Scribble City Central's twenty-fourth Fantabulous Friday comes from Holly Black, New York Times bestselling author of the Modern Faerie Tales series, Tithe, Valiant and Ironside. I loved all three Modern Faerie Tales, which mix life in modern-day America with the darker world of the Seelie Court.
There's a bite and a twist to Holly's writing which I find particularly appealing. I also very much like the way she digs deep under the surface of characters who on the face of it should be unattractive, and makes them sympathetic. I particularly like Ravus the troll for just this reason.
Holly's latest series, White Cat, Red Glove and the just-published Black Heart follow the fortunes of Cassel Sharp, a teenage Curseworker, and take her in a different direction entirely. The world of the Curseworkers is an underworld of murder and magic mixed with life at a preppy school in Manhattan. It's a heady brew of love and moral dilemmas, and it's GOOD. I've just finished Black Heart, and I whipped through it at such a rate that the pages turned in a blur of speed. It was that exciting. Sometimes when you come to the end of a series, the ending makes you, as a reader, go 'Meh'. Not this one. I'm not putting up any spoilers by telling you that I wanted to throw my hat in the air and go 'Wheee!" If you haven't read Holly, I'd highly recommend that you do, and here she is to tell you about:
K for Kelpie
HB: The kelpie is a Scottish water horse that haunts streams, rivers and lochs, luring lonely travelers to their deaths. The kelpie takes on the form of an ink-black horse or a dark-eyed human boy, but always keeps some aspect of its supernatural self, often waterweeds tangled in his hair. They’re said to delight in storms and to make a sound much like thunder. Should you see a kelpie, never be enticed to ride on its back, because the kelpie is compelled to rush into the water and drown its rider.
Sir Walter Scott put a kelpie into his “From the Abbot” poem:
“From haunted spring to grassy ring
Troop goblin, elf, and fairy ;
And the kelpie must flit from the black bog-pit,
And the brownie must not tarry ;
To Limbo Lake,
Their way to take,
With scarce the pith to flee.
Sing hay-trix, trim-go-trix,
Under the greenwood tree.”
Not all accounts of kelpies are terrible. There are also accounts of kelpies coming to the aid of the lost, of bearing sacks of meal and other burdens. There’s even a way to tame a kelpie – by stealing its bridle. Bridled kelpies make very strong and clever horses, but if they find their bridle again, they will (quite rightly) seek revenge.
The first time I read about the kelpie was in Faeries, described and illustrated by Alan Lee and Brian Froud. There is an absolutely gorgeous drawing of a water horse rising from a lake, simultaneously terrifying and compelling. It stayed in my mind and that picture, along with the rest of the book, fueled my desire to read other folklore. If you’d like to see some more images from the book, check out the World of Froud website.
The thing that fascinates me about kelpies is part of what fascinates me about faeries in general – the fact that they are other than human. They are capricious and dangerous, with a moral system unlike ours. The things they count as high crimes aren’t human things and their what they count as punishment is always some form of poetic justice. Their rewards are, sometimes, just as barbed.
I put a kelpie in my first novel, Tithe. Here’s a tiny excerpt from where the protagonist, Kaye, calls him from the water:
“Its color was not so much black, but an emerald so deep that it looked black. And the nacreous eyes were gleaming like pearls. Still, when it regarded Kaye, she was forced to think of the research Corny had done. That was chilling enough.
“The kelpie strode onto the shore and shook its great mane, spraying her and Corny with glittering droplets of swamp water. Kaye held up her hands, but it hardly helped.”
“The creature looked at Kaye and shifted, and where it had been stood a young man, nude and still dripping, hair tangled with rushes.”
In Tithe, the kelpie is charming and lethal, a murderer who’s fascinated with broken things. He’s a perfect character to warn us what the world would be like if faeries were free to charm humans without any leaders to check their worst impulses. He’s also a great character to remind us of all the things we like about faeries and maybe shouldn’t.
SCC: "All the things we like about faeries and maybe shouldn't". Yes, that rings a bell, Holly! I think that's very much part of the fascination for me, and I am sure others here will agree. Thank you so much for visiting, and I hope this post brings many more readers your way.
You can find all of Holly Black's books mentioned in this piece by clicking the link HERE.
Next week: M.G. Harris, author of The Joshua Files kicks off a Mexican wave with K for Kukulkan. Hasta la vista, amigos!