Thursday, November 12, 2015
The Supernatural in Folk-Tales by Dorothy Scarborough 1917
The Supernatural in Folk-Tales by Dorothy Scarborough 1917
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THE folk-tale is one of the new fashions in fiction. True, folk-lore has long constituted an important element of literature, constantly recurring in poetry, particularly in the ballad, in the drama, the novel, and short story. Yet it has been in solution. It has not been thought important enough to merit consideration for its own sake, but has been rather apologized for, covered up with other materials, so that its presence is scarcely recognized. Now, however, as Professor Kittredge says, folk-lore is no longer on the defensive, which fact is evident in fiction as elsewhere. Scholars of our day are eagerly hunting down the various forms of folk-lore to preserve them in literature before they vanish completely, and learned societies are recording with care the myths and legends and superstitions of peasants. Many volumes have appeared giving in literary form the fictions of various races and tribes, and comparative folk-lore is found to be an engrossing science.
The supernatural forms a large element of folk-literature. The traditions and stories that come down to us from the childhood of any race are like the stories that children delight in, tales of the marvelous, of the impossible, of magic and wonder. Folk-literature recks little of realism. It revels in the romantic, the mystic. Tales of gods and demi-gods, of giants and demons, of fairy-folk, of animals endowed with human powers of speech and cunning, of supernatural flora as well as fauna, of ghosts, devils, of saints, and miracles, are the frame-work of such fiction. English literature is especially rich in these collections, for not only are the sections of English-speaking countries themselves fortunate fields for supernatural folk-tales, but the English, being a race of colonizers, have gone far in many lands and from the distant corners of the earth have written down the legends of many tribes and nations. This discussion does not take into consideration primarily folk-tales translated from other languages, but deals only with those appearing in English, though, of course, in many cases, they are transcripts from the spoken dialects of other people. But it is for their appearance as English fiction, not for their value as folk-lore, that they are taken up here.
Wherever in fiction the life of the peasant class is definitely treated, there is likely to be found a good deal of folk-lore in the form of superstitions, taboos, racial traditions of the supernatural. This is present to a marked degree in the stories of Sir Walter Scott, and in fact one might write a volume on the supernatural in Scott's work alone. For example, we have Oriental magic and wonder, supernatural vision, superhuman foreknowledge, unearthly "stirs," the White Lady of Avenel, the bahrgeist, besides his use of diabolism, witchcraft, and so forth already discussed. Thomas Hardy's work, relating as it does almost wholly to rustic life, is rich in superstitions and traditions of the peasants. The Withered Arm gives a gruesome account of a woman's attempt to cure her affliction by touching her arm to the corpse of a man who has been hanged, the complicating horror being furnished by the fact that the youth is her husband's secret son. He gives a story1 of a supernatural coach that heralds certain events in the family life, charms for securing love as for making refractory butter come when the churn is bewitched, and so forth. Similar elements occur in others of his novels and stories. Eden Phillpotts' fiction shows a large admixture of the folk-supernaturalism of the Dartmoor peasants, as do _Lorna Doone_, _Wuthering Heights_ and numberless other novels and stories of other sections. There are guild superstitions reflected in the work of various writers of the sea, as in W. W. Jacobs' stories, for instance, tales of mining life, and so on.
American fiction is equally rich in such material. Stories of the South, showing life in contact with the negroes, reveal it to a marked degree, as in the work of Thomas Nelson Page, Joel Chandler Harris, Ruth McEnery Stuart, Will Allen Dromgoole, and others. The Creole sense of the supernatural appears in George W. Cable's novels and stories, the mountain superstitions in those of John Fox, Jr., and Charles Egbert Craddock, those of New England in Mary Wilkins Freeman, Alice Brown, and their followers, the Indian traditions in Helen Hunt Jackson, J. Fenimore Cooper, the Dutch supernaturalism in Washington Irving, who also gives us the legendry of Spain in his tales of the Alhambra. Thomas A. Janvier has recreated antique Mexico for us in his stories of ghosts and saints, of devils and miracles.
In most fiction that represents truly the life of simple people there will be found a certain amount of superstition which is inherent in practically every soul. There is no one of us but has his ideas of fate, of luck, of taboo. We are so used to these elements in life that we scarcely pay heed to them in fiction, yet a brief glance at books will recall their frequent appearance. They color poetry to a marked degree. In fact, without the sense of-the marvelous, the unreal, the wonderful, the magical, what would poetry mean to us? So we should feel a keen loss in our fiction if all the vague elements of the supernatural were effaced. Absolute realism is the last thing we desire.
Now the folk-tale, told frankly as such, with no apology for its unreality, no attempt to make of it merely an allegory or vehicle for teaching moral truth, has taken its place in our literature. The science of ethnology has brought a wider interest in the oral heritage of the past, linking it to our life of the present. And the multiplication of volumes recording stories of symbolic phenomena of nature, of gods, demi-gods, and heroes, of supernormal animals and plants, of fairies, banshees, bogles, giants, saints, miracles, and what-not make it possible to compare the widely disseminated stories, the variants and contrasting types of folk-supernaturalism. But my purpose in this discussion is to show the presence of the folk-supernaturalism in literature, in prose fiction particularly. There is no science more fascinating than comparative folk-lore and no language affords so many original examples of oral literature as the English. As we study its influence on fiction and poetry, we feel the truth of what Tylor says:
"Little by little, in what seems the most spontaneous fiction, a more comprehensive study of the sources of poetry and romance begins to disclose a cause for each fancy, a story of inherited materials from which each province of the poet's land-has been shaped and built over and peopled."
