Thursday, 29 November 2012

In The Trees

I wrote this as a Christmas poem for Sharon, she stitched it into this wall hanging.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Alice In A Winter Wonderland

Wassail! By Mhairi M Robertson
On November 26 1862, Charles Dodgson sent a copy of his handwritten manuscript Alice's Adventures Under Ground to Alice Liddel as a Christmas present. Dodgson famously made up the story while on a boating trip with the Liddel sisters. A revised version of the manuscript was eventually self published as Alice in Wonderland in 1865.

Since then there have been Manchester based steampunk sequels, mythology building comic versions, controversial adult retellings, crazy crossovers with other classic novels and a dodgy 3-D movie.

This is my contribution...Alice's Winter Wonderland, a wee bit from a Christmas Story I wrote for Sharon as a Christmas gift a few years back, which has Alice wandering through Wonderland exploring the folklore and traditions of the 12 Days of Christmas. I keep footering with it, and at some point myself and Mhairi hope to release a complete illustrated version. Fingers crossed. Mhairi and I also created a series of unusual adventures for Alice in The Wonderful Worlds of Alice.

Alice's Winter Wonderland - Ten Pipers Piping

As Alice stepped back over the hill back onto the snowy path, she could see to her dismay that she was right back where she had started, and no nearer the Ministers House at all.
“I’m beginning to forget what it is I am to recite this evening. I know it was something to do with Christmas.” thought Alice to herself, “I had better keep practicing.”
As she walked she sang to herself.

“Angels we have heard can’t fly,  
Are now travelling on trains,
So the Doctor’s coming by,
For to salve their aches and pains.”
Alice was sure this was not quite right, but just as she was about to start over, she realised she was again standing by the fruit tree in the town square, with the little Green Village down the hill on the left and the little Red Village she had just returned from, down the hill on the right.
“Back again?” said The Partridge, “You really ought to listen to your elders and betters.”
“Why should I listen to you?” said Alice. “You sent me off in completely the wrong direction the last time we spoke.”
The Partridge sniffed haughtily, in a way which reminded Alice of her Great Aunt Matilda.
“It’s hardly my fault that you cannot follow instructions. What a dim girl you are.”
The Partridge even sounded like her Great Aunt Matilda.
“And what a rude bird YOU are.”
Alice turned on her heel and marched down towards the little Green Village, only just remembering how much trouble she had found herself in when she tried this approach with Great Aunt Matilda.
“That’s the wrong way.” trilled The Partridge “They’re all mad that way.”
“Well it’s too late to stop now.” thought Alice to herself, “I’ll look even more foolish if I turn around and go back. Besides which, I have already tried going the other way.”
As she drew nearer to the Green Village, she could hear a fantastic din, the little street was full of people of all shapes and sorts, each carrying a different musical instrument, and clearly playing their own tune. 
Alice was most pleased to notice that at the head of the band was her friend The White Knight, he seemed to be having some difficulty with a drum. It being the type of day it was, Alice was not at all surprised to see The Mad Hatter helping The White Knight secure the drum straps around his armour.
“Hello sir!” said Alice “May I ask what this noise is all about?”
“We are the Town Band.” announced The White Knight rather importantly in the incorrect tense “We go from house to house, singing songs and warming ourselves by the winter fire. Or rather, we would do, if we could just all start at the same time.”
Alice looked at the long line of people in the band.
“By the time I’ve started, and word gets carried all the way down to the people at the back, I’m already on a different song.”
“Does the drum not help to keep everyone in time?” asked Alice, who knew a little of how music was supposed to work.
“It should my dear.” said The White Knight, “I brought this drum all the way from eastern climes. Sadly however, I left the sound behind.”
“Don’t be silly. You can’t leave a noise behind.” said Alice.
“Of course you can, I know of at least three gentlemen who are able to throw their voice. One threw it so far than it got lost and could not come back.”
While Alice stopped for a moment to consider this, The Mad Hatter explained further, “It’s all true. So now there’s a street in Constantinople where all day a drum beats without a drum.”
“It is most annoying for those nearby.” said The White Knight “For they have no way of stopping it.”
Alice could see from the sad look on his face that The White Knight was quite serious. 
“Perhaps,” Alice ventured, “You aren’t playing it entirely right. I’ve had quite a number of piano lessons, I may be able to help.”
Here, Alice felt it was not important to mention that her last piano lesson had ended with her Music Mistress sobbing.
“Now,” said Alice with some authority “Where is the drumstick.”
“I gave it to a passing Badger in exchange for an excellent chutney recipe.” said The White Knight.
“What use would a Badger have for a drumstick?” asked Alice.
“I believe he wished to use it to beat eggs. Or chimney sweeps. At any rate, I didn’t need it if the drum wasn’t making a noise. I am not even that fond of chutney, but it did seem like the correct thing to do in the circumstances.”
All the while Alice had been talking to The White Knight, she had been politely trying not to notice The Mad Hatter unsuccessfully attempting to untangle himself from what looked like a sack full of sticks, but as ever, her curiosity finally got the better of her manners.
“Excuse me please, What are those?” asked Alice.
“These are my Regicidal Bagpipes.” said The Mad Hatter, beaming with pride. “They are over four hundred years old.”
“Really?” said Alice, very impressed. “That’s very old indeed.”
“Yes. Though sadly, I have had to replace both the bag and the pipes several times owing to their increased age.”
“Well then they aren’t old bagpipes at all!” said Alice. “They are completely new bagpipes.”
“Which part? They still sound old.” said The Mad Hatter, “Now, would you like to hear our song?” 
If truth be told, Alice was already tiring slightly of people insisting on singing songs at her, but it seemed to be the only way that she might get someone from the band to help her on her way. “Besides,” she thought “perhaps this song will be one I know.”
“Is everyone ready?” asked The Hatter “Excepting of course, those who are not? Let us sing ‘Here we come a-waffling’.”

