Jan. 4th, 2017

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The Sombre Season
Fire and Hemlock - Diana Wynne Jones
10,184 words

I started off to write about how Laurel taught Tom about horses, and ended up writing about how Laurel taught Tom something else. Sneakily, even though it takes place pre-canon, this is a story about my thoughts about the ending of Fire and Hemlock.

(These thoughts were shaped as I was writing my story by Diana Wynne Jones' essay about Fire and Hemlock, "The Heroic Ideal-- A Personal Odyssey", which can be found online starting at https://www.sccs.swarthmore.edu/users/01/kyla/Heroic_Ideal7.gif -- the numbers go up to 7.

I also read an extremely insightful essay about the ending (part 1, part 2) by [livejournal.com profile] rushthatspeaks, which influenced my thoughts...though by the time I finished writing my story, I think I ended up having a somewhat different perspective, or at least coming at it from a somewhat different angle.)

spoilers for Fire and Hemlock, and for the story I wrote as it relates to my interpretation of the ending )

...I think I wanted to write that meta about Fire and Hemlock even more than I wanted to write a story about it -- lucky I could do both :) (Though sadly, I'm not sure everything I wanted came across in the story, and actually, having written this, I wonder if I could make the ending of my story a little better...but it's always so.)

(Actually, if I were writing this story outside the constraints of Yuletide, it might enhance what I was trying to do to write it with a frame story that was about Tom and Polly, probably post-canon, and it would be the exact opposite progression as the story about Tom and Laurel, but with lots of cross connections and parallels and opposites that link the two stories together thematically...though I'd have quite a bit to figure out, like whether Tom post-canon retains the gift/curse of telling the truth, etc. and there's a lot about the horse that would need figuring, and I'd probably have to explicitly address the nowhere stuff, or at least have a better understanding of it in my own head even if it wasn't explicit, and ... and ... ...and I'd probably never finish it and this is exactly why it is impossible for me to write things that are short. Believe it or not, I expected the plain Tom and Laurel story to be about half the size -- or less! -- as it turned out to be, which is absolutely typical. And I even feel like I had more time than usual for editing this year, which I think helped the writing, but doesn't seem to have affected the length.)

Anyway. In writing the story, I also ended up soaking in T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets, to the extent that I'd almost call it half Jones fanfic and half Eliot fanfic. But since Jones mentions in her essay that these four poems were one of her (many) sources, I think that's fair. I'd read these poems before (the first and last were favorites of mine at some point), but T. S. Eliot can be really obscure, so much so that ... well, I can't claim to have completely sounded the depths of these poems, but whatever I got from them was worth it.

The other major source I used was The Golden Bough, which I've had a copy of forever and never read all the way through. I still haven't -- I read the part about fire festivals, and the part about year kings and related concepts, and then browsed around quite a bit. This book is actually mentioned in Fire and Hemlock, so it's also a source for Jones too, but since The Golden Bough is a classic, I'm now pretty curious about opinions about this book and its contents among people who are current in this field.

A cursory web search didn't come across a ton of criticism (unlike The White Goddess, another classic in the same line, which seems to have been influential on fantasy as a whole, and which apparently is now regarded as pretty ahistorical). But The Golden Bough doesn't seem to get the same criticism on first glance, perhaps because it's divided into sections containing either evidence or clearly labeled speculation. The speculation basically assumes that the reason behind every myth with similar aspects is the same reason (which is very syncretic), and then tries to figure out the specific myth that Frazer is interested based on the idea that he can take evidence from all over the world. It's interesting, I just wonder how that methodology has held up.

But I assume the evidence sections are probably fairly accurate, because if you say things like "In such and such a place they baked oatcakes on such and such a day" ... well, if they did that, they did that.

Anyway. For my purposes, which was inspiration, I don't really care if it's academically supportable...I can see why I've heard of this book as a good reference for fantasy (or easily recognizable symbolism). I'd use it that way too -- by the time you've read dozens of variations on fire festivals, for example, it's easier to take the basic idea and use it some way that works for a story. I just wish it was a bit broader, since it doesn't really go into myths or myth categories that are outside of the range of its original myth. (Which is totally understandable considering there was so much material that applied to the original myth...)

So yeah, I might have actually gone overboard on the research aspect, but since it's all stuff I've wanted to do for a long time, I have no regrets. It's also possible that this might have been my last Yuletide (my Christmas/holiday situation has changed since I first started doing Yuletide and I'm just not sure how that's going to play out next year) so it was nice to get a canon that I really wanted to spend the time with this year.

The only other thing I have to say is about the title. It's from T. S. Eliot, and the spelling of sombre is the spelling that he used (in both the book I have and in the online version I found that claims to be accurate). It's also the British (and so far as I can tell, everywhere except the US) spelling. But every time I look at it, it strikes me as spelled wrong, so I'm not sure I made the right choice there. Still, I'm not sure I'd have been happy the other way either.

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