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Columbine: Fairies and Chimneys is a collection of lovely little poems in which fairies feature prominently and chimneys are hardly mentioned at all. The poems, written nearly a hundred years ago, use a very fresh and simple language which would appeal to just about everyone, I should think, however young or old they may be.

Some of the poems are from the point of view of a little girl called Mary who can see fairies. Not only that, but the fairies who live at the bottom of her garden accept her as their queen, which is a very rare honour. Though a few of her poems are about other things, like balloons and beetles and family, most have fairies. I especially like the one comparing what her Daddy does to what fairies do.

Differences

Daddy goes a-riding in a motor painted grey,
He makes a lot of snorty noise before he gets away;
The fairies go a-riding when they wish to take their ease,
The fairies go a-riding on the backs of bumble bees.

Daddy goes a-sailing in a jolly wooden boat,
He takes a lot of tackle and his very oldest coat;
The fairies go a-sailing, and I wonder they get home,
The fairies go a-sailing on a little scrap of foam.

Daddy goes a-climbing with a knapsack and a stick,
The rocks are very hard and steep, his boots are very thick;
But the fairies go a-climbing (I’ve seen them there in crowds),
The fairies go a-climbing on the mountains in the clouds.

Other poems seem to be in an older voice, like the one about the fairy in Oxford Street and “A Fairy Went A-Marketing” – perhaps an aunt. There is something auntish about them. There is a sad one about German fairies, which seems to expect rather a lot of fairy-kind and comes to a dreadful conclusion (though not a true one, I believe). And in this one a fairy is speaking:

Invitation

If you will come and stay with us
You shall not want for ease;
We’ll swing you on a cobweb
Between the forest trees.
And twenty little singing birds
Upon a flowering thorn
Shall hush you every evening
And wake you every morn.

If you will come and stay with us
You need not miss your school,
A learned toad shall teach you,
High-perched upon his stool.
And he will tell you many things
That none but fairies know—
The way the wind goes wandering,
And how the daisies grow.

If you will come and stay with us
You shall not lack, my dear,
The finest fairy raiment,
The best of fairy cheer.
We’ll send a million glow-worms out,
And slender chains of light
Shall make a shining pathway—
Then why not come to-night?

This last one is perhaps my very favourite:

The Fairies Have Never a Penny to Spend

The fairies have never a penny to spend,
They haven’t a thing put by,
But theirs is the dower of bird and of flower
And theirs are the earth and the sky.
And though you should live in a palace of gold
Or sleep in a dried-up ditch,
You could never be poor as the fairies are,
And never as rich.

Since ever and ever the world began
They have danced like a ribbon of flame,
They have sung their song through the centuries long
And yet it is never the same.
And though you be foolish or though you be wise,
With hair of silver or gold,
You could never be young as the fairies are,
And never as old.

There are twenty-five poems altogether, and in some editions extra poems on birds are included. Click the fairy bar above to see all the poems from Fairies and Chimneys.

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Robin: The Knights of Liöfwende is a trilogy: the individual books are Spiggot’s Quest, Mallmoc’s Castle and Boggart and Fen. It is a solid adventure story, with lots of travelling, questing and fighting, which is also quite comic, much of the humour coming from the differing expectations of the mortals and the faerie.

Liöfwende (part of the land of faerie) is in the same place as England (part of Mortaland). The covers of the books reflect this, showing maps overlain on each other. In the words of Spiggot: “They sort of live together, side by side.” They even have some of the same place names, though the weather is rather different. It is possible to slip from one to the other, deliberately or by accident. Some of the faerie spend quite a bit of time on the mortal side, others not.

In Liöfwende, little changes. It is “always mediaeval”. There is history – faerie wars of the past are mentioned, and there are newcomers from overseas, some harmless, like the forest-dwelling leshy, and some ferocious, like the trolls. Liöfwende, however, is quite disconnected from human history.

