Fairy News: Jeanette Ng, Holly Black, Carnival Row, Queen Mab, and Irish sidhe

Arthur Rackham, Queen Mab, Romeo and Juliet (1906)

the fae are the mythical creatures of the hour. Sometimes they’re portrayed as monstrous, sometimes as tricksters, sometimes as sensuous love interests

So says Samantha Shannon, who is herself a superb fantasy novelist. So the next OGOM event, our conference on Gothic Fairies, couldn’t be more timely: ‘Ill met by moonlight’: Gothic encounters with enchantment and the Faerie realm in literature and culture, University of Hertfordshire, 8‒10 April 2021. The deadline for submissions is 30 October 2020. We want you to collaborate with us to investigate the fairy as it exists in all those shifting, ambivalent characteristics that Shannon depicts (as we have done previously with the vampire and the werewolf). It will be a fabulous event–there is even a Fairy Ball!

Shannon’s quote comes from this review of Jeanette Ng’s wonderful dark fairy romance, Under the Pendulum Sun, an evocative and atmospheric novel which works allusions from the Brontës into a deeply unsettling tale of Victorian missionaries and changelings in the land of Faerie. We expect this book to be one of the texts for discussion at the conference.

But then you may hate fairies. Holly Black (who is one of my favourite writers of YA fantasy and has written some brilliant and very Gothic fairy novels) may change your mind. Here, she recommends some of her favourites. Black captures the ambivalent nature of the Gothic Fairy, the ambivalence which we hope to explore at the conference and which is rooted in the folklore as well as the most interesting literary representations of fairies:

What I love about faerie books is much like what I love about faerie folklore. I love the idea of magic being out there, trickster magic, uncertain as the weather, potentially dangerous, but also beautiful.

One of the manifestations of Gothic Fairies that we have loved recently is the TV series Carnival Row, with its steampunk ambience and world of racial and imperial tensions between human and fae. This is another text which we’re sure will appear in research presented at the conference. So we’re pleased to see, in this article, that the second season will be coming back, along with the excellent His Dark Materials and some other fantasy series. There are also some new shows in the genre which look exciting, particularly Shadow and Bone–an adaptation of Leigh Bardugo’s exciting reworking of Russian folklore.

We’re hoping that fairy literature of the Romantic period will be a conference theme. The realm of Faerie can dramatise all sorts of utopian and radical yearnings. Percy Shelley used the fae figure of Queen Mab in his revolutionary 1813 poem of the same name which became a primary text for working-class radicals. I found a very useful introduction to Queen Mab from the British Library (their website is a brilliant resource for literary scholars).

Finally, anyone who is acquainted with fairy folklore will know the dangers of eating or drinking fairy fare. I am hoping to talk about this topic at the conference. However, this reliable witness, in an account of the persisting presence of the sidhe in Ireland, seems to have escaped these perils:

“I met them on a few occasions, I chatted to them. They say you should never take a drink from the fairies, but I took a drink from them.” 

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CFPs, new resources: Gothic Nature, Middle Eastern Gothics, Science Fiction and empire

We recognise this is a very uncertain time and we at OGOM hope everyone is well and safe. Despite the barriers, academic life goes on and we have a few CFPs to advertise, plus some new resources added to the website.

1. First, there is OGOM’s own ‘Ill met by moonlight’: Gothic encounters with enchantment and the Faerie realm in literature and culture; this is planned for 8‒10 April 2021 at the University of Hertfordshire. We do hope you can attend–it will be fabulous! Submissions to be in by 30 October, 2020.

2. Call for Papers: Middle Eastern Gothics (edited volume under consideration at Wales University Press). Deadline: 1 June 2020.

What happens to a distinctly European literary mode such as the Gothic in the hands of authors whose encounters with Europe have been mediated, for centuries, by Orientalism, colonialism, and war – but who also lay claim to dark and macabre traditions in their own literatures? This is the compelling question that activates Middle Eastern Gothics

3. CFP: Gothic Nature III: New Directions in Ecohorror and the EcoGothic conference, 30 October 2020, University of Roehampton, London. Deadline: 12June 2020.

