So the goblins have found their way out of the mountain. Things are far worse than I feared.’ Balthazar soon began mumbling to himself, ‘Going to get trolls and giants? Things are far worse, far, far worse than any of us have imagined. What are we going to do? What am I going to do with the boy? So much for the wisdom of the gnomes.’ He said finally as he sat down next to Alfred.
‘Is it really so bad?’ Alfred asked, breaking the silence.

‘My son, Elfland has been at a relative peace for the past 300 years. Now war is upon us and we are so near to being caught unawares that anything we can or have planned up to now is just as likely to fail as to succeed.’

What can I do? thought Alfred to himself. After all, he was just one man, and a young one at that. He had never been trained to fight and only found out all of this was real this morning. Still, it could be exciting. Fighting against the forces of evil, protecting his village, really his whole world from the evils of Elfland. He would be remembered as mythic hero, dying fighting back the advances of darkness like the last of the three-hundred Spartans at the battle of Thermopylae. Yes, to die in battle, a sword in one hand, a shield in another, a true warrior, one who had to look his enemy in the eye, to recognise goodness alongside evil and to fight on and to die fighting for what is right.

It was when he started to think of death that he noticed the forest had suddenly gotten very dark and that coming toward him was a small cavalcade. The music he had heard in his dream or a music very like it was playing.

‘Hello, my brothers,’ called Balthazar to them.

‘Hail, Balthazar!’ said an elf who alighted from his horse and walked towards them while the others began to make camp. ‘Well met, faithful gnome. I see you have the young seer with you. Word has traveled to us through the forest, that you were bringing him. We have also felt a darkness being awoken. Come, we shall eat and drink. Tonight we feast ere the morrow brings us joys or woe.’ Alfred noticed many things about this elf. He was tall, his dark hair was worn long, as was his beard. His clothes were a beautiful mixture of greens, reds, and browns. On his chest there were four beasts: a bear, a bull, a boar, and lion, all rampant.

The elves prepared a feast, they had clearly been hunting and a large white deer was roasting over an open fire they had prepared. ‘Tell me, Carlyle,’ Balthazar said to the elf who had first approached them, ‘what are your plans? You have heard our news about the goblins. What are the king’s orders?’

Carlyle drained his cup, ‘The King has given but two orders: help the dwarves and trust the seer.’

Me? thought Alfred to himself. Alfred could not help feeling small, even insignificant amongst all these faerie-folk. To ask questions and observe seemed to be the only things for which he was needed, and those qualities did not seem to be desired. The music still lived on in his chest, making him feel brave, but his bravery seemed completely unnecessary. As he turned over in his mind what had happened to him since yesterday morning, he began to wonder about the two times previous he had come upon, if not this very camp, then one exceedingly like it. ‘Please,’ he asked Carlyle, ‘could you tell me why the first two times I approached your camp, you vanished and I was left sleeping on the ground?’

‘Well, lad,’ Carlyle responded, ‘the reasons are three. First, even in peace we rarely allow ourselves to be seen by mortals, let alone when danger is upon our very hearth. Second, we believed it too much for your introduction to our fine country to begin with a host of evils. Third, even if we had not, it was Balthazar’s duty to meet you first. Come, we have feasted, we will sing and then rest, for tomorrow may bring yet more woe if it is true we now have trolls and giants with which to contend.’ Somehow, Alfred thought the idea of woe and battle was both pleasing and saddening to Carlyle. It was as if his hands longed to feel his sword and to fight for goodness, but that such measures were necessary grieved him beyond anything. So much Alfred could read in his face, it was as if that face could not conceal truth or emotion, but must always wear whatever it felt. Alfred wondered if this was simply true of elves or if his eyes simply saw more now that he was under the influence of the air of Elfland.

Whatever singing there was, Alfred remembered very little of it. As soon as the music began he felt himself getting dreary. A she-elf, also dressed in a warrior’s garb, led him to a tent prepared for him. Alfred laid down without undressing and was instantly asleep. It was not, however, a restful or dreamless sleep.

As Alfred slept, he found himself awake, conscious, but unable to see. At first he thought he was blind, or that he was still in his tent with his eyes closed, so he pulled them open but still saw noting. He continued to worry that he was blind until in the distance he saw a fire. He felt relieved, he was not blind, he was dreaming, and it was the same as the old dreams of the elves. Something, however, was different this time. The ground beneath his feet felt more solid. He reached out his hands to feel for trees, but instead felt rock and stone. He stumbled as he walked, but made his way towards the fire.

Like in his previous dream, the world around Alfred, as it became brighter, remained fuzzy, indeterminate. Again he heard voices, but could not understand what they were saying. He stumbled closer to the fire, trying to make as little noise as possible. Still he almost shouted when he began to understand what was going on. The smell of burnt hair was in the air, and dark figures danced about the fire, while another figure, much smaller, was being turned over and over, as if on a roasting spit. The roasting figure shouted, not from pain it seemed, but anger. Alfred cursed his inability to see or hear clearly. One thing, however, was evident, the goblins were amassing in the mountain, and they had caught at least one dwarf and were torturing him.

Alfred awoke with a start. He knew he had to tell someone what he saw. However, as he stepped outside of his tent all he could hear were shouts and a thunder of feet and hooves. The first thing Alfred saw outside of his tent was Carlyle throwing a sword at his feet while using his own to battle a goblin. The joy had left his eyes. Alfred saw a steeled demeanour. However much Carlyle might normally joy in arms, he had no joy in this fray. This was as far as Alfred was able to think, however, for soon enough the goblins started making their way to him. He unsheathed his sword and prayed he could find that bravery the song of the elves usually stirred in him.