The Celtic Revival, the renascence of wonder in Ireland, has done more than anything else to awaken modern love for antiquity, to bring over into literature the legends of gods and men
"Beyond the misty space
Of twice a thousand years."
While the movement concerns itself more with poetry and the drama than with prose,—Ireland has been likened to "a nest of singing birds," though the voices of some have been sadly silenced of late—yet fiction has felt its influence as well. The land of the immortals glooms and gleams again for us in storied vision, and the ancient past yields up to us its magic, its laughter, its tears. These romances are written, not in pedestrian prose as ordinary folk-tales, but with a bardic beauty that gives to style the lifting wings of verse. Each fact and figure is expressed in poetic symbols, which Yeats calls "streams of passion poured about concrete forms." A sense of ancient, divine powers is in every bush and bog, every lake and valley. Ireland has enriched universal fancy and the effect on literature will perhaps never be lost.
One of the most interesting aspects of folk-loristic supernaturalism is that concerned with nature. The primitive mind needs no scientific proof for theories of causation, since, given a belief in gods, it can manage the rest for itself. With the Celts there is ever a feeling of nature as a mighty personality. Every aspect, every phase of her power is endowed with life and temperament. Celtic pantheism saw in every form a spirit, in every spring or cloud or hill-top, in every bird or blossom some unearthly divinity of being. A primrose is vastly more than a yellow primrose, but one of "the dear golden folk"; the hawthorn is the barking of hounds, leek is the tear of a fair woman, and so on, which poetic speech bears a likeness to the Icelandic court poetry. This figurative sense suggests "an after-thought of the old nature-worship lingering yet about the fjords and glens where Druidism never was quite overcome by Christianity." It lends to the Celtic folk-tales their wild, unearthly beauty, their passionate poetry and mystic symbolism akin to the classic mythology and such as we find in no other folk-literature of the present time.
In the stories of Lady Gregory, John Synge, Yeats, Lady Wilde, and various other chroniclers of Celtic legendry, we find explanations of many phenomena, accounts of diverse occurrences. Lady Wilde (Speranza) tells of natural appearances, such as a great chasm which was opened to swallow a man who incurred the anger of God by challenging Him to combat for destroying his crops. A supernatural whirlwind caught up the blasphemer and hurled him into the chasm that yawned to receive him. Many of the aspects of nature are attributed to the activities of giants, and later of demons; as the piling up of cyclopean walls, massive breast-works of earth, or gigantic masses of rocks said to be the work of playful or irate giants. The titans were frolicsome and delighted in feats to show off. There is a large body of legends of diabolized nature, as the changing of the landscape by demons, the sulphurizing of springs, and the cursing of localities.
Many other aspects of nature are made the basis for supernatural folk-tales too numerous to mention. Stories of the enchanted bird, music, and water appear in various forms, and the droll-tellers of the Cornish country tell many stories of the weird associated with out-of-doors. The Celtic superstitions and tales have lived on through successive invasions and through many centuries have been told beside the peat fire. They have been preserved as an oral heritage or else in almost illegible manuscripts in antique libraries, from which they are taken to be put into literature by the Celtic patriots of letters. The sense of terror and of awe, a belief in the darker powers, as well as an all-enveloping feeling of beauty is a heritage of the Celtic mind. It is interesting to note the obstinacy of these pantheistic, druidic stories in the face of Irish Catholicism. In many other bodies of folk-supernaturalism in English we have similar legends of nature, as in the Hawaiian, the Indian, African, Canadian, Mexican stories, and elsewhere. But the material is so voluminous that one can do no more than suggest the field.
Certain forces of nature are given supernatural power in drama and fiction, as the sea that is an awful, brooding Fate, in Synge's drama, or the wind and the flame in Algernon Blackwood's story, _The Regeneration of Lord Ernie_, or the goblin trees in another of his tales, that signify diabolic spirits, or the trees1 that have a strange, compelling power over men, drawing them, going out bodily to meet them, luring them to destruction. Blackwood has stressed this form of supernaturalism to a marked degree. In Sand he shows desert incantations that embody majestic forces, evocations of ancient deities that bring the Sphynx to life, and other sinister powers. He takes the folkloristic aspects of nature and makes them live, personifying the forces of out-door life as mythology did. The trees, the sand, the fire, the snow, the wind, the stream, the sea are all alive, with personality, with emotion, and definite being. His trees are more awesome than the woods of Dunsinane, for they actually do move upon their foe. In The Sea Fit he contends that the gods are not dead, but merely withdrawn, that one true worshiper can call them back to earth, especially the sea-gods. The sea comes in power for the man with the Viking soul and takes him to itself. His going is symbolic.