Here we come a-waffling,
Among the streets serene.
Here we come a wobbling,
We haven’t got a bean.

Our waffle cup is made,
Of the old Tulgey tree,
And we prefer to see it filled,
With finest Earl Grey tea.

Bring us out a table,
And spread it with green cheeses.
Bring us out some cinnamon,
To spare our festive sneezes.

God bless the master of this house,
And all his cats and dogs,
For you we come a-waffling,
And dance with finest clogs.

The company concluded with a little dance, and gave themselves a rather impolite and ill deserved round of applause.
“Well,” said Alice, trying very hard to think of what to say “That was nice.”
“Precisely!” said The White Knight, “But sadly the folk of this village do not entirely agree with you. We have decided therefore to make an expedition over to The Red Village instead. I know of a Piemaker there who will be very pleased to welcome us.”
“If it is The Piemaker I have just met in The Red Village, that is very unlikely.” Alice thought to herself, but she did not want to upset The White Knight.
“I wonder if one of you might be able to help me.” said Alice, who now felt it was appropriate to ask for assistance since she had been so kind about The Town Band’s performance. “I’m looking for The Ministers House, I have a recital to give there this evening.”
“What is the house number?” asked The Mad Hatter.
“You know, I’m not sure.” said Alice. “Seven I think. Or twenty-three.”
“Then he must be a Prime Minister.” declared The Mad Hatter, before continuing to wrestle with his bagpipes.
“The Lords and Ladies would know best where to find a Prime Minister.” said The White Knight. “They are all dancing down by the forest. Come along and I’ll show you.”
Alice and the White Knight walked off through the snow towards the forest as the band marched off out of time, on their expedition to The Red Village.

Lewis Carroll frequently parodied contemporary poems, the nonsense above is more popularly known as "Here We Come A Wassailing", sung by winter wassailers looking for a warm drink by the fire. Similarly, Alice is not quite remembering "Angels We Have Heard On High". But as I'm fond of saying...if ye have to explain it...

I do enjoy scribbling a bit of Christmas fan fiction, here's some lost pages from Wind in the Willows.

Here's Blur's version of The Wassailing Song

And, while we're doing Christmas's The Two Ronnies 'Alice in a Winter Wonderland'...

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Watership Down : When Frith Sleeps

This month's fanfic celebrates the 40th Anniversary of the publication of Watership Down by Richard Adams. If you are only familiar with the excellent animated version, the book is well worth exploring, especially for the folktales about the rabbit prince El-ahraihrah. Adams released a sequel in 1996, which collected many more of these rabbit folktales. I've gone for something in that vein..

At the turn of each year, the Lord Frith must sleep, and rabbits fear this time most of all, for the days grow shorter, and elil claim the long nights as their own. One year, Frith had been busier than usual with the summer and harvest, and slept longer than before. So there came a bitter winter, with high winds and deep snows - rabbits gathered and huddled in burrows, and every day fewer and fewer woke up. And so those who still had strength came to El-ahrairah and asked him to help.