To celebrate the release of the second issue of Gothic Nature, we are holding a one-day symposium, generously hosted by the English and Creative Writing Department at The University of Roehampton, to bring together academics, artists, activists, and enthusiasts working in various ways with the subject of Gothic Nature. We are particularly keen to hear from those seeking to build on discussions raised in Issue One, as well as those eager to provide insights on themes as yet largely unexplored – such as the decolonisation of the ecoGothic, the Gothicity/horror of environmental science, media, and medicine, and the increasing imbrications between ecohorror/ecoGothic and environmental activism

4. CFP: Beyond Borders: Empires, Bodies, Science Fictions conference, London [no details given], 11-12 September 2020. Deadline: 15 June 2020.

For our 2020 conference, the LSFRC invites papers exploring borders in SF. We understand this theme broadly but are particularly interested in papers which address borders as politicised tools used to uphold empires, divide communities and police the bodies of those most marginalised. Our understanding of SF is likewise broad, and we in no way intend to use the traditionally acknowledged borders to the genre to exclude those whose work cannot be neatly defined by the term ‘science fiction.’

5. New Resources: we have added two interesting and useful links to the list that appears in the right-hand sidebar on the Home and Resources pages. One is to Dr Sam Hirst’s excellent site on Gothic Romance, which has a blog and details of book groups and online courses.

The second is to Texas A&M University’s Science Fiction and Fantasy Research Database, which is an excellent site that is ‘designed to help students and researchers locate secondary sources for the study of the science fiction and fantasy and associated genres. These include: historical material; books; articles; news reports; interviews; film reviews; commentary; and fan writing’.

Finally, I have added some more past papers of my own from conferences on our Repository page for talks and papers. These, I hope, may be a useful starting point for research, and give an idea of the direction OGOM research has taken. They cover aspects of the development of Gothic-inflected genres from Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, through Dracula to Paranormal Romance. There are close readings of the contemporary YA novels, Alyxandra Harvey’s My Love Lies Bleeding (2009) and Julie Kagawa’s The Iron King (2010).

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CFP ‘Ill met by moonlight’: Gothic Encounters with Enchantment and the Fairy Realm in Literature and Culture, 8-10 April, 2021

University of Hertfordshire, 8‒10 April 2021

John Anster Fitzgerald (1832-1906), Fairies Looking Through a Gothic Arch

The Open Graves, Open Minds (OGOM) Project was launched in 2010 with the Vampires and the Undead in Modern Culture conference.We have subsequently  hosted symposia on Bram Stoker and John William Polidori, unearthing depictions of the vampire in literature, art, and other media, before embracing shapeshifting creatures and other supernatural beings and their worlds. The Company of Wolves, our ground-breaking werewolf and feral humans conference, took place in 2015. This was followed by The Urban Weird, a folkloric collaboration with Supernatural Cities in 2017. The OGOM Project now extends to all narratives of the fantastic, the folkloric, the fabulous, and the magical. 

Our research from these conferences and symposia has since been disseminated in various publications. We have produced two edited collections of essays: Open Graves, Open Minds: Representations of Vampires and the Undead from the Enlightenment to the Present Day (Manchester University Press, 2013) and In the Company of Wolves: Werewolves, Wolves, and Wild Children, ed. by Sam George and Bill Hughes (Manchester University Press, 2020) and two special issues of Gothic Studies: Vampires and the Undead in Modern Culture special issue, 15.1 (May 2013) and Werewolves and Wildness special issue, 21.1 (Spring 2019).

To celebrate the tenth anniversary of OGOM, we turn our attention to fairies and other creatures from the realm of Faerie.

