Tag Archives: historical fiction

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

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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.