I've been very influenced by folklore, fairy tales, and folk ballads, so I love all the classic works based on these things -- like George Macdonald's 19th century fairy stories, the fairy poetry of W.B. Yeats, and Sylvia Townsend Warner's splendid book The Kingdoms of Elfin. (I think that particular book of hers wasn't published until the 1970s, not long before her death, but she was an English writer popular in the middle decades of the 20th century.)I'm also a big Pre-Raphaelite fan, so I love William Morris' early fantasy novels.Oh, and "Lud-in-the-Mist" by Hope Mirrlees (Neil Gaiman is a big fan of that one too), and I could go on and on but I won't!
There are a number of good books that draw upon fox legends -- foremost among them, Kij Johnson's exquisite novel The Fox Woman. I also recommend Neil Gaiman's The Dream Hunters (with the Japanese artist Yoshitaka Amano); Larissa Lai's unusual novel, When Fox Is a Thousand; Helen Oyeyemi's recent novel, Mr. Fox; and Ellen Steiber's gorgeous urban fantasy novel, A Rumor of Gems, as well as her heart-breaking novella "The Fox Wife" (published in Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears). For younger readers, try the "Legend of Little Fur" series by Isobelle Carmody. You can also support a fine mythic writer by subscribing to Sylvia Linsteadt's The Gray Fox Epistles: Wild Tales By Mail. For the fox in myth, legend, and lore, try: Fox by Martin Wallen; Reynard the Fox, edited by Kenneth Varty; Kitsune: Japan's Fox of Mystery, Romance, and Humour by Kiyoshi Nozaki;Alien Kind: Foxes and Late Imperial Chinese Narrative by Raina Huntington; The Discourse on Foxes and Ghosts: Ji Yun and Eighteenth-Century Literati Storytelling by Leo Tak-hung Chan; and The Fox and the Jewel: Shared and Private Meanings in Contemporary Japanese Inari Worship, by Karen Smythers.
Some years ago I had a conversation with a man who thought that writing and editing fantasy books was a rather frivolous job for a grown woman like me. He wasn’t trying to be contentious, but he himself was a probation officer, working with troubled kids from the Indian reservation where he’d been raised. Day in, day out, he dealt in a concrete way with very concrete problems, well aware that his words and deeds could change young lives for good or ill.I argued that certain stories are also capable of changing lives, addressing some of the same problems and issues he confronted in his daily work: problems of poverty, violence, and alienation, issues of culture, race, gender, and class... “Stories aren’t real,” he told me shortly. “They don’t feed a kid left home in an empty house. Or keep an abusive relative at bay. Or prevent an unloved child from finding ‘family’ in the nearest gang.” Sometimes they do, I tried to argue. The right stories, read at the right time, can be as important as shelter or food. They can help us to escape calamity, and heal us in its aftermath. He frowned, dismissing this foolishness, but his wife was more conciliatory. “Write down the names of some books,” she said. “Maybe we’ll read them.”I wrote some titles on a scrap of paper, and the top three were by Charles de lint – for these are precisely the kind of tales that Charles tells better than anyone. The vital, necessary stories. The ones that can change and heal young lives. Stories that use the power of myth to speak truth to the human heart.Charles de Lint creates a magical world that’s not off in a distant Neverland but here and now and accessible, formed by the “magic” of friendship, art, community, and social activism. Although most of his books have not been published specifically for adolescents and young adults, nonetheless young readers find them and embrace them with particular passion. I’ve long lost count of the number of times I’ve heard people from troubled backgrounds say that books by Charles saved them in their youth, and kept them going.Recently I saw that parole officer again, and I asked after his work. “Gets harder every year,” he said. “Or maybe I’m just getting old.” He stopped me as I turned to go. “That writer? That Charles de Lint? My wife got me to read them books…. Sometimes I pass them to the kids.”“Do they like them?” I asked him curiously.“If I can get them to read, they do. I tell them: Stories are important.” And then he looked at me and smiled.