Keynote Speakers

Prof. Diane Purkiss (University of Oxford), ‘Where Do Fairies Come From? Shifts in Shape’

Prof. Dale Townshend (Manchester Metropolitan University), “The fairy kind of writing’:  Gothic and the Aesthetics of Enchantment in the Long Eighteenth Century’

Prof. Catherine Spooner (University of Lancaster), ‘Glamourie: Fairies and Fashion’

Prof. Owen Davies (University of Hertfordshire), ‘Print Grimoires, Spirit Conjuration, and the Democratisation of Learned Magic’

Dr Sam George (OGOM University of Hertfordshire), ‘Fairy Lepidoptera: the Dark History of Butterfly-Winged Fae’

The conference will also feature A Fairy Workshop on networking and outreach in the field of folklore studies for postgraduate students and ECRS with Dr Ceri Holbrook (Magical Folk, 2018) and a mini Fairy Film Festival in St Albans. And, to complete the anniversary celebrations, there will be A Fairy Ball where delegates will be encouraged to abandon their human natures and transform into their dark fey Other.

As Prof. Dale Townsend has observed, the concept of the Gothic has had an association with fairies from its inception; even before Walpole’s 1764 Castle of Otranto (considered the first Gothic novel), eighteenth-century poetics talked of ‘the fairy kind of writing’ which, for Addison, ‘raise a pleasing kind of Horrour in the Mind of the Reader’ and ‘and favour those secret Terrours and Apprehensions to which the Mind of Man is naturally subject’. Johnson, in his Preface to Shakespeare (1765), talks of ‘the loves of Theseus and Hippolyta combined with the Gothic mythology of fairies’. ‘Horror’ and ‘terror’ are key terms of affect in Gothic criticism; Townsend urges us, however, to move away from this dichotomy. While we are certainly interested in the darker aspects of fairies and the fear they may induce, this conference also welcomes attention to that aspect of Gothic that invokes wonder and enchantment.

Fairies in folklore, unlike the prettified creatures we are familiar with, are always rather dangerous. Old ballads such as ‘Tam Lyn’ and ‘The Demon Lover’ reveal their unsettling side. The darker aspects of fairies and their kin may be glimpsed in the early modern work of Michael Drayton, Edmund Spenser, Robert Herrick, and, of course, Shakespeare. They have found their way into the Romanticism of Keats and Shelley, modulated by the Gothic. Fairies blossomed in the art and literature of the Victorians; though it is here perhaps that they are most sentimentalised, there is also much darkness. The paintings of Richard Dadd and John Anster Fitzgerald are tinged with Gothic as are classic works of fairy literature such as Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market and J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. The nineteenth century also saw a surge in the dramatisation of fairies with the féerie (or ‘fairy play’), which set the scene for fairy ballets such as Les Sylphides as well as cinematic productions. Following the rise of the vampire lover in contemporary paranormal romance, dark fairies (alongside pixies, trolls, and similar creatures from the world of Faerie) have also been found in the arms and beds of humans. The original menace of traditional Faerie has been restored in the form of ambivalently sinister love objects. This has emerged from precursors such as Hope Mirrlees’s Lud-in-the-Mist (1926), Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Kingdoms of Elfin tales from the 1970s and the pioneering urban fantasy of Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks (1987), to more recent works like Neil Gaiman’s Stardust (1997) and Elizabeth Hand’s Mortal Love (2004). Young Adult writers such as Holly Black, Maggie Stiefvater, Julie Kagawa, Melissa Marr have all written fairy romances with more than a tinge of Gothic darkness and there are excellent adult paranormal fairy romances such as Jeanette Ng’s Under the Pendulum Sun (2017). Gothic Faery has manifested in other media: Gaiman’s Stardust has been filmed; cinematic interpretations of the phenomenon of the Cottingley Fairies have been made (with Photographing Fairies giving it a Gothic twist), and, recently, the dark fairies of Carnival Row have appeared on TV.

Max Weber and, subsequently, the Frankfurt School discerned a state of disenchantment in modernity, whereby industrialisation and instrumental rationality had erased the sense of the sacred in life with ambiguous effects. The appeal of fairy narratives in the modern era may be their power to re-enchant our desacralised world. Fairy narratives in the alienated world of modernity often represent untamed nature and lead us to explore environmental concerns. The Land of Faerie, Tir na Nog, the Otherworld can be a setting for Utopia. These tales may also uncover the repressed desires of inner nature, emancipatory yearnings, the spirit of revolution, creative inspiration, pure chaos, or Otherness in general. Yet often this is ambivalent; the Gothic darkness of enchantment may evoke a hesitancy over surrendering to nature or the irrational as well as having a restorative allure.