The fairies are the gentry, the aristocrats of Liöfwende, and they are not only more beautiful but more powerful than the elves or the pixies. The goblins are tradesmen, and only accept crooked sixpences in payment. There are many different clans, of all kinds of faerie. Almost everyone looks down on the boggarts, although – or perhaps because – they are skilled craftworkers. The variety of faerie, engagingly described whether good or bad, beautiful or ugly, is a great strength of the trilogy.

The human Jack is always complaining that things don’t make sense, that there’s no logic to what happens; he finds it chaotic. The faerie find this baffling; for them it is magic which is natural. Spiggot claims that serendipity – fortunate chance – is the science of Liöfwende.

At the beginning of the trilogy there is unease in the land. It is under hidden attack, and faerie armies are assembling, though no one knows who to fight – yet.

The first book is Spiggot’s Quest.

The first part of the Knights of Liöfwende trilogy

Robin: Spiggot is a young boggart, an apprentice smith, who lives in one of the boggart villages of Rutland. Typically squat and hairy, he nevertheless has a “soul as fine as muslin” and dreams of being a hero. His father sends him to deliver a golden suit of armour to the fairy king in Northumberland – a long trek, especially as they must avoid bridges because of trolls. He takes Kling, a talking – and very large – water rat to pull the cart. On the way they meet Jack, a lost mortal, who joins them in the hope of finding a way home.

Jack, being a twenty-first century teenager, is profoundly ignorant about faerie, but he gets a crash course, meeting all sorts, including bogles, goblins, elves, pixies, tylwyth teg and the starry drittles. He also unaccountably encourages the susceptible Spiggot to play fairy knight, and the brave boggart dons the precious armour for various clumsy, but successful, fights with monsters.

They encounter the enchantingly lovely but inwardly vile ulcugga fairies, allies of the wicked mortal sorcerer Mallmoc, and rescue the mediaeval mortal maid Rosamund from their clutches.

The next book is Mallmoc’s Castle.

The second part of the Knights of Liöfwende trilogy

Robin: Thousands of thrum are eating the roots of the trees of Liöfwende. Spiggot, now indeed a “faerie knight”, has been given a quest by the king of the Northumbrian fairies – to find the missing keystone of a cairn which should have kept the dire thrum in check. It is no simple hunt, however, as Spiggot believes the sorcerer Mallmoc has it, and to get it back will entail a full scale war against the ulcugga fairies. The ulcugga have already defeated the armies of the pixies and the elves in open battle, and Spiggot must win the support of the more powerful fairies and persuade them to band together under his leadership. Needless to say, he’s thrilled at the prospect.

After running into many clans of English and Welsh faerie in Spiggot’s Quest, in this book the band of heroes range further afield. After doing a deal with Cornish piskies, they go to Eri-niss (Ireland) in a glass ship and are attacked by sea fairies. Spiggot is keen to enlist some leprechauns, whose tricksy minds make them excellent strategists, but they are predictably elusive. Jack, ever unwary, is fooled by a phooka, driven mad by a ghost and captured by a one-sided giant. He also makes a useful contact in the mortal leader of the faerie host, whose changeling he knew back in Mortaland (coincidence is always happening in the land of faerie).

They fly to Thristlac (Scotland) to talk to the fairies of the seelie court. The unseelie court fairies are known to be vicious and viperous; the seelie aren’t exactly full of sweetness and light either, although they do improve on acquaintance. The potential thrum threat to their beloved evergreen forests – and a display of fighting prowess from Spiggot – wins their promise to join the battle; they even undertake to bring the unseelie fairies.

The next book is Boggart and Fen.

Boggart and FenThe final part of the Knights of Liöfwende trilogy

Robin: After the events of Mallmoc’s Castle, you would think the final book of the trilogy would be one big battle. Things are never that simple though, and one unexpected event is the uprooting of Mallmoc’s iron fortress and its transformation into an unstoppable land-ship. Another is the revealing of the sorcerer’s ghastly scheme to plough through the Liöfwende/Mortaland portal at Sutton Hoo, forcing the two lands into one. Timing is crucial; if the ship cannot be delayed, the fairy armies will converge too late. Spiggot, Jack, Rosamund and Kling use their brains and wiles and arcane knowledge to devise a couple of brilliant schemes. The gnomes, who appeared briefly in the first book as an amiable group of faerie, play a big role here.