Goblins were now completely overrunning the camp when Alfred felt the earth shake. Several goblins lay dead at his feet, though his mind could little remember how they had died. His sword was smeared with blood and he himself was covered in cuts and bruises. The shaking grew worse. One of the elves standing near Alfred cried ‘Ettin! Ettin!’ It did not take Alfred long to understand this word. Wading and crashing through the trees came an ugly, fearsome, albeit stupidly so, looking creature. It stood nigh 19 feet high. ‘Giant,’ Alfred whispered to himself.

Swinging its mighty club, the giant began clearing a path in front of it. Indiscriminately it struck down both goblin and elf. Whether this was due to the malice that burned its heart or sheer stupidity is uncertain, but whenever anything got in its the giant swiped it away into the distance with its club. Alfred could hear the goblins shouting to it, trying to control it. Heedless to their cries the giant kept moving forward, straight to Alfred.

‘Run!’ shouted the elf standing next to Alfred. ‘We are no match for this brute, you and I.’ Alfred, however, stood firm and so the elf stayed with him. Both of them, swords drawn charged at the giant. Alfred swung his sword at the giant’s tree-trunk of a leg, but it glanced off. He had only one idea. Alfred turned the sword around so it pointed down and raised it high above his head. The giant howled with anger. ‘Puny creatures,’ it shouted and swiped its club directly into Alfred. The force with which Alfred was hit took the breath out of him and sent him flying high up into the air and far away from the battle.

When Alfred woke the sun was shining. ‘That giant must have sent me a good ways from the battle,’ he said to himself. He felt his arms, legs, and chest to check for any broken bones. His arms and legs felt stiff but fine, his chest, however, was incredibly sore and it hurt when breathed. Probably broke a few ribs, he thought. But what was he to do now? Was it safe to call for the others? ‘Carlyle!’ he shouted, ‘Balthazar! Carlyle! Mr Alvin!’ No one answered. He looked around, but could not recognise what part of the forest he was in. He walked, hoping to find someone or somewhere familiar. Eventually he found his way to a lake. He could not remember there being a lake in Fey Forest, but nothing surprised him now. He knelt at the lake with some difficulty, cupped his hand, filled them, and drank. The water was cool and refreshing. He immediately began to feel better.

The water felt so good on his hands and head that he decided a swim would do him nicely. How different Alfred was, if could have stopped to think. Not even two days ago he would never have thought of stripping down to go for a swim in a lake, let alone do so after having battled goblins and a giant. He had pulled off his clothes and found most of his cuts had already begun healing, but he was still covered in bruises and his chest still smarted something awful. He waded into the water and his body immediately began to relax. He could feel strength returning to his limbs. He felt well enough to try a proper swim. It stung his chest at first, but the more he swam the better he felt.

After about an hour of swimming all of Alfred’s cuts and bruises seemed to be healed. Even his ribs, which he thought broken, only caused him a small amount of pain. Alfred got out of the water and dried himself by simply lying on the soft down of the grass. After a short rest, he got dressed, and suddenly all that had taken place before he landed near this lake returned to his memory. He girded his sword and was about to set out in search of the elves and Balthazar when he noticed a cottage nearby. He walked toward uncertain of what he would find inside. Stories from his childhood told him it good be a witch, an elf, a beautiful princess, or an ogress. He felt, however, braver than he had before. Perhaps it was the encounter with the giant or lasting effects from the lake, but he was ready to meet any challenge. He knocked at the door. ‘Hello!’ he shouted. ‘Is anyone home?’ An elderly woman answered the door.


Chapter 6

‘Come in, young man. I can see by the sheen of your hair and your countenance that you have been swimming in my lake.’
‘Yes, it has had a wonderful effect on me. I feel almost fully well, though my chest seems still to pain me.’ He looked around the inside of the woman’s cottage. It was homely, but goodly so. It brought to mind home and hearth, the kind of things one wants to return to after a long journey. The old woman was meanwhile busy in her kitchen.

‘Here,’ she said, returning with a damp cloth. ‘This has been soaked in my lake and I have said a few good words over. Wrap about your chest under your clothes and leave it for the rest of the day. Then you shall be completely healed, albeit changed.’

Changed? thought Alfred to himself. Whatever doubts he had were dispelled, however, when the woman continued, ‘Something must be done about those goblins young man, and as you are the seer it seems only right that you ought to be the one to do something about them.’

‘I feel ready to do almost anything, so long as it is good, honest, and worthy of poetry,’ as the words left his mouth, Alfred marvelled at himself. Had he really just said that? Was he desirous of being turned into a poem? He had always felt listless, little likely to do much of anything except in the service of his parents, and then usually with a fair bit of grumbling.

‘You are surprised at yourself, I can tell. I may be old, but I can still see quite well.’

‘To tell you the truth, I am surprised. I have never sought adventure, never wanted to do anything brave. I just wanted to do something, something I loved, something that suited me.’

‘Did it never occur to you that what you wanted was to be good, honest, and poetical? Hmm? Did it never occur to you that this is what you wanted?’

Alfred thought back to all of old Mr Alvin’s stories. He had always felt invigorated after listening to Mr Alvin. Knights saving princesses, slaying giants and dragons, paupers becoming princes because of their virtue. It was Mr Alvin’s stories that caused him to study literature at university. It was this study, however, that caused him to stop loving the stories, or so it seemed to him now. ‘Tell me, Lady,’ he said after reflecting, ‘is it the water of your Lake that has awakened this in me or the air of Elfland or the music of the Elves?’