Topics may include but are not restricted to:

‘The fairy kind of writing’ in 18C Gothic poetics

The Gothic fairy in Romanticism; Victorian fairies in art and literature

Dark fairies in paranormal romance

Fairies in YA literature

Fairies and urban fantasy

Fairies in ballads and medieval romance

Fairies on stage

Fairies in music

Faery, disenchantment, and modernity

Fairy folklore

Fairies, nature, and eco-Gothic

Cinematic fairies and the Gothic; Fairies and place

Utopia and the Otherworld

Gothic folklore; Goblins, hobs, and other malevolent fairy folk

Intertextuality and fairy narratives

Fairies and theology

Fairies and (pseudo)science

Light and shade: fairies, film, and optics

Fairy morality

The Faerie world and the aesthetic dimension

Fairy festivals and the carnivalesque

Changelings and identity

Fairies and the Other

Fairies and fashion

Fairies and nationalism

Fairy-vampires and other hybrids

Steampunk Fairies

Abstracts (200-300 words) for twenty-minute papers or proposals for panels, together with a short biography (150 words), should be submitted by 30 October 2020 as an email attachment in MS Word document format to all of the following:

Dr Sam George, s.george@herts.ac.uk; Dr Bill Hughes, bill.enlightenment@gmail.com; Dr Kaja Franck, k.a.franck@gmail.com; Daisy Butcher, daisy2205@yahoo.co.uk

Please use your surname as the document title. The abstract should be in the following format: (1) Title (2) Presenter(s) (3) Institutional affiliation (4) Email (5) Abstract.

Panel proposals should include (1) Title of the panel (2) Name and contact information of the chair (3) Abstracts of the presenters.

Presenters will have the opportunity to submit to OGOM publications. They will be notified of acceptance for the conference by 30 November 2020.

*Download CFP as PDF* Follow us on Twitter @OGOMProject #GothicFairies

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Vampires, werewolves, and Jane Austen

I am being interviewed here by Brian from Toothpickings. I talk about vampires and werewolves, the folklore of these creatures and its transmutation into literature. I also make some very tenuous links between this, the Enlightenment, Jane Austen and paranormal romance. We discuss OGOM’s latest publication, In the Company of Wolves: Werewolves, Wolves, and Wild Children and I give some details of Sam’s ‘Reading the Vampire’ MA module, soon to be available on line.

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Welcome to Gothic Spring

Remedios Varo, Primavera, Las Cuatro Estaciones [Spring, the Four Seasons] (1943)

‘We live in Gothic times’, said Angela Carter. Gothic narratives are one powerful way of facing oppressive darkness. But the fantastic mode in general can also reveal utopian possibilities, new worlds beyond the darkness. We are living through a bleak period; OGOM has always been fascinated by the dialectic between shadows and illumination in fabulous narratives and we hope, despite the current crisis, to keep on exploring those pathways and sharing our research – here on this website and on OGOM Twitter (where we have started the #GothicSpring hashtag), and other media.

Unfortunately, as with everyone else, we have had to postpone some activities. The Dark Side of the Fae symposium, where Sam was due to talk on Fairy Lepidoptera, has sadly been cancelled but the event will happen at a later date. Our popular Gothic Tours of St Albans are cancelled for the time being – but they’ll be back. And, despite everything, we are still planning a major OGOM Conference for next spring – we are still working on the details, but start dreaming of Gothic fairies! We are hoping to participate in the nationwide Being Human – New Worlds Festival in November. And we are also working on further OGOM publications.

We at OGOM – Sam, Bill, Kaja, and Daisy – hope you are safe and well during these dreadful times and hope that a new life will blossom soon from out of these days of gloom.

