Category Archives: Historical Fiction

The Wild Ones

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Crossposted from Cocktails and Hot Sauce

Anne Cain's fantastic cover for my novel.

Anne Cain’s fantastic cover for my novel.

There’s a part of every novel that’s a nightmare to write. In Bound to the Beast there’s little doubt about that part that gave me the most grief – bringing life to the Wild Hunt.

Ah yes, the Wild Hunt. A pack of the undead who maraud across the land, terrorizing the natives and sucking blood! Ghosts! Zombies! The evil dead, with their eyes drooling from their sockets and their flesh hanging off! That’s going to be fun to write, huh?

Well, you’d think so, and it was fun to research. The origins of the Wild Hunt are obscure and diverse, encompassing the Germanic ‘Wilde Jagd’ and the Nordic ‘Ride of Asgard,’ their leaders including Odin, Woden, and in England King Arthur, Sir Francis Drake, and the devil himself, as well as Herne the Hunter, the hero of my novel (see my pictorial history of The Horned One.)

The hunters themselves have variously been portrayed as the rotting corpses of condemned criminals, hellhounds, fairies, or the souls of deceased, unbaptised infants (the latter two, of course, sometimes perceived as one and the same.)

And their purpose?

Well, usually the Wild Hunt were seen as harbingers of doom, scourging the land on the eve of great disasters, and that’s the angle I used in my book, where my tortured anti-hero, Herne, has led the Hunt across England on the eve of Viking pillaging, the Norman Conquest and the plague of the black death.

Bad boy!

There are plenty of awesome descriptions of the Hunt too, not least in the romantic literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when so much ‘ancient’ folk lore was (re)invented.

Arguably most evocative is W.B. Yeats, ‘The Hosting of the Sidhe,’ from his collection inspired by Gaelic faery lore, The Celtic Twilight (1893).

The Hosting Of The Sidhe (by William Butler Yeats)

    This illustration by Peter Nicolai Arbo (1872) depicts the Wild Hunt let by Odin, and perfectly captures their menacing glory.

This illustration by Peter Nicolai Arbo (1872) depicts the Wild Hunt let by Odin, and perfectly captures their menacing glory.

The host is riding from Knocknarea
And over the grave of Clooth-na-Bare;
Caoilte tossing his burning hair,
And Niamh calling Away, come away:
Empty your heart of its mortal dream.

The winds awaken, the leaves whirl round,
Our cheeks are pale, our hair is unbound,
Our breasts are heaving our eyes are agleam,
Our arms are waving our lips are apart;
And if any gaze on our rushing band,
We come between him and the deed of his hand,
We come between him and the hope of his heart.
The host is rushing ‘twixt night and day,
And where is there hope or deed as fair?
Caoilte tossing his burning hair,
And Niamh calling Away, come away.

Hmmm, a bit of a hard act to follow.

Yes, but I really shouldn’t whinge. Reinventing the Wild Hunt for my own purposes was hard work, but a hell of a lot of fun. The main trouble was representing the Hunt as anything other than a monolithic mass, so I turned, as so often, to research.

I discovered a plethora of colourful characters, including Wild Edric, once a Lord of the Welsh Marches, and his fairy wife Godda, who apparently led the Hunt to terrorize the people of Shropshire before the British campaign in Crimea in the 1850s, and prior the First and Second World Wars. It’s always good for a character to have challengers snapping at their heels, so I made my Herne work hard to keep control of his hunters.

The Wild Hunt, then, has haunted imaginations for centuries, and afterKB_BoundForest_coversmall a little exploration, they certainly took root in mine. When the wind moans and rattles through the trees of the New Forest, it’s hard not to prick up one’s ears, listen for the bay of the hunting hounds and the pounding of the hooves, and shiver at the prospect.

Could it be time for England to fall again?

Well, I bloody well hope not. But I wouldn’t say ‘no’ to a fleeting glimpse of Herne and his fairy band…

Fancy a taste of some ancient forest lore, intertwined with sex, magic, bondage, and blood? You can find out more about Bound to the Beast and my first Greenwood novel Bound for the Forest at my website.
Scroll on for an excerpt (featuring the Wild Hunt and –WARNING–some mind fantasy gore) from Bound to the Beast.

If you go down to the woods today…

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October is the month of all things dark and haunted, and for me, there could be only one blog topic. The forest realm. Fantasy literature has long worshipped the forest, from Tolkien’s Mirkwood through to Kenneth Graham’s Wild Wood. Images of woodlands are many and contrasting, as different as slow moving Ents are from Whomping Willows. And like vampires and werewolves and all things ghoulish, stories of the forest realm have a long and fascinating history.

The earliest written accounts of forests construct them as dark,

A water naiad emerges from a woodland brook for some sexy fun with Hylas (J.W.Waterhouse, 1893).

fearful, and often intensely erotic places—much like the ways in which modern western imperialists have described the orient. Following resistance to Roman empire-building in the forests of northern Europe, Tacitus wrote of bestial Germanic Wild Men gnawing the bones of defeated legions, while Julius Caesar and Strabo described the Druids of the British Isles burning sacrificial victims alive in wicker men, images that have resonated through the ages.  Rushing forward to medieval times, the scariest creatures of the forest were the fairies. A far cry from the sparkly wing-wearing, pink-clad kiddies of today, the fair folk embodied the spirits of the dead, feared as child snatchers, shifters, seducers, and even murderers and rapists.

Anne Cain’s interpretation of Herne the Hunter for the cover of my book, Bound to the Beast.

Fortunately, forest lore provides us with plenty of brooding heroes too, from Robin Hood to the wonderfully tortured Herne the Hunter, a glowering, alpha male bearing the antlers of a stag and whose dark origins lie in the horned gods of Norse and Anglo-Saxon myth. To my glee, my extensive research into forest lore has also uncovered a plethora of historical bondage. The cliché of being blindfolded, bound, and taken to the hidden camp in the heart of the forest can be traced back at least as far as Roman accounts of the tribes of Germania.

