Disenchanted blog tour – Epiphany’s story

Disenchanted is now available to buy, and to celebrate, we’ve had a blog tour.
We’ve reproduced the story fragments used on the blog tour here for your convenience; all six make an entire short story.

The blog tour stops were the ones you can see on this banner, and we’d like to thank those lovely bloggers who helped us to launch the book!
Disenchanted blog Tour Banner

Epiphany’s Story part 1 – Leeds

Original blog post here

Dr Epiphany Alexander

Dr Epiphany Alexander

Heide and Iain’s latest novel, Disenchanted, is out this month. The fairy tale fantasy comedy was written with no small assistance from Dr Epiphany Alexander of Sheffield University’s Department for Folklore and Oral History. As an insight into the research material used to create Disenchanted, we present one of Dr Alexander’s letters to the author duo.

My Dear Friends,

Thank you for the invitation to your book launch event in Birmingham a week on Saturday. I hope to be able to attend, although I am currently away on university business in Leeds which is all very exciting. My father told me never to trust a Yorkshireman whose eyebrows meet in the middle and I have been very watchful throughout my journey. I came here to meet with Professor Scarrow of Leeds University to discuss some papers that have recently come to light. I have seen his photograph previously and know I have little to fear regarding his eyebrows.

I travelled up this morning on the train with Pak Choi who has been a loyal retainer to our family for more decades than I care to guess and has promised to defend me from the monobrows. I discovered en route that he is the first of the fair folk to travel on board a train and he was quite excited by the experience, to the extent that we were removed from the Quiet Zone and told to stand outside the train toilets until Pak Choi had calmed down.

Pak Choi has drawn a picture of him sharing his excitement with the train conductor

We arrived this morning to find the sun shining over the city, which came as a surprise as I was given to understand that Leeds was famed for being constantly overcast and grey, hence the phrase ‘stick it where the sun don’t shine’ (though why exactly numerous people feel I should take my complaints and honest enquiries and send them to Leeds is a socio-linguistic mystery). Our bus stop for the university was on Boar Lane and as we waited I was put in mind of the local fairy tale of The Owl Boy.

The town of Leeds – ‘the town of the fast-flowing river’ as I’m sure you know – was, according to Bede’s tale, being terrorised by a giant boar with tusks like spears and bristles like iron needles. The brave men of Yorkshire (who will tell you they are the bravest men in the world, repeatedly and often and twice as often after a few beers) attacked the boar and were either repelled or killed. It seemed that no mortal weapon could kill the boar and the town would have to live under its tyranny, but then a simple lad came down from the hills with a sheepskin to sell. Upon hearing about the terrible boar, he told the townsfolk he would rid them of the menace. Of course, they laughed at him and refused to listen. But that night he sought out the boar on the common by the river. Presently, the boar appeared and made to attack the boy. The boy let out a curious whistle and, down from the darkness, came three owls which distracted and tormented the boar. The boy whistled again and the owls plucked a star apiece from the sky which dazzled and enraged the boar further. The boy whistled a third time and the owls flew over the river with their dazzling stars. The boar, near-blinded and filled with fury, charged at them, fell into the River Aire and drowned. The townsfolk gave thanks, made the boy an alderman of the town and, to this day, the coat of arms of the city contains three owls, three stars and the sheepskin that the simple boy had brought down from the hills.

Pak Choi has drawn his own picture of the Leeds Coat of Arms

A fascinating tale, yes? Perhaps worthy of inclusion in the second volume of your book. (You describe it as a fairy tale comedy. I envisage something akin to The Golden Bough but with more knock knock jokes. Is that about the measure of it?)

The young people of Leeds might learn a thing or two about manners and civic duty from the Owl Boy. On the bus to the university, several teenagers teased Pak Choi quite savagely about his cobweb waistcoat and thistledown pantaloons and a most unpleasant girl called him a ‘great big puff’. In retaliation, Pak Choi stole the colour from the girl’s eyes and told her she could only have it back if she spoke nothing but truths for a year.

We alighted at the university campus not in the best of moods and crossed St George’s Fields to seek out Professor Scarrow’s office. St George’s Fields is the burial place of, amongst others, Pablo Fanque, the famed equestrian and later circus owner. I am given to understand that The Beatles make reference to him in one of their songs but I’m not up to date with popular music so couldn’t be certain. What I do know is that the circus had, back in the day when such things were regarded as acceptable, a freak performer known as the Parrot Man. A local tale that has since built up recounts that the Parrot Man fled the circus and took up residence in Meanwood woods. The tale is classified as type 333 under the Aarne-Thompson-Uther system, a variant on the Red Riding Hood story (but with an eye-pecking Parrot Man in place of the wolf!).

Professor Scarrow took us to lunch at a charming little pub not far from the university. He insisted that we have a bottle of red with our meal even though I rarely drink and I suspect Professor Scarrow had already imbibed a glass or two before lunch. Professor Scarrow spilled gravy on his tie, shouted loudly at the barman and totally ignored Pak Choi. It transpired that Professor Scarrow has recently had what can only be termed ‘a messy divorce’ and has not coped well. Over a tear-spattered crème brûlée dessert, Professor Scarrow recounted the many wrongs he has suffered leading up to his wife running off with a sixth form college lecturer from Tadcaster. By this time, Professor Scarrow was clutching my hand across the dining table and I had to somewhat sternly remind him that I had come to see him on business and perhaps we ought to be about it.