It was Stevenson, I think, who most notably that there are some places that simply demand a story should be told of them. ...After all, perhaps Stevenson had only half of the matter. It is true there are places which stir the mind to think that a story must be told about them. But there are also, I believe, places which have their story stored already, and want to tell this to us, through whatever powers they can; through our legends and lore, through our rumors, and our rites. By its whispering fields and its murmuring waters, by the wailing of its winds and the groaning of its stones, by what it chants in darkness and the songs it sings in light, each place must reach out to us, to tell us, tell us what it holds. ("The Axholme Toll")
The Celt, and his cromlechs, and his pillar-stones, these will not change much – indeed, it is doubtful if anybody at all changes at any time. In spite of hosts of deniers, and asserters, and wise-men, and professors, the majority still are adverse to sitting down to dine thirteen at a table, or being helped to salt, or walking under a ladder, of seeing a single magpie flirting his chequered tale. There are, of course, children of light who have set their faces against all this, although even a newspaperman, if you entice him into a cemetery at midnight, will believe in phantoms, for everyone is a visionary, if you scratch him deep enough. But the Celt, unlike any other, is a visionary without scratching.
It was a sort of car that seemed to have a faculty for motion with an absolute lack of any accompanying sound whatsoever.This was probably illusory; it must have been, internal combustion engines being what they are, tires being what they are, brakes and gears being what they are, even raspy street-surfacing being what it is. Yet the illusion outside the hotel entrance was a complete one. Just as there are silencers that, when affixed to automatic hand-weapons, deaden their reports, so it was as if this whole massive car body were encased in something of that sort. For, first, there was nothing out there, nothing in sight there. Then, as though the street-bed were water and this bulky black shape were a grotesque gondola, it came floating up out of the darkness from nowhere. And then suddenly, still with no sound whatsoever, there it was at a halt, in position.It was like a ghost-car in every attribute but the visual one. In its trancelike approach and halt, in its lightlessness, in its enshrouded interior, which made it impossible to determine (at least without lowering one's head directly outside the windows and peering in at nose-tip range) if it were even occupied at all, and if so by whom and by how many.You could visualize it scuttling fleetly along some overshadowed country lane at dead of night, lightless, inscrutable, unidentifiable, to halt perhaps beside some inky grove of trees, linger there awhile undetected, then glide on again, its unaccountable errand accomplished without witness, without aftermath. A goblin-car that in an earlier age would have fed folklore and rural legend. Or, in the city, you could visualize it sliding stealthily along some warehouse-blacked back alley, curving and squirming in its terrible silence, then, as it neared the mouth and would have emerged, creeping to a stop and lying there in wait, unguessed in the gloom. Lying here in wait for long hours, like some huge metal-cased predatory animal, waiting to pounce on its prey.Sudden, sharp yellow spurts of fangs, and then to whirl and slink back into anonymity the way it came, leaving the carcass of its prey huddled there and dead.Who was there to know? Who was there to tell? ("The Number's Up")
Often I felt that these men were play-acting: the unreality of their role was their security, even their own destinies were to them saga and folk-tale rather than a private matter; these were men under a spell, men who had been turned into birds or even more likely into some strange beast, and who bore their magic shapes with the same unflurried equanimity, magnanimity, and dignity that we children had marvelled at the beasts of fairy tale. Did they not suspect, moreover, with the wordless apprehension of animals, that if their magic shapes were to be stripped from them the fairy tale would be at an end and their security gone, too, while real life would begin with all it's problems, perhaps in some town where there was neither nature or mirage, no link with the folk-tale and the past, no ancient path to the far side of the mountains and down to the river gullies and out beyond the grass plains, no landmarks from the Sagas? - Only a restless search for sterile, deadening enjoyment.