The “otherness” of the forest, it’s exclusion from so-called “civilized” societies, has also resulted in one of its most wonderful manifestations: as a place of sexual liberty. The Greenwood has long been the realm to which lovers escaped to break away from the shackles of social and sexual norms – think Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. On more modern note, in E.M.Forster’s novel Maurice (originally written in 1913-14, but not published till 1971) the homosexual hero evokes the romantic image of “Sherwood.” The idealized English Greenwood of the past is the imaginative space in which Maurice and his male lover can exist unfettered, in stark contrast to the homophobic reality in which he struggles to fit in.

The Reconcliation of Titania and Oberon–amid much orgiastic fun! (J.N.Paton, 1847)

So, sod being creepy—here’s to the forests of the world! Let’s hope you survive to keep haunting, inspiring, and liberating us, for the next several thousand years.

*****

Kay Berrisford is the author of the two Greenwood m/m fantasy novels, Bound for the Forest and Bound to the Beast (a tale of Herne the Hunter). A third Greenwood novel is in the works.  Her most recent publications are contemporary fantasies Catching Kit and the forthcoming Sex, Simon, and the Solstice Stone. You can find out more about her writing at kayberrisford.com

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Bound for the Forest by Kay Berrisford

Bound for the Forest

by Kay Berrisford

Giveaway ends November 01, 2012.

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Why I love historical fiction

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This isn’t going to be an annotated scholarly work on the Troubadours, and 12th century Occitanian culture, but I thought that I might share some interesting tidbits from my current research.

I’ll start off with something you might not know- Richard the Lionheart was, in all probability, gay. And so was his next-youngest brother, Geoffroy. And they both probably slept with the king of France. Which, any ardent student of medieval history probably knows, but it was news to me when I started researching my current wip. All I was looking for was the chance that troubadours had expressed homosocial desire… Which is much harder to find than I had thought.

A 17th century royal portrait of Richard I

 

 

 

However, all was not lost. I ordered a book called Listening to the Sirens (see below), and there were a few pages dedicated to a troubadour by the name of Arnaut Daniel… who was, possibly, maybe, if you took some of his lyrics a certain way, gay. The evidence is compelling when you look at it, but, you have to be sensitive to the subtext.

Arnaut Daniel was the premier poet and troubadour of his age (and many that followed), and he invented an insanely complex poetic form called the ‘sestina’. He also liked to use obscure language that had multiple meanings

 

 

Arnaut tramet son chantar d’ongl’e d’oncle          Arnaut sends forth this song of uncle and nail

a Grant Desiei, qui de sa verj’a l’arma,                    to Great Desire, which of his rod holds the soul,

son cledisat qu’apres dins cambra intra.                 a framework-song which, learned, the room enters.

Dezirat was the nickname of both Arnaut Daniel and Bertran de Born. It’s true, that the object of desire (ostensibly a noble lady) was quite often given a masculine code name (senha), but that doesn’t actually make it any clearer. There are quite a few words that he uses which could go either way – ver(g/j)a meant virgin, rod, branch, sceptre, and penis, intra meant to penetrate or to enter, and cambra had the double meaning of chamber and vagina. Uncle meant both a literal Uncle, and an older man who was a protector.  I have included a link to a good English translation below. If you read through it you’ll see what I mean. This was a naughty, naughty song.

Dante Alighieri includes Arnaut Daniel in his Divine Comedy in the section on Purgatory. The troubadour was apparently spending time there with all the other lustful hermaphrodites (ie. Men who enjoyed the passive side of of sodomy due to their feminine natures). Dante seems to have thought that quite a few men of letters ended up there, including a number that he knew personally and admired.

In the 12th century they didn’t really have a classification for people who were anything other than heterosexual. Any desires which deviated from the ‘norm’ were considered sin, although there were various gradations of it. If someone had sex with someone of the same gender in a consensual fashion it was considered to be a form of greed on par with charging too much interest on a loan… as long as it wasn’t done too often. If one went around raping people it was much worse to do it to someone of the same gender, and would probably send the perpetrator to hell.

As with all things in European society, the punishments and fears got greater as time wore on. By the 15th century it wasn’t a good idea to be anything different at all, including a leper, Jew, woman (of any kind, but especially an intelligent one), have a severe learning disability, or have any physical deformity (like moles, which were called ‘the kiss of the Devil’- I would have been burned at the stake for sure, since I look a bit like a negative Milky Way and I just can’t help giving people the dubious benefit of my opinions).

History is fabulously fascinating, and half of the joy of writing historical fiction is discovering a context to place the characters in. Also, knowing more about history can make your fantasy worlds more robust- you can cherry-pick elements to add depth.

I don’t know how long it will take me to write the story of Isodard and Berengar, but hopefully once I get everything set up it will flow like hot butter (and not molasses in January, which is my usual writing pace).

~Jennifer

This is supposedly a portrait of Arnaut Daniel (Bibliothèque Nationale, MS cod. fr. 12473)

Works From Which I Got Some Good Tidbits And You Might Like To Read As Well:

Peraino, Judith A. Listening to the Sirens: musical technologies of Queer identity from Homer to Hedwig. University of California Press, Los Angeles, 2006.

Boyle, David. Blondel’s Song: the capture, imprisonment and ransom of Richard the Lionheart. Viking, Toronto, 2005.

http://www.trobar.org/troubadours/arnaut_daniel/arnaut_daniel_09.php

Accessed on September 14, 2012

 

 

 

 

Jennifer Thorne has just recently published a contemporary novella called A Road Not Taken with Samhain Publishing.