Had some fun yesterday publishing two of my older short stories on Feedbooks. Both The Human Factor and The Honor of Rome never found publishing homes, so I decided there was no harm in publishing them via Feedbooks.
It’s quite interesting as you immediately get to see how many people have downloaded your titles, and if they are logged in, you even see who has them on their bookshelves. There is also an easy to use feature for providing comments. One of the things that is slightly frustrating about being published in online or print magazines is that you don’t really get an idea of how many people have read your piece or what they think. Feedbooks seems to offer this immediacy of feedback that many authors crave.
The site seems to be mainly geared towards short stories and therefore I think it can be a good platform for authors to get some initial reactions to their work from readers rather than other writers at critique groups. But for the moment I think I will continue to send my newer work out for publication by relevant fantasy and science fiction magazines.
My story Bird Talk is about a young priest, Roger, living in a small medieval English town, who is trying to uncover what he believes are foul magical deeds. But instead he manages to implicate the women he loves in accusations of witchcraft and, with the help of the town drunk, must work out a way of saving her.
In the story I incorporate a number of medieval beliefs about magic. The first magical occurrence that arouses Roger’s suspicions is the purchase of an exotic bird – the Hoopoe. In medieval times the Hoopoe, whose song is “poop, poop”, was sought after for its magical properties. The Hoopoe is a native of Europe, but not the UK, but could have been imported at the right price. How were Hoopoes used in magic?
Their blood could be used to make magic circles
Summoned demons quite liked Hoopoes, they made a nice gift
Their brains, tongues and hearts were valuable for enchanters – although not specified why in any sources I have seen
After Roger hears about the sale of a Hoopoe he suspects that there is magic going on. As he approaches the suspects home he and the local constable hear the distinctive sound of the Hoopoe, and they discover the identity of the suspected necromancer. The them of bird song comes up again at the end of the story, but I won’t say any more than that – please read the story to find out more!
At the end of the fourteenth century in England there were two distinct schools of poetry. One based on rhymed metre and located around London and the royal courts, with Chaucer as its main poet, and the other using alliterative verse based in the northern counties, taking its style from Anglo-Saxon.
Alliterative poetry’s structure of two half lines each containing two stressed syllables made it appropriate for listing of detail, for instance this description of Guinevere from the Awntyrs off Arthure:
In a gleterand gide that glemed full gay- gown With riche ribaynes reuersset, ho so right redes, turned back, considers Rayled with rybees of riall aray; arrayed, rubies Her hode of a hawe huwe, ho that here hedehedes; greenish-blue, head, observes Of pillour, of palwerk, of perreto pay; fur, garments of rich cloth, jewels, pleasantly Schurde in a short cloke that the rayne shedes; Clothed, throws off Set ouer with saffres sothely to say, sapphires With saffres and seladynessercled on the sides; celidonies, set in a circular pattern
Unlike the verse of Chaucer, whose use of rhyme and subordinate clauses allows him to link words symbolically and therefore to link ideas between lines, the more static form of the alliterative line creates a greater feeling of concreteness and materiality, especially when the poet is describing material objects in the form of lists such as in the above description of Guinevere.
The style of description in alliterative verse is more concrete and direct than the rhymed metre of Chaucer. Chaucer tends to imply with a wink and a nudge his narrator’s opinion of something without actually describing them, often implying that his audience can and should imagine for themselves what something looks like. For instance compare these two descriptions of feasts, one from Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale:
I wol nat tellen of hir strange sewes, sauces Ne of hir swannes, nor of hire heronsewes. young herons
Ther nys no man that may reporten al.
I wol not taryen yow, for it is pryme;
And for it is no fruyt, but los of tyme, 72-4
With this much more detailed account from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight:
Dayntes dryuen therwyth of ful dere metes, poured
Foysoun of the fresche, and on so fele disches Abundance
That pine to fynde the place the peple biforne
For to sette the sylueren that there sewes halden on clothe.
Iche lede as he loued hymselue
Ther laght withouten lothe; took, ungrudged
Ay two had disches twelue,
Good ber and bry3t wyn bothe.
Does this tell us something about the different audience of Chaucer’s poems and the alliterative poetry composed for a regional gentry/aristocratic audience? Possibly I think. In my book The Court in English Alliterative Poetry, 1350-1450 I suggest that alliterative poetry often portrayed the court and its trappings as something to aspire to – thus the lavish description. While perhaps Chaucer’s audience at the Royal and Ducal courts of London were more interested in ideas and how these were illustrated by the story. I think that Chaucer knew his audience well; they didn’t want to dwell on lengthy descriptions, but were instead more interested in the inner motivation of the story’s characters rather than their outer depiction.
If you’re interested in finding out more about demons and demonology then I am sure you have come across sources such as the Goetia and the Pseudomonarchia daemonum. Both sources have a fairly similar list of demons, which I believe were compiled in the later middle ages/early modern period, just as the interest in magic, demonology and necromancy really started to take hold. This was the era of witchhunts and famour ‘magicians’ such as John Dee, Johann Weyer and Heinrich Agrippa.
King Solomon, arch necromancer?
The lists of demons were allegedly derived from texts written by King Solomon, who according to Gnostic accounts was famous for his control of demons and spirits. However, I think it is likely that the magicians of the early modern period such as Weyer and Agrippa were really just making these lists up based on their knowledge of Christian and Classical myth and legend.