Uttering the singing sound of falling waters, he bent forward, turned. The next instant, curving over like a falling wave he swept along the glistening surface of the sands and was gone. In fluid form, wave-like, his being slipped away into the Being of the Sea.
The uncanny potentialities of fire are revealed1 where the internal flame breaks out of itself, the inner fire that burns in the heart of the earth and in men's hearts. The artist trying to paint a great picture of the Fire-worshiper is consumed by an intense, rapturous fever, and as he dies his face is like a white flame. The snow appears embodied as a luring woman. She tries to draw a man to his death, with daemonic charm, seen as a lovely woman, but a snow demon. Blackwood shows the curious combination of the soul of a dead woman with the spirit of a place, where a man is ejected by his own estate, turned out bodily as well as psychically, because he has become out of harmony with the locale. Nature here is sentient, emotional, possessing a child, expressing through her lips and hands a message of menace and warning. The moon is given diabolic power in one of Barry Pain's stories, and the maelstrom described by Poe has a sinister, more than human, power. August Stramm, the German dramatist, has given an uncanny force to the moor in one of his plays, making it the principal character as well as the setting for the action. This embodiment of nature's phases and phenomena as terrible powers goes back to ancient mythology with a revivifying influence.
The supernatural beast-tale has always been a beloved form. AEsop's fables, the beast-cycles of medievalism, Reynard the Fox, the German Reineche Fuchs, all show how fond humanity is of the story that endows animals with human powers. Naturally one thinks of Kipling's Jungle Tales and Joel Chandler Harris' Uncle Remus stories as the best modern examples, and these are so well known as to need but mention. Similar beastcycles are found in the folk-fiction of other countries. Of course, it is understood that the Uncle Remus stories are not native to America, but were brought from Africa by the slaves and handed down through generations in the form in which Harris heard them by the cabin firesides in his boyhood. They are not "cooked" or edited any more than he could help, he tells us, but given in the dialectic form in which they came to him. There are various tales similar to this series, as Kaffir tales, collected by Theal, Amazonian tortoise myths brought together by Charles F. Hart, and Reynard, the Fox in South Africa, by W.H.I. Bleek. J. W. Powell in his investigations for the Smithsonian Institute found legends among the Indians that led him to believe the Uncle Remus stories were originally learned from the red men, but Harris thought there was no basis for such theory. Anansi Stories, by Mary Pamela Milne-Horne, includes animal tales of the African type. Anansi is a mysterious being, a supernatural old man like a Scandinavian troll or English lubber-fiend, who plays tricks like those of the fox and like the jackal in Hindu stories. He is a spider as well as a man and can assume either shape at will.
In primitive races and in the childhood of peoples there is the same element of close association between man and the animals that one finds in child-life. An animal is often nearer and dearer to a child than is a human being, as in crude races man is more like the animals, candid, careless, unreflecting. His sensations and emotions are simple, hunger, love, hate, fear. Animals, in turn, are lifted nearer the human in man's thinking, and are given human attributes in folk-lore which bridges the gulf that civilization has tended to fix between man and animals, and gives one more of a sense of the social union that Burns longed for. There is in these stories of whatever country a naivete reflecting the childhood of the race and of the world, a primitive simplicity in dealing with the supernatural.
The folk-fiction of each country gives stories of the animals common to that section. In tropic countries we have stories of supernatural snakes, who appear in various forms, as were-snakes, shall we say? by turns reptiles and men, who marry mortal women, or as diabolic creatures that, like the devil, lose their divinity and become evil powers. We also see in the tropics elephants, Hons, tigers, baboons, gorillas, and so forth, as well as certain insects, while in colder climes we have the fox, the wolf, the bear, and their confreres. In island countries we find a large element of the supernatural associated with fishes and sea-animals. Hawaiian stories recount adventures of magic beings born of sharks and women, who are themselves, by turns, human beings living a normal human life, and sharks, devouring men and women. Several of Eugene Field's stories are drawn from Hawaiian folk-supernaturalism, as The Eel-king, and The Moon Lady.
The Gaelic stories of Fiona McLeod show the supernatural relation existing between mortals and seals. The seals may wed human beings and their children are beings without souls, who may be either mortal or animal. The power of enchantment exercised by the creatures of the sea may turn men and women into sea-beasts, forever to lose their souls. This may be compared with The Pagan Seal-Wife, by Eugene Field, Hans Christian Andersen's - sad story of the little mermaid, and The Forsaken Merman, by Matthew Arnold. Fiona McLeod tells the story of the Dark Nameless One, a nun who became the prey of a seal and was cursed with the penalty of living under the sea to weave fatal enchantments. The mermaids, the kelpies, the sea-beasts are all half-human, half sea-beast, and have a fatal power over human souls, drawing them with a strange lure to give up their immortality. The kelpie appears in several of Fiona McLeod's stories and in The Judgment of God the maighdeanhmara, a seamaid, bewitches Murdoch, coming up out of the water as a seal and turning him into a beast, to live with her forever, a black seal that laughs hideously with the laughter of Murdoch. Edward Sheldon has recently written a play1 using the mermaid motif, and H. G. Wells employs it as a vehicle for social satire where a mermaid comes ashore from The Great Beyond and contrasts mortal life with hers. _The Merman and the Seraph_, by William Benjamin Smith, is an unusual combination of unearthly creatures.