‘It is all three. No mortal can enter Elfland without becoming poetical unless they be too full of cynicism, none can hear the elfin songs without having even the smallest amount of bravery fanned into flame unless cowardice has too much hold on their heart. And none can swim in the waters of my Lake without having either their goodness or badness brought to the fore. Faerie makes the good things better, but exposes the bad for what it truly is.’

Alfred briefly felt rather proud, but as the pride in him began to rise, the old woman stared hard at him and he heard in his mind, ‘but exposes the bad for what it truly is.’ He squelched that rising pride and turned his thoughts to finding the elves and stopping the goblins. ‘You will need to leave soon,’ said the old woman, ‘in order to stop the goblins.’

‘Indeed, I believe you’re right, Mother,’ Alfred said turning to her. ‘Only I do not know which way to go. I have lost the elves and Balthazar Toadstool. Can you tell me, Mother, which is the best way for me?’

‘The only way, Seer, to save Carlisle, the dwarves, and all of Elfland is to return from whence you came. Go back to the beginning and there you will find your answers.’

Alfred was dejected. He did not wish to leave Elfland. He finally felt at home, finally felt as though he belonged in the world for the first time in his life. To return now, he feared, would cause him to disbelieve everything he had seen and experienced until now.
‘My dear boy,’ said the old woman, ‘you do not belong forever in Elfland. Mortals are meant to live on the edges, living on the borders and entering in occasionally. When you started this journey, you simply wanted to save Carlisle, do not forget that.’

Alfred knew that the old woman was right. He prepared to go immediately. ‘Hold on there, young man,’ she said suddenly. Alfred stopped as he was reaching for the door. ‘You will surprise people enough when you return without being dressed like the elves, openly carrying a sword.’ Alfred looked down and realised she was right. He could barely remember how he used to dress, though it had been only a few days, but despite the feelings he had always dressed this way, he knew this was not so. The woman pulled out of a closet somewhere the clothes he had worn when he entered the forest. ‘Balthazar brought them to me,’ she said.

Alfred went into another room in the cottage. This room had a small bed and a small mirror in it. He was surprised when he saw himself. The old woman’s words had caused him to expect to see big changes in himself. Instead he saw his beard starting to come in and his hair a bit matted. He found under the mirror a bowl of warm water, some soap, and a razor. He washed his hair and face, but decided to leave the beard, ‘It’s the only reminder I’m going to have of my exploits here,’ Alfred said to himself. He changed his clothes, folded his elfin garments, and laid his sword on top, bringing them out to the old woman.

‘You keep those,’ she said to him. ‘You never know when they might come in handy.’

‘Thank you,’ said Alfred with a little less rejection in his voice. With his things all packed in his rucksack, Alfred shouldered the bag and headed towards the door.

‘Remember what I told you,’ the old woman called out behind him. ‘Go back to the beginning, only then can you save Elfland and Carlisle.’

‘I won’t forget, Mother,’ he said turning around as he exited the door. The cottage, the old woman, even the lake was gone. Alfred was not surprised. He had face giants and goblins, a faerie godmother was the last thing to surprise him now. And so Alfred sauntered on. Resolve and doubt mixed in him. In the end, what could he really do to stop an incursion of goblins. Surely the elves could take care of it without him. He would talk to Mr Alvin when he got home, he would tell Alfred that it was his job to watch and not fight.

Hours went by and the forest began to grow more familiar. There was the tree he hid behind when he had thought something was chasing him as a child. ‘I wonder if something was chasing me then?’ He asked to no one, who promptly answered in silence. As he walked on he noticed the ground began to be damp. Apparently it had rained in this part of the forest recently. He kept a close eye out for mushrooms, hoping to find Balthazar. Instead he came upon a fairy ring of just the mushrooms his mother would want, but no shepherd guarding them. He picked them all, stowing them in his rucksack for his mother.

With no incident greater than finding the mushrooms, Alfred arrived at the edge of Fey Forest. He was disappointed. He had expected an attack, he had expected the elves or Balthazar or someone to arrive to divert his journey home a little while longer, but with no such luck. Perhaps the goblins were as yet unaware of him, or, like Alfred was beginning to believe, perhaps they simply felt him unimportant. With a sigh, Alfred stepped across the border separating the forest from the village and began to the two mile walk back home.

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

My Faërie Romance: Chapters 3 and 4

David Russell Mosley

 

IMG_2835
4 June 2014
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

As I continue to make slow and steady work reading through my thesis, and as I continue to learn what it is to be a father and a husband, I haven’t the time to write proper letters right now. However, I do not simply wish to give up writing altogether. Therefore, after receiving kind remarks on the first two chapters of my Faërie Romance, I have decided to continue posting chapters, two at a time, every now and then. I have no real aspirations for publishing it, so I don’t mind sharing it here. Also, I firmly believe things ought to be done well, even when done for pleasure (perhaps especially so). Therefore, your comments and criticisms will be taken to heart and I will do my best to amend what is wrong or confusing. With that said, I now present to you the next two chapters. Enjoy, and remember to tell me what you think.

Chapter 3

Alfred had been home for little less than a week when one morning, well before sunrise, Alfred’s mother knocked on his bedroom door, ‘Alfred, would be a dear, and go into the wood to fetch me some of the mushrooms for my mushroom soup? It’s rained overnight and there ought to be a fair few to be had.’ Jessica Stidolph’s mushroom soup was famous several miles around Carlisle, particularly for its rarity and freshness. Jessica only used a certain kind of mushroom, and then only fresh picked. Alfred stumbled out of bed, pulling on trousers and a jumper she had knit last winter, it being a chilly morning. Alfred had a quick bite of toast and glug of coffee and went out into the mist.

