Tag Archives: myth

The Grail: Relic of an Ancient Religion – a review

I’m no Arthurian scholar, although my wide ranging reading habits and interest in folklore and mythology mean that I’ve run into King Arthur and the grail from all kinds of perspectives already. I was interested to see what Simon Stirling would do with the idea. I don’t feel qualified to comment on this as a piece of historical writing, but I found it in many ways persuasive.

In this book, Simon makes the case for King Arthur being Scottish. I found this argument compelling. To establish his case, Simon draws on mediaeval writing, period history (such as it is) place names and the names of known historical figures. He also explores why we have a southern Arthur and how that benefitted the church.

I found the exploration of texts and history to be especially interesting. One of the things this book does especially well is to look at the relationship between history making and myth making. These things are deeply related to each other. We tell stories to reinforce our sense of history. We use history as propaganda. We reinvent our stories to reinvent ourselves. Arthur has been used repeatedly in this way, and I found the exploration of the mechanics to be really helpful.

One of the other things that stuck out for me is the way language changes over time. The poetic sources Simon deals with are full of kennings, allusions and metaphors. It represents a world view rather different to our own. There’s a blurring of edges created by word play and pun, and resonance that may easily be lost to a modern reader. There’s no knowing how literally our ancestors took any of this – whether we’re dealing in straightforward symbolism where Bran = raven, or whether in some sense ravens are Bran, and Bran is ravens… How much mythology could be grown from a misunderstanding of poetic language? For me, this raises more questions than it answers, and I am very glad to have them raised.

I do not emerge from this book confident that I know what the Grail is. The case Simon makes is fascinating and I very much enjoyed reading it. It is a pleasing addition to my sense of what the grail might be, and might have been, but I’m not one for definitive answers. I’ve certainly learned a lot about how different people have perceived the grail. For anyone looking for a non-Christian take on the elusive artefact, this is a good book, I think regardless of whether you find the central argument persuasive.

For me, reading this was like investigating an ancestral dream world. Simon draws on sources from all over the world to explore ideas about what it means to be human, because in many ways, the quest for the grail is always a quest for something fundamental about humanity. This take on the grail is very much the warrior poet, masculine grail, and it has most to say about male mysteries around what is often taken to be an innately feminine object. It often reminded me of reading The White Goddess – this is not a wilfully obscure book, but it has that same sense of being a hairsbreadth from absolute truth, while never enabling me to completely grasp it. As I appreciate that sort of mythic, deep dreaming experience in a book, I really enjoyed reading this. I suspect different readers could have radically different experiences of this book, depending a lot on what you know and believe already.

Mote about it here – http://www.moon-books.net/books/grail

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Journeys to mythical places

Over the last few days, I have entered the Legendary Middle Studio, and The Potionary. As with all places with mythic aspects, knowing the myths is critically important for appreciating the location. Some places are so striking that they suggest, or attract myths anyway, while others become important through association with events. I’m a big fan of knowing how stories connect with landscape, both old stories, and new ones. However, the reasons for these two locations being important to me are not as famous as they deserve to be.

The Legendary Middle Studio belongs to BBC Radio Shropshire, and every Sunday evening, Genevieve Tudor broadcasts a fabulous two hour folk show from this building. You can listen live, or after the event, online if you are further afield. Most weeks there are live performances, and these take place in the Legendary Middle Studio.

I’ve known Genevieve pretty much my whole life. Nearly five years ago, Tom, the lad and I moved onto a narrow boat. At night, in the darkness of winter it can be a bit lonely out on the canal, and all we had for contact with the rest of humanity was a small wind-up radio. We discovered we could pick up the folk program via BBC Hereford and Worcester, and so it became something of a lifeline. I’d gone from running a weekly club, to having no live folk in my life at all, so it also provided an important sense of connection. For the two years we’ve been in a flat, we’ve continued listening. Seeing the place where it all happens was a really interesting experience.

The Potionary is also in Shropshire, at a much more secret location. It is the space where the Matlock the Hare books and art have been created. I’ve been a big fan of Matlock the Hare for some time, and of the lovely creative duo behind it, so when they said ‘do you want to see The Potionary?’ I of course squealed and said yes. And it was splendid.

Everything happens in a place. We don’t tell history in terms of place location, unless you happen to be at a tourist spot. Myths and folk tales can go either way – some are very specific ‘There was once a farmer from Mobberly way’ and some have an ‘everyman’ quality that means no matter where you tell them, it all occurred just down the road from here and involved the friend of a guy in the pub who told the story teller the tale in the first place.

I think that when we lose the connection between narrative and place, we lose the sense of the place being important. Over the last few days I also saw the ruins of a number of industrial buildings. Some had history boards to explain them, some did not. If it’s just a tumble down old place, it can be left to rot. If we know it was the first, or the biggest, or the most important at one time, if we know it was the centre of working life in a place, or something else like that, the past connects to the living landscape and it becomes easier to feel a sense of connection and significance. Not only does this change a person’s perspective on a landscape, it also shifts how settled that person feels in a place. How real, or unreal the stories are, and no matter how old, or how recent, having stories of place makes a lot of odds.


