Happy MythpunkMonday! A while back in September, we looked at the mythology and folklore of trees and I shared an extract of some of my tree-based mythpunk Opre! I promised then that I would spend another post looking at working trees into our Mythpunk, so here we go…
As comfortably as trees sit within the heart of many world Mythologies, they don’t lend their image so readily to the realm of punk, at least not at first glance.
We tend to associate trees with the countryside, with high fantasy or historical settings, they might be used in writing to create the feel of tranquillity or terror but we seldom see trees being used to create a gritty urban backdrop for a dystopian situation, or being the catalyst for a postmodernist plot. Fictional trees that speak, tend to speak like old men and women, or very occasionally naive young girls. I would like very much to see a Mohawk sporting, forty-something, jaded Willow Tree hurling cans at litter louts in a psuedo-park in central New London…
That’s an extreme and slightly comical example of course, but I think it’s a good hammer with which to smash our preconceptions about trees in mythic fiction. Trees are, to my mind, too often portrayed as benign life givers, old fonts of wisdom and healing, sources of magic, resources to be used and abused. But they have other faces too ; they can poison, choke, harm, barb, wound, unbalance, tear down and destroy … I mentioned Tolkien’s Ents in the last post in relation to anthropomorphism, but I do very much like their verve!
Our historic abuse of trees and their land surely has enough fodder in it for gritty, feral, subversive voices to rise up from the asphalt and the concrete, the timber frames, furnace and cellulose packaging and bite back so, here is a little list of tree-mendous (had to be done) tree-punk to give us some inspiration, click on each title to follow the links and feel free to share your own ideas, examples and gawd-awful tree puns in the comments! XD
I very much like the trees described in Blades In The Dark ; Jayan Park in the Charterhall district is full of beautiful alchemical abominations in a sunless world, deadly to touch and utterly useless for supporting life, but still revered.
“The great alchemist for whom this park is named contrived to formulate soil and seeds that could produce real, growing trees, without sunlight or radiant energy. They are horrifically toxic to all living things and must not be touched but they still grow beautifully here, over 100 years later.” – Blades In The Dark P262.
In a world not so different from our own, a vigilante group of techies have shut down all the computer systems on the planet in an attempt to put an end to the war and destruction orchestrated by technology. But where there’s a will, there will always be a way and a new ‘cellulose tech’ has now been developed. But using living plant cells in communications technology leads to some disturbingly sentient systems… and then the people begin to vanish…
A POISON TREE
This poem by William Blake is, of course, not actually about a tree but I find the imagery and metaphor strongly evokes a punk sense of proactive subversion; the vengeful gardener, the poisoned fruit / the bright lure to death – in many ways the song of technology to the heart of human kind; the two fingered punk salute at the end…
Here’s a suckerpunch one for you, this one got me right in the windpipe when I saw it so I’m only going to post the link in the title and you can follow it to the picture. It’s inspiring my WIP at the moment!
This broke my heart, appalled and held me enthralled with grim fascination when I first saw it a few years back. The video gives one side of the coin, click the title link for the other…
And just as a fun note to end on – Yes they do exist!
I hope you enjoyed this #MythpunkMonday post, do feel free to join in and share your own work or that of others, using the hashtag and post your own thoughts and tree-punk wisdom in the comments 🙂
Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Max and Collin’s rambunctiously raucous and chi-chi to the core parlour located high above it all on board our beautiful rainbow-sailed ship, The Harlequin Ladybird. Our tentacles are all of a quiver this morning and our china cups are chattering because we are honoured to have our good friend Mr David Lee Summers joining us for elevenses this morning, authour of the Clockwork Legion series which we very much adore.
Do please have a seat, David, (Max, get off the chaise and let him sit down … hm? … no he can’t sit on a cat, cats are not cushions Max how many times must I remind you?)
I do apologise, David. Would you like tea? Earl Grey? Lapsang? Assam? Darjeeling? (We are all out of oolong Max so don’t even think about making that joke again.)
I do believe a nice robust Assam would be just what I need to get this day off to a splendid start. Thank you.
There you go.