What you get is a strange mix of sources to provide the bibliographies for these demons.
For instance Bifrons, who I have been researching, with a possible starring role in my novel Hell has its Demons, takes a lot of his powers and nature from the Roman god Janus, who was also called Janus Bifrons.
I think whoever came up with the name of Bifrons as a demon was probably looking back through account of various pagan gods and saw this name Janus Bifrons. Janus would perhaps have been too well-known in its Roman context, and perhaps also didn’t sound demonic enough, whereas Bifrons does sound rather devilish.
The Latin meaning of Bifrons
In Latin, the word bifrons sums up the nature of Janus quite well:
However, both the Goetia and the Pseudomonarchia daemonum shy away of describing Bifrons in terms that are too reminiscent of Janus. For example from the Goetia:
The Forty-sixth Spirit is called Bifrons, or Bifrous, or Bifrovs. He is an Earl, and appeareth in the Form of a Monster; but after a while, at the Command of the Exorcist, he putteth on the shape of a Man. His Office is to make one knowing in Astrology, Geometry, and other Arts and Sciences. He teacheth the Virtues of Precious Stones and Woods. He changeth Dead Bodies, and putteth them in another place; also he lighteth seeming Candles upon the Graves of the Dead. He hath under his Command 6 Legions of Spirits. His Seal is this, which he will own and submit unto, etc.
Janus was a god of transitions, who could look into the future and the past, and often appeared at gateways. He had some control perhaps over the living and the dead in this gatekeeper role.
The Renaissance demonologists allude to that nature in the fact that he can change dead bodies and has power of divination (although most demons had this power). Perhaps the closest parallel is that the demon Bifrons has too guises: a monster who can change into a man and vice versa.
It’s fascinating to see how the source material from the myth of Janus was used to create a new myth over a thousand years later by the esoteric demonologists of the fifteenth and sixteenth century. The difference is perhaps that Janus was properly worshipped as a god, whereas Bifrons the demon was only ever a work of fiction.
1376 was the year of the Good Parliament, a year of great upheaval when the government of England was in question. King Edward III was ill and given over to indulging his mistress, Alice Perrers. His courtiers were skimming as much money out of the system as they could – rather like today’s Members of Parliament in fact. Edward’s eldest son, the Black Prince, had been ill for many years, and was dying. The main representative of the crown was John of Gaunt, who up until 1376 had appeared disinterested in domestic politics. He claimed the crown of Castile through his marriage to Pedro the Cruel’s daughter, Constance.
So what then of the Earls, supposedly the advisors and supporters of the crown? Were they up to the job? Could they help the Commons of the Good Parliament reform the government and get rid of the stain of corruption? It’s a bit like asking whether the new Conservative/Liberal coalition government in the UK can stick to their good intentions? A lot of promises made, but in the end? Well perhaps we’ll let history decide on that one.
You can read more detail about each of the Earls at English Earldoms in 1376, one of my resource pages for this year in history.
Unfortunately many of them were young and inexperienced, for example the Earl of Arundel was a prominent noble, but died in 1376, to be succeeded by his inexperienced son. While Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford and a childhood companion of the future Richard II, was only 15 in 1376.
The most prominent of the Earls were Warwick, Stafford, Suffolk and March. They do seem to have taken a proactive role in the events of 1376, demanding more involvement in government. Indeed March, along with William Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester, was most probably the leader of the opposition. He was supported by Warwick and Stafford to a certain extent as well.
Hopes of reform dashed
Unfortunately for Parliament, the Earl’s support was not unified and John of Gaunt overturned many of their impeachments aimed at corrupt courtiers. Gaunt even deprived March of his position as Marshall, instead having this conferred on Henry Percy, along with the Earldom of Northumberland in 1377. By the end of 1376 all of the ordinances of the Good Parliament had been overturned, and in 1377 Gaunt called a new Parliament, one that would do his bidding.
There was very little protest from the nobility about this. In the end the Earls were too interested in their own ambitions to work together.
Unfortunately no preview available for the Kindle version!
Here’s the synopsis though in case you’re interested:
My thesis aims to explore certain links between literature and society in the portrayal of courtly society in a group of alliterative texts: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Awntyrs off Arthure at the Terne Wathelyn, Morte Arthure, Wars of Alexander and the Gest Historiale of the Destruction of Troy. The thesis will look at the social function of the texts and how they affect their audience. I will suggest that the particular style and content of the poems encourages aspiration to a material courtly culture and that they also give moral instruction on how to live nobly. I will suggest that the audience for these poems consists of provincial gentry and lower nobility, not overly familiar with the ways of the royal court, and so in need of instruction into the ways of courtly culture. Therefore these poems have been written in a way which is specially adapted to the social needs of their audience.
In the introduction I will outline the development of the court in the late Middle Ages, the possible audience for the poems and the descriptive style of alliterative verse. In chapter one I will look at descriptions of personal appearance and clothes in the poems and how these descriptions are both materially aspirational and morally instructive. In chapter two I will examine how the different types of court buildings in the poems convey particular ideas about the nature of the court. Chapter three consists of a discussion of the ideal feast which was bacsed on opulence, but also moderation. In chapter four I will look at how the poems conveyed the political aspirations of the gentry and provincial nobility in regard to their king.