It is about two miles from Alfred’s home to the edge of Fey Forest, so Alfred had to walk by the old church St Nicholas’, which had burn marks on the stones still from some attack back in the late middle ages or early renaissance. Alfred could never remember. Local history did not interest him too much, and no one could settle on the date anyway. Some said it happened during the reign of Queen Elizabeth when all the old Catholic churches were being burnt down. Others said it was during the time of Oliver Cromwell. Still others said it was a much more ancient and diabolic attack from early in the church’s history. Whatever the truth was, no renovation was allowed since it was deemed a historical landmark.

When Alfred reached the forest’s edge the mist had gotten even worse. ‘It’s going to be damn near impossible to find mushrooms in this mist,’ he said to himself. ‘Oh well, in I go.’ With that he plunged into the wood. The trees were close together in this small wood and blocked out whatever sunlight might be burning the mist off outside of it. Alfred had put his headphones in his ears and was listening to music as he searched, none too carefully. He yawned, another thirty minutes and he would simply give up and tell his mother there were no mushrooms yet. Off in the distance Alfred saw a light. As he walked closer to it, he could tell it was several lights, as if from torches. Wondering what on earth could be going on he decided to walk towards them.

If Alfred had not had his headphones in he would have been surprised to still be hearing music. He would have heard music that could leave no listener unmoved. It was both morose and jovial. It sounded both as if it were the music of another world and yet as if it were the rocks, trees, streams, Nature herself singing this song. But all Alfred could hear was his own music pulsing through his ears as he walked ever closer to the torches, looking like phantoms of red and orange in the mist.

Although Alfred could not hear the merry voices and beautiful music, he could smell the food: roasted meat, delightfully prepared vegetables, and wine. The mist obscured his sight even more as he ventured closer. He was quite near the torches and could almost taste the food when suddenly all the torches vanished. The dark enclosed his senses and he fell.

‘I must have fallen asleep,’ said Alfred out loud as he pulled his headphones out of his ears and stowed them in his pocket. He looked around confused. ‘Well,’ he thought, ‘I must have been tired than I realised this morning. Imagine, me thinking there was a party going on out here in this mist, this early in the morning.’ He looked around for any signs, but all he saw was a fairy ring, mushrooms in a perfect circle with one enormous mushroom directly in the middle.

‘Well, today’s my lucky day,’ Alfred said. ‘Just the mushrooms Mum needs for her soup. I think I’ll grab this big one first.’ Alfred reached down, but as he did so he knocked the top off the mushroom before he even got his hands round it’s base.

‘That’s not a very kind way of introducing yourself, knocking off my hat, Alfred Stidolph.’ Alfred looked around. ‘Down here, my son. My how you humans persist in not seeing what’s right before you. I said down here.’ Alfred could not believe what his eyes beheld. Standing before him not more than two feet off the ground was a brown, dry-looking figure with a sort of green tunic and shoes on. It had almost no nose and its eyes were a loam brown, and it appeared to have no teeth or discernible ears. All Alfred could see at the moment, however, was a talking mushroom without its cap.

‘Well, it seems I will have to re-collect my own hat. Oh, and don’t be worried, my son, you are not dreaming. I promise you I am quite real. My name is––’ The creature had bent over to pick up its cap and Alfred took his chance and ran.

Alfred ran past several other collections of mushrooms, shuddering as he did. ‘I was still half asleep,’ he told himself. ‘I couldn’t find any mushrooms, laid down, and fell asleep dreaming of fires and talking mushrooms. Yes, that’s it. There can’t be such things as talking mushrooms. There just can’t.’  Alfred stopped running when he reached the church. He needed to collect his thoughts before he got back home. He had decided to tell his mother that it was too soon after the rain for there to be any mushrooms yet.

‘Well, no mushroom soup today, then,’ his mother said when he arrived back at home. ‘You look a little put out, why don’t you lay back down.’

‘That’s alright, I’ll go see if Dad needs me in the brewery.’

Alfred went down into the brewery where he found his father next to a large wooden beer barrel. ‘Alfred!’ He shouted. ‘Just in time, my boy. I was about to do a little taste test. I’ve got a new amber ale I want you to try.’ Alfred’s father took great pride in his beer. It was part of what gave The Broken Spoke its charm, all house brewed cask ale. Alfred was lost in thought. He wandered out of the cellar, leaving his father to his brewing revelries and spent the rest of the day in a kind of stupor. He helped his parents in the garden, milked the cows, fed the chickens and served in the inn at night.

Alfred was collecting mugs and pint glasses outside when he saw him. Old Mr Alvin was sitting outside, as he had to nowadays, smoking his pipe. ‘How old is he now?’ Alfred thought to himself. ‘He seemed ancient when I was a little kid.’ Old Mr Alvin was old indeed, probably the oldest member of the village of Carlisle. If you wanted to know anything about the history of Carlisle or Britain in general he was the man to ask. He could tell you stories about Alfred, Merlin, and Gildas; or about Churchill and the War. He noticed Alfred staring at him, took a big puff on his pipe, blew out a glorious smoke ring, tamped his pipe, place back between his teeth and said, ‘Bee in your bonnet, Alfred?’

‘Just a bit distracted today, Mr Alvin.’

‘Yes, I heard you fell asleep out in the woods. Right next to fairy ring, if young Sammy’s eyes didn’t deceive her.’

‘Oh um, would mind not mentioning that to my mum. I was supposed to be collecting mushrooms for her soup––’

‘Your mother makes a damn fine mushroom soup.’

