Sunday, May 13, 2012

Spring & Summer Celebrations in Fantasy

As spring slips effortlessly into summer, I started wondering about these seasons in fantasy. How are they celebrated? How do they effect the story?

Growing up in Hampshire, England, down the road from Stonehenge, I'm used to the celebrations and rituals of May Day, with Morris dancers, May Poles, and cheese rolling. Even donning masks and dressing up as animals, as depicted in The Wicker Man.

And such celebrations of the coming of Spring, the return of the sun, growth of the crops and fertility - Easter eggs and maypoles occur all across the world. So why not in world fantasy literature?

In fantasy, rituals and settings place an important part of world building. The seasons reflect challenges and emotional journeys, weather itself can become a character so in the same way rituals, or celebrations can add depth, intrigue and texture.

But it was way harder to find any references than I thought it would be..

My first thought was GREENWITCH by Susan Cooper - which is set in Cornwall - an ancient place rooted in Celtic tradition, with an awesome ritual of weaving a Greenwitch from twines and flowers, and throwing it into the sea, around Spring. But it may be that Susan Cooper is such a fantastic writer, she just convinced me that was a real festival as I can't find the real roots anywhere. Cornwall does have many celebration though including May Day! So, the feel of her setting was spot on!

Then I remembered the bear festival in TENDER MORSELS by Margo Lanagan, where the young men of the village dress in bear costumes and run around the village harassing the young women. Now, that is based on a real festival, la journée de l’ours (the day of the bear).

The Bears!

Prats-de-Mollo's town website says, 'The young people of Prats meet up at Fort Lagarde, for a boozy meal during which the bears, chosen several weeks before, are prepared for the festival. Some will play the bears (usually the fittest amongst them!) and others will be the hunters.' It happens in late February - early March.

Trying to reach out further than my Anglo-Saxon roots I thought of Holi - a Hindu celebration that takes place in spring, a jubilant festival celebrating and renewing relationships and friendships.
In MOLLY MOON - by Georgia Byng, which I've stretched to be fantasy, Molly travels back and forth in time through India, and experiences Holi first hand.

Next, I combed through THE OWL SERVICE, Alan Garner, THE NEW POLICEMAN, Kate Thompson and THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, Neil Gaiman - I was convinced the Macabray was based on a real yearly event - but not one I could find! I think it may just be a twist on the Dance Macabre which would be more Halloween-ie anyway.

So, I went to the Inkpot!

Amy Greenfield (CHANTRESS (McElderry/S&S, April 2013)) shared some of her Oxford memories,

I live just north of Oxford, which has a fabulous May Morning festival every year...I can remember standing in the crowds on Magdalen Bridge listing to the choir, glimpsing a Green Man in the hubbub, hearing the jingle of Morris dancers everywhere, watching fire-eaters by the Bodleian, and being offered fertility cake from a man’s sword. Good food for the imagination. She also came up with more titles!

Laura Lee Sullivan’s UNDER THE GREEN HILL is a recent one. Julie Hearne’s The MERRYBEGOT (called The Minister’s Daughter in the US) is another from 2005. And there’s Mary Stewart’s WILDFIRE AT MIDNIGHT, but that’s a real oldie.

Amy also mentioned Nowruz, 'the spring festival celebrated in Iran (and elsewhere)...It's rooted in the Zoroastrian religion and marks the spring equinox and the start of a new year. I can't think of any book connections, though.

Lena Coakley (WITCHLANDERS) shared these pictures from a recent trip to Oxford UK.

(The man with the cheese on his head is the "fool" a traditional character
in Morris dancing who causes havoc and gets all the steps wrong.)

Lena Coakley

And William Alexander (GOBLIN SECRETS) told me something I never would have thought about his home town of Minneapolis...

One way that we cope is by banishing winter with a huge parade and puppet show. Mayday!

May Day is a spring holiday. The sun is coming back, and this is cause for tremendous relief because there's nothing like a Minnesota winter to make you doubt your knowledge of our heliocentric solar system and believe--if only a very little bit--that mythic wolves might actually devour both the sun and moon. But then warmth returns, and one of our local theater companies builds an enormous sun puppet and paddles it across a recently thawed lake. Everybody cheers as though the puppet were actually the sun, as though it really could chase away arctic wind, as though everything might be okay from now on.

Which just sounds like an amazing event looking for a fantasy story to appear in!!

So, it's over to you. Can you think of any spring or summer celebrations, real or invented, in children's fantasy writing? Not including, of course, the really obvious one I forgot to mention by a certain Bard!


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