Children’s Literature

Literary Tourism: Wales, Land of Legends

Literature Wales (http://www.literaturewales.org/) launched today their new literary tourism website: Land of Legendshttp://www.landoflegends.wales/.

This was a project funded by Visit Wales (http://www.visitwales.com/) and I was delighted to have been one of the consultants on literary connections of specific locations in Wales, now linked to the literary map available on the website for tourists to use. More information on the project can be found here: http://www.landoflegends.wales/about-land-of-legends.

My contribution was mostly on Tolkien and Wales (under the “Living Language” theme: http://www.landoflegends.wales/theme/living-language) and on the Welsh landscape in the works of children’s fantasists such as Alan Garner and Susan Cooper (under the “Childhood” theme: http://www.landoflegends.wales/theme/childhood).

I have worked with Literature Wales on literary tourism before, specifically on Tolkien’s Welsh connections, but this time I was also able to draw upon my recent research for my new monograph, Celtic Myth in Contemporary Children’s Fantasy (Palgrave Macmillan): http://www.palgrave.com/gb/book/9781137552815

Here are links to the main ten themes of the Land of Legends hub:
Rebels …Outlaws, Rioters & Uprisings: http://www.landoflegends.wales/theme/rebels
Sacred & Spiritual …Pagans & Pilgrimages: http://www.landoflegends.wales/theme/sacred-and-spiritual
Childhood …Fantastic Family Tales From Wales: http://www.landoflegends.wales/theme/childhood
King Arthur …Merlin, Dragons & The Sword In The Stone: http://www.landoflegends.wales/theme/king-arthur
Boots & Bread …Industrial Heritage & Hardship: http://www.landoflegends.wales/theme/boots-and-bread
Living Language …Welsh & National Identity: http://www.landoflegends.wales/theme/living-language
Folklore & Tradition …Weird & Wonderful Welsh Myths: http://www.landoflegends.wales/theme/folklore-and-tradition
Watery Worlds …Waterfalls, Caves, Lakes & Waves: http://www.landoflegends.wales/theme/watery-worlds
Battles …Warriors, Warfare, Castles & Kingdoms: http://www.landoflegends.wales/theme/battles
Ghosts …Spooky Haunts & Tales Of The Otherworld: http://www.landoflegends.wales/theme/ghosts

The book is out! (plus “extended” table of contents!)

This week, the e-book version of my new monograph, Celtic Myth in Contemporary Children’s Fantasy, was released. This is my first experience of the braver new world of simultaneous e-book and hardback publication. The hardback won’t be out there for another couple of weeks, but the book is now, for all intents and purposes, published. Hooray!

I’ve blogged before about the cover of the new book (with which I am very pleased indeed), and I have also shared some of my research on Lloyd Alexander (here and here) and Henry Neff (here and here). You can download the front matter of the book via this link, and get access to particular chapters (or indeed purchase the entire e-book) here.
This book is part of Palgrave Macmillan’s Critical Approaches to Children’s Literature series, and when a monograph is part of a series it has an additional layer of “house style” to adhere to. This means that my Table of Contents is a little less detailed than I originally intended. I tend to work better with chapter titles which are then subdivided into smaller sections with their own subtitles. In my first monograph on Tolkien, all chapter titles and subtitles appeared in the Table of Contents, but with this one I had to stick to the rules and include chapter titles only.

For those of you, though, who may want to know a bit more about the contents of each chapter and would like to see the subtitles for each chapter section, I am offering below an “extended” table of contents with page numbers – I hope it will prove useful to readers.