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‘Fairy Lepidoptera’ at The Dark Side of the Fae: A Fairy Symposium, 30-31 May, 2020

I am delighted to announce that I will be speaking at a two-day symposium on fairy folklore organised by Holly Elsdon at the Centre for Folklore, Myth and Magic in Todmorden in May. You can see a brief glimpse of the line up below. The venue is Todmorden Town Hall and the Golden Lion for the evening events. Tickets are on sale now via www.thefolklorepodcast.com . Twitter @CentreMyth

‘Titania’, John Simons, 1866

The title of my talk and an abstract is given below:

Dr Sam George –  ‘Fairy Lepidoptera: the Dark History of Butterfly-Winged Fae’

Today, fairies are often viewed as benevolent nature spirits, a consolation for modernity or the loss of wild environments, but this has not always been the case. In 1887, Lady Wilde gave voice to the Irish belief that fairies are the fallen angels, cast out of heaven. Fascinated by angels, ghosts, and vampires, Victorians, then Edwardians, saw fairies as souls of the dead. In an age of widespread religious doubt, thought turned to the persistence of the dead and to occult methods of communicating with them, and, rather than dispelling fairies, memories of the dead in WWI heightened a belief in airy spirits and spirit photography. 

It was in this climate that the Cottingley fairy photographs emerged in 1917. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s defence of them was influenced by Theosophical views of fairies as evidence of a shadowy spirit world. Dell-dwelling and butterfly-winged, the Cottingley fairies were important too because they seemingly confirmed that fairies were allied to the Lepidoptera or butterfly order (an idea that became an established part of Theosophical thought).  

Thomas Stothard’s 1798 illustrations to The Rape of the Lock are reputedly the first to give fairies butterfly wings, establishing a convention. Stothard’s images appear to be derived from putti but he followed his textual source in placing his insect-winged sprites halfway between angels (disembodied) and fairies (embodied). Such butterfly-winged fae provide another link to fairies as spirits of the dead. The butterfly is thought to be the shape assumed by the soul when it leaves the body during sleep or at death. In Joseph Noel Paton’s The Pursuit of Pleasure: A Vision of Human Life (1885), the daughter of Cupid and Psyche, is represented by a fairy with butterfly wings.

Joseph Noel Paton, ‘The Pursuit of Pleasure’, 1885

Representations of fairies shift from disembodied angels to manifestations as insectile Lepidoptera and shadowy spirits of the dead. In tracing this history, I anticipate ways of thinking about fairies in the present in narratives such as Carnival Row (2019). Here the fae’s insect wings and delicate beauty mask their dark history as fallen and endangered descendants of the Tuatha de Danann (taking us back to Lady Wilde’s accounts).

Carnival Row (2019)
Amelia Jane Murray ‘Fairy Standing on a Moth’
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Company of Wolves Book Launch, The Odyssey Cinema 29 February, 2020. A Roaring Success.

Event in lights at The Odyssey

OGOM would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who found themselves in the company of wolves at our book launch for Werewolves, Wolves and Wild Children at the Odyssey Cinema, St Albans on 29 February. The book sales were off the scale and just look at the werewolf cake – probably the most awesome cake you are likely to see. Kaja really excelled in delivering this beast – woo hoo!

OGOM werewolf cake

I was honoured to be invited to introduce Neil Jordan’s Company of Wolves film prior to the book launch. You can read a transcript of my intro here.

poster advertising event

Our presentation on the book followed the screening in the auditorium. My half was on the OGOM project, the werewolf conference that had inspired the book, and my own research on wolf children, or children raised by wolves, for the chapter ‘When Wolves Cry: wolf children, story telling and the state of nature’ .

Bill then presented on the narrative of the book and the individual chapters and contributors. The book itself is a beauty not a beast we think you will agree!

After that it was time for the audience to release their inner werewolf and then on with the book signing and cake….