‘Yes, well I was supposed to be collecting mushrooms, but I must have fallen asleep and had a terrible dream. When I woke up I forgot all about the mushrooms and ran straight back home.’

‘Oh,’ said Mr Alvin. Taking a long draw on his pipe, he closed his eyes. Alfred thought he had fallen asleep when suddenly he heard Mr Alvin murmur,

‘And what was your dream about?’

‘Um,’ said Alfred nervously. ‘I can’t really remember, mushrooms I think. A-a talking mushroom.’ Alfred did not want to say too much. He was not sure which frightened him more, the idea that people might hear him, or that Mr Alvin would believe him. Oliver Alvin was well-known for believing the unbelievable. He had a reputation that inspired both a kind of reverence at the breadth of his knowledge and an incredulity at the things he found credulous.

‘Damn,’ swore Mr Alvin.

‘Sorry?’ Alfred replied.

‘My pipe’s gone out. Can you see if your mum or dad have any matches I can borrow?’

‘Sure,’ said Alfred. Not at all unhappy to have the subject changed. Or so he thought at first. When Alfred returned with the matches Mr Alvin was gone. Alfred could not help feeling a little let down. It would have been nice, as well as terrifying, to have Mr Alvin believe he really saw a talking mushroom.

That night, as Alfred drifted off to sleep he really did have a dream, but not about talking mushrooms. He was walking in Fey Forest when he saw the torches again. This time they were much clearer. He could hear the music as well, since he was not wearing headphones in the dream. The music made him feel brave, but sad, as if he was meant to be the last defender of a dying cause. It gave him the kind of courage not to overcome insurmountable odds, but to be defeated with dignity and hope. The music was nothing, however, to the people he saw there. They were pure beauty. Men and women, feasting, laughing, singing, drinking, looking as though the belonged to a medieval tapestry rather than the woods just outside a twenty-first century village. Their clothes were magnificent, bright blues and greens and golds, reds and yellows, no colour seemed missing. Yet the clothes were not ostentatious, nor opulent. They were the colours of the woods themselves in early summer when everything was blossomed.

As Alfred drew nearer he found that he could not quite make out what they were saying. It seemed clear that they spoke English and yet the dream kept him from comprehension. Suddenly the scene changed. The lights of the beautiful people turned blue. Stern, determined looks washed over their merry faces. Weapons were drawn by men and women alike: bows and arrows, swords, clubs, knives, daggers, lances, axes. Horses appeared, as if commanded, but Alfred had seen no one go for them or call for them. Some mounted, others remained standing and they went forward as if for battle. What happened next was a complete mystery for just as the enemy of the beautiful people was about to appear, Alfred awoke.

‘Alfred, dear,’ he could just discern his mother calling, ‘you said you would look for mushrooms again today.’

‘Be right out, Mum,’ he mumbled in reply.

Alfred splashed cold water on his face, dressed and went out into another misty morning. He took his time walking to forest. Whether it was because of the dream or being woken up suddenly he could not decide, but he had left his headphones behind. Alfred stopped to look at the church as the sun was just beginning to rise over its steeple.

‘Have I ever told the story of how this church was nearly burnt down?’ said a familiar voice behind him.

‘Mr Alvin,’ said Alfred both startled and relieved, ‘where did you go yesterday? When I came back to bring you your matches you had gone.’

‘Hmm? Oh, I found some in my pocket and had a sudden urge to take a walk in the forest.’

‘You did?’

‘Yes, your story had me interested. I believe you told your mother there were no mushrooms, yes?’

‘Yes,’ Alfred said a little dejectedly. ‘I didn’t want her to think me mad for running scared out of the forest.’

‘Mmhmm. Is that where you’re headed now?’

‘It is. She really wants those mushrooms.’

‘Would you mind if I joined you? I do like a good walk in the morning.’

‘Sure,’ Alfred replied, hoping for an opportunity to discuss his latest dream.

‘You know,’ Alfred said slowly, ‘I don’t think you have ever told me your version of what happened to St Nicholas’s.’

‘Oh! Well then, you are in for a treat.’ Alfred only half-listened while he and Mr Alvin walked closer to the woods. He thought he must be hearing him wrong, for when he would occasionally tune back in he heard words like goblins, trolls, feys. He thought Mr Alvin must have started in on a fairy tale.

‘No, Mr Alvin,’ Alfred was exasperated. ‘I mean the real story of what happened to the church.’ However, as Alfred said this he turned and noticed that Mr Alvin was no longer next to him. He found himself lost in a fog in the forest. ‘Now where did Mr Alvin get to? Where did I get to, for that matter? It wasn’t this foggy when I got up this morning.’ Alfred looked around but did not recognise where he was in the forest. He kept trudging forward, occasionally shouting ‘Mr Alvin!’ thinking the old man had gotten lost in the fog as well.

Alfred walked for what seemed hours, knowing that the right thing to do was to stay in one place and wait for the fog to clear but being unable to do so. It was as if something was drawing him further and further into the forest. Suddenly, as if a veil had been lifted, Alfred saw before him the torchlights, just as he had yesterday morning and in his dream. This time there was no music. He could make out the sounds of voices, but could neither see their owners nor understand them clearly. The tone, however, was clear: anger. It was a stern anger, even a proper anger, but it was anger nonetheless. The whole forest seemed full of it.

Alfred proceeded as quietly as he could, moving ever closer. He began to make out the forms of those speaking. They were the beautiful people from his dream. He was staring in disbelief as he continued to edge closer when suddenly SNAP. Alfred had trodden on a small twig. The torches disappeared in an instant and everything went dark.

