Sunday, July 12, 2009

Folklore in Fiction

I hope everyone is enjoying their Sunday as much as I am. (I love summer! And the pool! And hot lifeguards!) To start the day off right, please join me in welcoming author R.F. Long to KF! She writes beautiful fantasy romance with just the right history mixed in. So, take it away, R.F...

People have always told each other stories. It's an ideal way of communicating, a method of passing information down through the generations. From the earliest times people gathered together and told each other stories. Some were funny, some were frightening, all of them served to pass on information, whether we recognise that information today or not. Like a game of Chinese whispers (where someone at the end of a line whispers something to the person next to them, who whispers it to the person after them, and son on until the original phrase is mangled and the last person must guess what the original was).

Coming from Ireland I grew up on folktales. Standing apart from myths and legends, separate from the story books, folktales abound here. They are the tales told to each other by the common people, the everyday folk (to borrow a phrase from a childhood TV program). People are inclined, not only to tell tales, but to elaborate on them, to add their own touches. Little flourishes, little hints to locate the story locally. Suddenly the stories happened to a friend of a friend, or my brother in law's cousin. They are stories that touch us, that resonate with us, so we make them our own.

Since the late 60s folklore acquired a new name - urban legends.

In using old folklore in fiction I find it key to keep this in mind. Though our folklore may have been written down hundreds of years ago, and kept alive orally for hundreds of years after that, these tales were the urban legends of their time (even if they didn't have an urban setting).

Folklore was always told as a true story. This happened, here, just over the hill, yesterday, a hundred years ago, in a land (or a galaxy) far, far away. But the belief in the story is never doubted. The storyteller is not saying - here is a fable to teach you to be patient. Instead the message is more likely to be - "Do you see that circle of stones over there? Never go there after dark and never, ever try to dig it up."

In my most recent release "Soul Fire" I've been blending the folktales of the Irish Daoine Sidhe with a modern setting. It's a rural village in England, surrounded by woodland. Rowan, the heroine, is second generation. Her grandmother left Ireland with a horde of folktales with which she entertained her orphaned grandchildren. Grams' stories prove vital when Rowan discovers that the Sidhe are not simply old stories, but very real. And very dangerous. Titbits of information regarding iron, milk and the changing seasons become vital clues to help her and her Sidhe lover Daire survive.

The Sidhe of Irish folklore are not the innocent fairies the Victorians loved so much. They are older, darker, and far more dangerous. Heartbreakingly beautiful, treacherous, noble, lost souls who do not really understand humankind. In these stories they have a tendency to treat people like animals - sometimes as a beloved pet, sometimes as something to catch and tame, sometimes as something to hunt. It depends on the individual Sidhe, and the individual human. I know people today who will admit that old beliefs die hard. They won't break a branch of a living hawthorn, or willingly cross a fairy ring. Our beliefs are part of us.

As mentioned above, folklore is not just ancient stories. When we children, in order to entertain us on long car journeys, my father made up a story about Fred the White Horse who looked after our family when we were travelling. He told it as he drove, and we all pressed up to the windows, watching fields go by, looking for a glimpse of him. Endless entertainment, and very quiet children. My sisters and I have grown up and have children of our own. My father is in his late 70s. Imagine his surprise when, unprompted, my 4 year old began to tell him that she say Fred on the way over. "Who's Fred?" he asked. "Oh, he's the magic horse that looks after us when we're travelling." Perhaps another piece of folklore has been born.

Working such a powerful sensation of "the other" into a novel is a challenge and a joy. I love research, which is just as well because there always seems to be another story or belief which can be incorporated. The trick of course is to pick enough, without overwhelming the reader. Elements of research need to add to the story rather than swamp it. In writing paranormal fiction, however, knowledge of folklore and beliefs, and their incorporation, can give a great depth to the background, a weight, not of history, but of tradition which helps carry a reader along. Whether it be Sidhe, vampires, or modern urban legends about serial killers and ghosts, touching on things buried deep in the reader's psyche, blending them with your own story, strengthens it.

And of course, adds a new layer to the ongoing folklore.

~R.F. Long

R.F. Long always had a thing for fantasy, romance and ancient mysteries. The combination was bound to cause trouble. In university she studied English Literature, History of Religions and Celtic Civilisation, which just compounded the problem.

Her latest novel "Soul Fire" is now available from Samhain Publishing. She is also the author of the fantasy novel "The Scroll Thief" and novella "The Wolf's Sister". You can find out more about her work on her website -

She lives in Wicklow, the Garden County of Ireland, and works in a specialized library of rare and unusual books.
But they don’t talk to her that often.


Grace Draven said...

Great post, R.F.! I love folklore, especially Irish and Scots folklore. Tell your dad I'm borrowing his idea of Fred the White Horse when we travel with my kids. Whatever works to keep kids quiet in a car...I'm there. Plus, that's a lot more fascinating than watching a DVD.

Refhater said...

Welcome to K.F., R.F.!

R F Long said...

I'm delighted to be here Refhater!

Grace, you're more than welcome - whatever it takes to spread the word of Fred! :)

Heather Long said...

I love the folk tales of the British Isles. I have been to England many times and to Scotland once. My husband got to go to Ireland years ago on business, but I have as yet not made that journey to the Emerald Isle. Perhaps sometime in the next decade!

Debbie Mumford said...

Wonderful post, R.F. I've been fascinated by mythology since childhood. Any myth from any culture! However, as an adult my fascination has zeroed in on Celtic mythology. Lots there to keep me researching *lol*

Christie Craig said...

Love folklore!!!

Welcome to KF. Thanks for joining us R.F.


Ella Drake said...

My favorite courses in college were folklore and I do think novels based on them -- with a twist -- have a grounding in reality and fantasy combined. Love it!

Great post!

Amber Green said...

Folklore does lend a resonance to a tale. Thanks for letting me know about Fred--I know some kids who might need to spend time watching for him this week.

Unknown said...

Hi :)
Thank you for having such a gifted author as Ruth Long here. It's an excellent blog post, thank you for sharing, Ruth!
I love folklore and the original faerie tales. There is a bone-deep truth in them all.
I am looking forward to reading Soul Fire.
Love From Canada