Book stall care of MUP
Matthew Frost our legendary editor from MUP
Matthew and his moustache showcase the cake

We’d like to thank everyone who made this book possible – all the contributors, and Matthew Frost and his team at Manchester University Press. Thanks to Kaja for organising the fabulous cake. And thanks also to the Odyssey Cinema for helping us celebrate this event: that’s Anna Shepherd, Christian Willis, Ben, and all the other staff. Thanks also to the press office at the University of Hertfordshire, Victoria Bristow and Ellie Spear. Also the UH Research Office for their support. Finally, Dr Rowland Hughes and Tara Stebnickey for helping with our impact case study and for making this and our wider project on redeeming the wolf a roaring success.

Kaja looking wolfish – love the ears!

In the build up to the launch and during it we used the hashtag #InTheCompanyofWolves you can view our Twitter ‘moment’ with all our posts and images here.

We were pleased that the launch event picked up some local coverage and was so well attended (over 150 tickets sold). You can browse some of the press stories below:

Herts Advertiser: https://www.hertsad.co.uk/news/st-albans-odyssey-werewolf-film-screening-1-6504499

University of Hertfordshire News: https://www.herts.ac.uk/about-us/news/2020/in-the-company-of-wolves-werewolf-book-launch-and-film-screening

Welwyn and Hatfield Times, ‘Movie screening at wolves book launch’, 19 February 2020

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Unleash Your Inner Werewolf 29 Feb

February is said to be ‘Otsaila’ – ‘month of the wolf’; on 29 February we are inviting you to join us for a special event to celebrate ten years of the Open Graves, Open Minds project and to launch our new book In the Company of Wolves: Werewolves, Wolves and Wild Children.  This exclusive launch is taking place at the Odyssey Cinema, St Albans.  The book will be available at 50% discount for one night only.

Cover of In the Company of Wolves book

We will be showing Company of Wolves, a British Gothic fantasy horror directed by Neil Jordan, based on Angela Carter’s lycanthropic reworkings of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, and starring Sarah Patterson, Angela Lansbury, Stephen Rea, and David Warner.

Following this there will be an exclusive preview and presentation in the auditorium on our new book and a signing session.  We’ll also be inviting you to stay for a few drinks and enjoy our celebratory wolf-themed cake. Woo hoo!!  

To join in the celebrations and unleash your inner werewolf you can book via this link 

‘Never stray from the path, never eat a windfall apple, and never trust a man whose eyebrows meet in the middle’ (Angela Carter).

The book developed from our Company of Wolves Conference you can view the impressive programme here  

To find out just why it was so special have a look at some of these wonderful news stories:

 Werewolf Conference https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-beds-bucks-herts-34144752

University to Host International Werewolf Conference https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-beds-bucks-herts-33971546

Academics Shine A Light on Folkloric Shapeshifters https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/werewolf-conference-will-see-academics-shine-a-light-on-folkloric-shapeshifters-10477155.html

The book launch too is starting to attract media interest (below). Don’t miss out on a chance to celebrate with us on 29 Feb.  



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A Fairy Symposium, 30th-31st May, Todmorden

cemetery fairy

I am delighted to announce that I will be a guest speaker at The Dark Side of the Fae: A Fairy Symposium, Todmorden Town Hall, 30th-31st May. The title of my talk will be ‘Fairy Lepidoptera: the Dark History of Butterfly-Winged Fae’. Save the Date!! Further details can be obtained from Holly Elsdon: folkloremythmagic@gmail.com

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Amazing offer! 50% or more discount on In the Company of Wolves book

We’ve been posting about the book launch for OGOM’s latest publication, In the Company of Wolves: Wolves, Werewolves, and Wild Children. If you attend the book launch, you will be able to buy the book at 50% discount (possibly more–it’s still being discussed!). The book launch (more details here) is 29 February 2020 at the fabulous Art Deco cinema, The Odyssey in St Albans and you need to book here for the event. As part of the launch, where you will be able to meet some of the contributors to this excellent collection of essays, Neil Jordan’s 1984 film The Company of Wolves will be shown (based on Angela Carter’s wonderful ‘Red Riding Hood’/werewolf tales).

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