An Ecumenical Matter

I have a few of these to get done over the next couple of weeks. Look out for a Christmas themed piece in a week or so (If I get it done) and a wander round the back streets of Porthaethwy, but for now let us return to the mountains where I have begun hunting Yeti… Welsh Yeti!

(PDF Download for those who want to save this for later: Ecumenical Matter)

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Elidyr | Short Story

This is an adaptation of ancient Welsh folk tale, said by some to be one of the oldest Welsh folk tales. This particular version was based on that related by Gerald of Wales and I have included some of my own additions and amendments in order to help with the telling. Continue reading “Elidyr | Short Story”

How The Devil Won Popular Culture

The devil, or whichever of his many names and aliases you want to refer to him by, has taken many forms over the years. He has slithered his way into our everyday lives and we, helpless mortals that we are, have been complicit in that. We do, perhaps alas, know him better than we know God, or the God of the Abrahamic religions at any rate. I’m sure, if you did a survey, you’d find that more people today believe in the devil than they do in God and no doubt the reason for that is popular culture, because of that which entertains us. The devil, in popular culture, is much more of a mainstay than God can ever dream of being.  For centuries the devil has given us succour as the ultimate foe and has provided a ready made villain for almost every writer from Dante Alighieri to George Bernard Shaw. He’s been used as everything from a terrifying warning to the wicked, a caution to the good and from the greatest evil to an excuse for satire. Chaucer, for instance, used him a commentary on priestly corruption by having monastic friars flying out of his backside. But how is this? How can the devil, the embodiment of ultimate evil, have become so prevalent in our imaginations and in popular culture whilst his opponent, God, has not?

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Goblins, Fairies, Fantastical Creatures and Adulthood

As children we were all, you will probably agree, blessed with a plethora of folk stories, folk songs, myths and legends. The first songs we heard and learnt by heart were nursery rhymes- Little Jack Horner, Wee Willie Winkie, Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush and Pop Goes the Weasel, though most of us had no idea what they were on about half the time. Mulberry Bush? What the fig is a mulberry bush? Rice I can understand… But tuppeny rice? And half a pound of it? What, does it cost fifty pence? It’s fair to say that metric measures and the introduction of decimal currency have turned Pop Goes the Weasel into an impenetrable dinosaur- But back to the matter at hand… Our early stories were fairy and folk stories- The Brothers Grimm, Jack and the Beanstalk, Puss in Boots; whilst the rest of our stories were littered with elves, goblins, witches and all manner of other beastly, folkloric creatures. Our childhoods were steeped in folklore and fantasy.

Some of our childhood traditions and stories, particularly the nursery rhymes, are only a couple of centuries old. Pop Goes the Weasel dates to the mid seventeen hundreds. Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush is a century later. Many of the folk stories, however, are as old as the hills. In some cases, for example if you live in North Wales, those folk stories are the hills.

All our childhood traditions and stories and creatures come together to form a rich cultural legacy, a tapestry which we are all well aware of and can recite and recall even into adulthood. But as adults we tend to dismiss all of it as exclusively for children, as nonsense, something to put to the back of our minds. Unless we’re reading or watching fantasy we cast aside elves and goblins in favour of more rational fair. But should we leave it all for the children or should we be prouder of this aspect of our heritage? Should we not embrace it all a bit more?

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Dragons & I

Dragons are some of the most fascinating and persistently enduring creatures in world legend. They’re pretty hard to get wrong and most people don’t feel the need to tamper with them to any great deal, at least physically speaking. Most dragons in Western mythology and popular culture are of the big, fire breathing lizard variety. Sometimes they will be guarding a mountain of gold as well. This is particularly evident in older works like Beowulf, which has gone on to further influence the shape of the dragon, including Smaug, perhaps the most famous dragon of modern times. The Hobbit borrows heavily from the latter part of Beowulf, where Beowulf fights a dragon guarding a treasure of gold and gets himself killed. Tolkien even admitted this himself. This isn’t surprising when you realise that Tolkien was a scholar of Anglo Saxon literature and an expert on the former. Quite frankly, dragons are a bit badass and when using one you can’t go much wrong. Your story and your writing style can go wrong, just look at the film adaptation of Beowulf with Ray Winstone, but your dragon likely won’t be. Continue reading “Dragons & I”

Charlie Chaplin’s Shadow

Think of silent film and you’ll probably immediately come up with an image of Charlie Chaplin and his little tramp character- Bowler hat, toothbrush moustache, raggedy clothes, maybe a silly walk… But there was a lot more to silent film than just Chaplin and his little tramp. There was a lot more to Chaplin than just his little Tramp. Take for instance the score for Modern Times (a film that today is just as funny as it was when released) Chaplin wrote it himself and twenty years later John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons added lyrics and turned it into one of the twentieth century’s greatest ballads- Smile. He was also a very clever man (despite not having much in the way of a conventional education) and he knew his business like few have since. Though silent comedy is a limited form of comedy (limited mainly to slapstick and farce) Chaplin was a master of it and without his mastery the modern movie industry would not exist as we know it. Continue reading “Charlie Chaplin’s Shadow”

Why Wales Never Had A Walter Scott

Think of something typically Scottish and images of highland games and tartan and imaginary lake monsters will no doubt come into your head. For the most part these images are modern creations, a part of a fantasy built up during the nineteenth century, and very little to do with ancient or traditional Scotland or Scottish culture at all. For over two hundred years, however, these images have persisted and through popular culture have cemented themselves in the public imagination. But why did this happen in Scotland? Why not with other parts of the British Isles? Why not, for example, with Wales?

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Escape From Aunt Mable | Short Story

For those who haven’t been keeping up with the previous Aunt Mable stories or who are new or want to be reminded, allow me to fill you in. Nobody in the small mountain village of Cythry has seen Mable for seventy years. There is nobody alive who remembers her so when she turns up, hobbling out of the fog, on the day after the Second World War began, it comes as a complete surprise. Her great nephews (Edward, Seamus, Arthur, Fletcher, Erasmus- Who can’t pronounce his own name and a lot of other things besides- Tiberius and Earnest, along with their friend Seb) find she is a truly horrible woman; she beats them, takes their toys away, and threatens them with boarding school. So far the boys have tried contacting their Father (away on war work) and trying to get him to come home. He has not believed them. Edward has been carted off to boarding school and for the others Mable has replaced their tutors with the equally horrid Mrs Mippsy (or, as Erasmus insisted on calling her, Tippsy.) At the end of the last story it looked like, finally, their father would be returning home…

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Mythology Evolving

Mythology and legends are inherent to every human society. Often myths are bound up with religion, for instance Greek and Roman mythology, but not exclusively so. There is also what is known as secular mythology, Robin Hood and King Arthur being two of the most famous examples. All stories must, by the laws of the universe, come from somewhere, even if they are fictional. They must have some root, some kind of inspiration. Mythology, likewise, must also have an origin. Arthur was possibly a chieftain in post-Roman Britain, one whose story was later elaborated into the fantastical tale we know today. Robin Hood may well have been a real outlaw. Even the non-secular mythologies and folktales have an origin of some kind, a tale or an idea that gets stretched and becomes supranatural rather than natural. In particular, there is a huge group of ancient myths that came about as explanations for natural events such as the seasons (Persephone) or a massive flood (every culture has that one, the most famous instance being Noah’s Ark.)

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