The weary and somewhat remorseful Professor Scarrow took me to the university library and, as he drunkenly searched among dusty records in the library basement, asked me what I knew of the story of The Prophet Hen of Leeds. I told him what I knew.

The Prophet Hen of Leeds is a curious tale in that it blends together obvious fairy tale elements with historical fact. Once upon a time – in the late 18th Century – there was a witch who made two bold claims: that she could protect the people of Leeds from curses and that her hen could predict the future (her hen was shown on several occasions to produce eggs marked with the words “Christ is coming.”) However, neither claim proved to be true. In the matter of curses, the witch was discovered to have been systematically poisoning local folk and simply stopped poisoning those who bought her magic charms. As to the prophetic hen, the witch was uncovered by a keen-eyed local who saw her writing on an eggshell with acid and then carefully reinserting the egg back up the hen’s fundament.

Pak Choi’s illustration of a mightily surprised chicken

The poisoning of a young housewife proved to be the witch’s undoing. A magistrate’s investigations into the death led him slowly but certainly to the witch’s door. It is said that in the days before her arrest, the witch’s prophet hen began laying eggs marked with the words “Death is coming” and that none could explain how this was accomplished.

I asked Professor Scarrow if it was true that the witch’s skeleton was still held by the University of Leeds. He told me that it was, although it’s not on public display for reasons of taste. I had also heard that, after her death, the witch’s skin was removed, tanned into leather and sold off to raise money for the local children’s infirmary. And this, it turned out, was the reason for his invite to me. From an archive box, Professor Scarrow produce a sheet of vellum parchment. But, dearest friends, you will probably no doubt realise that it was not vellum but human hide! And on it… well, I could scarcely believe my eyes and requested a closer look.

As he passed the peculiar document to me, Professor Scarrow’s hand brushed mine and, perhaps still somewhat intoxicated, he tried to kiss me. Oh, to see a respected academic behave in such a deplorable way! It was shameful! Fortunately, Pak Choi was present and concussed the outrageous professor with a bound doctoral thesis. (Incidentally, that is one of the hallmarks of a good thesis; if it’s not heavy enough to knock out a professor then it probably lacks rigour).

This evening I have retired to a charming city centre hotel to recoup myself spiritually and read the witch-hide manuscript. I ordered a club sandwich from room service. However, the young somewhat fox-faced man who brought it to the room had eyebrows that met in the middle so I have not yet decided if I will eat it or not.

I will write again,
Yours,

Dr E. Alexander

Dr Epiphany Alexander’s latest book, “It Bears Repeating: The Enduring Appeal of Goldilocks” is currently available from Sheffield Academic Press.
Heide Goody and Iain Grant’s novel, Disenchanted, is available now from Amazon.

Epiphany’s Story part 2 – Sheffield

Original blog post here
Heide and Iain’s latest novel, Disenchanted, is out this month. The fairy tale fantasy comedy was written with no small assistance from Dr Epiphany Alexander of Sheffield University’s Department for Folklore and Oral History. As an insight into the research material used to create Disenchanted, we present one of Dr Alexander’s letters to the author duo.

My Dear Friends,

I came home from my trip to Leeds to find a copy of your book, Disenchanted, on my doormat. The artwork is delightful and the jacket text suggests a very, um, eventful narrative. I’m sure I will love it and will no doubt be able to give you a critical opinion when we meet a week on Saturday. It is my habit to read in the rear study perhaps with a round of cucumber sandwiches and a pot of tea. Pak Choi, my loyal retainer, brews a superior dandelion tea but is, sadly, no help with the sandwiches (it’s the cutlery; his folk cannot abide the cold touch of iron). However, I realise now that such niceties as tea and reading will have to wait for the time being as I must be off again tomorrow.

tea cup

Pak Choi has drawn a superior picture of my usual tea

As I say, I came home to Sheffield to find your book on my doormat but, in all honesty, I was more distracted by the vellum parchment I had brought home with me. Its gruesome origins notwithstanding, it was a peculiar piece, covered as it was with writing in a precise hand but of an ink that had faded to almost total illegibility. There was little of it I could make out but there was a clear mention of Lang’s Black Fairy Book and that alone was enough to send me all aquiver.

 

I am sure as amateur students of fairy tales, you are aware of the Victorian scholar’s incomparable work in collecting and categorising fairy tales. His twelve ‘coloured’ books of fairy tales are well-known and widely published but I had only ever heard scandalous and dark rumours of this thirteenth volume. The only other word I could truly make out in the text was ‘domunculus’ which, whilst seeming tantalisingly familiar, was unknown to me.

 

To clear my head and perhaps inspire thought, Pak Choi and I took a walk.  My house backs onto Wardsend Cemetery, home to the final resting place of a Lakota Sioux who died in the city while performing with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. There is a local story about how the ghost of the Sioux flagged down a train and thereby prevented a collision with a derailed coal truck but, delicious though it is, my research into the matter traces the story back to no earlier than 1973 and an argument between two drunken Sheffield Wednesday fans in the Masons Arms. This is how fairy tales are born.