In _The Old Men of the Twilight_, W. B. Yeats describes the enchantment inflicted on the old men of learning, the ancient Druids, who were cursed by being turned into gray herons that must stand in useless meditation in pools or flit in solitary flight cross the world, like passing sighs. Lady Gregory tells of magic by which Lugh of the Long Hand puts his soul into the body of a mayfly that drops into the cup that Dechtire drinks from, so that she drinks his soul and must follow him to the dwelling-place of the Sidhe, or fairy people. Her fifty maidens must go with her under a like spell that turns them into birds, that fly in nine flocks, linked together two by two with silver chains, save those that lead who have golden chains. These beautiful birds live in the enchanted land far away from their loved ones. J. H. Pearce tells a touching story of the Little Crow of Paradise, of the bird that was cursed and sent to hell because it mocked Christ on the cross, but because it had pity on a mortal sufferer in hell and brought some cooling drops of water in its bill to cool his parching tongue, it- was allowed to fly up and light on the walls of Paradise where it remains forever. Oscar Wilde's .. story _The Nightingale and the Rose_ is symbolic of tragic genius, of vain sacrifice, where the tender-hearted bird gives his life-blood to stain a white rose red because a careless girl has told the poet who loves her that she must wear a red rose to the ball. But at the last she casts the rose aside and wears the jewels that a richer lover has sent, while the nightingale lies dead under the rose-tree.
So we see everywhere in folk-fiction the supernatural power given to animals, which acts as an aid to man, as a shield and protection for him, or for his undoing. We see human beings turned into beasts as a curse from the gods for sin or as expressing the kinship between man and nature. In the different cycles of beast-tales we find a large element of humor, the keener-witted animals possessing a rare sense of the comical and relishing a joke on each other as on man. The Uncle Remus stories are often laughable in the extreme, and Bre'er Rabbit, who, we might at first thought decide, would be stupid, is no mean wit. We see a tragic symbolism in the stories of unhappy beasts who must lure mortals to their damnation, yet feel a sense of human sorrow and remorse. In these animal stories we find most of the significant qualities of literature, humor, romance, tragedy, mysticism, and symbolic poetry, with a deep underlying philosophy of life pervading them all.
Lord Dunsany in his modern aspects of mythology, perhaps drawn in part from classic mythology though perhaps altogether Celtic in its material, brings together animals to which we are not accustomed. He has a story of a centaur, a frolicsome creature two hundred and fifty years young, who goes caracoling off the end of the world to find his bride. Algernon Blackwood tells of a man who remembers having been a centaur and lives in memory-metempsychosis his experiences of that far-off time. Dunsany introduces other curious, unfamiliar beasts to us, as the bride whom the man-horse seeks in her temple beside her sad lake-sepulchre, Sombelene, of immortal beauty, whose father was half centaur and half god, whose mother the child of a desert lion and the sphinx. There is the high-priest of Maharrion, who is neither bird nor cat, but a weird gray beast like both. There is the loathsome dragon with glittering golden scales that rattles up the London streets and seizes Miss Cubbige from her balcony and carries her off to the eternal lands of romance lying far away by the ancient, soundless sea. We must not forget the Gladsome Beast, he who dwells underneath fairyland, at the edge of the world, the beast that eats men and destroys the cabbages of the Old Man Who Looks after Fairyland, but is the synonym for joy. His joyous chuckles never cease till Ackronnion sings of the malignity of time, when the Gladsome Beast weeps great tears into an agate bowl. There are the hippogriffs, dancing and whirling in the far sunlight, coming to earth with whirring flight, bathing in the pure dawn, one to be caught with a magic halter, to carry its rider past the Under Pits to the City of Never. There are the gnoles in their high house, whose silence is unearthly "like the touch of a ghoul," over which is "a look in the sky that is worse than a spoken doom," that watch the mortals through holes in the trunks of trees and bear them away to their fate. Lord Dunsany looses the reins of his fancy to carry him into far, ancient lands, to show us the wonders that never were.
Magic forms an alluring element of the supernatural romance, and we find it manifesting itself in many ways. In the romances of William Morris, prose as well as poetry, we find enchantment recurring again and again, as in _The Water of the Wondrous Isles_, _The Wood beyond the World_, _The Well at the World's End_, and others. Yeats said that Morris's style in these old stories was the most beautiful prose he had ever read, and that it influenced his own work greatly. He has unearthly characters, such as the Witch-wife, the Wood-wife, the Stony People, and so forth. He shows us the enchanted boat, the Sending Boat, the cage with the golden bars which prison the three maidens, magic runes with mighty power, the Water of Might which gives to the one drinking it supernatural vision and magic power, the changing skin, the Wailing Tower, the Black Valley of the Greyweathers, and so forth. Birdalone's swoon-dream in the White Palace is unearthly, as the witches' wordless howls. Part of the weirdness of Morris's prose is due to the antique tone, the forgotten words, the rune-like quality of the rhythm.
