Friday, January 10, 2014

Fantasy Setting from Fairy Tales: England -Shropeshire

Shropshire and Cheshire

All around you are kingdoms of the fairies. For even the smallest batch of trees, even the lake behind your house is filled with magic, filled with fairy folk.

Giants roam the land, altering it's geography and terrifying cities.

There are constant wars between the magical beings of fairies, which will still snatch humans away, or devour them.

Thankfully humanity has an ally for Merlin still dwells here, occasionally helping people with gifts and advice.

This is the border land, the frontier. So the people here must be a bit rougher, a bit more rugged than those near the refined' court of England.

This is the Land of Shropshire and Cheshire's folklore.

In Shropshire a fishermen out late and night captures a beautiful fairy from "The Mere." Than despite it's pleading to be released he keeps it until the rising sun causes it to melt away.

What's truly interesting about this story is that these strange other worldly fairies don't live in some vast wilderness, they live in a lake only a few thousand feet across which is surrounded by city and farms.

What we see than that even in the Northern, more populous plains of Shropshire is filled in folklore with magical creatures hiding in lakes, small bits of forest, moors and rocks. The magic of this land than happens around and in people's homes as much as in any wilderness area.

This is the lake which the one of England's most famous fairies lives in. Notice 
how it isn't in some isolated place. The world of fairies isn't all around us.

I'm reminded of Bilbo Baggins as a child looking for elves in the wood and trailing fireflies as he came home. Only in lore there really were fairies and magical beings in the small patches of forest and lakes of the region.

In addition to these small batches of wilderness Shropshire is like this, there are some decent sized wildernesses, especially within the hilly south. Yet what captures me about many of these tales is how close people are to their own homes when they encounter the fairy realm. Often this realm seems to be thought of as being in magical spaces, other planes. Like the closet in "The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe" or the rabbit hole in "Alice in Wonderland" there were doorways to massive worlds in small spaces, only the fairies from these worlds regularly came through and made treaties with humanity.

It's emotional impression that you pick up from a group of folktales that will help you to better develop a setting, because it is an idea that you naturally gravitate towards.

Another part of Shropshire which fascinates me is that while the most famous stories about fairies of the lakes in neighboring Wales often tell of young men taking them as wives Shropshire has beautiful fairies that melt in the sun and are so cold they freeze a mark onto anyone who touches them. Another famous tale of this region is that of Jenny Greenteeth, a horrible and lonely water hag which grabs and drowns a person every year. Jenny Greenteeth acts very much like a refugee, a feral creature which has come into contact with humanity. She creeps about on shore, stealing chickens and occasionally going into opulent homes, or possessing people, perhaps in hopes of gaining some company. For her fairy court specific fairy court is gone, and she is perhaps all that remains of it.

What we see than is that man has greater dominance of humanity over some magical creatures in this region, that the fairies are refugees, perhaps not just from humanity but from the other fairy courts which they cannot enter, and perhaps must hide from. 

Imagine It

From this idea we can imagine a place where ancient magical races and deities dwell hidden in parks, back yards, and the edges of farms. They sneak from one little batch of trees to another, every so often being spotted by people.

Although many of these magical creatures accept and even come to like the presence of the humans, helping them to farm their orchards others relish causing the humans pain.

For there part humans are all too aware of this world. Some will go seeking it out, searching for elves in the little batches. Yet they must also learn to be prepared for the other world can beset them at anytime. A quick thinking cobbler encounters a giant which holds a grudge against the city of Shrewsbury just a few miles outside the town and tricks the giant into giving up his quest to destroy the place by dumping the large bag of worn shoes he has to repair on the ground and saying that Shrewsbury is so far that he wore out all those shoes just coming from there.

Encounters with the Magical World

The Twelve Days of Christmas approach with no small amount of trepidation. For while the holiday is a celebration to be sure, one filled with decorations, and a rare period of free time it is also feared with supernatural happenings. Holly is hung to protect against witches. Fairies pinch people who don't make their homes perfect. Though they would leave coins in the shoes of those people who had clean homes.

This is the time of uncanny visitors, a time when everything must be spotless and clean and all the work done. Fairies of many sorts come out on Christmas and even enter people's homes.

A wealthy farmer and his new wife moved into an abandoned mansion at Gortsy Bank. Unknown to them two boogies already lived there. Unhappy that someone has moved into their home they turned the milk sour, hid objects from their owners and let foxes into the grounds to kill the farmers chickens.

One maid was locked away in the cellar, the fairies laughing and dancing around her. They pulled her hair and pinched her till she bruised.

For help the owner of the farm went to seek help, not from some ancient wizard but from a blacksmith with knowledge. The blacksmith's advice was on how to be polite to the boogies. How to calm them through gifts of cream and sociable words when one felt their presence.

Ultimately in this case the family of Gortsy Bank eventually were forced to banish (with the blacksmiths help) and than burn the boogies in a fire. What's interesting from this story, however, is that people understood that they needed to negotiate with the fairy realm first, using violence against it only as a last resort.

A mermaid of Aqualate Mere threatened that she and hers would destroy entire towns if the Mere was ever drained or damaged.

Fairies and Giants are not a completely banished in Folklore. They are political and powerful. Deals need to be made with them and care must be given not to offend them. How would it change the political landscape to have magical beings living among and around you? How would it change things to have giants so large they could make hills?

Because of the need to negotiate with the fair folk many leaders of the land had a special relationship with them. Earl Edric, for example, could call them out with a little flute and often shared drink with them.