And why is it important to me?
Sounded simple enough questions, only once you start to strip away the obvious you quite quickly get down to things not so simple, or indeed nice to face. This is the first time I've written about this, and it all starts off innocent enough.
As a child I loved history, books and stories.
Really loved them.
I collected all the Ladybird books and read the histories of others over and over again; lived the lives of Alfred the Great, William the Conqueror, Alexander, Florence, Cleopatra and many more in my mind. I read fiction too. Grew up on Enid Blyton, A.A. Milne's Winnie-ther-Pooh and friends. I stepped up to the Willard Price adventure books, walked jungles and desert, flew biplanes with Biggles and explored Middle Earth with the Hobbit.
So on and so forth.
I always had a book in my hand.
It was a pursuit encouraged by my mother and imagination flourished. I pictured elves in woods, ghosts in graveyards, knights on horseback at Beeston Castle; Templars with bold crosses upon their chests. There was Merlin, Druids, witches, dragons, goblins and more, and around every corner in Little England is history, adventure, magic in the towns and fields. Imagination is hardly needed.
Only it turned sour.
I'm not sure at what age exactly, but my mother began to try to control me - around the age of six - although there had been the odd occasion of physical violence earlier than that that. Why, I'm not entirely sure. Perhaps, in part, it was rooted in the very reading she'd encouraged. A young mind and voice begin to question a controlling individual.
Ne'er a wise move.
But more likely, it was her inability to control and possess my father. I came to learn - much later in life - that he was something of a serial cheat. A liar and womaniser of sorts. I can see now that part of the cruelty, the anger she felt, the frustration and temper at him, was taken out on me; she came to increasingly abuse me - mentally, physically and emotionally - in what seemed, when it wasn't simply cruel, as an effort to make me reliant on her.
The son a personification of the father?
I will never know because I have nothing to do with either of them now, but what I do know is that as a child - a young teen - an adolescent - an emerging adult - I escaped the violence, the fear and her rage through imagination. Curled up in a ball, being kicked, having hair pulled or being scratched with nails, hit with fists, belts, kitchen utensils, metal pumps, and threatened with worse, I hid behind a castle wall in my mind. Escaped the house whenever I could and walked the village, the town, the edge of the fields. I explored woods. Still saw history and myth living there, the Old Gods that would always be there. I saw the legend in placenames, the history and folklore of painted tribes, shadows, ghosts. And in that liminal edge I saw the monsters too, a darkness folklore possesses.
It doesn't lie.
In life, I came to distrust the nicety of others - they'd only be as my mother. Generosity and praise became crooked creatures, and folklore, the countryside, old places and myth became a very real escape. There I found peace. In the stories, real or imagined, I found truth, meaning. There was life in the make believe and legend, beauty in the trees and animals, the plants, sky and sun. Even with the darkness at home, the world was still a beautiful place - the monsters a dark underbelly - and into the past, the fantasy, the myth and history, I could escape.
And so I guess that's why folklore is important to me. It's my happy place. A world of magick and adventure. Where witches control weather and wizards do battle o'er the most simple of things. It's where beautiful monsters lie in wait for the ugly and the normal. Where Kings of an ancient past still rule and monsters hunt. It's where the tales are dark and twisted - because that's what life's like - and light can be found in the strangest of places.
And there is light.
Only it doesn't always win. But when it does, it's wonderful - be it a blinding light brilliant to behold, or a light full of shadows and darkness, monstrous. Because that's what folklore is all about, an escape into the past, present and future, where nothing is impossible and everything is real. It's in books, outside the front door, in towns and field, the dark alleyways of suburbia and overgrown hollows. It's everywhere, always growing and as old as the hills; always new and limited only by the imagination.
What's not to love about folklore?