Yeats tells of magic whereby a woman is gifted with immortal youth and beauty, so that she may wed the prince of the fairies; of the glamour that falls on a mortal so that he loses his wits and remains "with his head on his knees by the fire to the day of his death"; of shadow hares, of fire-tongued hounds that follow the lost soul across the world, of whistling seals that sink great ships, of bat-like darker powers, of the little gray doves of the good.
Dr. Hyde, in his _Paudeen 0'Kelly and the Weasel_, speaks of a sun-myth, of a haunted forest, of a princess supernaturally beautiful, of the witch who complains to the robber, "Why did you bring away my gold that I was for five hundred years gathering through the hills and hollows of the world?"
Lady Gregory tells of Diarmuid's love-spot, where Youth touched him on the forehead, so that no woman could look upon him without giving him her love; of Miach who put the eye of a cat in a man's head, with inconvenient results, for when he wanted to sleep and take his rest, it is then the eye would start at the squeaking of the mice, or the flight of birds, or the movement of the rushes; and when he was wanting to watch an army or a gathering, it is then it was sure to be in a sound sleep.
She shows us Druid rods that change mortals into birds; of Druid mists that envelop armies and let the ancient heroes win; of Druid sleep that lasts sometimes for years; of the screaming stone; of kisses that turn into birds, some of them saying, "Come! Come!" and others "I go! I go!"; of invisible walls that shield one from sight; of magic that makes armies from stalks of grass; of wells of healing that cure every wound.
Oscar Wilde, in his fairy stories and symbolic allegories, tells of magic, whereby the Happy Prince, high on the pedestal on the square, has a heart of lead because he sees the misery of the people, and sends a swallow as his messenger to pick out his jeweled eyes and take them to the suffering ones. He speaks of the wonder by which the bodies of the mermaid and the fisherman who lost his soul for love of her, when they are buried in unconsecrated ground, send forth strange flowers that are placed on the sacred altar.
The dark enchantment appears in the poetry as often as in the prose, from Coleridge's _Christabel_ to the present. Gordon Bottomley's _The Crier by Night_ is a story of an evil presence that lurks in a pool, coming out to steal the souls of those it can lure into its waters. The woman, desperate from jealousy, who invokes its aid, says:
"For I can use this body worn to a soul
To barter with the Crier of hidden things
That if he tangle him in his chill hair
Then I will follow and follow and follow and follow
Past where the ringed stars ebb past the light
And turn to water under the dark world!"
The fairy has always been a favorite being with poets, dramatists, and romancers, from Shakespeare, Spenser, and Milton to the present time. There is no figure more firmly established in folk-literature, none more difficult to dislodge despite their delicacy and ethereal qualities than the Little People. The belief in fairies is firmly established in Gaelic-speaking sections and the Celtic peasant would as soon give up his religion as his belief in the Sidhe. W. B. Yeats, in Celtic Twilight, tells of an Irish woman of daring unbelief in hell, or in ghosts who, she held, would not be permitted to go trapsin' about the earth at their own free will, but who asserted, "There are fairies, and little leprechauns, and water-horses, and fallen angels." Everybody among the peasantry believes in fairies, "for they stand to reason." And there are not wanting others more learned that believe in the small folk, as W. Y. E. Wentz, who in his volume _Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries_ puts up a loyal argument for the existence of the Sidhe. He says:
Fairies exist, because in all essentials they appear to be the same as the intelligent forces now recognized by psychological researchers, be they thus collective units of consciousness like what William James calls soul-stuff or more individual units like veridical apparitions.
If it were left to me, I'd as soon not believe in fairies as have to think of them as veridical units! Mr. Wentz has never seen any fairies himself, but he tells a number of stories to substantiate his faith in them.
The volumes of fairy stories are by no means all for juvenile consumption, since the modern adult dearly loves the type himself. Many, or most, of the stories of fairies told frankly for children are adaptations or variants of continental folk-legends. The more literary side of fairy-literature has come from the Celtic lore, for the Dim People are dearest of all supernatural beings to the Celtic soul. The Irish, more innately poetic than most races, cling more fondly to the beings of beauty and gather round them delicate, undying stories. W. B. Yeats, Lady Gregory, Lady Wilde, Oscar Wilde, John Singe, and Fiona McLeod have given in poetry and lyric prose the Celtic fairy-lore, and have made us know the same wild, sweet thrill that the peasants feel. The poetic thought of the primitive races peoples everything in nature, every bird and blossom and tree, with its own fairy personality.
Thackeray has written a fairy pantomime for great and small children, as he says, in which the adventures of Prince Giglio and Prince Bulbo are recounted. Eugene Field has a charming story of the _Fairies of Pesth_, and Charles Kingsley's _Water Babies_ enriched the imagination of most of us in youthful or adult years with its charming nonsense of beings possible and impossible. J. M. Barrie in _Peter Pan_ won the doubtful world over to a confessed faith in the fairy-folk, for did we not see the marvels before our eyes? In _The Little White Bird Barrie_ tells us how fairies came to be,—that they have their origin in the first laugh of the first baby that broke into a million bits and went skipping about, each one a fairy. He shows us the wee folk in Kensington Gardens, where by the ignorant they are mistaken for flowers, but children and those with the poet heart can see the flashing faces and green garments or the fairies among the pansy beds.
