Two Flavors of Vermont Faeries

New England Folklore has a post up about two faery-type entities from the Abenaki folklore of Vermont:

One of them is called simply “the swamp spirit” or “swamp creature.” The swamp spirit was seldom seen, but could often be heard crying from the swampy areas where it lived. Lone travelers were the most likely to hear the creature’s cries…. [I]t liked to lure children into swamps where it either kept them forever or just outright killed them.

The Manogemassak [or “little people”] live in rivers and tend to avoid humans as much as possible. This is easy for them to do because of their unique anatomy. The Manogemassak are incredibly narrow, and their faces are described as being as thin as an axe blade. They are so thin that they can only be viewed in profile, not when faced head on. This makes it quite hard for humans to see them.

Of course, both now and in times past, the Abenaki are not limited to the borders of Vermont, but if you’re ever in the Green Mountain State, you might want to think twice about hiking in the swamp.

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Understanding Tolkien

Thanks to Keitha Sargent for this engaging summary of some of the things that made J. R. R. Tolkien tick.

To get the most out of Tolkien’s works, it is important to understand a little about the man, his life, passions and views. Several things shaped the imagination from which Middle Earth emerged: his childhood in England, his experiences in the First World War, and his love for ‘Northern’ myth and literature.

Tolkien was born in South Africa to English parents. When he was 3, his father died, and in 1896 the family settled in a small village in central England. In 1966, Tolkien described the place as “a kind of lost paradise” and, for the rest of his life, it remained an ideal. Tolkien had a deep love for England, even suggesting that, thanks to a sort of race-memory, he recognised the Anglo-Saxon language when he first encountered it as a boy.

Closely related to his love for England was his distaste for the modern world. This extended even to literature. For a professor, he was remarkably ignorant of contemporary writers and used to joke “English Literature endedwith Chaucer”, inverting the cliché that Chaucer was ‘father’ of the language. For Tolkien, ‘modern’ was a word with negative connotations; to him it meant industrialism, machines, overcrowding, noise and speed. In 1933, he returned to the village of his childhood and wrote bitterly that the place had been engulfed by trams, roads, and hideous housing estates.

And so on

“Rowling is Better than Shakespeare”

I respectfully disagree with Max Freeman’s titular assertion, but I nevertheless endorse the substance of his post.

Tell me if you’ve ever read these stories before:

– A young male sociopath disapproves of everyone and everything around him, including any of his romantic interests. He changes nothing, learns nothing, and leaves.

– It’s the olden days, and terrible things are happening to good people. Terrible things continue to happen for 200 – 400 pages. Despite all this tragedy, there is little to no story, and no character development. Everyone is either 100% good or 100% bad, from start to finish. In the end, things either get marginally better, or they don’t.

– Wow, what a great dog! Whoops, he’s dead. (Or every character besides the dog is dead.)

– A metaphor commits a metaphor to another metaphor. Everyone is sad.

Do any of these scenarios sound familiar to you? If you went to high school in America, I bet the answer is a big yes. In fact, I bet these few plots encompass around 90% of everything you and I were both forced to read in English class while growing up….

Listen, I’m all for supporting good literature, but it’s not the wordiness or length of these “classics” that put people off. It’s their DULL, unlikeable characters. Wordiness and length didn’t keep kids from reading Harry Potter, did it?

We really need to expand our horizons and incorporate some more fantasy and sci-fi into our kids’ reading. Not only does it expand their imaginations, and introduce memorable characters and journeys, but so many of them are well written too. Here are some humble suggestions.