As the year wanes and fireside reading appeals, I take pleasure in some of my favorite fantasy novels, Tolkien's Lord of the Rings among them. A notice that the engraved medieval ring pictured here will be auctioned on November 29th tipped me off to the whole category of love rings or poesy rings—rings with inscriptions meant to be enhanced by being worn against the skin. This one, for instance, has a French inscription that can be translated, "As I hold your faith, hold mine." Rather different from Sauron's ring! Yet I suspect Tolkien had seen such things and bent them to imaginative use. For another example, click here. For a goldsmith's history of "posy rings," click here. And for a collection of medieval rings at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, click here.
Picturing a World
Artist Karrie Fransman and her husband, IT guy Jonathan Plackett, collaborated on Gender Swapped Fairy Tales. He devised an algorithm to swap the genders of characters in fairy tales. She illustrated the results. To learn how two creative people work together, check out the video at the link above. It's charming and just might stimulate your own work.
A muddy ford where a small rill crosses a green track in Wales—on Bilbo and Frodo's birthday, it calls to my mind a tramp across the Shire, with maybe a distant vision of The Mountain. Or taking a different but related tack, one of the green roads maintained by Wend in Diana Wynne Jones's Crown of Dalemark. Less fancifully, the picture is a reminder of just how much very small features of the landscape give specificity to places.
A friend of mine is something of an expert on Alexander the Great in history and legend, so references to him always catch my eye. Then there are dragons, one of my special interests—along with illustration, of course. Medieval comic strip, anyone? In the story depicted here, Olympias, the wife of Philip of Macedon, is seduced by a sorcerer named Nectanebo, who comes to her in the shape of a dragon. Result? According to this illuminator anyway, a little hatchling Alexander! For the story in full, click here.
A story I'm working on is set in an imaginary world based loosely on Renaissance France and Tudor England. So why show you a drawing of Florence? Well, because my capital city has three bridges, one of which is built over with shops and houses. Images like this help me to visualize what my characters see, whether they illustrate exactly what I have in mind or not. In this case, I'm pleased by the representation both of buildings and a glimpse of the surrounding countryside. It helps me with scale as I send my characters up the river, over the bridge, and into neighborhoods on either side.
Image via MetMuseum
I don't need to write a blog post about what fantasy I read as a child and how it affected me because Theodora Goss's post, Deep Magic, does it for us both. I discovered her work through a narrative poem, "The Dragons" in The Book of Dragons (2020), in which a lawyer is rescued from a life of tedium by a clutch of baby dragons left on her porch. Now I'm reading Goss's Snow White Learns Witchcraft, twists on traditional fairy tales (love the idea of the princess who herself turns into a frog when she kisses one). Coming next? The Collected Enchantments. My advice? Dive in anywhere.
Hamlet muses, "I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space—were it not that I have bad dreams." But what about good dreams? A History Blog post on a 16th C prayer bead prompts the question, How could a two-inch sphere that opens to an intricately carved interior be used in a story?
I'm reading The Universal History of Numbers by Georges Ifrah a few pages at a time. If you were like me, you had an elementary school teacher who reprimanded students who used fingers to count; but really it's a good way to reinforce understanding. Moreover, finger-counting has been used in remarkably complicated systems for calculations by many cultures over millennia. Ifrah illustrates one discussion with an image based on this early Renaissance painting of the 6th C philosopher and mathematician, Boethius, which is part of a fresco on the north wall of the Ducal Palace in Urbino. The portrait set me thinking that it would be worthwhile to pay attention to Finger Counting and Hand Diagrams in medieval illuminations in order to read them correctly.
Website alerts: Oh, my! Two things I love already, Narnia and book sculptures. And now, voilà: Instructions for making your own sculpture of Lucy's first visit to the lamppost, complete with PDF's of some of the elements. I'm not a crafter, but, I might just make up a story about someone who is.
For those who want to take such things to a professional level, moreover, Su Blackwell has a new book out, Into the Dark Woods, which comes with an booklet of instructions for making the sort of talismans she included to illustrate her retold fairy tales. Well worth mooning over.
Blog post alert: A post on James Leman, Silk Designer at Spitalfields Life recounts the career of an 18th C silk designer and reproduces several double-page spreads from his album of samples. The album is now at the Victoria and Albert and is obviously a great straightforward historical resource. It can also prompt suggestions for stories.