Monday, January 13, 2014

World Building with Fairy Tales: Welsh Folklore

Article by Ty Hulse

Wales is home to hundreds of fairy tale settings, each lake, each hill it seems has some story about the Tylwyth Teg ( a form of Welsh fairies), dragons, or Merlin which makes it the the perfect place for developing fantasy settings.

Whenever I begin to research the folklore of a location I like to start by scanning fairy tales from the region for specific place names which I can look up on maps and in images. I than begin to search for information on the places around each of these locations, looking for more folktales and pieces of lore.You can read some Welsh Fairy tales here.

There is a sense of fear underlining many people's encounters or ideas about the Tylwyth Teg, which is mixed with Wales's mist covered hills. People dared not leave young children unattended lest they be taken by the fairy folk and replaced with a deformed changeling. Children for their part were warned of the many dangers from fairy, for example it was said that when the mists rolled in the fairies would come out of their castle under Llyn (lake) Dwythwch to dance in the grass and potentially snatch children away. Such a saying, given the often surreal visuals which Wales provides could make this the perfect setting for a horror story. It could also be the bases for any number of fantastic settings of encounters between the human and magical realms.

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From the map we see that Llyn Dwythwch rests on a slope just a few thousand yards to the north of the village of Llanberis and just a little to the North-West of Snowdon mountain. All around it and around the village of Llanberis are lakes and mountains, each with their own tales of fairies. In folklore Wales is a land with multiple lords and kings, for there are the human lords who rule over the villages and roads of the Welsh people but all around them there are groves of trees, lakes with fairy castles, and rocks on hill tops which also have entrances into the fairy realm. There was this sense that the fairies themselves could dwell either within the human realm or within the astral realm, being in essence invisible to humanity. So each set of kings rules over a small domain. Being close neighbors with the Tylwyth Teg means that the people of Wales often marry the fairy folk and ultimately have children with them, so the people themselves are somewhat magical, having within them some of the aspects of fairy. Indeed there are a number of tales and bits of lore in which

The advantage to looking for settings in places like this comes from more than just the ability to survey some interesting folklore, however, it also comes from the ability to get a sense of a place, to read about restaurants, histories, and people Llanberis has one of the busiest mountain rescue teams in the UK, they are constantly rushing out to help tourists and hikers who have been injured while hiking Snowdon or other parts of the rough landscape around.

To the south a bit in the lake Llyn Ffynnon y Gwas a Shepherd boy drowned while helping his master bath.

Llyn Coch is a favorite abode of the Tylwyth Teg and it was here that a young man convinced a fairy girl to marry him. Unfortunately as with nearly all such tales he eventually violated the one rule she had, which was to insure that  she never touched clay, so she left him.

A man going to visit his love saw some fairies singing and dancing on the shores of Llyn Cawellyn. He was eventually lured into dancing with them. Unfortunately for him he danced with the fairies for years even though it only felt like a few moments to him. When he returned to the mortal world his love had married another and his parents had died.

Snowdon is a cairn, a grave for the giant war lord Rhita who lead his armies to fight a series of battles with King Arthur. Rhita was a terrifying figure who made a cloak from the beards of the kings he'd killed. When Arthur at last slew Rhita he ordered the Giants men to cover his body with the stones that became Snowdon.

At the foot of Mount Snowdon is Lake Glaslyn which is said to be home of an Afang (a terrifying monster which in legend killed armies which tried to slay it).

In lore than these villages are surrounded by other worldly beings such that it's not so dangerous that no one dares to travel or play out among the hills, but it's dangerous enough that people would have a sense of foreboding of fear as the stars came out or the mists rolled in. There is also, however, a sense of wonder, of hopefulness as people have the opportunity to interact with and gain from this magical world. There are also, after all, stories in about children who play with fairy children and so are able to get the money they need to save their families from poverty or tales of how human Kings worked with fairy Kings to slay terrifying monsters.