It is a thrilling moment when Spiggot, the boggart leader of the combined fairy armies, addresses the assembled fairies. A battle plan is worked out, combining the usual fairy modes of fighting with Jack’s culled-from-war-films ideas about good communications and command of the air and Rosamund’s recollection of the cunning devices of her warrior father. Finally they engage with the ulcugga. It is no pitched battle, of course, all the fairies preferring to fight in a tangle of thistles and gorse brakes, and it lasts several days – I expect you can guess the outcome? Though the exact nature of it comes as a surprise to Jack, who is still unversed in the ways of faerie.

There is a suitable amount of romance in the trilogy – mostly arguments and
misunderstandings. Jack and Spiggot make rather gawkish suitors while Rosamund and Fen are spirited characters always ready to speak their mind. In general, all the elements are very nicely balanced, humour, romance, dialogue, character descriptions, excitement, horror, changes of scene, unexpected developments – very satisfying. Only one niggle: like the monk Solomon, I think there’s a bit too much Jack. He even has most of the adventures. Really, you’d think he was the hero.

Cold TomRobin: Tom is cast out from the Tribe for fear his clumsiness will reveal them to the “demons” whom dominate the land. “Once, the Tribe had outnumbered the demons: the demons had held the Tribe in fear, then; but that was long ago. Even Tom hardly knew how many of the Tribe lived on the common, now, for they were solitary and came together only to feed. ” I’ll admit the Tribe in this novel are not clearly identified as elves, but they have a cold ruthlessness which makes that name more fitting than any other. They are silver and beautiful, with pure sweet voices, and can walk invisible, especially in moonlight.

This book must be uncomfortable reading for humans, for we soon realise that the demons are humans, and to Tom, taking refuge in the city, they are quite horrible. The little girl Anna, for instance: compared to a elf lady, she is “heavy, lumpen, coarse… Her face was red and her teeth were blunt”. When she finds Tom, she thinks of him as cold, and indeed he freezes a thermometer, but to him she is hot, hot enough to burn him. Worse of all though are the emotional connections between the humans: “Tom nearly vomited. There were slave-ropes that tied that male to the others… Ropes that tugged at its mind and forced it to return so the others could feed from it… Suddenly he understood the danger of the demon city. It wasn’t being killed: it was being held, and having your mind tied so that you could never be free again. Even Larn was not so cruel as that.”

He is caught between two horrors – the Tribe want to cast him out and kill him; the humans want to embrace and enslave him. Something has to give… and Tom himself begins to change.

The Trouble with TinkColumbine: So what is the trouble with Tinker Bell? Hot-tempered, certainly. Proud, yes. Careless with her tools? Unusual, but everyone has off days. Shy? Hardly. Scared of Peter Pan? Not in a million years! It seems highly unlikely to me that when Tink loses her hammer she would hesitate to fetch her spare from Peter’s den just because she hasn’t seen him for a while. Still, losing her hammer (really it was stolen by a crow) seems to have put her off her game, as her pot and pan repairs suddenly go haywire.

Rumour flies fast in Pixie Hollow, and soon the fairies are gossiping about Tink having lost her talent. Mean Vidia actually suggests she may be thrown out of the community! Even the Queen thinks she may be ill.

Eventually Tink’s faithful friend Terence learns the truth and offers to go with her to fetch her hammer. Emboldened by his support, Tink does go to see Peter – and gets quite a shock!

Apparently Tink has never liked to talk about the time she spent with Peter Pan and the Lost Boys, but Terence is impressed by all the adventures she has had, and says she must know Never Land better than any of the other fairies, which I’m sure is true. One interesting story is about when Tink taught Peter how to fly.