El-ahrairah went to the Prince of Rainbows and asked for him to waken Frith and hasten the springtime.
"All the seasons have their time El-ahrairah, and neither I nor Frith himself can hurry them. But there is one who can make the winter less cold."
"Who is it?" said El-ahrairah "For my babies are dying in this long freeze."
"This season belongs to  Marlie Eleer, the Queen of Midwinter, and only she can ease the winds and snow."
"Excellent!" said El-ahrairah "Where may I find her?"
"She will not be easily convinced…" said the Prince of Rainbows, for her very heart is ice."
"Am I not El-ahrairah who visited the Black Rabbit of Inle in his stone burrow, who bested the Crow Witch at her riddles and who has dined with ancient Kings in the hollow hills?"
"Very well El-ahrairah. The Queen of Midwinter lives just beyond the other edge of the world in a castle made of frost and bones. The only way to get there is to follow the frozen river from the end of the forest, and when you pass the edge of the world, the frozen river is the bridge of ice you must walk across to her keep."

El-ahrairah returned to his warren and bid his good friend and brave companion Rabscuttle to once again join him on an adventure. And as a new snow started to fall on their friends and families, they began to follow the frozen river.

The river ice cracked and splintered beneath their cold feet on the long journey, and just below the surface, blind pike snapped and grinned, waiting for the rabbits to fall through into the icy dark.

They followed the frozen river up into the jagged mountains, where the giant eagles nest, and daily they screeched and swooped down on El-ahrairah and Rabscuttle, so that they had to hide in the mountain caves among the bats and wild pfeffa.

The river ran down the mountains into the zorn lands, scorched black by man. And so they came to Lendri Pass, where the ghosts of dead badgers prowled the fields, looking for rabbit souls to feast upon, their cold claws grabbing and dragging away the unwary. It's said Rabscuttle lost three years off of his life in their journey across the dead fields.

And finally, they saw the other edge of the world and the castle of the Queen. On the icy bridge, stood a pure white She-Wolf, the Queen of Midwinter herself.
El-ahrairah and Rabscuttle tried to cross the bridge, but the Queen growled, not allowing them passage across.
"Queen, I am El-ahrairah, Prince of Rabbits, and I come to ask you to ease the winds and snow, for the winter is hard on my rabbits."
"And why would I do that? What do I care for rabbits? Or for anyone else."
El-ahrairah could see that the Queen was lonely, and her heart would only grow colder with each passing winter. And right away, he thought of a way to solve their problem.
"Good Queen, you should travel to see how your winter changes the world. It is most beautiful and there is much more than can be seen from your castle. If you meet me at the edge of our forest in one week, I will show you the icy webs spun by the snow spiders and the fields of woven snowflakes.." said El-ahrairah.
The Queen thought about it.
"My winter is beautiful?"
"Oh indeed," said El-ahrairah, "and if you were to meet me in a week, I could show you it all."
"We shall never get home in a week!" whispered Rabscuttle.
"We shall," said El-ahrairah "for already the frozen river is thawing."
So Marlie Eleer agreed to meet them in one week and wasting no time, El-ahrairah and Rabscuttle balanced on broken trees and sailed back home down the river.

When they returned El-ahrairah sent Rabscuttle back to the burrow with some winter provisions for the pups. Then he sought out the Prince of Rainbows and asked him to take him to the sleeping Lord Frith.
"I will take you El-ahrairah, but you must not wake him, for if you do, we'll all feel the wrath of his fiery temper."

For five days, El-ahrairah watched the King as he was sleeping, and whispered in his ear about the beauty of the Queen of Midwinter. On the sixth day, he whispered to him to wake and meet him at the forests edge the next day.

The next day, El-ahrairah waited by the forests edge. The trees grew brittle and cold as the Queen of Midwinter swept down the river, and then, the ice melted on the branches as Frith came down from the sky. The King and Queen looked at each other, bowed in respect and then smiled. El-ahrairah knew his plan had worked.

So it was that El-ahrairah played matchmaker for Lord Frith and Marlie Eleer, and while the winters are still cold, and Lord Frith still sleeps, the Sun King and the Queen of Midwinter now meet for a few days each year. On those bright cold days, the frost melts and rabbits can have a few hours silflay, and run to keep warm while Frith and Marlie Eleer share their winter dance.

The rabbits of Watership Down speak their own language, lapine. Adams provided a glossary in his books, but further work on developing the language has been done since then, check out this English-Lapine dictionary.

Now, here's a lovely cover version of Bright Eyes...