Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers.--John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Fairy glamour

John Anster Fitzgerald, Titania and the Changeling Child
Fairy glamour is the name for the magic that can turn ashes and dead leaves into enticing fruit and sparkling wine--that can metamorphose cruelty or vapidness into a lovely face of beauty. But when you eat that fruit and drink that wine in Faerie, you are still consuming ash and dead leaf. And you can never go back to the world of sun-ripened fruit and wine pressed from grapes. You may live in seeming pleasure and yet become the one that the Queen of the fairies pays as a tithe to hell. When you ride there, if you are very, very lucky--vanishingly lucky--some strong mortal will catch you up and hold on until the Queen loses her power over you, though in the end you may find the hair in your comb as fine as cobwebs and your limbs withered.

Perhaps it is that the internet often shows us more than we need to see, perhaps it is that the Western world has changed greatly in my lifetime, but it seems to me that our culture is more and more sprinkled with fairy dust and subject to the power of glamour. What is this world where a book like 50 Shades of Grey, a fanfiction story written to mimic the Twilight series, can be irresistible to so many--where people run to pay their gold for ashes and dead leaves?

When we pay such gold, we transform our culture, little by little. We say by our actions that this is what we think is worth our love and precious time and coin. Publishers, bookstores, galleries, and other guardians of culture respond to such actions. After all, such actions say that this is where we want our culture to go, in this direction. We ash-eaters may laugh and say we are not serious, or we may mock and say that our mocking is all hilarity. Either way, we are eating the food of Faerie and supporting its dominion.

More than that, we are not paying our coin and eating the golden, sun-fed apples of this world, more beautiful than any glamoured ash. We are not transformed for the better; are not growing the soul and becoming larger on the inside. We are not marrying ourselves to true things but burying ourselves in a fairy mound. And we are not striving to support and build a new golden age of culture but are seeking after a world of tin.

A little world of beauty and truth flickers and struggles to catch light within the larger one. Anyone can blow on that flame, but few do.

* * *

In the interest of being understood, I may need to say that I love fairy tales and fantastic realms, and that I am using Faerie and its witchery of glamour as a metaphor in the post just above.

11 comments:

  1. Oh, very very well said, in true magical Marly fashion! You've hit the nail on a pet peeve of mine.

    And I just noticed this popped up at Phoenicia as a guest post. You all must be excited by your upcoming book!

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  2. Hi marja-leena--

    Yes, Beth evidently read it just after the post went up and messaged me on Facebook about a reprint. So lovely of her to add Blake's fairies! Let me go get a link...

    Here goes: http://www.phoeniciapublishing.com/blog.html

    It is probably more than a peeve... It's a huge issue, isn't it? Eh, we keep building our castles and hoping they'll stand more like stone than sand.

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  3. I have to say, similar things have been weighing on my mind lately. My friend Tim pointed me toward a podcast where they interview brilliant comedians, and even the most popular and wealthy have stories of the projects they can't do for not getting any support for them. Ben Stiller—one of the most successful comedic actors and directors of the last couple decades—has apparently been trying to get a film version of "Civil War Land in Bad Decline" off the ground for over ten years, and nobody's willing to help him out because they don't think it could be commercially viable! I'm no longer convinced of things I used to tenaciously believe, about people having an innate ability to recognize quality when it slaps them in the face, and an innate desire for it. But ah well. I found your final lines before the asterisks strangely comforting, and I hope it is true, that anyone can help that flame of truth and beauty to grow.

    Thanks for writing! I suppose creating beautiful things will always be an uphill battle, against a world of cheap and tawdry and easy things that pushes in the opposite direction. "But take heart, for I have overcome the world," someone once said.

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  4. Martyn, maybe he should try Kickstarter! I have seen good things supported there--just pledged to Makoto Fujimura's new project.

    Yes, it is hard to believe in the face of current manias. But we used to teach something called "taste" to our children. Now we have replaced it with "self-esteem" and cut the arts. Librarians used to have as one of their functions the steering of children and adults to what were called "good books." We had many critics who were helpful in growing the culture. Etc.

    I believe that many people do want culture to thrive and to be more beautiful--or at least that they are not opposed to the idea. But the "inside" realm of both people and culture is battered by oceanic waves of the latest fad. That's not new, but the noise and powers of fads have increased.

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  5. True and distressing, though beautifully expressed. But still we struggle on, eh Marly? Nothing to do but labour away at the rock face, mining out the tiny flecks of gold to build our creative dreams from. Gold takes effort, so most make do with tinsel and pretend it's gold!

    Now I'm off to read Goblin Market again.

    Love and stuff.
    C x

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  6. Courage! I think you have it, Clive...

    You know, one thing that has been annoying me is the onslaught of blatant self-promotion I see online at my usual haunts. I'm really tired of seeing such things. Of course, I do a lot of things that fall into the realm of marketing, but I hope I never step over that line into the shameless and bothersome.

    Back to reading now--I'm past the halfway mark on the book mountain!

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  7. I've gotten some emails in response to this and want to say that I don't think this is a marketing and promotion issue--yes, the publishers need to catch up and turn internet cartwheels if they're not doing so already.

    But the example of "50 Shades" is one in which thousands of people were following the author because she was writing fanfiction (later disguised, with bondage fantasies thrown in) of the Twilight series. That's a whole different problem, one related to a carelessness in regard to our culture. We've axed the arts in schools and failed to give our children the gift of taste.

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  8. Oh come on Marly, I know you have sent off for your copy of The Haunted Vagina! hahaaa ;o)
    http://www.amazon.com/The-Haunted-Vagina-Carlton-Mellick/dp/097624988X

    Susanna

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  9. Riotous Susanna,

    You are quite ahead of me on this one! That does sound out there!

    Oddly, though, the description reminds me of Kelly Link's "The Faery Handbag," in which the main character's boyfriend disappears into her grandmother's hairy magic purse...

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  10. Just caught this over on Phoenicia Press, but thought it better to comment here. Love the metaphor of fairy glamor, but the metaphor itself seems the anti-proof of it being any recently rising trend. Before twitter, before reality tv and real housewives, before film, before radio, before newspapers...the fairy myth. These stories were created to warn people against a dangerous tendency. Humans have always been falling for shiny things and being so dazzled they don't taste what they are swallowing. We are hungry, and that hunger is so desperate it is greedy, and we don't care what we eat, leaf or ash, sorrow or worms, so long as it's wrapped in glitter and sheen.

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  11. Oh, that was a lovely response, Alisa--and certainly feels right.

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.