W. B. Yeats is a favorite with the fairies, for they have given him the dower of magic vision, to glimpse the unseen things, to hear the faint, musical voices of fairy pipes and song. He tells us many stories of the Dim People, in his tales and dramas. _The Land of Heart's Desire_, the story of the struggle between the divine and mortal forces and the powers of the Sidhe to claim the soul of the young wife and of the triumph of the fairies, by which the girl's body falls lifeless by the hearth while her spirit speeds away to live forever in the land "where nobody gets old or sorry or poor," has a poignant pathos, a wild, dreamy beauty that touches the heart. Yeats tells of the Imperishable Rose of Beauty, of fantastic doings of the fairy-folk who steal mortals away, especially new-born babies or new-wed brides, of evil fairies who slay men in malice, and of the dances by moonlit hillside when mortals are asleep.
James Stephens in _The Crock of Gold_ mingles delightfully fairy-lore with other elements of the supernatural, as talking beasts, and insects, the gods, a leprechaun, and Pan, combining with the droll philosophy of the bachelor man to make a charming social satire. The union of the world of reality with that of the wee people is seen in the sad little story of H. G. Wells, _The Man Who Had Been in Fairyland_. A crude, materialistic middle-class Englishman, in love with an ordinary young woman, falls asleep on a fairy knoll one night and is kidnapped by the Dim People who take him to their country, where their queen falls in love with him. She vainly woos him, but he is stolidly true to the thick-ankled girl of the town, until the fairies send him back in sleep to mortal life. But when he wakes on the knoll he is home-sick for fairyland, he cares no more for the village girl who seems coarse and repulsive compared with the elfin creature whose love he might have kept in the land of wonder, so he is wretched, unable to fit again into mortal life and unable to reopen the doors that closed inexorably upon him by his wish. This is a modern version of the motif of the mortal lover and the fairy bride that we find so often in mediaeval ballads and romances, a survival of the Celtic wonder-lore. Arthur Lewis in London Fairy Tales writes philosophic human stories in the guise of fairy tales, attempting frankly to bring the impossible into contact with daily life. They are weird little symbolic stories with an earthly wisdom associated with unearthly beings. _The Passionate Crime_, by E. Temple Thurston, is a symbolic fairy novel, the fairies being figures of the man's besetting sins, bodiless presences blown on the winds of feeling, as the woman he loves is lured by the fairy of her own beauty.
Whether fairyland be an actual place or a state of mind, it is a province still open to romancers, and folklorists have aroused a new interest in the Little People who may come nearer to us than before. The flood of volumes recounting Celtic folk-tales with their fairylore alone would make a long catalogue, and one can do no more than suggest the presence of the fairy in English fiction. Andrew Lang was a faithful lover of the Sidhe and made many collections of fairy stories, Eden Phillpotts has written much of them, and various writers have opened their magic to us. Some place the land of faerie under the ground, some in secret caves, some in the mind, and Lord Dunsany says that the Old Man Who Looks after Fairyland lives in a house whose parlor windows look away from the world, and "empties his slops sheer on to the Southern Cross."
We find many stories of gods, demigods, and heroes tangled up together in folk-tales and in the literature they have influenced. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between them, and again it is interesting to note how the hero-myth has been converted into the tale of a god. Celtic romances and folk-supernaturalism give many stories of gods, demigods, and heroes of superhuman force. It would be interesting if one could trace them to their ultimate sources and discover how much they have been suggested or influenced by classical mythology.
In Fiction of the Irish Celts, by Patrick Kennedy, are numberless stories of the Fianna Eironn, or Heroes of Ireland, some of whom really flourished in the third century and whose adventures were the favorite stories of the kings and chiefs as sung by the ancient bards. Kennedy also retells many of the Ossianic legends. In Bardic Stories of Ireland he relates the exploits of personages dating back to druidic times and earlier, who reflect the remote stages of the legendary history of the people, such as the antique King Fergus, who was given supernatural power by the fairies and slew the seamonster; Cormac, who did many doughty deeds assisted by the powers of the Immortals, and many others. W. B. Yeats, in his Stories of Red Ranrahan, gives us glimpses of an Irish Francois Villon, a man of wandering nature, of human frailties, yet with a divine gift of song.
Lady Gregory tells the wonderful saga of Cuchulain, the hero-god of Ireland, in Cuchulain of Muirthemne, which W. B. Yeats calls "perhaps the best book that has ever come out of Ireland." It was his mother Dechtire that drank the soul of Lugh of the Strong Hand, as he flew into her wine-cup in the form of a Mayfly, so that she was bound by enchantment and carried away with her fifty maidens as a flock of lovely birds. When anger came upon him the hero light would shine about his head, he understood all the arts of the druids and had supernatural beauty and strength in battle. Cuchulain, the Hound of Ulster, and his Red Branch have filled the legendry of Ireland with wonder.
