After a couple hours of banging on the first episode of the Mexican Revolution podcast series (ready to record this week) I was poking around the Interwebs and cut the trail of The Folklore Cycle by John Hood. I am utterly charmed.
Hood, a former journalist, has crafted what he describes as a young adult crossover series of yarns that live at the intersection of Frontier and Fey — the place I call Fennario, pinching Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter’s description:
…a peculiar place where Appalachia met immigrant Scottish, English, Welsh and Irish folk traditions, to my mind the mythic territory of Fennario, where Sweet William courted Pretty Peggy-O with such romantically disastrous consequences.
Here’s Hood’s caper:
John Hood’s Folklore Cycle is a series of novels and stories that combine elements of history, folklore, and epic fantasy to tell the story of America in fresh and exciting way.
Book One, Mountain Folk, introduces readers to Goran, a Sylph who lives atop North Carolina’s Pilot Mountain. Goran is one of those rare fairy beings who can venture without magical protection into the Blur, the human world where the days pass twenty times faster than in fairy realms. During his missions for the Rangers Guild, Goran encounters George Washington, Daniel Boone, an improbably tall dwarf named Har, a beautiful water maiden named Dela, and a series of terrifying monsters from European, African, and Native American folklore. But when Goran receives orders to help crush the American Revolution, he must choose between duty to guild and family and a fierce loyalty to his human friends and the principles they hold dear.
I thought to meself, well, that’s a hoot — I’m for it. Ol’ Dan’l himself would have enjoyed this — after all, he was a fantasy reader. His companion on at least on Long Hunt was Gulliver’s Travels, which he and his comrades read aloud to each other in camp. Lo and behold, Hood’s May 25 blog entry addresses this very subject.
When I was sketching out my initial Folklore Cycle novel, Mountain Folk, one of my first decisions was to make the frontiersman Daniel Boone a key character. Indeed, the book begins with this line: “Daniel thought he spotted wings in the trees, but he couldn’t be sure.” While researching Boone’s life, I came across a surprising fact: his favorite book was Gulliver’s Travels! I decided to incorporate this into the story, including the conceit that there really had been a traveler named Lemuel Gulliver, that he’d accidentally stumbled across a magical land inhabited by diminutive folk, and that he’d later befriended a clergyman in Ireland named . . .
You guessed it: Jonathan Swift.
As Mountain Folk and its successors took shape, my world-building increasingly centered on the idea of real-life authors of speculative fiction gaining inspiration for their works from encounters with magical beings. Washington Irving, for example, is an active character in Forest Folk. Future volumes will feature the likes of Edgar Allen Poe, Herman Melville, and Bram Stoker.
And it all started with a chance discovery about Daniel Boone’s reading habits.
Hood is a good writer and knows his history — that’s easy to tell from his blog and the interesting video series he produced as background and marketing for his cycle (linked below). The “YA crossover” designation means that the book is accessible to younger readers, but substantial enough for adult readers. It is kept PG, but he insists that he’s not dumbing down, either in the writing or the content.
In my novel Mountain Folk, there are six main point-of-view characters. Four are humans. Two are fairies. When they make their first appearances in the book, most are in their late teens. Over the course of the story the fairies age into their twenties and the humans age far more (the time differential is a key feature of my fictional world). For example, the central human character, Daniel Boone, reaches his late 50s by the final chapter…
That’s one reason my books are best described as young-adult crossovers. Another is that I made a conscious choice not to “dumb down” my stories even though younger folks form part of my intended audience. Readers encounter plenty of magical creatures and action scenes, to be sure, but I also try to depict historical events and personalities with the detail and complexity they deserve. I also use a broad vocabulary and mix long sentences in with short ones.
His model is Edgar Rice Burroughs (he named his dog Woola, after the faithful companion of John Carter, Warlord of Mars).
I like everything about this, especially the potential for luring young folk into the rich forests and meadows of frontier history through the fantastical. I also like the historicity of it. After all, the frontier folk — hailing mostly from the Celtic fringe and Germany — were steeped in folklore and the fey. So were the native peoples whose lands became the frontier.
I’ve long decided that if I am ever to take on fiction, it will work the lands of Fennario (although I must confess that, given my proclivities, any such work on my part would probably not stay “PG.” Hah!). As you know, my personal aesthetics carry an edge of enchantment. I am blessed to live in a fantastical landscape — when Lady Marilyn and I venture over Santiam Pass in winter, past the looming peak of Mt. Washington, we inevitably do so to the melancholy musings of “Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold.”
And, I insist that the checkering on my new CZ carbine is properly called “Dragonscale.”
I’m way too far down other trails to follow Hood’s right now. I am, however, tempted to pick up his books in order to lay them in the path of some young person who just might be ready to put their moccasins on a frontier path. As we Frontier Partisans know, there is a lifetime of wonders and strange terrors to be found out here…