Myths, legends and fairy tales have always enchanted me. As a very small child I loved the stories my mother made up. They were a mix of genuine history (at a young age, I was already inappropriately fascinated by the bloody deeds of the past) and lighter tales of the fairy Mustard Seed and her chums. When my father sang to me I always wanted more of “The Mermaid With The Rusty Tail” – a song he made up to entertain me and then regretted because, having wanted more, I always wanted more again.
Once I was old enough to read stories for myself, I methodically worked my way through the “Myths and Legends of the World” series in the children’s section of our local public library. Then I discovered Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and C.S. Lewis’s “The Chronicles of Narnia” and there was no looking back.
Given all of this, I guess it is hardly surprising that myths and fairy stories, and all the enticingly mysterious things that flutter in-between, feature with some regularity in my writing.
Many of my poems carry shadows of myths and legends at their core; likewise, my short stories. My tale of “The Last Dragon” is traditional, but original, myth and fairy story combined. When the time came to put together the manuscript for my first poetry book, it seemed a very natural thing to base it around my fascination with legend and fantasy and thus “Cats and Other Myths” was born - a collection that finds contemporary relevance in the echoes of myth and legend and the mythic in the day to day world around us.
In a similar vein, when I first put pen to paper (I always write original drafts longhand, it helps me to think) to begin the process of writing my first novel, it was hardly surprising that my contemporary tale of a man’s obsession with the unknown mother who abandoned him as an infant took on dark mythic tones. The psychological narrative at the heart of the story melded with legends from the Judaic Apocrypha and “A Darker Moon” began to emerge from their union, but of that, more later.
Over the years I have attempted to analyse my fascination with the mythic and have come to this conclusion: the act of creating fantasy, producing something out of nothing, beginning with a totally blank page, screen or canvas and putting absolutely whatever we want on it, can allow us to project ourselves, the core of our humanity if you like, onto our brand new creation. In other words, what we make-up reflects an element of ourselves back at us. Let me give you two examples to illustrate the point.
Example one: American SF B movies of the 50s and 60s – total fantasy and yet psychologists now tell us that at these films’ heart lies not the fear of “ little green aliens”, but fear of a more imminent other, The USSR of the Cold War period.
Example two: my own poem, “Way Lin and the Dragon” (from “Cats and Other Myths”) where each speaker describes the mythical dragon in his own image, mirroring his own preoccupations. Here are the first two verses to give you a flavour:
“What colour are the eyes of the dragon?
Asked Way Lin of the old man under the tree.
They are as cold and white as death:
White as a shroud, as the flesh of a corpse,
White as the bones of the dead that he feeds on,
White as ash.
Now ask me no more.
What colour are the eyes of the dragon?
Asked Way Lin of the young warrior.
They are as hot and red as blood:
Red as battle and the torn flesh of men,
Red as the claws of the hunter and his bloodied prey,
Red as fear.
Now ask me no more.”
And so back to my novel, “A Darker Moon”, which weaves echoes of myth and legend with literary fiction and psychological mystery to create “a dark, psychological fantasy”.
The main story focuses on the anti-hero Abe Finchley, who is struggling to come to terms with his own existential darkness, a strangely ragged memory and a revealed dark and violent family history that spans generations into humanity’s deepest past. I also like to think that it touches upon, however indirectly, the nature of humanity, because human memory, per se, is a thing of patchy darkness. Sometimes the blackness lies in what we remember, sometimes in what we cannot help but forget. Hopefully, no one has issues as dark or as complex as Abe’s, but few of us is totally without shadow. The old myths and legends that “A Darker Moon” draws on, as well as its newly created fantasy, illuminate Abe’s story, but maybe reflect a little bit of light back on ourselves. I probably ought to point out by way of gentle warning, though, that the promotional tag line to the book is: “A mythical tale of light and shadow and the unlit places where it is best not to shine even the dimmest light.”
About the Author
J.S.Watts is a British writer. She was born in London, England and now lives and writes near Cambridge in East Anglia. In between, she read English at Somerville College, Oxford and spent many years working in the British education sector. She remains committed to the ideals of further and higher education despite governments of assorted political persuasions trying to demolish them.
Her poetry, short stories and book reviews appear in a variety of publications in Britain, Canada, Australia and the States including Acumen, Envoi, Mslexia and Fantastique Unfettered and have been broadcast on BBC and independent Radio. She has been Poetry Reviews Editor for Open Wide Literary Magazine and, until its demise, Poetry Editor for Ethereal Tales. Her debut poetry collection, Cats and Other Myths and a subsequent poetry pamphlet, Songs of Steelyard Sue are published by Lapwing Publications. Her novel, A Darker Moon, is published by Vagabondage Press Further details of her books can be found on her website: www.jswatts.co.uk . You can also find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/J.S.Watts.page