Lady Gregory tells of the high king of Ireland who married Etain of the Sidhe; of the nine pipers that came out of the hill of the Sidhe, whom to fight with was to fight with a shadow, for they could not be killed; of Conchobar, the king, that loved Deirdre of the burning beauty for whom many candles of the Gael were blown out; of Cruachan, who knew druid enchantments greater than the magic of the fairies so that he was able to fight with the Dim People and overcome them, and to cover the whole province with a deep snow so that they could not follow him. In _Gods and Fighting Men_ Lady Gregory tells of ancient divinities that met men as equals. We come to know Oisin, son of Finn, who is king over a divine country; of the Men of Dea who fought against the misshapen Fomer. Men are called to the country of UnderWave where the gods promise them all their desires, as the god Medhir tells Queen Etain that in his country one never grows old, that there is no sorrow, no care among invisible gods. She tells us of Finn, who fought with monsters, who killed many great serpents in Loch Cuilinn, and Shadow-shapes at Loch Lein, and fought with the three-headed hag, and nine headless bodies that raised harsh screeches. We meet Diarmuid, who married a daughter of King Under-Wave, who raised a house by enchantment, and whom Grania, of the fatal beauty, loved.
Jeremiah Curtin, Aldis Dunbar, and many another writer have told us of the wonderful legends of the Celtic gods and heroes, who somehow seem more human than Arthur and his Table Round or any of the English mythical heroes.
It is Lord Dunsany, however, who specializes in gods in recent times. He fairly revels in divinities and demons, in idols and out-of-the-world creatures. His dramas of this nature are mentioned in another connection, as _A Night at an Inn_, where a jade idol slays with silent horror the men who have stolen his emerald eye; _The Gods of the Mountains_, where seven beggars masquerade as the mountain gods come to life, and some of the people believe but some doubt. But at last the seven gods from the mountain come down, terrible figures of green stone, and with sinister menace point terrible fingers at the beggars, who stiffen as on pedestals, draw their feet under them like the cross-legged posture of the images, and turn to stone, so that the people coming say: "They were the true gods. They have turned to stone because we doubted them." In _The Gods of Pegana_ are many fantastic tales of divinities never heard of before, whom Dunsany calls to life with the lavish ease of genius and makes immortal. In _Time and the Gods_ we see many gods, with their servant the swart, sinister Time who serves them, but maliciously. The gods dream marble dreams that have magic power, for "with domes and pinnacles the dreams arose and stood up proudly between the river and the sky, all shimmering white to the morning." But Sardathrion, this city of visions, is overthrown by hateful Time, whereat the mighty gods weep grievous tears. He tells us of Slid, a new god that comes striding through the stars, past where the ancient divinities are seated on their thrones, as a million waves march behind him; of Inzana, the daughter of all the gods who plays with the sun as her golden ball and weeps when it falls into the sea, so that Umborodom with his thunder hound must seek it again and again for her. He whispers to us of the prophet who saw the gods one night as they strode knee-deep in stars, and above them a mighty hand, showing a higher power. The gods are jealous of him that he has seen, so they rob him of knowledge of the gods, of moon and sky, of butterflies and flowers, and all lovely things. And last they steal his soul away from him, from which they make the South Wind, forever to roam the waste spaces of the world, mournful, unremembering.
In _The Book of Wonder_ are still other gods, as Hlo-Hlo, who wears the haloes of other gods on golden hooks along his hunting-belt; the Sphinx, who "remembers in her smitten mind at which little boys now leer, that she once knew well those things at which man stands aghast"; the certain disreputable god who knows nothing of etiquette and will grant prayers that no respectable god would ever consent to hear; Chu-chu and Sheemish, who become angry with each other and raise rival earthquakes that destroy their temple and them. We are told of the Gibbelins that eat men, whose home is beyond the known regions, and whose treasures many burglars try in vain to steal only to meet death instead. Alderic tries a crafty way to evade them but they are waiting for him. "And without saying a word or even smiling they neatly hang him on the outer wall,—and the tale is one of those that have not a happy ending." But enough of gods!—though we should not forget the Aztec legend on which Lew Wallace's novel, _The Fair God_, was founded, of the white divinity who was to come and rule the people.
There are many other elements of folkloristic supernaturalism that cannot be mentioned, as the banshee, the wailful creature that is a presager of death and the loss of the soul; the fetches, ghosts of the living, whom John and Michael Banim write much about; the pixies, as appearing in such works as S. Baring-Gould's _Eve_, and Stephens's _The Crock of Gold_; the mountain trolls that play pranks on Ibsen's Peer Gynt and Irving's Rip van Winkle; the "worrie-cow" that Scott tells about; the saints and miracles that abound in Celtic literature as in that of any Catholic country, and such as Thomas A. Janvier has told of so delightfully in his legends of the City of Mexico. The giant has almost faded from fiction, since, poor thing, he doesn't fit in well with the modern scheme of housing. He came into the Gothic novel from the Oriental tale where he had his origin, but now he appears in our fiction only sporadically, as in Oscar Wilde's _The Selfish Giant_, in a couple of stories by Blackwood, and a few others. We are glad to meet him occasionally in frank folk-tales since literature at large repudiates this favorite of our youth. He would not suit well on the stage, for obvious reasons, and realism rejects him.
Lord Dunsany tells of elves and gnomes, of the Moomoo, of the magic sword called Mouse, of the gnoles that caught Tonker, of the ancient Thuls, of the window that opened to the magic of the world, and of many other things which only the very young or the very wise care for.