 

We cut through the cemetery, past the Trebor sweet factory and down to the banks of the River Don. There is a veritable forest of fig trees growing along the Don towards the east of the city. The trees are hardly native. As best anyone can tell, their roots – not their literal roots, dear friends – are the fig roll factories that dotted the area. However, used to a Mediterranean climate, the original fig trees were only able to grow because of the hot water being continually pumped into the Don by the riverside steel works. Pak Choi and I did not make it as far as the fig trees but when we do, I always try to spot any flowers on the trees, just like Dunzfel in the old  Eastern European tale.

 

The Six Tasks of Dunzfel appears in Lang’s Lilac Fairy Book. It is one of a broad range of fairy tales in which the poor protagonist – in this case, a young man who wished to marry the princess – is forced to undertake a number of seemingly impossible tasks. In Dunzfel’s case, the tasks are to fill a barrel of water from a well using only a sieve, to state the number of hairs on the king’s head, to hold his breath from one year to the next, to collect a posy of a thousand fig flowers, to weave a carpet from spider’s silk, and to summon all the wolves in the world. Dunzfel achieves most of these by cunning (he plucks a hair from the king’s head and tells him he has one less hair than before and holds his breath just before midnight on New Year’s Eve) and through the assistance of animal friends (who line his sieve with moss and find a thousand of the elusive fig flowers for him). The request for a rug of spider silk is answered with sarcasm (Dunzfel presents the king with a twig and says he will weave the rug on a loom fashioned by the king from the twig). The king waives the final task, seeing that Dunzfel has completed the other five and not wishing to have all the wolves in the world turn up on his doorstep.

We returned home in good spirits –  Pak Choi once again regaled me with the tale of why he had set fire to the Trebor factory in the early seventies (it is said that the ferocious fire that consumed the mountains of sugar in the factory created a burned toffee smell across the city for weeks)  – only to find that our house had been burgled! The downstairs rooms were in some disarray. Furniture had been overturned, drawers ransacked and items thrown from shelves. Anything and everything of value or interest had been taken. You will be pleased to hear that my copy of your book was untouched. But, most alarming of all, the vellum parchment I had placed at the very back of the desk drawer had been found and taken. Pak Choi thought this most suspicious.

Dog falling in Seine


Here is a picture of a drunk terrier falling into the Seine

I was suddenly reminded of the French tale of Rum Baba Boy. Perhaps the recollection was caused by the sight of the destruction of my home, coupled with Pak Choi’s talk of sweet factories. Rum Baba Boy is a curious variant of the gingerbread man story, except in this instance, the young protagonist is not made from gingerbread but alcohol-soaked pastry. The poor, drunken creature spends nearly the entire narrative running through the city, crying “lack-a-day, lack-a-day, who will find a cure for my malady?” Rum Baba Boy runs through the houses of Paris, looking for a cure for his drunken madness. He ransacks the home of a baker, a doctor, a lawyer, a priest and a merchant. Only when he reaches the poorest part of the city does a stray terrier offer him a cure for all his ills and gobbles him up. Unlike the gingerbread man, Rum Baba Boy does gain some form of revenge from beyond the grave; the terrier, intoxicated by the rum-soaked cake, falls in the Seine and drowns.

The human mind is a curious thing; the recalling of that story reminded me where I had encountered the word ‘domunculus’ before. I gave a sudden shout of “Bunty Jangles!” which, I can assure you, is not something I shout out often. I followed it with a shout of “I must go to Uttoxeter!” which is something I shout out even less.

While Pak Choi packed a small valise for me, I telephoned for a taxi-cab. The young man who came to the door had a bit of a terrier look about him and his not insignificant eyebrows put me in mind of the hotel-boy I met in Leeds. But we shouldn’t judge people by their appearances, should we?

I am taking my copy of your book with me and shall read it as I go on this little adventure of my own. 

I will write again,

Yours,

Dr E. Alexander

Dr Epiphany Alexander’s latest book, “Get Your Head Out Of The Clouds: Why Jack Shouldn’t Have Climbed That Beanstalk” is currently available from Sheffield Academic Press.

Heide Goody and Iain Grant’s novel, Disenchanted, is available now from Amazon.

Epiphany’s Story part 3 – Uttoxeter

Original blog post here
Heide and Iain’s latest novel, Disenchanted, is out this month. The fairy tale fantasy comedy was written with no small assistance from Dr Epiphany Alexander of Sheffield University’s Department for Folklore and Oral History. As an insight into the research material used to create Disenchanted, we present another of Dr Alexander’s letters to the author duo.

My Dear Friends,

In my current search for Lang’s Black Fairy Book, we took a taxi-cab from Sheffield to Uttoxeter. En route, I avoided the eye of the fox-like and monobrowed driver. Instead, I read the first few chapter of your book out to Pak Choi, my retainer and travelling companion, skipping over the more ‘fruity’ language you have used (which meant missing out most of the second chapter, I’m afraid). Pak Choi had a few choice words about your depiction of his fairy kindred and I have made some notes in the margin for your benefit.

I had telephoned ahead and arranged to visit the house of a retired librarian, Bunty Jangles. I knew Bunty from her time working in Sheffield’s archive, but I remembered that she’d moved back to her home town of Uttoxeter some years before. Her house was a short walk from the station, past the racecourse. There’s a fine tradition of racing in these parts, and I recalled the tale of The Dancing Goat.

