Crash Course Mythology

CrashCourse has introduced a new series on Mythology! For those of us who’ve long enjoyed CrashCourse videos on history, literature, and science, this is welcome news. For those of us in that category who also love mythology and folk tales, this is wonderful news!

The first of a projected 40 or so installments, hosted by Mike Rugnetta, is now available on YouTube. Enjoy!

Children’s Literature: US vs. UK

Colleen Gillard has written a fascinating analysis of the many contrasts between British and American children’s literature for The Atlantic. Here is how the piece begins:

If Harry Potter and Huckleberry Finn were each to represent British versus American children’s literature, a curious dynamic would emerge: In a literary duel for the hearts and minds of children, one is a wizard-in-training at a boarding school in the Scottish Highlands, while the other is a barefoot boy drifting down the Mississippi, beset by con artists, slave hunters, and thieves. One defeats evil with a wand, the other takes to a raft to right a social wrong. Both orphans took over the world of English-language children’s literature, but their stories unfold in noticeably different ways.

The small island of Great Britain is an undisputed powerhouse of children’s bestsellers: The Wind in the Willows,Alice in Wonderland, Winnie-the-Pooh, Peter Pan, The Hobbit, James and the Giant Peach, Harry Potter, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Significantly, all are fantasies. Meanwhile, the United States, also a major player in the field of children’s classics, deals much less in magic. Stories like Little House in the Big Woods, The Call of the Wild, Charlotte’s Web, The Yearling, Little Women, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer are more notable for their realistic portraits of day-to-day life in the towns and farmlands on the growing frontier. If British children gathered in the glow of the kitchen hearth to hear stories about magic swords and talking bears, American children sat at their mother’s knee listening to tales larded with moral messages about a world where life was hard, obedience emphasized, and Christian morality valued. Each style has its virtues, but the British approach undoubtedly yields the kinds of stories that appeal to the furthest reaches of children’s imagination.

Gillard goes on to explore some of the reasons behind this contrast. (Which, for her, mainly boils down to the British Isles being largely more comfortable with its pagan past.)

All in all, it’s a wonderful, thoughtful read, and I heartily commend it.

Spooky Icelandic Christmas Stories

The New England Folklorist is on to something:

I wanted to read something wintry to put me in the holiday spirit, so I picked up a collection of Icelandic folklore: J.M. Bedell’s Hildur, Queen of the Elves, and Other Icelandic Legends (2016). I thought, “Iceland is cold and snowy, so I’m sure these legends will put me in a Christmas mood.”

Although it doesn’t always work out that way, this time I was right. Not only are these legends set someplace icy and dark, many of them are explicitly about Christmas. However, unlike the stories we tell about Santa, Rudolph, and Mrs. Claus, these Icelandic stories are quite spooky. Apparently really terrible things happen in Iceland during Christmas. Malicious supernatural beings are very active there in late December.

For example, in “The Magicians of the Westmann Islands,” a group of magicians who have fled to an offshore island to escape the plague threaten to kill one of their fellow sorcerers by Christmas Eve if he doesn’t return to them. The lone sorcerer has fallen in love with the last woman in Iceland (everyone else has died from the plague) and refuses to return to the magicians. They send an assortment of demons to kill him on, but happily his beloved defeats them with help from her dead grandfather. I don’t know about you, but that’s not the type of story I usually hear at Christmas here in the United States.

There’s more, of course, so do read it all.

Proper Care and Feeding of Domestic Spirits

Via Atlas Obscura:

If you’re lucky, you can live in a home where a hairy little household imp will help keep your kitchen clean, or a domestic god will grant you everlasting good fortune. So long as you keep them happy.

From ancient Greece’s goddess of the hearth, Hestia, to the hobs of Northern England, household spirits have been around for centuries. But most such mythical creatures double as gods of fire and agents of chaos, so failing to tend to their needs can lead to missing items, broken dishes, and calamitous fortune.

As you prepare your home for the holidays this year, here are some tips on how to keep particular household spirits in good standing.

Early French Fairy Tales Were Feminist Propaganda? Sacré Bleu!

So says Elizabeth Winter in a post over at Wonders & Marvels:

How did largely disenfranchised women develop such a powerful genre and literary influence in this constricting period? One explanation is that early fairy tales were passed orally through families and were therefore widely accessible to individuals across gender and class. Even with less education than their male counterparts, women would have had equal knowledge of this common mythology. Women may even have had greater access to these stories, as females were typically associated with storytelling, likely because of their domestic and child-rearing duties allowing them to harness the tales and put them into print.

The imaginary and supernatural focus of the genre itself also provided women the opportunity to separate from the conditions of their everyday life. In the tales they could claim greater power and agency for themselves and their female characters. In magical fairy realms women, like the wealthy and powerful white cat-woman in d’Aulnoy’s La Chatte Blanche or Princess Felicity who rules an island that is impervious to man’s control in “L’Ile de la Félicité,” could at last hold social and political power.

Très intéressant!

Why Do Dwarves Have Scottish Accents?

Eric Grundhauser of Atlas Obscura ponders why we associate certain (English) accents with fantasy creatures such as dwarves, elves, and trolls:

As radio and film adaptations of Tolkien’s works were released in later decades, you can see the slow evolution of the dwarven accent from the low British of 1977’s cartoon version of The Hobbit, to the more stylized accents of the pair of dwarves in 1985’s Legend, to the Welsh-by-way-of-Scotland grumblings of John Rhys Davies’ Gimli from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films, right into the aggressive rolled R’s of Hearthstone’s dwarven Innkeeper.

“What you get is a sense of Celticness,” says Dominic Watt, Senior Lecturer in Forensic Speech Science at the University of York. Watt explains that many of the virtues associated with the stereotypical fantasy dwarf are also associated with the Scottish accent. “Scottish accents tend to be evaluated pretty positively,” he says. “Shrewdness, honesty, straight-forward speaking. Those are the sorts of ideas that the accent tends to evoke.” Watt also says that there are similar cultural stereotypes surrounding the drinking habits of dwarves and Scots.

He goes on to discuss the “culturally sophisticated” high-born accent of Tolkienesque elves, West Country hobbits, and Cockney orcs and trolls—which came about almost by accident:

Maybe the fantasy accent that can be most directly tied to Tolkien’s text is the working-class Cockney accent so often given to orcs and other sentient brutes in modern fantasy. Here we can look directly at the depiction of the trio of trolls in The Hobbit, which are written in a strangely modern dialect—a technique Tolkien rarely used, and later regretted. “In particular, he regretted making their language so recognizably modern. They wouldn’t say words like ‘blimey,’ for instance,” says Olsen.

In the later Lord of the Rings books, Tolkien’s orcs would speak in harsh, but basically correct common parlance, but in the larger view of the fantasy genre, the damage was done.

When you read a novel featuring elves, dwarves, or other fantastic races, what sort of accent do you hear in your head?

New England’s Answer to Bigfoot

Via New England Folklore:

Before there was Bigfoot, there was the Wild Man. Like Bigfoot, he was large, hairy and often naked, and he lurked in the woods and lonely meadows, emerging only to terrorize and amaze those who witnessed his emergence into the civilized world.

One particularly famous Wild Man has haunted part of Connecticut for nearly a century. His name? The Winsted Wild Man.

Here is a timeline of his appearances…

The folklore surrounding “wild men” intersects not only with Bigfoot but also with fauns, satyrs, and other uncivilized creatures of the untamed wilderness in folklore and mythology from around the world.