World's Oldest Fledgling

The blog of Stephanie Wardrop, Y A Author

Twenty-first Century Celtic Twilight

on September 18, 2013

WIP IT WEDNESDAY (September 18, 2013)

Sometimes, when I finally get the chance to write, I am just too exhausted to do anything productive. So I read, rationalizing that what I read just might inspire some writing. And it’s not just a rationalization. It often does.

My WIP, A Time of Shadows,  is about a four-hundred–year-old Scottish witch trapped in the body of a seventeen-year-old high school student in modern day Colorado. I’ve been reading lots of Scottish folk tale and fairy tales in addition to witch trial histories, and yesterday I turned to William Butler Yeats’ 1907 The Celtic Twilight for inspiration.

images-4 (I’ve always enjoyed Yeats’ poetry and have wanted to read this for awhile, if only to atone for the fact that since moving to Massachusetts nine years ago, I started mentally pronouncing the “C” in “Celtic” with an “S”-sound. I blame my neighbors and this guy Unknown-4)

 

Yeats’ book has lots of great stories about Irish legends and persistent beliefs in the fairy folk and elves and all sorts of other creatures that in the early twentieth century people in other parts of the world considered quaint, if not barbaric, anachronisms. But most interesting to me was his assessment of the difference between Scottish and Irish folk beliefs. He felt sorry for the dour Scots who took no pleasure in their magical beasties, writing

In Scotland you are too theological, too gloomy.

You have made even the Devil religious. . . You have

discovered the faeries to be pagan and wicked. You

would like to have them all up before the magistrate.

Scots, he claimed, looked at the other world with terror, and so saw terrible things in it  (seal women, for example, who bit off men’s heads, called kelpies, and equally dire  water horses). The Irish, meanwhile,  looked at the other world with wonder and so saw beauty. Both groups of Celts have always had “water-goblins” and “water-monsters”, he wrote, but the Irish “turn all their doings to favour and to prettiness, or hopelessly humorize the creatures.” In other words, magic and the otherworldly don’t freak them out. They embrace them.images-5

I’m in no position to judge the character of either people. But I find intriguing for the purposes of my book the idea that when we look at the Other and are fearful, we project fearsomeness onto the Other; when we look at the Other with wonder and acceptance, we see beauty and potential connection. In my WIP, I began with the idea of looking at historic witch hunts as examples of groups of people demonizing other groups out of fear (which led to hatred ad misogyny). As the ideas of the novel progressed, I began to write about the ways we do that in our present-day world, demonizing groups of people due to their beliefs, race, social class, and sexual orientation. While the book remains a sort of “suburban fantasy romance”, it’s also about social problems such as these. Though I swear it’s not preachy. I hate preachy. Rather, I hope that as Yeats urged the Scots, it urges us to not make “the Darkness our enemy” but instead “exchange civilities with the world beyond.” Accept, if not embrace, the Other.

Whether Yeats was correct or not about the Scots of the early twentieth century, I have to say that in my very limited experience, they’ve certainly developed a sense of humor (or commerce?) about their beasties in the twenty-first century. Just visit Nessieland, as I did, a tourist spot on the shores of Loch Ness with more papier mache models of pleisosaur-like creatures than you will find anywhere else.

images-6 Here are my kids, descendants of nineteenth-century Scottish immigrants, returned to the motherland to enjoy the campy good time at Nessieland:

wcuomlrm0lyrIf Yeats would accuse these two of humorlessness, then I’d have to contact him through a Ouija board and tell him a thing or two. (And he’d have been in support of Oujia board communication. No worries there.)

Until next week, happy reading and writing, everyone! And stay safe and dry, all of you in Northern Colorado!

What I’m reading

 WB Yeats, The Celtic Twilight

Unknown-5 and

Unknown-6 (I’m running out of Cassandra Clare!)

What I’m listening to 

Unknown-7 Pearl Jam’s “The Fixer”.

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