It’s a story that goes back to the time when trading animals was a key part of the local economy. Uttoxeter was granted a market charter in 1251, and it was necessary to be on the lookout for sharp practice at all times in those days. A farmer wished to buy a pig, and had heard many stories about unwary buyers being passed off with a bag containing a cat or similar. You will know of course that this is the origin of the saying ‘to buy a pig in a poke’. This farmer clearly wasn’t familiar with what a pig actually looked like because instead of taking a careful look at the animal in question, he devised a test. It was said that a pig was the slowest of the beasts, and so his test was to put the animal in question into a sprint race with another animal whose provenance was known. He came upon a trader who was willing to submit his animal to this test and the farmer arranged for his neighbour’s pig to be entered into a race with it. Word spread, and bets were placed on the two animals. The crowd gathered as the race started, and the two animals were released simultaneously. The neighbour’s pig ran directly to the finish line, and the trader’s animal danced on the spot before trotting gently into second place. The farmer happily bought the beast, upon which the rest of the crowd informed him that it was in fact a goat. The tale ended happily however, because the farmer and his dancing goat were in great demand for festivities.

Dancing goat

Here’s a picture that Pak Choi has drawn of the goat dancing.

Bunty’s house is on the Stafford Road and she sat us down with a slice of her delicious apple pie. Bunty is a wiry old bird with an energy about her that many young folk would envy. She listened to all that I told her about the clue I had been presented with in Leeds, the tantalising prospect of finding Lang’s missing work and the mention of a ‘domunculus’. I hazarded that it was a word she had mentioned to me some years before although it sound thoroughly made up.

 

“Made-up, perhaps,” she said, “but it does have a history.”

She fetched a book, Treasures of Yesteryear, from her shelf and opened it to a passage on the Uttoxeter Casket, an Anglo-Saxon reliquary. I do not know if you are familiar with reliquaries. Pak Choi confessed a certain ignorance regarding the word although I would image that authors such as yourselves would have a much larger and refined vocabulary (although on our journey down Pak Choi had noted your over-reliance on certain vulgar terms in your narrative and wondered if you simply resorted to ‘effing and jeffing’ when you could not find the right words to  express yourselves). A reliquary is, as I’m sure you know, a box made to contain religious relics. The illustration in the book was of a very ornate box, beautifully carved from wood. The text below said that medieval witnesses called the box a ‘domunculus’ because of its house-like shape with a gabled roof of sorts for a lid.

 

Just then Bunty’s dog jogged into the room. The jolly chap was a terrier, which I remembered well from years before. Pak Choi smiled broadly, he is very fond of dogs (although not in the same manner as his more carnivorous kin).

Bunty asked me if I had ever heard of the Talbot Hounds. I shook my head. It was a breed that is extinct now, she told me and it was a family emblem for the Earls of Shrewsbury. She went on to explain that legend tells of a cousin of the fifteenth Earl was waited on by a set of fully liveried dogs who staffed his kitchen and served his food. He thought so highly of his Talbot Hounds that he regularly played poker with them. By all accounts they were better at it than he was for he lost his house to them. He was forced to shoot them all to avoid a difficult scene. He spent the rest of his life living with remorse for ending the line of a noble breed. Even now, Alton Towers, which was built by the Earls of Shrewsbury has the dogs as heraldic devices in the grounds. They had an animatronic version called Henry back in the eighties, who would sing country and western songs.

I thought that thoroughly ghastly and shuddered.

Singing dog

Here is Pak Choi’s singing dog

I asked Bunty where I might find this Uttoxeter Casket and was told in reply that it was in Cleveland.

“Over Stockton way?” I said, my heart sinking.

“No, worse than that,” Bunty informed me. “Cleveland, Ohio.”

America! Goodness me!

We departed soon after Bunty’s startling news. It made it hard to know what I should do next. I have after all committed to being present at the launch of your book, Disenchanted, and a trip to the United States could put that (and my bank balance) in jeopardy.

As we passed by the garden gate on the way back to the station, the elderly gardener called me over and pressed a tiny bunch of pansies into my hand. Whilst I was grateful for the gesture, he held onto my hand for rather longer than was necessary, and Pak Choi had to tug me away. Pansies are a favourite of mine, and Pak Choi and I pressed them between the pages of a book later that evening, so that they don’t spoil while we’re away on the next leg of our journey.

Yours,

Dr E. Alexander

Dr Epiphany Alexander’s latest book, “Six Out of Seven Dwarfs aren’t Happy: The Mistreatment of Little People in Fairy Tales” is currently available from Sheffield Academic Press.

Heide Goody and Iain Grant’s novel, Disenchanted, is available now from Amazon.

Epiphany’s Story part 4 – Tuscon

Original blog post here
Heide and Iain’s latest novel, Disenchanted, is out this month. The fairy tale fantasy comedy was written with no small assistance from Dr Epiphany Alexander of Sheffield University’s Department for Folklore and Oral History. As an insight into the research material used to create Disenchanted, we present another of Dr Alexander’s letters to the author duo.

My Dear Friends,

Apologies for the state of this letter and the quality of my handwriting. I am having to write it in peculiar circumstances.

I have surprising news. I am currently in Arizona! This is, as they say, a turn up for the books. Quite apt as I have literally turned up for the book, namely Lang’s Black Fairy Book, his missing thirteenth volume of fairy tales.