Alfred awoke on the ground, once again next to a circle of mushrooms. He was feeling himself to make sure no permanent damage was done when he heard a voice nearby. At first he thought it was Mr Alvin. ‘Thank goodness,’ he said aloud. ‘I thought I would never find you.’

‘I’ve been here the whole time.’

‘Well, at least we’re together again. Maybe now we can find our way out of the blasted forest.’

‘Oh I don’t know about that. Who would watch over my mushrooms?’

In horror did Alfred turn around to see the thing to which the voice belonged. It was the talking mushroom again. ‘B-but––’ he stammered.

‘You’re not going to knock my hat off again, are you, my son?’ asked the mushroom.

Alfred’s head was swimming. A blackness descended on his eyes. He could just hear the voice saying, ‘Goodnight’ as his head hit the ground and Alfred knew no more.

Chapter 4

Alfred woke slowly, barely opening his eyes, too afraid of what he might see. Once they were opened, he was relieved by what he saw. He was no longer in the forest. He was in what looked like an old cottage. ‘Good, you’re wake. You gave me a right turn, boy,’ said a voice in the distance. This time, Alfred was quite sure it was Mr Alvin’s voice. This, however, was no immediate reassurance. Alfred’s mind was suddenly flooded with questions, where was he? How did he get there? How long had he been unconscious? All of these questions he put to Mr Alvin.

‘One thing at a time, boy. Here, drink some of this.’ He handed Alfred a glass. It tasted like wine but was earthier and drier than any wine he had had before. Alfred drank quietly. Hoping Mr Alvin would answer all or any of his questions. Mr Alvin went briefly out back, into what Alfred could only assume was his garden. Alfred sat looking around, trying to take in his surroundings. He was on a couch in what looked like the sitting room of an old stone cottage. The walls were lined with bookshelves, there were even books on the mantlepiece over the fireplace. Books of history, philosophy, mythology, fairy tales, medieval manuscripts, old books of theology, even some fiction and children’s stories seemed to be included in this antiquated library.

Whatever it was Mr Alvin had been doing in his garden, he came back in smiling, but there was a concerned look in his eyes. ‘Well, boy, how are you doing?’ was all he said. Alfred’s head began screaming with questions. Again he tried to get Mr Alvin to answer them. The old man seemed reluctant, as if he wished not to say too much or too little. Alfred looked at the old man, pleading for answers with his eyes. ‘It’s time you know,’ Mr Alvin said slowly. At last, Alfred was going to get some answers.

‘Come with me out into the garden, bring your wine,’ he told Alfred. They walked outside, the sun assaulted Alfred’s eyes. ‘Passing out two days in a row isn’t helping you keep your feet, is it?’ said Mr Alvin as Alfred stumbled.

‘I’m fine, just a little weak still.’

‘Well, keep drinking that wine.’ Mr Alvin produced a loaf of bread and the two of them sat out in his garden under the shade of a large weeping willow facing what Alfred assumed was Fey Forest. In the distance Alfred could just make out the mountain rising high above the forest. Mr Alvin produced a pipe, tobacco, and some matches from his various pockets. Puffing slowly he turned to Alfred, ‘It’s all true, boy.’

‘W-what do you mean?’ asked Alfred terrified of the answer.

‘The dreams, the ancient one you’ve met in the forest, the torches, all of it is true. I know, it sounds ridiculous, but it’s true all the same. Faerie is all around us. The world is so much bigger than you’ve dreamt of. It’s like what Hamlet told Horatio, there’s more in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophies.

Look, Alfred, I’ll be honest with you, elves, gnomes, dwarves, goblins, giants, dragons they’re all real. The ones who are good are better than you could ever imagine, but the wicked are darker than anything. Most people live their whole lives thinking Faerie is just another word for imagination or the supernatural. They never get the chance to see. Ah, we’ve been cursed with blindness for so long now. Not that Faerie has ever been easy to see, far from it, but we weren’t meant to be completely ignorant of it. Arthur knew Faerie, this wood was named after his half-sister, you know. Morgana was, well, she was confused she was. Robertus Kirk, MacDonald, Chesterton, Lewis, Tolkien, they all understood, they believed in Faerie, even if they infrequently got into it, they knew it was there. You’re lucky, well, maybe that’s the wrong word. You’ve been given a gift, you’ve spent your whole life on the edge of Elfland, as it were, and now you’ve stumbled in.’

Alfred did not believe what he was hearing. Faerie? Elfland? Goblins, dragons, gnomes? No. He lived in a world where science had dispelled all those old beliefs. There was no way this could be true. Alfred was just about to say so when he noticed a ring of mushrooms right next to weeping willow. He let out a shriek he would have normally been ashamed of as suddenly an enormous mushroom from the centre of the circle began walking towards them. It removed its cap and wiped its brow, ‘Told him the truth at last, eh, Oliver? I told you should have done it years ago. He would have believed you and I could have been left out of it.’

‘I know what I’m doing. I’ve been at this a long time, Balthazar.’

‘Of course, sir.’

Alfred was still staring, though the horror he felt at first was beginning to transition to curiosity. Hadn’t he always loved fairy tales and legends when he was a boy? It was at university he began to despise them as a fashionable exercise in popularity. ‘What’s going on? What, or I suppose I should say who are you?’

‘Balthazar Toadstool, historian and mushroom shepherd, which is to say a gnome, at your service.’ The gnome gave a bow.

‘Alfred Stidolph,’ Alfred mumbled out, still somewhat in shock.

‘Gnomes are among the wisest creatures in Faerie, Alfred’ said Mr Alvin. ‘And old Balthazar here is accounted wise even by his own kind.’