Now then, we are deeply concerned about our puppet mistress, Penny; there are rumours that she has a secret laboratory where she takes stories (and I’m talking about ancient, respected myths, legends and Moral Tales here, David, the backbone of what you humans call ‘Sophisticated Society’ I believe?) and does unspeakable things to them so that when they emerge they are… forgive me an affected shudder… changed! Warped! Twisted – almost out of recognition…but not quite, which I think is even more disturbing. Certainly I, as an octopus, am disturbed. We are certain that it is some sort of illness and we wondered if you might have heard of it?
I have indeed heard of this condition though fear not, I don’t believe your mistress is more ill than most writers. Though she might suffer from an excess of making connections in stories the original writers did not see or intend, or connecting them to new and different time periods. The condition is not especially dangerous as long as your mistress is allowed to explore her thoughts in writing.
But tell me that this is not normal human behaviour, I mean, do you know anyone else who behaves so disrespectfully towards the written word?
I know a few such authors who have looked at legends and fairy tales through new lenses and seen new meanings. Such people as Jody Lynn Nye, Jeff Young, and Danielle Ackley-McPhail have all explored these ideas. A grand example is the anthology Gaslight and Grimm which Danielle edited.
Of course, Catherynne M. Valente coined the term “Mythpunk” to explain such behaviour and has engaged in it a few times herself. Neil Gaiman and Theodora Goss are a couple of other authors who have done this.
Hm, I’m becoming a little suspicious here, David, please tell me you are not one of these fiendish writers yourself who thinks that ancient, sacred tales are merely cadavers that you can dissect and use to create new life?
Oh dear, it seems you have found me out. Though I will say that I do not see these ancient and grand tales as cadavers at all. Rather it’s because they live and breathe that they are so adaptable to new kinds of characters and different situations.
Oh. I see. Um, oh how remiss of me I haven’t offered you any cake! (Max, I’ll keep him talking while you run and find some sedative to slip into his tea, it seems these writers are all as mad as each other)
No need for the sedative. Yes, I heard you, Collin, but I will take a little cake, thank you very much.
Hm, but what is the point of it? What do you all hope to achieve? I mean, aren’t the old stories perfectly fine just the way they are? And even if they aren’t, can’t you just write something entirely new?
Of course, the original stories are timeless and beautiful. However, they are, sometimes, rooted very firmly in the times and places they were written. Not everyone can read one of these stories and see themselves reflected in the story, so it doesn’t seem relevant to them. Rewriting them with new characters can help a more diverse audience find the stories. Sometimes those stories are rooted in prejudices of the time they were written or collected. Rewriting them from a different point of view allows one to see the story through a new lens and perhaps bring out different or new meanings on top of the lessons one might see on the surface.
Ah, I think I’m starting to understand… (No not now, Max, just hold off with that laudanum-laced-sugar bowl for a moment..) So it can actually be a good thing to re-tell or re-imagine stories from the past?
Indeed, I have taken classic stories and turned them around so the “villain” becomes a hero, which allows you to see the story in a new light such as I did in “The Griffin’s Tail,” which appears in Jennifer Brozek’s anthology, Human Tales. In “The Vrykolakas and the Cobbler’s Wife,” which appeared in Cemetery Dance magazine, I substituted a vampire husband for elves in the story of the “Elves and the Shoemaker,” which made it a story about relationships. When I wrote “The Slayers,” I wanted to get past the madness of Ahab, which dominates the novel Moby-Dick, and look at what the story says about hunting beautiful, intelligent creatures we don’t always understand. By setting this story on an airship and using dragons instead of whales, it freed me from the expectations one might have when reading Melville’s novel. So, yes, I think retelling stories allows an author to examine aspects of a story that might be overlooked by a casual reader.
Hm, I think you’re starting to win me over, but I do have one last concern – I mean, we Octopuses have a great store of oral tales but very few of us are up here on the land to share them with you humans – this Mythpunk makes me almost afraid to share them in case they end up being ‘re-imagined’ by some mad-mythpunker and what then eh? How would people know the original version from the new? Or what if – Devon forbid – I should perish in some act of great daring heroism (stop giggling Max it is very rude) and the stories die with me… I suppose what I am asking is, do you think writers have some sense of responsibility to the cultures whose tales they chose to play with, or is it one big free-for-all?