Celtic Myth in Contemporary Children’s Fantasy: Idealization, Identity, Ideology

by Dimitra Fimi

(Extended) Table of Contents

Note on Spelling and Dating (p. vii)
Acknowledgments (p. ix)
Contents (p. xi)

List of Figures (p. xiii)

Chapter 1: Introduction: ‘Celticity’, fantasy, and the child readership (p. 1)
Fantasy: tropes, categories, structure (p. 2)
Myth, Legend, Folktale and their relation to Fantasy: Reception and Adaptation (p. 4)
The Celts, Celticity and ‘Celtic’ myth (p. 7)
Children’s literature, Celticity and Ideology (p. 15)

Unravelling Celticity: The Structure of this Study (p. 16)

Part I: Irish Myth

Chapter 2: Otherworldly Ireland: Pat O’Shea’s The Hounds of the Mórrígan and Kate Thompson’s The New Policeman (p. 27)
Revisiting the ancient Irish deities (p. 28)
Irish Landscape and Images of Celticity in Tír-na-nÓg (p. 36)
From Pagan ‘Gods’ to Irish Folklore (p. 45)
Celtic Past and Christian Present – Redux (p. 53)

Conclusions (p. 59)

Chapter 3: Celticity and the Irish Diaspora: Re-writing Finn mac Cumaill and Cúchulainn for American youngsters (p. 71)
Mary Tannen’s The Wizard Children of Finn (p. 72)
Mary Tannen’s The Lost Legend of Finn (p. 81)
Henry Neff’s The Tapestry Series (p. 85)
The hero’s journeys of Max McDaniels and Cúchulain (p. 86)
Irish Gods and Goddesses: Weaving a new Tapestry of Myth (p. 93)
Irishness, Celticity and the Material Culture of The Tapestry (p. 100)

Conclusions (p. 104)

Part II: Welsh Myth

Chapter 4: Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydain: Building Fantasy upon Forgery (p. 115)
Prydain and Wales (p. 116)
Fantasy Templates: From ‘Welshify’ The Lord of the Rings to ‘Filling the Gaps’ of Welsh Tradition (p. 122)
Prydain and the Counterfeit Tradition (p. 132)
Feisty girls, Oracular Pigs, Evil Enchantresses and Triple Goddesses (p. 138)

Conclusions (p. 147)

Chapter 5: Welsh Heritage for Teenagers: Alan Garner, Jenny Nimmo, Catherine Fisher (p. 157)
Alan Garner: The Owl Service (p. 159)
Jenny Nimmo: The Magician Trilogy (p. 177)
Catherine Fisher’s Darkhenge (p. 195)

Conclusions (p. 207)

Chapter 6: Susan Cooper and the Arthur of the Welsh (p. 219)
The ‘Dark Ages’ and a Celto-Roman Arthur (p. 220)
The Arthur of Welsh legend and folklore (p. 231)
Wales and Celticity: ‘Oldest Hills’, Celtic stereotypes, and Gravesian Interpretations (240)

Conclusions (p. 249)

Chapter 7: Conclusion: Celticity and ‘Celtic’ Heritage (p. 263)
(Re)defining the ‘Celts’, ‘Celtic’ history and ‘Celtic’ mythology (p. 264)
The ‘Celtic’ past as national/cultural heritage (p. 267)

The ‘Celtic’ Character (p. 271)

Bibliography (p. 277)

First impressions count? On academic book covers

Should you care whether your academic monograph or edited collection has an appealing cover? Does it matter? And can you/should you get involved?

My answer to all of the above is yes! I know there are brilliant academic books out there with boring, samey or just random covers, so I’m not saying that outward appearance necessarily equals inward quality or originality. But, at the same time, should academics just be satisfied with covers clearly chosen by publishers without much care for aesthetics or relevance to the topic, perhaps in the belief that only specific libraries/specialists will buy the book, a small but guaranteed readership, unaffected by the cover? In our times of emphasis on public engagement and “impact”, why should you not wish for your book to be appealing to any reader? And if you believe your own research to be exciting, fascinating and worth reading, shouldn’t your book cover express that too?

I’m writing these reflections in a rare moment of calm (the term has just ended!) just after Palgrave Macmillan have released the cover of my new monograph on their website. I’m really proud of this cover and I’ve been wanting to share it for a few months now – so this is indeed an exiting time. I was actively involved with the cover design of both of my monographs, and this seems like a good time to reflect on my engagement with this task – and the results!

