Why Folklore? And Why is it important to Me?
And why is it important to me?
Sounds a simple enough question, only once you start to strip away the obvious you quite quickly get down to things not quite so simple. Nor indeed, nice to face. This is the first time I've written about this, and it starts innocent enough.
As a child I loved history, books, 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 deserts, 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 (one of few truly good things she did for me) 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 exactly what age, but my mother began to try to control me. I suppose around the age of six, though I do remember the odd occasion of physical violence earlier than 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 begins to question a controlling parent and environment. Ne'er a wise move. But more likely - I feel in retrospect - it was her inability to control and possess my father.
You see, I came to learn much later in life, that he was something of a serial cheat. A liar. Womaniser of sorts. And I see now that part of the cruelty, the anger she felt, her frustration and temper at him, was taken out on me. It was an abuse that escalated rapidly and never stopped, mental, physical, and emotional, in what seemed, when it simply wasn't cruel, as an effort to make me reliant upon her. The son a personification of the father? Perhaps. But I will never know because I have nothing to do with either of them now, and so it will remain.
However, what I do know is that as a child, young teen, adolescent, emerging adult, I escaped the violence, the fear and her rage through imagination. Curled up in a ball, being kicked and having hair pulled, being scratched, hit with fists, belts, kitchen utensils, metal pumps, and threatened with far worse, I hid behind a castle wall in my mind. When I wasn't 'in trouble', I escaped the house whenever I could. Walked the village, the edge of the fields, explored woods and followed my nose into town. And wherever I went, field, furrow, forest, or factory, I saw history and myth living in the shadows. To me, it seemed, the Old Gods would always be there. I saw legends in place names, the history and folklore of painted tribes, ghosts that once were, and in the liminal edge I saw monsters too; a darkness that folklore does possess, and it doesn't lie.
Sadly, in life, I came to distrust the nicety of others. After all, they would only be as my mother. Generosity and praise became crooked creatures, whilst folklore and the countryside, old places and myth became a very real escape that I hankered for. In that place, in stories real or imagined, I found peace. Truth. Meaning. There was a real life in the make believe, in legend. Beauty in the trees, the animals, in flowers, the sky and sun. Even with the darkness I endured at home, the world was still a beautiful place, its monsters a dark underbelly, and into the past, fantasy, myth and history, I could always escape. Be happy. And so I guess that's why folklore is important to me. It's my happy place. A world of magic and adventure. Where witches control the weather and wizards do battle o'er the most simple of things. In its pages, beautiful monsters lie in wait for the ugly and the normal; hunt the unsuspecting in a place where ancient Kings of an all but forgotten past still rule. It's where the tales are dark and twisted, because that's what life is like, but so too can light can be found in the strangest of places.
And there is always light.
Though it doesn't always win.
But when it does, it's wonderful. Be it a blinding light, brilliant to behold, or one soft that dances, flickers with shadows and darkness, monstrous, because that's what folklore is all about. Light and dark as allows us to escape our pasts, present, and future. A place where nothing is impossible and everything is real. A place any one of us can reach. It's in the books we read. Outside the front door. It's in the towns and the field, in dark alleyways as litter suburbia, round corners and over hedge. It's in clumps of trees and overgrown hollow, in nettles as sting and birds that sing. Folklore is everywhere. Always growing, old as the hills, fresh as a new-born babe, it's at once both innocent and not, limited only by our own imaginations. What is there not to love about folklore?
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