The Wild Woods, The Woods at Home

White rabbits, friends.

It’s the first of the month, Beltane, May Day, and it’s the first day of the Wyrd and Wonder Challenge: We’re going on an adventure.

I was raised on fairy tales and folklore. The earliest gift that I was ever given and still possess is a book of Welsh folktales my grandmother gave me for Christmas when I was two years old.

I still have, as well, the tattered, yellow paperback edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales from which my father read to me every night. Not the sanitized, Disney-pretty versions, either, but the old, dark stories from shadowed forests, where unloved children might starve to death or wicked women dance in red-hot iron shoes, where sisters cut off toes to fill glass slippers with blood and a deceitful princess might be rolled in a barrel studded with nails. People lost tongues and heads in those woods, and animals spoke, and fortunes and prophecies would not be denied.

I had books of Celtic and Arthurian fairy tales and myths, and I read everything from Tomie DePaola’s Fin M’Coul to, eventually, Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain — the first fiction in which I felt real magic. I saw The Black Cauldron (disappointing in the shadow of the books) in elementary school (literally in school, thanks to my school’s once a month afternoon Disney movies program on half-day Wednesdays) and The Sword in the Stone. (Based, I knew, on my father’s well-thumbed copy of The Once and Future King — too dense for child-me, though I tried it.)

There were fairies in the woods, I knew — the Grey Neighbors, rather — and there was witchcraft, too, after my best friend and I discovered books on modern magic. We littered the tree fort in the woods behind my house with costume jewelry and stones and flowers of no particular magical provenance except what we dreamed into them, and we tried to learn Ogham and some terribly garbled Latin, the better for composing spells (which cannot, we knew with the wisdom of twelve-year-olds everywhere, be composed in ordinary English). My esoteric interests weren’t the same as theirs, but I recognized the girls in Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s The Egypt Game for their fervor and dedication.

Fairy tales and tree fort witchcraft were eventually abandoned — along with that friendship, alas — in high school, as many things are. My reading and my interests broadened. But every once in a while I caught a glimpse of the familiar magic through the trees: in the books of Pamela Dean and Charles de Lint, in John Crowley’s Little, Big. It was a comforting magic, and a magic that could be summoned at will for comfort. When I moved, after college, to San Francisco, I was a recent graduate with no job and a too-expensive apartment empty of furniture (I couldn’t afford furniture on top of the outrageous rent), in an alien city three thousand miles from home. My friends in the city were employed and occupied during the interminable days that I waited for job calls and invitations to interview. It was incredibly lonely, and so I went every day to the San Francisco Public Library, where I allotted myself the extravagance of one (1) cup of coffee and one (1) cookie daily at the café, and I sat and read every single one of Andrew Lang’s Colored Fairy Books.

When I began to write, though — to write seriously, for publication — it wasn’t a weaving of the familiar magic. I wrote (and write) science fiction; I wrote fantasy in worlds as far from what I knew as I could imagine. I have spent more than ten years wrestling with a beast of novel full of Russian and Asian motifs, wandering Baba Yaga’s forest rather than the woods where I grew up.

And don’t get me wrong: I love all of those places and wilds and people, and my adventures in and alongside them.

A couple of months ago, though, I fell ill. COVID was long, feverish, achy days of languishing sleepless in bed. So, for comfort, I summoned the familiar magic: I started to write a new book.

And I wrote, and I wrote. The book (called, for now, Strange Angels) is everything I knew growing up: It’s a green wood (called, naturally, the Greenwood) and it’s fairies (the Grey Neighbors, rather — true and terrifying fairies) and the small, ordinary magics of plants and birds and people, of oak and bramble and the turning of the year. It is — for me, and for its characters — about the magic of roots, and of family. It flowed from the dark forest of my illness like a clear spring, the easiest and simplest thing I’ve written in years.

Where it goes remains to be seen. It isn’t finished, at 70,000 words, and I am genuinely wandering the woods like a child following breadcrumbs: I started writing whimsically, without a plan, and though I know now how it must end, I’m still making my way maplessly toward that place.

We all know that words are magic — even ordinary English ones — and that books can be spells or vessels or adventures. We might spend years trekking worlds and wilds far from our own, learning strange sorcery and marveling at all the newness we find. The wider world is full of enchantment. But there’s magic in the familiar too, in the hearths and fields and woods we know.

This year’s Wyrd and Wonder prompts will take us on far-ranging adventures — around the world, into translation, off the beaten track — but there will also be adventures closer to hand and everyday kinds of magic, and I hope you’ll join me for all of my wanderings, far or near. There are adventures still to be had at home, new strangers to encounter on old paths. This month, I’ll be reading and sharing and discussing some of everything, and, as is my wont, I’m setting out without a map. This isn’t a TBR post but an invitation to join me on my adventure, and see who and what we might meet on roads both new and known.

Lace up your boots, put a holey stone in one pocket and a pinch of salt in the other, pack a thermos and a snack, and let’s go.

WYRD& WONDER BANNER IMAGE CREDIT: pegasus by Svetlana Alyuk on 123RF.com

3 thoughts on “The Wild Woods, The Woods at Home

  1. Hallo, Hallo Wren!

    I was on your blog last night but I was quite exhausted and I wanted to read your post after a long good rest! The first days of Wyrd And Wonder always has me running a bit ragged as I want to ensure my posts start publishing whilst I want to be on #booktwt on our event feeds or sharing on my own feeds as well – not to mention I want to get a good foot forward with visiting everyone whose posting their content in our Master Log!