I agree, authors do have a responsibility to respect the original tales and the cultures from which they come. I own a collection of the original Grimm Fairy Tales in German, complete with notes about the stories by the Grimm Brothers. All of my Grimm Fairy Tale retellings have involved me translating the stories myself and reading those notes to understand where they came from. I don’t think one always needs to go that extent, but I do think one needs to understand the stories and the cultures where they came from.
It’s common advice that a writer should “write what they know.” If a story goes beyond the life experience of an author, the author has a responsibility to conduct research to become familiar with the culture and time period they’re writing about. This is true whether you’re writing mythpunk, steampunk, fantasy, or science fiction.
I see. Well, I think I have been quite hasty in my initial judgement of this mythpunk phenomenon, I would very much like to find out more. Can you point us at some worthy works of marvellous mythpunk (including your own of course)?
My works of mythpunk have appeared in two anthologies, which present works by many authors whose work is worth seeking out. These include:
Gaslight and Grimm edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Diana Bastine https://www.amazon.com/Gaslight-Grimm-Steampunk-Faerie-Tales/dp/1942990316/
and Human Tales edited by Jennifer Brozek is available at: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00563YEBW/
My story “The Vrykolakas and the Cobbler’s Wife” is in Cemetery Dance, issue 66, available at: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00BBJVJVI/
My story “The Slayers” is available as a standalone short story at: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00A9H1BSO/
I also highly recommend the novel Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Day Al-Mohammed. As we’re speaking, the book is in the last days of the Kickstarter campaign to fund a beautiful new edition. I’ll share the link as it will no doubt tell people when the new edition is available for purchase. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/e-specbooks/discover-the-magic-of-baba-ali-and-the-clockwork-djinn/description
I have some new works coming out in the not too distant future including a story called “Horse Feathers” where witches under the tutelage of Russia’s Baba Yaga have an encounter with marvels from the Arabian Nights. Watch my blog at http://davidleesummers.wordpress.com for news of new stories and the anthologies they’re in!
Thank you, that should keep our tentacles occupied for a while! Ah, the kettle is boiling again, more tea?
Yes, please. This is a delightful Assam.
Did I hear someone say there was laudanum in the sugar? Hmmm… perhaps just one lump.
Oh dash it all Max, I told you to lay off with that sugar bowl; and now we have yet another authour out cold on the parlour floor. Oh well, just add him to the pile over there and we will drop them all at the next port, which I believe is The Night Market in Bohemia? I’m sure they can find their way home from there…
Hello! Mrs Albert Baker here, otherwise known as The Last Witch Of Pendle. Obviously there is no Pendle any more, since The Chronic Agronauts utterly destroyed it with treacle and sprats, but I’ve set myself up quite nicely here in Lancaster, running this little soup kitchen for the street urchins. There certainly are a lot of them and I’m always looking for helping hands to cook up and serve something delicious!
Helping me this morning is author and Awenydd (or Spirit-Keeper) Elen Sentier. Good morning Elen, thank you so much for coming to help me in my soup kitchen today! Can I offer you a cup of tea?
Lapsang Souchong, please, straight, no milk. Unless you happen to have Bruichladdich single malt ???
I’m afraid I don’t touch alcohol Elen, it’s my husband Albert who is the drinker. Now here is your tea my dear…
Thankyou Mrs Baker, I wonder if we’re related? My aunt was Ida Baker who kept the sacred well in the village on the edge of Exmoor where I grew up; it was in the wall between her garden and ours, still there and still revered. She was a darling, and so was her magical gardener-husband, Uncle Perce, she gave me seedy cake and strawberries when I got in trouble at home when I was a wee kiddie J, and Uncle Perce taught me about talking with plants and bees.
They both sound marvellous Elen, you know I do think it’s possible we could be connected in some way, although I have never been to Exmore I’m afraid, it was my Mother’s job to guard Pendle before me, and I had never set foot outside it until the pirates came and kidnapped me…
BTW, I’m really sorry to hear about the treacle (and the sprats!). Just down the road from me is, I think, the only pub in the country called The Treacle Mine. Wish they could have done that with you, a much better idea z|a.