When I last wrote to you, I had just heard that the book was perhaps with the domunculus reliquary in Cleveland, Ohio. A few phone calls later and I was speaking to a Professor Raposa of the University of Arizona where the reliquary is on loan. Professor Raposa, I am embarrassed to say, is a fan of my work and both an invitation to visit and plane tickets were soon sent my way! I was naturally thrilled but Pak Choi, my faithful companion, was less pleased. He had heard rumours about the questioning some people are put through at US border control and was worried that the officials might give one of the Fair Folk a tough time. I said he should simply not say anything to annoy them and just keep them happy.

To distract him from worry on the flight, I told him my favourite Arizonan story. It concerns Grey Fox, hero of the Yuman-speaking Native Americans. Giants had come out of the east and from their camp atop a mesa attacked the people of the land, eating those that they could catch. The king rode out to meet the giants and he too was eaten. After that, no one wanted to be king. Grey Fox, who was a reluctant hero at best, knew he had to face the giants. As he walked towards the mesa, he met a horned toad, who offered his help in defeating the giants. He gave Grey Fox his ‘horned helmet’, his ‘horny breastplate’ and his ‘scaly wings’ and told him that he should fight the giants so that the giants had their backs to a cliff edge. Grey Fox went to the mesa and, using the toad’s wings, flew up to meet the giants. They threw spears at him but they broke against his breastplate. They fired arrows at him but they bounced off his helmet. The giants, fearing that Grey Fox was a spirit, dared not take their eyes off him. As the toad had instructed, Grey Fox fought them so they had their backs to the cliff edge so when he leapt at them, they stepped back and fell down to their doom. The last of them to fall reached out and ripped the wings from Grey Fox’s back. Grey Fox returned to the horned toad and gave back the helmet and breastplate. But, seeing that his beautiful wings had been destroyed, the toad was overcome with sadness and anger which is why, to this day, the wingless horned toad cries bitter tears of blood whenever the fox comes near.

toad spitting blood from eyes

Pak Choi’s bizarre drawing of a toad spitting blood from its eyes

The man at the immigration desk had clearly not seen a passport from the Fair Lands before. They are rare after all and composed primarily of pressed leaves and petals. I suspect Pak Choi might have taken my earlier words too literally. He whispered certain words to the man and the man started laughing. He did not stop laughing, even when they had wrestled him from the booth and taken him away on an ambulance stretcher. We hotfooted it out of the airport as quickly as possible.

Professor Raposa was a delightful host who put me up in his Tucson home. Of late, all the men I meet seem to either be suspiciously monobrowed or have some sort of romantic interest in me. It appeared that Professor Raposa was one of the latter. At dinner, with an honesty and charm that British men simply don’t have, Professor Raposa explained that he had first seen me delivering a speech at a symposium in Illinois some years earlier and had ‘taken a shine’ to me. I recall delivering a paper at the event entitled “People in Glass Slippers shouldn’t own Thrones: Why Cinderella would have been a Rubbish Queen” but I had no recollection of meeting the professor.

I rebuffed the professor’s gentle advances and we spent a perfectly pleasant evening over a bowl of chili, a plate of something called cheese crisp and a glass of Sonoita Malvasia, an American wine that was far more pleasant than certain European wine-snobs of my acquaintance might have me believe. The following day, we went to the Arizona State Museum in the grounds of the university and to the domunculus I had come all this way to see.

However, I was distracted by the sight of the infamous Silverbell Road Crosses that the museum also has on display. The crudely cast lead crosses are perhaps evidence of a mythical colony of religious exiles who fled from Rome over twelve hundred years ago and settled in Arizona centuries before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors. The badly-formed Latin inscriptions and the carved imagery (including a dinosaur, no less!) offer hints of a marvellous story of great adventure, remarkable encounters in the Arizona desert and possibly even dinosaurs. Or, they all form part of an elaborate hoax, created for unknown reasons by a local Mexican sculptor. If only I had the time to study them further and draw my own conclusions! Pak Choi’s own conclusions are evidenced in this delightful drawing he has rendered.

cowboy on dinosaur

Pak Choi’s drawing of a cowboy riding a diplodocus

Professor Raposa took me to a gallery attended by two young men and there he presented to me, wrapped in a protective sheet, the Uttoxeter Casket. The reliquary was both smaller and more intricately carved than I had imagined. The boxwood carvings show various scenes from the life of Christ, including the nativity and the crucifixion. I told Professor Raposa that it was beautiful but, in all honest truth, I wanted to look within. Professor Raposa obliged and lifted the lid.

Oh, dear friends, did I expect to see Lang’s missing book of fairy tales just sitting there? Did I foolishly think that it had remained hidden for decades because no one had thought to look inside the box? The answer, sadly, is yes. But, naturally, the reliquary box was empty. Well, almost.

At the bottom of the box was a black and white photograph. I inspected it and saw that it was a photograph of a section of medieval manuscript, featuring an image of a fair queen upon her throne.

Professor Raposa was keen for my interpretation of the photograph which had arrived with the box. I was not quick to come to any judgement.  Jumping to hasty conclusions will have people believing in cowboys riding dinosaurs and wotnot. Professor Raposa became unaccountably impatient and then angry and he demanded that I tell him where the Black Fairy Book was. He made a passing remark about ‘the cheese-dangling witch!’ but I was suddenly and acutely distracted by the guns that the gallery attendants now pointed at me. I was struck by two almost instantaneous thoughts: one was that the two gallery attendants had rather thick eyebrows, the other was that it seemed something of a cliché for my current adventure to only feature firearms when I travelled to the United States. Oh well, such is life.