    I knew this was going to be a special read as I personally LOVE long posts!! I write loads myself on my own blog and whenever I find a blogger who gives as much breadth as I do, I tend to become a frequent visitor. I was reading your about page – my Mum and Da married nine months after meeting each other, so you could say I understand short engagements! They had this whole back-forth about it – Da would suggest 3 mos than Mum countered til they both settled on a month/day. lol They did wait 5yrs to have me and how I’m now a fortysomething daughter is beyond me! I can’t wait til they reach their 50th.

    I take after my Mum — both natural bourne extroverted chatterboxes who never meet someone they can’t converse with! Including this weekend on a lark met a husband and wife at the cemetery (hence my tweets about how cemeteries need to fix the issue with finding graves) and after 3hrs weren’t able to find their missing relative at the cemetery. So, today, Mum and I went to the city clerk’s office, received a colour coded map, specific grave directions and wahoo! We’ve found the grave! The best bit for us was texting the photos and celebrating with the family. They were gobsmaked of course but we really wanted to solve this mystery as being the Ancestry Sleuths in our family, we know how hard it is to locate relatives and/or records about them.

    By the by, since Covid – we lunch and hike in the cemetery as it has a lovely park setting and has resident hawks and songbirds. I haven’t seen the cats in awhile but its just this peaceful place if you want to be out in nature and be away from the business of modern life. This is how they found us – we were enjoying some coffee lattes and eating our breakfast. Turnt into a lovely random act of kindess and meeting our city clerk was a hoot as she was part of the reason why the cemetery has better records now. You just never know whom your going to meet and/or how you can impact someone else’s life with positive news.

    Is there a limit on volumes of books in a personal library!? I didn’t get that memo,….. lol

    Ooh dear. I was the sensitive reader who needed the Disney variant fairytales!! To this day, I am a particular particular reader of all the genres I read because I do not enjoy overtly graphic violence, dark undertones, explicit language or other CW/TW inclusions. This is also why it takes me longer to find Adult SpecFic writers to celebrate and devour because a lot of popular novels and series are just not my cuppa. The ones I do shine a light on (including throughout Wyrd And Wonder) are the blessings I find being a book blogger as since I’ve blogged I’ve come to know a lot of Indie & Self Pub authors of whom are writing the stories I desire to read sometimes even moreso than Major Trade. I do read copious amounts of Middle Grade & YA Fantasy as result of avoiding certain things in the adult realms.

    With one unique exception when I read a debut trilogy by Marcus Lee. You might want to search for his reviews on my blog – I think you would enjoy the Gifted and the Cursed series if you haven’t already read it.

    Are you looking for book bloggers to read Strange Angels !?

    Your whole description of it really connected with me — as I LOVE that kind of fantastical world — I even have an affectionate addiction to #OctoberDaye which again is one of my ‘exceptions’ in Adult Fantasy. One of my favourite Urban Fantasy storycrafters aside from Maguire is actually E. Chris Garrison of whom you’ll see me sharing two reviews of this month. She’s featured on my Year 4 Intro Post where I answered our first prompt.

    Ahh.. I didn’t see the bit where its still a WIP! If you do publish and you offer print copies – please keep me in mind. I can only read print or listen to audioreads due to my chronic migraines. Unless of course, there is something that might be listed on my Review Policy you think might not work for me – you’d know best on that – I’ll celebrate your success and publication on the sidelines as I love hearing about how writers re-find their muse and find a way to push through into a story. Even one they hadn’t expected to write. I hope one day that will be my own story as a writer.

    (raises hand) I am journeying with you!! I love how you gave this post the beauty and the joy of simply adventuring! I have a similar path of walking myself this month – taking it one day at a time and sorting my way as I move forward. I know I want to share some book photos on #booktwt for the prompts, hope to find some squares on the bingo card (eek, I love those!) as I read, whilst knocking out some of my backlogue, dipping into audiobooks again and/or reading stories in print – for review, or borrows from my library – whilst joining my first group RAL — not to mention I have something special planned for Fridays.

    Here’s to find our path – as readers, as bloggers and as writers. On the latter, I’m a writer who moonlights as a book blogger (eight years on) as five years ago I became my father’s carer post-stroke and I simply haven’t had the chance to dip back into my own creative vortex. I’ve had starts/stops over the years but overall I have been focusing on other writers and their stories – renewing my own imaginative heart and as you will see on my reviews or interviews, the journey has granted me a lot of unexpected JOY inasmuch as I share the JOY of those experiences with others.

    Thanks for joining our Wyrd And Wonder community and for being with us as we rock out our fourth year!!

    PS: I didn’t see an attribution for the banner on your beautiful post — if you could use the one Imyril uses in her footer on her Wyrd And Wonder posts, we’d appreciate it as it is meant to be used with attribution on blogs during the event.

    1. Thanks so much, Jorie! It’s lovely to meet you. I didn’t realize about the attribution, I’m so sorry – I’ll take care of that right now.

      1. Bless you for your understanding. We appreciate it. We realise it is easily overlooked.

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