Oh we do have treacle mines at Sabden and Chobham, but you’re right it was a dreadful waste of confectionary, I do wish they had used some of the dreadful ‘standard issue tinned soup’ the government forces upon us all instead…
Oh yes, the soup for the orphans! … well, goodness me, there’s so many. When it’s the season, I just love tomato soup and it’s so simple to do. You need a good wallop of ripe tomatoes, the ones with that fabulous smell, a big bunch of fresh basil, and you can either use olive oil or good butter, butter gives it an extra sweetness. You need a good, heavy-bottomed pot to make it in.
Chop the basil really fine so all its scented oils are released. Chop the tomatoes small, and heat up the oil or butter, not boiling but good and hot. Take the pot off the heat, put half the chopped basil into it and swish it about to scent up the oil/butter, then add all the tomatoes and put back on the heat. Don’t have the heat up high or you’ll burn rather than cook. Keep stirring the mix as this helps the flavours to seep through. When the tomatoes look/taste/feel ready take the pot off the heat and allow it to sit for at at least an hour to steep further.
When you want to eat, heat up the pot again but don’t boil, keep stirring and watching, as soon as it’s ready pour it into heated bowls and Bob’s your uncle J. I like to eat it with some fresh sourdough bread and good unsalted butter, and maybe a bit of grated cheese … Yummmm !
Oh how delicious, there is nothing better than good homemade tomato soup (it knocks the socks of the tinned variety every time!) Now while that is simmering away nicely, why don’t you have a seat here by the fire. I hope your journey to our dimension was a good one?
Not too bad at all, got a bit bumpy flying over the M6, the turbulence there can be frightful, damned near fell off me broom and the cat got sick! But we’re all fine now, that cuppa you gave me sorted things.
Oh dear, the poor cat, I’m glad he is feeling better now though. Elen it is so lovely to meet another woman who deals in spiritual matters, here in Ire it is absolutely forbidden and I have to do all my work in secret which is a dreadful strain. Now why don’t I put the kettle on and you can tell me a little more about the work that you do ?
Another cuppa would go down grand, and the cat would love a saucer of milk now, says his stomach can handle it. We, he and me, don’t have quite the same problems you seem to have up here, not down in the Welsh Marches. It’s a lovely twilight land, between two countries and between two worlds, where the Faer folk are very happy to come and play with me and the students. I always have some students to pass on the work to, the old ways, and it’s such a lovely spot for writing too.
It sounds wonderful. I have had the very great pleasure of reading some of your books, including your newest release; Merlin – past and future Wizard, oh is that a copy you have with you there?
Yes, indeed, would you like it? I thought you might so I brought one along. Hmm … Merlin … well he and I’ve been friends all my life. Dad it was who introduced us, Dad’d known him too, when I was nought but a baby, and I began to find out about him through the stories. Where I live now is one of the places he was born and lived, we have our own Merlin-story but here we call him Dyfrig (you say it Duvrigg) which means water-baby because of how he got born.
I had heard a little about this Merlin figure from your world and thought him to be a fascinating mythical character but your book goes beyond these myths to show us a Merlin who we can engage with within the context of our daily lives doesn’t it?
Well yes, he’s not an academic construct and certainly doesn’t fit into those boxes. He really does want to get known again, to make friends with as many people as want to know him because he really can, and will, help us through this enormous crisis the Earth is going through.
He wants to know people – when they want to know him. He comes as a friend, an older and more experienced friend who has walked the path far longer than any of us humans. But he comes as a guide not someone who expects either worship or rule-book following. He works with each of us in ways we can do best. All we need to do is ask him. I say “all” but I do know how hard that can be, because we’re no longer encouraged to believe and work with our intuition, nor are we taught how to know it from our personal wants and desires. That’s part of what we learn with Merlin.
It seems that Merlin is a figure who can guide and influence us no matter what age we are living in but are the old stories as important as the new?
Yes, indeed. Merlin is just what the book-title says – the once and future wizard. He has been with us here on Earth since time out of mind, and he will be as long as the Earth still orbits the Sun. And, it seems to me from my lifelong experience with him, that he was around in the universe long before the Earth was formed and will be still after she’s gone. That makes him always here, always available to help … whenever we ask. And the old stories are still as important as the new. Our old ways are what I call “and/and” rather than “either/or”, they’re inclusive not exclusive. We are our personal selves and, at the same time, we are our spirit selves, the two are not exclusive, they happen at the same time – we call it walking between worlds.