‘You do me honour, sir,’ was the gnomes reply.

‘What I really want to know,’ said Alfred, ‘is what the devil is going on?’

‘You’ve been having dreams, haven’t you, my son,’ said Balthasar. ‘Dreams about a wondrous folk in the forest. But your dreams have turned darker, haven’t they? It’s no surprise. Evil never really goes away, we’ll never truly see the end of it in this life. You have been given a gift, my son, the gift of the second sight. All humans can see Faerie, or Elfland as many of us call it. They work at not seeing it. Even you tried not to see it, explaining away your dreams and the two times we have met, but unlike most humans you cannot not see Elfland. More than that, you have dreams of the goings on of Elfland. There’s a darkness brewing, such as we have not known for a long age. It’s been plaguing your world more than our own. All these wars you have been having, the hatred of humans for their brothers and sisters, but Elfland has been left relatively alone. We are the poorer for not having your world interact with ours, we grow static, but we endured in peace. Now, however, the evil plaguing your own world is making its way into ours.

‘The dwarves first alerted us to it. They heard them in the deep recesses of the mountain, digging, coming in from the Elfin King knows where. The dwarves, crafty as they are and even knowing the mountain as well as they do, cannot tell where they are or if they have come out. Your dreams tell us one thing, however, they are coming and they will bring destruction with them when they do.’

Alfred sat in rapt attention. ‘Who is coming?’ he asked, breaking the ominous silence.

‘Goblins.’

‘I’m sorry. Did you just say goblins?’

‘Yes, my son, goblins. Some of the fiercest and most wicked creatures ever to cross the face of the earth.’

‘What are they? I mean, I remember reading about them in books, but they’re usually small mischievous little creatures, lesser demons or imps, awful for sure, but not this menacing.’

‘Yes, well did your books tell you that mushrooms were cared for by gnomes?’

‘No.’

‘Then I would not use them as your guide through Elfland. That’s what I’m for.’

‘Wait, what do you mean? Mr Alvin, what does he mean, he’s my guide through Elfland? If there are goblins in there and they’re as bad as you say, shouldn’t I stay out of it altogether?’

Mr Alvin sighed heavily. Alfred in looking at him began to realise how very old, even careworn, the eccentric old man of Carlisle was. It was as if he was looking at him for the first time and rather than an old man, it was a wizard, a sage, druid bard sitting next to him. ‘Alfred,’ he began slowly, ‘Carlisle sits in a perilous place. While Faerie may be all around us and everywhere, there are some places closer to it than others. As I told you, you are quite lucky, having grown up on the edge of Elfland and being given a glimpse. A glimpse, however, is not all you’ve been destined for.

‘Carlisle, because of its proximity to the major home for elves and dwarves, both the Elfin King and the lesser dwarf king have their thrones in Fey Forest, has often known great beauty and wonder. Alas, it is also known more grief and woe.’

‘And caused more as well,’ said Balthazar quietly.

‘Too true,’ replied Mr Alvin. ‘Alfred, trouble has often come from Elfland and attacked Carlisle, trying to find entrance into the world of men and overthrow it. The goblins especially hate humanity. Do you remember the story I told you about St Nicholas’s?’

‘Only a little. Didn’t you say something about goblins then?’

‘Indeed I did. They tried to burn down the church on Christmas Eve over a thousand years ago. They were beaten back by the villagers, with the help of the faeries, and the flames around the church were extinguished.’

‘Why did they want to burn down the church?’

‘Suffice it to say that they hate humanity and wanted to do them harm. The whole village was inside at the time, as was the custom, and they thought to bring the whole town to ruin. From there they could have spread into the rest of the human world.’

‘Why do they hate us so much? And why do they have enter our world through Carlisle?’

‘Those are complicated questions. Balthazar, would mind answering the boy?’

‘My pleasure. You see Alfred, goblins were not always goblins. Some say they are men mixed with elves who have gone bad. Others that they were elves once, but they turned their back on the Elfin King. Still others say they were dwarves who lost themselves in the mines they worked for the Elfin King and when they finally emerged it was with a burning hatred of the Elfin King. Whatever the truth is, they were not always evil and they did not always look as they do now. The reason they hate humanity is because the Elfin King protects you. It is because of him that goblins and other wicked creatures cannot come into your world unless your civilisation is physically close to our own. Because humans have moved away from the forests and the wilds of the world, even from the beginning, this happens rarely, but there are still pockets. In most places there is still silence, in some evil has won out, but here in Carlisle there is ever a tension. The greater and lesser kingdoms being here means both a greater chance of mutual benefit and a greater chance of mutual harm.’

‘So where do I fit in to all of this?’

Balthazar and Mr Alvin looked to each other and then both turned to look at Alfred. Mr Alvin spoke first, ‘Faerie is always better when connected to humanity. The separation between the two is unnatural. When evil like this comes forward is important for Faerie to find a human with the second sight to help. What your proper role will be, there’s no telling. This is why Balthazar is to be your guide. He will get to know you and determine where your strengths lie. From there, only time will tell what part you will play, but it will be a great one, lad, I can promise you that.’

‘Come along, my son,’ Balthazar said to Alfred.

‘Wait, I’m leaving now? What about my family?’ Alfred exclaimed.

‘There’s no time, boy. The goblins will come and attack the village. If you don’t go into Faerie now, there may be no Carlisle to return to. I know its hard. I had hoped to better prepare you myself, but there we are. Alfred, the goblins are ruthless, their king hates humanity more than most. He comes from a long-lived goblin line and was part of the attack against the village when they tried to burn St Nicholas’s. He will stop at nothing. He’s been biding his time far in the North, for they were banished from England for a thousand years, all that time to foment and plan for his revenge. A young villager had caved in part of his face with a mattock, and since then he has vowed revenge against humanity for the loss of his eye, not to mention a fair few of his teeth. He will have trained his goblins to be ferocious, cruel, loving to give pain. You must go, and now.’

