Monday, April 7, 2014

Mythical Monday (44)

It seems there are many books based on or influenced by Myths and Mythological Beings.

There are so many different Mythology and Mythological Beings recorded. Some are very popular and well known, others not so much. There are many similar beings, yet different depending on the culture it’s based in.  The definition of Myth covers about anything in the Urban Fantasy/Fantasy realm to me.

I’ve invited authors to share briefly the Mythological being or Myth that influenced their character(s) or story, or what their character(s) are based on influencing their books.  Hosting here, one author and being or myth per week.

This week we have:
Fantasy author 
L. Jagi Lamplighter
Talking of Gnomes and Oreads.

Of Gnomes and Oreads: the Magic of the Mountain

Mountains. They rise like majestic kings, white-crowned with robes of royal purple and deep blue. The air atop them is different from ordinary air. To be atop a mountain is to breathe magic. One cannot blame our earlier generations for believing that they were full of mythical creatures.

Heck, some mountain dwellers believe that today!

Some of my best childhood memories of magic involve mountains. My family used to spend two weeks during the summer in the White Mountains in New Hampshire, possibly the most magical place in America. One could hardly hike the evergreen-studded slopes without feeling the hush of enchantment.

The locals all believed in magic—or at least in the spirit of it. They told us stories of the spruce trolls who dwelt on the mountainsides, and when you drove under overpasses, you were instructed to knock on the ceiling of your car to honor the trolls who lived under the bridges. Otherwise, they would come at night and play tricks on you.

But the greatest magic of all—which still remains with me today, decades later—was my very first glimpse of mountains themselves.

My brother and I were sitting in the back of our family sedan. We had driven nine or ten hours—a millennia of time to a child that age—and we were very eager to reach our destination. To our delight high rounded humps reaching a quarter of the way up the horizon appeared in front of us. We cheered.

Our parents hushed us. Those were not the mountains, they explained. Those were just the foothills.

I am not sure I believed them at the time. How much larger could mountains be?

Then we saw them—looming so high above us that that the rounded foothills seemed like toddlers beside an adult. They appeared out of the gloom like phantoms, sharp pale peeks wreathed in slate blue and purple.

Even today, over four decades later, I can still remember how amazing that first glimpse was.

So it is easy for me to imagine that the mountains themselves are magical. When I was young, I though they were probably the back ridges of some sleeping monster, a dragon or a really big Godzilla. As I grew older, I read stories of rock trolls and storm giants. I recall a picture I loved—I believe it was from an unpublished story by Muppet-master Brian Froud—of a boy and a young troll walking together and coming upon the troll’s grandmother, a face in the side of the mountain with a waterfall running off her nose. I thought that picture one of the most enchanting things I had ever come upon.

When the time came that, in my series, Prospero’s Daughter, I wanted to honor my magical childhood memories by making some to the spirits of rocks themselves, I did some research to discover what mythical being the ancients believed lived in the rocks. I discovered that in the fifteenth century, the Swiss alchemist Paracelsus had noted down the four elemental beings. He reported that salamanders lived in the fire, sylphs lived in the air, the water was inhabited by undines, and in the earth lived…gnomes.

Gnomes? You’ve got to be kidding me!

Aren’t they those guys in red hats who live in comfortable Hobbit-holes or appear in statue form in photos of famous landmarks? Or, at the very least, ugly-guys from Oz who are afraid of eggs?

I had such a clear mental image of the Gnome book, depicting the happy lives of these little men in their pointy red caps, and of ceramic lawn gnomes, that my imagination balked at the idea that these creatures—so much like Hobbits or dwarves—could be the spirits of rocks, much less the majestic mountains themselves.

Researching farther, I discovered that there is no record of the word gnome before the time of Paracelsus. Scholars believe the word may have come from geonomes—literally “earth dweller”. He claimed these creatures could move through the earth the way men moved through air.

That was exactly what I wanted. A spirit that could move through the rocks, through the mountains the way dryads move in and out of trees.

But not gnomes.

Which brought me to oreads.

In ancient Greek legends, oreads were mountain nymphs. In truth, they were the nymphs of the conifers that grew on the mountains, but because they were referred to in numerous places as “the nymphs of mountains” I felt it was not an unfair stretch do decide that there might be a being who was to rock as dryads were to trees—able to step in and out of them at will.

In my Prospero’s Daughter series, one of the premises is that there is a secret organization called the Orbus Suleimani that protects mankind from the dangers of the magical world. In my background, the Orbus Suleimani had altered Paracelsus’s work, replacing the “real” word oread with a the word gnome. Their reasoning was that calling upon oreads was dangerous—they could cause earthquakes—but gnomes were harmless.

Thus I acknowledged both the historical place of gnomes before they became the playthings of garden fanciers and yet was able to give my rock spirits a dash of dignity.

In my short story, On Rocky Ground, which will appear in the anthology Bad Ass Faeries Four: It’s Elemental, I made the oreads much like dryads or nymphs. They spoke and acted like young women, flirtatious and coy. I chose this behavior for this particular story because it was meant to be humorous. In my imagination, however, the oreads are more like the humpback whales of the earthen world—vast and slow with deep voices, like the rumbles made by elephants or the songs of whales.

Maybe someday, I shall have a chance to write a story that will feature these vast, gentle, rocky souls as I picture them. Perhaps, there will even be a place in that story for a grandfather oread, as impressive as the majestic peaks I recall from that first moment, when my brother and I gazed up at the towering, purple-clad phantoms with their snowy crowns.

Maybe, like a mountain surrounded by humble, squat foothills, I’ll even give Grandfather Oread a few gnomes to scurry along beside him. Gnomes do remind me a bit of foothills.

Author Bio:
L. Jagi Lamplighter is the author of The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin, as well as the Prospero's Daughter Trilogy (Prospero Lost, Prospero In Hell, and Prospero Regained).She has also written a number of short stories, articles on anime, and is an author/assistant editor in the BaddAss Faeries series.

She is a graduate of the St. John's College in Annapolis, MD. When not writing, she switches to her secret identity as a stay-home mom in Centreville, VA, where she lives in fairytale happiness with her husband, author John C. Wright, and their four darling children, Orville, Ping-Ping, Roland Wilbur, and Justinian Oberon.

For more information see:

Author Links:
Twitter:  @lampwright4

Purchase Books: (click the image)



Alexia561 said...

Another great Mythical Monday post! While I've never thought of what kind of being would like in the rocks, I can totally see a rock nymph!

Lily B said...

ha! very curious, thank you for sharing.

Melissa (My words and pages) said...

The Oreads were new to me, Alexia. :) I really enjoyed hearing about these both. Thank you!

Melissa (My words and pages) said...

Lily B. I'm ready to read more with these beings. LOL! Thank you for stopping!