Everyone’s spirit-life is always evolving. Nothing is ever set in tablets of stone, it’s always growing and adapting to where and when we are at this instant, so new stories are needed to fit with who we are now. But the old stories still fit too – if you read them properly and don’t try to dumb them down into whatever your “normal-box” is. Stories are one of the very basic ways humans learn and pass on wisdom to each other, and always have. Recent research has shown that our stories – the ones they’ve worked with – go back at least to the Bronze Age, that’s maybe 5,000 years ago! The old stories show us how to be, how to behave, how things really are, and how to relate with otherworld, as well as how to travel there. But we, and our stories, are as riddling and contrary as Zen, if not more so. To get the point, understand them, you need to spend time with the stories learning how to feel into them rather than trying to translate them into what you already know. After all, what’s the point of doing that? !!!
Throughout the book this dynamic, engaging (at times quite seductive) spirit of Merlin urges us to take up that liminal space between past and present and truly live ‘in the moment’… that is a very big challenge isn’t it, especially with all the pressures and insecurities of modern life?
Chuckle! Yes, he can be very seductive! That way of living, engaging all the time with the liminal, is very challenging for many modern folk. We’re so heavily caught up in the shibboleths of how we should be, according to the adverts on TV, politics, political correctness and all that crap! And it’s so scary for most people to dare to break out. This is the first hurdle my students have to get themselves over, and they do it too but it can be like ripping your skin off, like a snake shedding its skin. And getting used to the fact (yes, fact!) that otherworld completely permeates your everyday world is a huge step, but it does, and the students discover this for themselves with my help. That’s really important too, I do Merlin’s job in little, at my own small level, because I’ve walked the path a bit longer than my students. You always need that, someone you can really get on with who’s been doing it longer than you. That’s what being apprentice is about.
The Merlin I felt as I read your book, Elen, seemed to be firmly planted in the modern man-made world, but at the same time you show us his continuing rootedness in nature and the history of the land, do you think it is important that Merlin is able to straddle these, sometimes so opposing, spaces?
Oh yes, he’s the threshold, the doorway, the place between that connects us across the worlds. And he’s in the here-n-now with us just as much as in the “past”. An example – he called one of my students on her mobile phone last autumn on the workshop! LOL, it was hairy for her but she got it, worked with it and grew herself enormously as a result. And it made me smile. We too often want to get into the cutesy fantasy-stuff rather than reality, and Merlin’s all about reality. He’s in every particle of our Earth’s body as well as being with us in our everyday modern world – and/and again. Try this ancient picture of the goddess/god, it’s on a gold brooch from the La Teine culture …
Do you get it? The one head is the other but turned upside-down! And/and yet again J. One interpretation of this is Vivien and Merlin as lady and lord, the pairs of opposites which make the whole. We’ve forgotten that. We’re taught to think that things are “opposing” when in reality they’re two sides of one coin. We need to change this attitude and Merlin will help us with that. Being a threshold is how he does it. Come to me he says, step through me, now look back and I’m still here but different, the same but different. It’s a bit like light which is both particles and waves at the same time!
Your book was such an enlightening read, Elen, and I really feel I could pick your brains all day about this subject but I know you must be off soon, you have a talk to prepare for in London is that correct?
I do indeed. I’m doing an illustrated talk for Earthstars Sacred Space, at Steiner House in London on 24th Feb, and need to get on it J. It’s about Merlin and his relevance for us today too. If you want to come here’s the link https://www.facebook.com/events/1839244072988715/
Oh marvellous, I shall certainly try to come along, even if I cannot do the dimension hop in person I will try to tune in with Max and Collin’s Spirit Radio, it picks up most things from your world. Well thank you so much for coming to help out in the soup kitchen today, Elen, it’s been wonderful to chat with you and I must say that soup smells delicious. I think it must be about ready and the little urchins have their rosy noses pushed up against the glass in anticipation so shall we start dishing it up?
Yummm! Let me give you a hand …
Wonderful, thankyou. I hope you will all join me in the kitchen next week when Steampunk author Liz Hennessy will be dropping in to give me a hand and talk about her book Grogory’s Gadget. Until then,
Blessings on your brew my dears!
Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen and welcome to Max and Collin’s perfectly piscean parlour. Today you find us in the role of ‘Baby Sitter’ (which is a hat not usually associated with an octopus, or his Very Quiet Gentleman Friend, but we are determined to prove ourselves the epitome of competence when it comes to caring for things other than ourselves)
The thing in question is a Mermaid and it belongs to our very dear friends, Tom and Nimue Brown – the masterminds behind the gorgeously gothic graphic novel series ‘Hopeless, Maine’
Hopeless is a strange, gothic island off the coast of Maine, cut off from the rest of reality for the greater part. The sea washes all kinds of things onto the coast of Hopeless. It’s an island that catches the debris of some unusual tides. Many of the residents are descended from people who washed ashore. Those who aren’t tend to be horribly inbred.
Now despite the fact that we have heard the terrifying tales about the evil creatures that inhabit the island of Hopeless, I won’t lie to you; both Max and I were tentacle-tremblingly excited when Tom and Nimue asked us if we would like to open our parlour to a Hopeless Mermaid for the afternoon. Max gets a little swoony over anything vaguely female (you may have noticed) and I haven’t tasted fish in…well, too long for an octopus, far too long indeed…
We were a very little suspicious when they hurried away leaving us to remove the tarpaulin from the tank ourselves, promising to be back to collect her ‘soon-ish’ but our hopes weren’t finally dashed until we peered into the murky water and saw this beauty looking back at us…
And read the hastily scrawled note which was attached to the side of the tank:
“There are no family lines claiming any merfolk ancestry on Hopeless and this is for the simple reason that despite a repressive culture and limited opportunities to get laid, no one on Hopeless has ever been desperate enough to try and shag one of these creatures. It’s less a prejudice against appearances, (Hopeless Maine folk can hardly take issue with the beauty standards of others) more to do with not wanting to have your face bitten off. Cooking instructions: assuming you can get round the issues of having your face bitten off, the bottom half of a merperson is legally speaking, a fish. The top half however, is legally a person, raising issues of cannibalism. Devotees of bottom of the garden stew will of course know that it only counts as cannibalism if you don’t cut it up small enough to begin with.”
Hmm, it seems our friends know us far too well – damn.
But we can bear the disappointment of being cheated out of our fish supper because of the marvellous news that our beloved Hopeless Maine series is now published by Sloth Comics and available to buy from The book depository or to order from local book and comic stores.
If you are not familiar with Hopeless, Maine it follows the adventures of young Salamandra who is struggling to survive in a world of full of very personal demons.
“Sal is an ordinary orphan girl, just one of many other orphans on the island (come to think of it, where did all the grown ups go?). She faces the normal, everyday struggles of being a teenager- avoiding fell creatures of the night, trying not to get eaten by the aquatic fauna and finding something to do on a Saturday night. Like all young people, Sal can’t wait to get out of her dead end home. Unlike most teens, if she doesn’t get out she probably will wind up dead.”
We absolutely adore this series from the gorgeous gothic artwork to the beautiful melancholic prose. Salamandra is a character to die for, you cannot help falling in love with her combination of ‘cutesy big-eyed goth-girl all alone in the word’ and ‘independent strong willed power wielding demon slayer’ she is totally real and completely heart-capturing.
The story is rich and multilayered. Without giving away any spoilers, Hopeless is a place full of magic and mysteries and each new chapter hints at a history and mythology that we, and Sal, have yet to fully comprehend. This intrigue hangs about the pages like an island fog, wrapping us up in its tendrils and keeping as snared within its sinister thrall; where are all the grown ups? Who exactly are Sal’s parents? Why is the island so plagued by evil and where does Sal’s own power come from?
These are questions you will have to seek answers to yourself within the pages of Hopeless Maine…
As for us, we have our hands full of this…er…lovely creature… maybe we could feed it a cat or two to keep it happy…or perhaps persuade our unsuspecting landlord to take a dip in the tank… at any rate we hope that Tom and Nimue will be back soon to collect her, I really don’t like the way she is eyeing up the teapot.
Wish us luck and please, if we do get eaten before the Browns return, do remain always