Finally, I’d say to anyone who wants to tell these tales, don’t be afraid to be superstitious. If you have a lucky pen, use it. If you speak with more force and wit when wearing one red sock and one blue one, dress like that. When I’m at work I’m highly superstitious. My own superstition has to do with the voice in which the story comes out. I believe that every story is attended by its own sprite, whose voice we embody when we tell the tale, and that we tell it more successfully if we approach the sprite with a certain degree of respect and courtesy. These sprites are both old and young, male and female, sentimental and cynical, sceptical and credulous, and so on, and what’s more, they’re completely amoral: like the air-spirits who helped Strong Hans escape from the cave, the story-sprites are willing to serve whoever has the ring, whoever is telling the tale. To the accusation that this is nonsense, that all you need to tell a story is a human imagination, I reply, ‘Of course, and this is the way my imagination works.
Beer gurgled through the beard. 'You see,' the young man began, 'the desert's so big you can't be alone in it. Ever notice that? It's all empty and there's nothing in sight, but there's always something moving over there where you can't quite see it. It's something very dry and thin and brown, only when you look around it isn't there. Ever see it?''Optical fatigue -' Tallant began.'Sure. I know. Every man to his own legend. There isn't a tribe of Indians hasn't got some way of accounting for it. You've heard of the Watchers? And the twentieth-century white man comes along, and it's optical fatigue. Only in the nineteenth century things weren't quite the same, and there were the Carkers.''You've got a special localized legend?''Call it that. You glimpse things out of the corner of your mind, same like you glimpse lean, dry things out of the corner of your eye. You incase 'em in solid circumstance and they're not so bad. That is known as the Growth of Legend. The Folk Mind in Action. You take the Carkers and the things you don't quite see and put 'em together. And they bite.'Tallant wondered how long that beard had been absorbing beer. 'And what were the Carkers?' he prompted politely.'Ever hear of Sawney Bean? Scotland - reign of James the First or maybe the Sixth, though I think Roughead's wrong on that for once. Or let's be more modern - ever hear of the Benders? Kansas in the 1870's? No? Ever hear of Procrustes? Or Polyphemus? Or Fee-fi-fo-fum?'There are ogres, you know. They're no legend. They're fact, they are. The inn where nine guests left for every ten that arrived, the mountain cabin that sheltered travelers from the snow, sheltered them all winter till the melting spring uncovered their bones, the lonely stretches of road that so many passengers traveled halfway - you'll find 'em everywhere. All over Europe and pretty much in this country too before communications became what they are. Profitable business. And it wasn't just the profit. The Benders made money, sure; but that wasn't why they killed all their victims as carefully as a kosher butcher. Sawney Bean got so he didn't give a damn about the profit; he just needed to lay in more meat for the winter.'And think of the chances you'd have at an oasis.''So these Carkers of yours were, as you call them, ogres?''Carkers, ogres - maybe they were Benders. The Benders were never seen alive, you know, after the townspeople found those curiously butchered bodies. There's a rumor they got this far West. And the time checks pretty well. There wasn't any town here in the 80s. Just a couple of Indian families - last of a dying tribe living on at the oasis. They vanished after the Carkers moved in. That's not so surprising. The white race is a sort of super-ogre, anyway. Nobody worried about them. But they used to worry about why so many travelers never got across this stretch of desert. The travelers used to stop over at the Carkers, you see, and somehow they often never got any further. Their wagons'd be found maybe fifteen miles beyond in the desert. Sometimes they found the bones, too, parched and white. Gnawed-looking, they said sometimes.''And nobody ever did anything about these Carkers?''Oh, sure. We didn't have King James the Sixth - only I still think it was the First - to ride up on a great white horse for a gesture, but twice there were Army detachments came here and wiped them all out.''Twice? One wiping-out would do for most families.'Tallant smiled at the beery confusion of the young man's speech.'Uh-huh, That was no slip. They wiped out the Carkers twice because you see once didn't do any good. They wiped 'em out and still travelers vanished and still there were white gnawed bones. So they wiped 'em out again. After that they gave up, and people detoured the oasis.("They Bite")