Arthur Machen deals with strange, sinister aspects of supernaturalism unlike the wholesome folklore that other writers reveal to us. He seems to take his material chiefly from the Pit, to let loose upon the world a slimy horde of unnamable spirits of ageless evil. One reads of the White People, who are most loathsome fairies under whose influence the rocks dance obscene dances in the Witches' Sabbath, and the great white moon seems an unclean thing. Images of clay made by human hands come to diabolic life, and at mystic incantations the nymph Alanna turns the pool in the woodland to a pool of fire. In _The Great God Pan_ the timeless menace comes to earth again, corrupting the souls of men and women, rendering them unbelievably vile. In The Red Hand he brings together ancient runes with magic power, black stones that tell secrets of buried treasure, flinty stone like obsidian ten thousand years old that murders a man on a London street, a whorl of figures that tell of the black heaven, giving an impression of vast ages of enigmatic power. One feels one should rinse his mind out after reading Arthur Machen's stories, particularly the collection called _The Three Impostors_.
This discussion has taken more note of the Celtic folk-fiction than of any other group influence, because more than any other it has left its imprint on modern literature. There are hundreds of volumes of folk-tales of the supernatural in English, but the Celtic Revival has molded its legends into literature that is its own excuse for being. In the work of this school we get a passionate mysticism, a poetic symbolism that we find scarcely anywhere else in English prose, save in such rhapsodic passages as some of De Quincey's impassioned prose. Melody, which forms so large a part of the effect of supernaturalism in poetry, is here employed to heighten lyric prose. Some of the wild stories are like the croon of the peasant mother by her cradle beside the peat-fire, some like wild barbaric runes of terrible unguessed import, some like the battle-cry of hero-gods, some like the keening of women beside their dead. The essential poetry of the Celtic soul pours itself forth in rapturous, wistful music, now like a chant, a hymn, a wedding-song, a lament for the lost soul.
In the Celtic folk-tales we get a mixture of romances, of the survivals of barbaric days, the ancient druid myths, the pagan legends, savage beliefs overlaid and interwoven with the later Christian traditions. Sometimes the old pagan myths themselves become moral allegories, the legend being used to tell a late-learned moral truth. But, for the most part, there is no attempt at teaching save that which comes spontaneously, the outburst of passionate, poetic romance, the heritage of a people that love wonder and beauty.
The pagan poetry of the Gaelic race lives on and throbs over again in Fiona McLeod's symbolic moralities. The mystical figures of awe and woe appear from the dim past, a rapturous paganism showing through the medieval religious brooding. Yet they are so symbolic of the spirit that they are timeless. Coming as they do out of the dim legendary past, they may reflect the veiled years of the future. They are mystic chronicles of the soul, as in _The Divine Adventure_, where the Body and Will alike shrink back from that "silent, sad-eyed foreigner, the Soul."
In the stories of Yeats we get similar effects, the weird power of the old curse-making bards, the gift of secondsight, a spiritual vision, the spiritual sense that hears past the broken discordant sounds the music of the world, the power to catch the moment "that trembles with the Song of Immortal Powers." We hear faint whispers, catch fleeting glimpses of the Dim People, see again the druids, the culdees, the ancient bards and heroes. We discern in the Celtic literature a sadness, dim, unreasoning yet deep, such as we see in the faces of animals and little children. We see such symbolism as that of the selfcentered lovers who have heart-shaped mirrors instead of hearts, seeing only their own images throughout eternity. We feel the poetic thoughts drifting past us like sweet falling rose-leaves, bright with the colors of bygone years, like fluttering bird-wings, like happy sighs. Yet again they are terrible trumpets blown in the day of doom. We have the modern mysticism and symbolism side by side with the old druidic mysticism, which seems like dream-stuff with deep spiritual import. Yeats makes us feel that the old divinities are not dead, but have taken up their abode in the hearts of poets and writers of romance, and that the land of faery is all about us if we would only see. But we lack the poetic vision. He makes us see the actuality of thought, that thinking has its own vital being and goes out into the world like a living thing, possessed by some wandering soul. He shows us that thought can create black hounds or silver doves to follow the soul, bring to life at will a divinity or a demon.
A certain supernatural element of style seems to lend itself to some of the writers of strange fiction. Some of Oscar Wilde's sentences unfold like wild, exotic flowers, in a perfumed beauty that suggests a subtle poison at the heart. Lord Dunsany writes joyously of fantastic creatures with a happy grace, sometimes like a lilting laugh, sometimes a lyric rhapsody. His evoked beings are sportive or awesome but never unclean. Arthur Machen's stories have an effect like a slimy trail of some loathly beast or serpent. William Morris's style is like an old Norse rune, while Algernon Blackwood makes us think of awakened, elemental forces hostile to man. We feel bodiless emotions, feelings unclothed with flesh, sad formless spirits blown on the winds of the world. These folk-tales reflect the sweet carelessness of the Irish soul, the stern sadness of the Scotch, the psychic subtlety of the modern English. And as the study of folk-lore has influenced the fiction of the supernatural, so these published romances have aroused a wondering interest in the legendry of the past and made of folk-lore a science.
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