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The cover of my forthcoming monograph with Palgrave Macmillan

My new book focuses on the creative uses of ‘Celtic’ myth (Irish and Welsh) in contemporary fantasy literature written for children or young adults. It explores the work of fantasists from the 1960s (e.g. Alan Garner’s The Owl Service, Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles, etc.) all the way to our times (e.g. Catherine Fisher’s Darkhenge, published in 2006, and Henry Neff’s The Tapestry series, the last volume of which was published in 2014).

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The cover of Charles Squire’s Celtic Myth & Legend, Poetry & Romance (1910)

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The frontispiece of Charles Squire’s Celtic Myth & Legend, Poetry & Romance (1910)

One of the books I had to consult a lot during my research, was Charles Squire’s Celtic Myth & Legend, Poetry & Romance (1910). Now this is not quite an academic book but despite its early date it’s never been out of print and it was definitely read by a number of my fantasy authors and shaped their imaginations. Squire’s book contains striking colour illustrations by J.H.F. Bacon, two of which I considered for my cover. The one which I nearly chose was “Cuchulainn meets the Morrígú”, which chimes with Pat O’Shea’s The Hounds of the Mórrígan and Henry Neff’s The Tapestry series. But I finally chose “The Making of Blodeuwedd” for a number of reasons:

a) It depicts the moment of the creation of a girl out of flowers by the magicians Math and Gwydion, a scene from the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi in the Welsh Mabinogion. This part of the story became a central inspiration for Alan Garner’s iconic (and rather haunting) The Owl Service. This is one of the best-known books my monograph explores, and one of the earliest.

b) Blodeuwedd herself is not here a young woman, but a child, a prepubescent girl, thus serving as a nice allegory of the shaping of ‘Celtic’ myth for children/adolescents that my fantasy authors have undertaken. They haven’t quite taken flowers and turned them into a child, but they have taken medieval sources (and their later retellings) and turned them into new, original fantasy plots and characters for young readers.

c) At the same time, the two magicians look rather classical/Roman, in their togas and clean-shaven faces (though I am aware I’m referring to popular perceptions here). Their portrayal points to one of the central points of my book, the fact that ‘Celtic’ myth has often been retold in such a way so as to “fit” with classical ideas of a pantheon of gods and legendary heroes that may not necessarily work with the original, medieval material. My authors have often relied on these retellings, rather than revisit the medieval sources first hand, and therefore their adaptations have an added layer of complexity in terms of attitudes and perceptions of things “Celtic”.

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My first monograph, Tolkien, Race and Cultural History: From Fairies to Hobbits, was published in 2008, also by Palgrave. I remember vividly being given the option to be involved in the cover design, and getting quite excited with the sheer range of possibilities! I had just returned from my last research trip to Sarehole Mill and Moseley Bog, both in the outskirts of Birmingham, and both important locations of Tolkien’s childhood and related to his vision of the Shire. I wrote to my publishers with a PowerPoint presentation “proposal” for the book cover, based on a photograph I had taken myself. In short, here was my rationale for my suggested book cover:

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The first edition of The Silmarillion, featuring the emblem of Lúthien Tinúviel on its cover

  • Tolkien liked drawing kaleidoscopic images and patterns, e.g. the Elvish heraldic devices, one of which was chosen for the cover of the first edition of The Silmarillion.
  • As a child, Tolkien and his brother Hillary, used to play in Moseley Bog, a place Tolkien later claimed to be an important inspiration for the Shire.
  • For the book cover, I have used one of my own photos of Moseley Bog, which I have turned into a kaleidoscopic image via an image editing software
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My photo of Moseley Bog, July 2008

I am really grateful that Palgrave trusted me with this idea – the book still gets great comments for its cover! And here is my photo of Moseley Bog, taken with what I am sure now is considered a pretty basic digital camera, which served as the raw material for my kaleidoscopic manipulation!

The moral of the story, I suppose – if I can call it a moral – is trust yourself as an expert on your own research. You know better than anyone what may make a good, eye-catching, but also appropriate cover. If you are given the chance to be involved in the choice of cover, take the opportunity! If no one mentions anything, still ask and show interest and willingness to engage with this process.  In both cases, make sure you have given the matter some thought, so that your book ends up with a cover that at least has some significance and makes sense – at least to you!