Alfred remembered the music from his dream, he thought of how much he loved his parents, his village. He was confused, about so many things, but one thing was certain, he trusted Mr Alvin, everything he had read about Faerie, all of it incidental, had at least taught him to discern good from evil. He knew evil must be fought, even in the face of defeat, which he hoped it would not come to. Without realising it, he found himself resolved to do whatever he could. He could think of nothing that made him special, that made him worthy, but this too he knew so often essential in fairy tales. It was not about him, but what needed to be done.

‘Alright,’ he said at last, ‘I’ll do it. Lead me where you will Balthazar.’

‘Into the forest then, my son.’

‘Good luck, Alfred,’ called Mr Alvin. ‘The hopes of Faerie and earth rest with you.’

Alfred looked changed, as if the air of Elfland had already begun to flow in him. His walk became more determined, less that of a listless twenty-something, as he entered the forest, being guided by the small gnome, not knowing what his fate would bring him.

 

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

Fairy Tale Pedagogy, Part 1

An absolutely fantastic post from Christ and University.

Christ & University

Princess Irene follows her great-great grandmother's magic thread Princess Irene follows her great-great grandmother’s magic thread

Early this semester, three young women in my English 101 course asked me to come to their table during one of our weekly writing workshops.  “This doesn’t have anything to do with dependent clauses,” said one, a little bashfully, “but we were all talking, and we just think that you must be Belle from Beauty and the Beast!” I accepted their compliment with what I hope was professional grace, but secretly I was thrilled. For many women of my generation, Belle was one of the first pop culture figures to show that a love of reading, combined with love for one’s foolish family and monstrous neighbor, could make a little girl into a hero.
I spent the rest of the day wondering if fairy tales could help me learn to be a better teacher and scholar. After all, fairy tales inspired my…

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Bored by Joy: Fairy Tales as Appetisers for Beatitude: A Response to Matthew Moser

David Russell Mosley

Lent 5 April 2014 On the Edge of Elfland Beeston, Nottinghamshire Dear Friends and Family, Over at Christ and University, Matt Moser has written another post about teaching Dante to which I feel inclined to respond. Moser notes and laments that as he and his students (along with Dante) entered Paradise in the Commedia, the students found it boring. As Moser himself notes, this is somewhat to be expected. Even in the best translation, this is still a translation of sixteenth century Italian epic poem. Even the Paradiso is filled with political and contemporary (to Dante) commentary. This, however, was not the centre of their boredom, rather the happiness was. Moser goes on to relate his own acquisition of an appetite for joy which was kindled by a reading of The Lord of the Rings.

He remembers how he had to foster an appetite for joy just as he had to foster an appetite for classical music. Moser again asks the question of how do we do this for those we teach, how do we help them foster an appetite for joy? In my previous response to Moser’s challenges on teaching Dante, I suggested that living in such a way that shows our belief in a cosmos (unity, order, harmony, created). Today, I wonder if another possible answer, or first step is the reading of fairy-tales. Spending too much time talking about fairy-tales can make a person seem rather childish. But what was it Lewis said, when I became a man I ceased to think like a child, including the fear of being thought childish, or something to that effect. I want to suggest that perhaps beginning with fairy-tales and working towards heavier works like Dante might better train a student’s appetite for joy.

G. K. Chesterton writes in his book, Orthodoxy:

‘The things I believed most then, the things I believe most now, are the things called fairy tales. They seem to me entirely reasonable things. They are not fantasies: compared with them other things are fantastic. Compared with them religion and rationalism are both abnormal though religion is abnormally right and rationalism abnormally wrong. Fairyland is nothing but the sunny country of common sense’ (299).

For Chesterton, Fairy Tales taught him about this world, the fostered in him that desire for joy. For Lewis and Tolkien it was fairy tales coupled with the myths of the North, of the Scandinavian countries, the tales of Sigurd and Fafnir.These stories awakened a desire in these authors. This is the purpose of fairy-tales according to Tolkien: ‘Fairy-stories were plainly not primarily concerned with possibility, but with desirability. If they awakened desire, satisfying it while often whetting it unbearably, they succeeded’ (‘Tree and Leaf’, 63). This desire, Lewis would call Joy in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy. This would all suggest that to help our students or our children (or anyone for that matter) to gain a desire for joy, an appetite for beatitude, we should start them on the milk of fairy-tales before moving them onto the meat of works like the Commedia or even The Lord of the Rings Unlike Moser and many I know, I’ve spent my whole life reading stories like this. Tolkien was a part of my life from around the time I was born until now. Lewis I discovered in elementary school. I had resurgence of Tolkien when the films came out so long ago now and have never stopped reading The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings 2 or 3 times a year. Even now, I have begun reading The Hobbit, having already read ‘St George of Merrie England’ and Smith of Wooton Major to my unborn sons, hoping to infuse their lives with the sound of my voice and the majesty of Tolkien’s work. I don’t know how this will affect my children, but I know the effect it has had on me. Therefore I propose a return to fairy-tales. If in Tolkien’s day they had been relegated to the nursery, it seems as though in ours they have been relegated to the attic or the bin. Let’s fish them out, dust them off, and read them once again to prepare our desires for the greater works like that of Dante, and even more so for the Beatific Vision to come.   Sincerely yours, David Russell Mosley