Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Northlore Series, Volume One: Folklore (M.J. Kobernus / Katie Metcalfe, editors)

Is this book light reading or heavy reading? Well, certainly light reading in terms of its abundant entertainment value for anyone who enjoys folklore, mythology, fantasy, epic, and modern spins on them. But heavy in the sense that the great majority of the contributions here, 17 short stories, 16 poems, and accompanying line illustrations by Evelinn Enoksen, are fueled by anxiety, often specifically sexual anxiety. (The other pieces are more comic, such as Gregg Chamberlain's take on trolls and Paul Kater's on elves.)

This seems true to the original folklore, which often focuses on cross-species pairings between humans and selkies (seal people), hulder (seductive forest women with hidden tails), maras (she-werewolves), trolls, witches, and so on. Rarely can these contradictory attractions or seductions end well, it almost goes without saying. They turn nasty or tragic, depending on the situation, and that is the vein that is well explored here.

Nordland Publishing had a pip of an idea - it's promising to see that it's the first in a series - and invited many accomplished authors to participate. Of course, there is some variability in quality of offerings, as there is bound to be, but there is nothing remotely embarrassing here. The volume reads very nicely from cover to cover.

Scandinavian folklore encompasses the countries of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands, and because of geographic proximities and cultural cross-contacts overlaps considerably with German, Celtic, and English folklores. This is a big book, but it can scarcely begin to cover all the different aspects of this huge field.

In terms of creatures, there is a strong concentration on trolls, draugrs (undead), hulder, and selkies. Maras show up in a couple of hair-raising poems by Andrew James Murray and Laura Johnson, fossegrim (waterfall spirits) in a more lyrical piece by Steve Klepetar. Murray takes on the legend of the myling (restless spirits of infants who die before being baptized) in his bleak story "And the Snow Came Down," and there is even a memorable turn by a polar bear in Sarah Lyn Eaton's "Hold the Door."

But there would definitely be room in a companion volume for more about dwarves, dragons, will o' the wisps, nokken (aquatic shapeshifters), vittra (underground wights), ellepiger (alder tree girls), and so on.

A few pieces deserve to be shouted out. Hugh B. Long's "Draugr's Saga" leads the pack in narrative propulsion (but somehow, Long got omitted from the contributor biographies at the end of the book). Long is prolific in the space fantasy genre and draws liberally on Norse mythology. His story here was the kick-off in an ongoing serialized novel of the same title (subtitled "A Tale of the Zombie Apocalypse in the Viking Age"). Since I was criticizing the general quality of writing of this type just the other day, I must salute Long and say that based on this story, he really knows what he's doing. Zombie apocalypses are pretty hot right now, but there are still better and worse ways to tackle them!

Mikaela von Kursell's "Gustave Trolle (1488-1533) - The Gammeltroll of Gamlastan" is easily the most linguistically accomplished fiction in the book, making as sharp use of modernist techniques as one would expect from a translator of Swedish poet Gunnar Ekelof. I won't say more so as not to spoil it.

Among the poems, Kim Goldberg's "Visitation" is a standout, poised perfectly on the border between poetry and prose.

Folklore (The Northlore Series) (Volume 1)

No comments:

Post a Comment