Unable to answer Professor Raposa’s demands for the location of the Black Fairy Book, even at gunpoint, I soon found myself in an unusual position. In short, I am currently writing this from the confines of the boot of what I understand to be a Lincoln Continental (you might have been curious as to why I have been forced to write this letter on end papers torn from your latest novel. It is no reflection of the regard in which I hold your book; it was simply the only paper to hand). It’s not the ideal space in which to write a missive but it could be worse. I will say this for our American friends, they do build cars with plenty of trunk space. I am not sure where the malicious Professor Raposa and his accomplices are taking me but I hope to post this letter to you as soon as I am let out.  

I am deeply conscious that I said I would be at your book event in four days’ time. Be assured I very much intend to be there and to have read your book in full by that time. I am sure all this nasty business will be wrapped up long before then.

Yours,

Dr E. Alexander

Dr Epiphany Alexander’s latest book, “High Ho, High Ho: Drug Use and Prostitution in Fairy Tales” is currently available from Sheffield Academic Press.

Heide Goody and Iain Grant’s novel, Disenchanted, is available now from Amazon.

 

Epiphany’s Story part 5 – Tamworth

Original blog post here
Heide and Iain’s latest novel, Disenchanted, is out this month. The fairy tale fantasy comedy was written with no small assistance from Dr Epiphany Alexander of Sheffield University’s Department for Folklore and Oral History. As an insight into the research material used to create Disenchanted, we present another of Dr Alexander’s letters to the author duo.

My Dear Friends,

When last I wrote to you, I believe I was trapped  in the trunk of a Lincoln Continental in downtown Tucson, Arizona. I found time to reflect upon some of the unusual things that have happened in my  life over recent days, and I was able to draw some useful conclusions. So it was that when Pak Choi suggested that we might slip out via his homeland, I immediately agreed, as I had determined what should be our next course of action.

One should always be wary of spending too much time in Faerie, as it ages the skin terribly, so I had Pak Choi immediately open another portal back into the real world, and this one to the town of Tamworth.

As I am sure you’re aware, Tamworth was the seat of the Saxon rulers of Mercia, and it was for this reason that I needed to visit. The photograph in the domunculus I had seen in Tuscon was unmistakeably a picture of Æthelflæd. Æthelflæd was the daughter of Alfred the Great, and known as the Lady of Mercia. Pak Choi opened a convenient doorway that emerged in the river meadow in the shadow of Tamworth castle.

The castle is built at the confluence of two rivers, the Tame and the Anker, and this important junction is the subject of a local fairy tale, known as The Mermaid and the Mother. A local boy, Tom, liked to spend time by the river, although his mother warned him to be careful of mermaids. Tom was confident that he would not be tricked by the notoriously sly mermaids, and continued  to pass his days on the pleasant grassy banks. When a swan engaged him in conversation he was not afraid, and even took the swan home to meet his mother. It turned out that the swan was a mermaid, and by inviting her over the threshold of his home, Tom was now betrothed to her. Tom didn’t mind the prospect of spending the rest of his life swimming in the river with this fascinating creature, but his mother was determined to prevent the marriage so she heated up the oven, preparing to roast the swan. The cunning mermaid passed word of this to the town’s magistrate, who was naturally obliged to protect the royal bird and so threw the mother in jail, and presided over the nuptials in her absence.

woman cooking swan

Here is a picture of the mother preparing to cook the swan

Pak Choi and I enjoyed the brief and pleasant walk up into the town, passing by the Assembly Rooms, which bears Tamworth’s unofficial coat of arms. This features a pair of mermaids, popularly supposed to be Tom and his bride.

I wanted to visit the library, where I believed there was an archive of the local newspapers. The late Mabel Swift had a popular history column in this for many years, and it was her work that I wished to review, as I had heard that she had a great deal of expertise regarding the life of Æthelflæd and I needed to find out what link there might be with Andrew Lang’s Black Fairy Book. In the library, a bespectacled assistant called Ernest offered to copy all of the relevant material for me, and suggested that I should enjoy a walk around the shady pathways between the library and St Editha’s church while I waited. Pak Choi and I enjoyed this very much, as there are lots of cheeky squirrels who seem unafraid of people and so Pak Choi was able to have a hearty gossip with them without attracting too much attention. He passed on a bawdy tale of squirrel-based derring-do which I will relate here for your amusement, as I know that your book Disenchanted touches on some rather base elements.

A squirrel called Ewan declared himself king of the nuts, by virtue of the fact that nobody else had thought to do it first. He had a throne constructed of nuts and made all of his subjects bring him nut-based tributes. He was an unpopular ruler as nobody could ever see any benefit to his reign, only the burden of supplying nuts for his insatiable appetite.

