"Great Pocklands" - A Short Story by Alison Macleod - 2019 - included in These are Our Monsters: The English Heritage Book of New Folktales, Myth and Legend - Edited by Katherine Davey with an Introduction by James Kidd
‘The first true storyteller is, and will continue to be, the teller of fairy tales.’ - Walter Benjamin
Short Stories can rescue us from quarantine, allowing us to time and distance travel.
Fairy tales take us way back, before Homer, the Upanishads. As soon as I became aware of the concept behind These are Our Monsters: The English Heritage Book of New Folktales, Myth and Legend I was bound to read the right stories refashioning English heritage. (I also love the cover.!)
During these dark times maybe we need stories retelling old folk tales to help strengthen our spirits as we fight the monsters running the world now.
As the story opens we meet the fairies of Great Puckland, "in THE HONEYED LIGHT of late afternoon, they climb, nanometre by nanometre, from the blooms of Great Pucklands, THE HONEYED LIGHT of late afternoon, they climb, nanometre by nanometre, from the blooms of Great Pucklands, to flutter on the last of the day’s thermals. In the meadow, the air vibrates with the beating of countless wings. Izz, izz, izzzzzz. The fairies’ ring is marked by tall, dark grass too sour to tempt any cow. As the bugle flowers blow, they descend. The dance begins. They dip and leap. They link and unlink arms in reels, sequences and flights – over and under, in and out, whirr and whoosh. Poppy-dust streams. Fairy hair rises, crackling with static. Izzz, izzz, izzz. The air is a frenzy of wings. The bellflowers ring out. Foxgloves tower and teeter. Fairies couple and uncouple, their bodies sticky with pollen. Wild orchids open to long-tongued bees."
(For me this exquisite opening justified the purchase of the collection.)
Great Pucklands refers to a 12 acre meadow near the home of Charles Darwin. It is rembered in his biography as where he recorded 142 different plants. He and his youngest daughter loved to roam among the wildflowers. Anne Elizabeth Darwin wanted to belief in faries, in the Anglican God of her devout father and in her father, whose work was being castigated by clergy. We feel the conflicts when she seeks spiritual reassure from her father. Anne loved wondering the meadow with her father, she carried a jar to capture fairies.
Her father was teaching her the theories behind evolution. Her mother
"Her mother had explained to her that God made all the animals on the Sixth Day of Creation. She’d explained that, when the Flood came, Noah saved the animals, taking them into the Ark two by two, which was why they were still with us today, just as God had made them. She’d smiled and walked the four fingers of both hands along Annie’s legs."
Anne sought reassuring words from her father. We see through the perceptions of Anne how fractured was the marriage of her parents.
Darwin changed how the world is seen. He more than just a scientist, he was profoundly in touch with the development of life on earth.
"Now as they watched, he bent down – to study an ant at work or perhaps a slug not at work. The earthworms had burrowed deep in the earth because it was too hot. When he straightened, he raised his walking-stick high in a salute, and they waved back. All the while, Annie listened. Above her father, in the canopies of the lime trees, the fairies droned, like one great, mournful harmonium. She suspected they knew about his butterfly net in the cupboard under the stairs. They knew something. The longer he lingered by the lime trees, the louder the noise of their wings. Izzzz, izzzzz, izzzz."
These lines are just so deep, earth worms salute Darwin, the fairies in which he does not believe do believe in Anna and his love.
This story is just so beautiful, so much is in the pages I have not touched.
From These are Our Monsters: The English Heritage Book of New Folktales, Myth and Legend
"Alison MacLeod’s most recent book, the short story collection All the Beloved Ghosts, was shortlisted for the Edge Hill Short Story Prize 2018 for best single-author short story collection in the UK and Ireland. It was also a finalist for Canada’s 2017 Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction and named one of the Guardian ‘Best Books of 2017’. In 2016, MacLeod was joint winner of the Eccles British Library Writer’s Award. Her most recent novel, Unexploded, was longlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize and serialised for BBC Radio 4. It is currently optioned for film, while her short stories are often heard on BBC radio. MacLeod is a citizen of both Canada and the UK, and is currently at work on her next novel in Brighton, her adopted city."
I plan a complete read through of the work of Alison Macleod and hope to follow her work for many years