Matlock the hare

I ran into this wonderful creative team on twitter, and lured them over because… you have to see this. So, a guest blog from Phil Lovesey…

Matlock Hare by Jacqui Lovesey

Matlock Hare by Jacqui Lovesey

 

Some years ago, whilst teaching Swift to a disinterested group of English A-level students (it was a sunny Friday afternoon, and the lure of their oncoming weekend was far more powerful than wading though the symbolic significances behind Gulliver’s Travels) we came across “the most filthy, noisome, and deformed animals which nature ever produced . . . restive and indocible, mischievous and malicious…” the Yahoos in the country of the Houyhnhnms; perhaps Swift’s finest satire on the greed, barbarity and corruption apparently innate in all human life.

 

The ensuing conversation, I shall remember for a while, as a student at the back raised his hand, a perplexed look on his weary face.

 

“This book’s rubbish, sir,” he complained.  “You’d think this Swift bloke would have bothered to at least think up an original name.  It’s just lazy, getting it off the internet like that.  We’re not even allowed to Google essays, yet he just rips it off and passes it off as literature!”

 

Another student confessed to being ‘quite interested’ as she didn’t even realize ‘they had internet back then’; whilst a third at least tried to go with the theme, proposing that ‘Googles’ would have been a better choice than ‘Yahoos’, as really ‘nobody uses Yahoo no more – it’s like, so last year.’

 

It was an exchange which I like to feel that even the great J.S might have enjoyed, if only for its unintended irony. (As a footnote to this story – I met with a perplexed parent of one of the students sometime later who admitted being a little confused when I returned her son’s internet plagiarized essay, only to be told quite adamantly by said parent that ‘We only used Yahoo, like the book says – none of it was from Google, not a single word of it.’)

 

I was reminded of this Swiftean episode the other day when writing the second of the Most Majelicus series of Matlock the hare adventures. It had been a long day, and I was just finishing a chapter where our unlikely majickal-hare hero is crossing high above Trefflepugga Path in a hot-air balloon, accompanied by three ‘Snoffibs’ – creatures who content themselves with amassing vast amounts of majickal-wisdom for no other purpose than their own vanity.  I wondered if I was happy with the name ‘Snoffibs’ (a crude anagram of boffins) and duly consulted my wife – the illustrator and creator of all the Matlock artworks.

“Jacqui?” I griffled (or ‘said’, as you would griffle…)  “All these stories, all these characters, all this majickal-dalelore that we create – what happens if it gets changed around in the future?”

 

I told her about Swift, and how I suspected that perhaps he wouldn’t be too pleased to see his Yahoos transformed by a corporate multi-national internet giant into a glossy search-engine purporting to be your online ‘friend’ as it diligently obeys your every search whim like an obedient slave.  “I mean,” I griffled to her, “it’s hardly coming across as a mischievous and malicious, is it?”

 

At which point she put down her brush – (she was finishing an illustration for the new book featuring Ursula the white hare-witch, Proftulous the dworp, the dripple and Matlock having a crumlush brottle-leaf brew in his small cottage garden, deep in the heart of Winchett Dale) – and calmly griffled, “Surely it’s not really about what we think, is it? It’s about what the creatures would think.  What would Matlock think, or Serraptomus, or the dripple, or Proftulous, or Goole…or any of them?”

 

And this, of course, is why I love her – she has what can only be defined as innate, unflappable Dale-logic; for in the way of all things creative, we tend to people our majickal-world of Winchett Dale with creatures that perhaps hold closely to our own values.  And no, I’m not sure the creatures would be concerned or worried even the ‘oidiest’ bit….and neither would the Yahoo’s be, either…

 

One of the reasons Matlock stubbornly ‘bliffed’ his saztaculous way into our lives was because to our peffa-pleasant surprise, people wanted to know more about him.  Beginning as just a series of collectable miniature artworks Jacqui painted then sold on eBay two years ago (and still does – somehow managing in between everything else to produce a new artwork or Matlock sculpture every week) people simply wanted to know more about the majickal-hare – where he lived, what did he do, what adventures did he go on, who were his fellow creatures in Winchet Dale?  They wanted maps and handmade books.  We developed a language – Dalespeak, using ‘griffles’ for words – then set about to create majickal-dalelore,  blending hare legends and myths from across the world to begin to define the system of all hares’ ascension, the most-majelicus tasks they have to undertake, together with other majickal-dales Matlock and his ‘clottabussed’ but loyal friends would be taken to during his saztaculous adventures.

 

In the course of the last two years, the world has grown, and as quite contended middle-aged luddites we set about to create a website and try and master social networking and the beginnings of a weekly Matlock blog.  Our teenage ‘leverets’ have helped (born to the digital world – a saztaculous resource for folk like us), together with the support of family and friends.

 

My previous books were published with HarperCollins – my agent refused to  even show the manuscript for ‘The Riddle of Trefflepugga Path’ to them, thinking no doubt the whole notion of Matlock as hare-brained – so we decided to publish it ourselves, and to date reaction to it has very pleasantly surprised us.  It’s not pretending to be a great work of modern literary fiction, it’s simply what it is – a four hundred page journey into another world – one that Jacqui and I have the most ganticus privilege being able to bring to all out here, in what the creatures of Winchett Dale call ‘The Great Beyond’.

 

The other day, Leveret number 3 came up to us and said ‘I put Matlock the Hare into Yahoo.  It came up with loads of results.’

 

Jacqui simply smiled, saying nothing, and it was only then that I truly realized the wisdom of her griffles…

 

www.matlockthehare.com   and https://twitter.com/MatlockHare