It became known that he needed so many nuts to sustain his lovemaking, as he liked to visit whatever passes for a red light district in squirrel terms (I’m afraid that Pak Choi’s excessive mirth made this point a little unclear to me). Ewan’s subjects decided that they could cure these urges with the use of a classic honey trap. They recruited a delightfully pretty girl squirrel. Pak Choi used the term hotsy totsy. I honestly don’t know where he gets it from, I think these squirrels are a bad influence. The attractive squirrel was charged with engaging the squirrel king in energetic lovemaking, but whenever he reached for a nut (as he would do throughout) she would bite him vigorously. You might think that this tale ends with Ewan’s re-education, perhaps renouncing his reign over the nuts, but you’d be wrong. It actually ends with him contracting tetanus and dying, which had Pak Choi and his bushy-tailed friends falling about and hooting with laughter.

squirrel king of the nuts

Here is a picture of the King of the Nuts

There is an interesting anchor-themed sculpture near the church. It is a memorial to Colin Grazier, one the three British seaman who retrieved secret documents from a sinking German submarine in World War Two. The Enigma code books were amongst those documents, enabling those clever people over at Bletchley Park to understand the Germans’ encrypted messages. Sadly, young Colin, a local lad, drowned when the sub went down.

Colin Grazier memorial

Here is Pak Choi’s sketch of the sculpture

I had my own mystery to solve and codes to break and felt inspired by Colin’s example as I went back into the library to see what Ernest had found for me. The librarian had uncovered and photocopied a wealth of local history material for me. 

Ernest looked at me intently and enquired if I would like to join him for a drink of locally brewed real ale, over which he could tell me some more about the local area. Lovely though the little man was, I can’t abide real ale. I dismissed his advances with brief thanks and made a sharp exit. I had much to think about. I was not in need of ale but of some quiet thinking time and a cup of Pak Choi’s soothing tea.

I post this to you in the knowledge that I have promised to meet you in Birmingham tomorrow to help celebrate the launch of your new book. I see no reason at all why I can’t get to the bottom of this mystery and then come meet with you, dear friends.

Yours,

Dr E. Alexander

Dr Epiphany Alexander’s latest book, “One Day My Prints Will Come: How Early Printers Hindered the Spread of Fairy Tales” is currently available from Sheffield Academic Press.

Heide Goody and Iain Grant’s novel, Disenchanted, is available now from Amazon.

Epiphany’s Story part 6 – Birmingham

Heide and Iain’s latest novel, Disenchanted, is out this month. The fairy tale fantasy comedy was written with no small assistance from Dr Epiphany Alexander of Sheffield University’s Department for Folklore and Oral History. As an insight into the research material used to create Disenchanted, we present another of Dr Alexander’s letters to the author duo.

My Dear Friends,

I can explain everything, as I am sure you have questions. We set off for Birmingham this morning in high spirits and good hope that we might be able to conclude our own business before joining you this evening in the Prince of Wales pub to celebrate the launch of your latest book, Disenchanted. Our personal quest, to find Andrew Lang’s missing volume of fairy tale stories had, as you know, taken us far and wide and now we had come to Birmingham, hoping to find it in the company of a medieval illuminated manuscript called The Cartulary of Wroxall Abbey, featuring an image of Æthelflæd, Queen of the Mercians. We were being closely pursued by some mysterious foxy gentlemen with unruly eyebrows, but more on them later.

In Tamworth, I found a mention in one of Mabel Swift’s newspaper columns of her seeing the illuminated manuscript in the Shakespeare Memorial Room of Birmingham Central Library on Edmund Street. Pak Choi, my faithful servant and companion, made a number of childish noises at the mention of Shakespeare. He has made it clear to me before that he and the other Fair Folk have a somewhat low opinion of Mr William Shakespeare and his depiction of fairies.

As we walked from Birmingham New Street station up to Edmund Street, Pak Choi recounted to me the fairy tale of Puck and the Horrific Machine. To be honest, fairies just call them ‘tales’ or, when they are feeling less charitable ‘tales of our dealings with the stupid humans’. I suspect Pak Choi makes most of it up but it is set in Birmingham and so worth recounting. He began the tale by recounting how Robin Goodfellow, the puckish fairy, often visits the homes of slovenly women and pinches them black and blue as punishment for their poor housekeeping and laziness (Puck is something of an unreconstructed chauvinist, you may note). One woman, living in the Highgate area of the then town of Birmingham, drew Robin Goodfellow’s ire. Not only did she refuse to keep her house clean but she also locked her front and back doors at night (fairy folk require that all doors are kept unlocked so that human homes do not impede their night-time flights). But Robin Goodfellow was never one to give in and resolutely broke in each night to pinch and poke and prod the slatternly housewife. The woman, one Mrs Griffiths, might not have been house-proud but she was intelligent, belligerent and would make use of all available tools on hand to fight her cause. The tool, in this instance, was her husband. She told Mr Griffiths to build an electric machine with which to fight off the fairy. Mr Griffiths’ invention was primarily composed of iron (which fairies hate) and had a great sucking nozzle with which to unnerve and dismount flying fairies. So armed, Mrs Griffiths lay in wait and, indeed, Robin Goodfellow made his appearance that night. Mrs Griffiths chased the puckish one upstairs and down, rattling her nozzle up curtains, under furniture and along the coving. Of course, she had no hope of catching the light-footed Puck (who could put a girdle around the world in forty minutes, as you know) but it was perhaps pleasing and certainly profitable when she realised that her husband had invented the world’s first domestic vacuum cleaner.

woman with vacuum cleaner

Here is a picture of Mrs Griffiths with her vacuum cleaner

We reached Edmund Street and found a museum and some council offices but no sign of any library. After walking up and down for some minutes, we asked one of the local residents (they do have a peculiar accent, don’t they?) about the library. The old gent was keen to tell us that the library that had stood there had been demolished in the 1970s. I was most saddened to hear this. But our friendly local was keen to point out that the Shakespeare Room had been dismantled brick by brick and panel by panel and reconstructed within the new Central Library. I eagerly asked him to direct us to it and he pointed to a demolition site not fifty yards away. My heart sank.

“Of course,” the old gent told me, “they moved it out of there into the new new Library of Birmingham.”

Well, off we set, in search of this mysterious wandering room. Within in minutes were in the new shiny glass and gold library and taking the lift to the ninth floor where, as the man had promised, there was an original Victorian room (albeit constructed in the Elizabethan style) with birds and flowers and such produced in world-class marquetry. In a locked display case, we saw The Cartulary of Wroxall Abbey! Fortunately, Pak Choi is not only a fine chef, a gifted masseur and a self-proclaimed “Third Dan in Sushi” but he’s also a dab hand with locks. Faster than you can say Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo, the case was open, the book was out and there, in a hollow that had been savagely cut into the aged parchment, was a fat leather-bound notebook.

With trembling hands – oh, they were trembling, dear friends – I opened the notebook and saw the confident if not entirely neat signature of one ‘A. Lang’ on the first page. Dear friends, I hope that you can appreciate the unalloyed joy I felt at holding a previously unseen volume from one of our island’s greatest collectors of fairy tales and folklore.

Giddy as schoolchildren, we hightailed it out of the library and took our find to the Wellington pub to toast our success and pore over the tales within the book. I must confess, I imbibed more than a couple of glasses of red while voraciously reading such delights as Old Scratch comes to Stay, The Princess who would not be Married and The Three Witches of the Fen. One story especially caught my eye.

The Queen and the Foxes is a tale of a great English queen (Æthelflæd perhaps?) who came to the aid of the land when it was under attack from demonic foxes from across the sea (an allegory for the Danish Vikings, maybe). Many men had met them in combat but the foxes were too strong and quick. The queen defeated them instead in a battle of wits. She invited them into the courtyard of her castle with the promise of a feast. They came at night, slinking in like silent shadows, licking their sharp teeth hungrily. They demanded the food that had been promised and the queen said they would dine on the largest cheese in the world. “Where is it?” the foxes demanded and the queen pointed into the well in the middle of the courtyard. The foxes looked in and saw a big round cheese as big as the world. Without a second thought, the demonic beasts leapt in one after the other into the well. Of course, the ‘cheese’ was nothing but a reflection of the full moon but the hungry foxes were easily fooled. When they all landed in the well, rolling over each other in their furry thousands, snapping and biting at one another, the foxes understood they had been tricked and vowed vengeance against the queen and the people of the land. But the queen bound them in the well with an enchantment (a couplet in Old English that appeared in the book but which I will not repeat here). And so the land was saved.

Here is a picture of the foxes in the well

Pak Choi and I enjoyed another drink (maybe two) before realising we were in danger of being late for your book launch party. We staggered aboard a number 50 bus and demanded that the driver take us to the Prince of Wales pub. We were, I should say in our defence, very nearly on time.

Soon enough, we stepped off the bus in the suburb of Moseley and looked around for the pub. What we did see was a number of hairy men casually approaching us. Perhaps it was the influence of the wine but I could see clearly now that these fellows, with their thick eyebrows, long tongues and – yes! – bushy tails swinging between their legs were foxes, plain and simple.

“Give us the book,” they said in silky voices, “or we will tear you limb from limb.”

“So that you can use the enchantment to free your foxy friends and take over the land once more?” I demanded loudly. I’m not usually so loud and commanding but six or seven glasses of Merlot does something to a lady.

The foxes merely shrugged, which was impressive because I didn’t think foxes had shoulders.

“Never,” I said and reached into Pak Choi’s pocket. My fairy friend is a pipe man and frequently enjoys a puff on Youngman’s Long-Drawn Shag and therefore always has matches on his person. I took a book from my bag and, quick as I could, put flame to the paper. The foxes howled in anguish at seeing their chance for vengeance gone for good. As they ran off, screaming miserably, I shouted victoriously after them, “Away filth! Begone with you! Good riddance to bad rubbish!”

And that, my dear friends, is the reason why, when you stepped out of the pub you happened to find me, drunkenly burning a copy of your book on the pavement and declaring “Away filth!” and such. I’m sure you can see that my version of events is entirely believable and satisfactory now that I have explained it to you.

You did mention in your rather terse text message that I was clearly alone but I should point out that the foxes had gone by the time you appeared and that my fairy friend isn’t always visible to mortal folk. Yes, it is true that I deceived the fox-men by burning your novel rather than Lang’s priceless notebook but I am confident that you will see the wisdom of my actions.

Anyway, now that is cleared up, I hope that you will not mention this little matter to the Vice Chancellor of my university and that we can remain, as always, the dearest of friends.

Yours,

Dr E. Alexander

Dr Epiphany Alexander’s latest book, “Cobblers! : The Dubious Origins of the Tale of the Elves and the Shoemaker.” is currently available from Sheffield Academic Press.

Heide Goody and Iain Grant’s novel, Disenchanted, is available now from Amazon.

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