Laura - illustrated by Arthur RackhamRobin: In “Goblin Market”, a nineteenth century poem by Christina Rossetti, Laura is tempted into tasting the delicious fruits offered by the goblins, and afterwards pines when she cannot get any more. Fairy food has long been said to trap humans in fairyland – just as eating the food of the Underworld stops people from returning to the upper world. In this poem the goblin men bring it into the human world and it leaves people fatally dissatisfied with ordinary food and ordinary life.

“Morning and evening
Maids heard the goblins cry:
Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy”

Laura and Lizzie are aware of the conventional wisdom:

“We must not look at goblin men,
We must not buy their fruits:
Who knows upon what soil they fed
Their hungry thirsty roots?…”
“Their offers should not charm us,
Their evil gifts would harm us.”

However…

“Curious Laura chose to linger
Wondering at each merchant man.
One had a cat’s face,
One whisked a tail,
One tramped at a rat’s pace,
One crawled like a snail,
One like a wombat prowled obtuse and furry,
One like a ratel tumbled hurry-scurry.”

Paying with a curl of her golden hair, Laura gorges herself on the delicious fruit: “sweeter than honey from the rock”. She expects to get more the next night – but no, she can never again hear the cry “Come buy, Come buy” although her sister still does.

Lizzie eventually tries to buy some fruit for her sister, but the goblin men become furious when she will not eat:
Lizzie - illustrated by Arthur Rackham
“One called her proud,
Cross-grained, uncivil;
Their tones waxed loud,
Their looks were evil.
Lashing their tails
They trod and hustled her,
Elbowed and jostled her,
Clawed with their nails,
Barking, mewing, hissing, mocking,
Tore her gown and soiled her stocking,
Twitched her hair out by the roots,
Stamped upon her tender feet,
Held her hands and squeezed their fruits
Against her mouth to make her eat.”

Exciting, isn’t it? This is not how market traders usually behave, even when you ask for your money back. You can hear as well as read the full poem here: Goblin Market. As to what those goblin men were up to, and how wicked they really were, I am sure I cannot tell you. The Victorian Web has some interesting – and some bizarre – thoughts on the subject.

The Sea of Trolls by Nancy FarmerRobin: This is a story set long ago, in Viking times. It begins on the Northumbria Coast where the Northmen are having a glorious time sailing up and down raiding villages. But the book takes the less exhilarating view of one of the villagers, Jack, an apprentice bard, who is seized along with his adorable little sister and taken aboard a longship. Jack has acquired some magical skill from his bard, who has also told him about the trolls, or Jotuns, who live in the far north: “Most are quite pleasant, although they take getting used to. The ones you have to watch out for are the half-trolls. There’s no describing how nasty they can be. Or deceitful. They’re shape-shifters, and when they appear human, they’re so beautiful that you can’t think of a single sensible thing around them.”

The Northmen have much the same opinion. Although the trolls once hunted humans who were regarded as “two-legged deer”, they are now more restrained and only eat humans after a fair(ish) fight. On the whole they are honest and decent, although stupid and very ugly. But half-trolls are a different story. Perhaps because of being shape-shifters, they have no hold on reality and hate everything. Fortunately they cannot read minds, unlike the full-blooded trolls.

The king of the particular Northmen who capture Jack and Lucy happens to be married to a half-troll, Queen Frith, who is indeed both beautiful and terrible. Regrettably, Jack accidentally works a spell which infuriates the queen and is sent on a quest to Mimir’s well, to gain the knowledge to reverse it. The well is in troll country, Jotunheim, where everything is bigger and nastier.

It is a fair way into the book (chapter 32 of 43) before Jack meets his first Jotun – and promptly faints at seeing “a creature from his deepest and worst nightmares.” However, even sensitive humans are resilient, and Jack soon gets used to the unnerving but surprisingly hospitable trolls. They really don’t seem so stupid, either. He hears something of their history, how they walked across the frozen sea when their island country Utgard was destroyed, eventually reaching Jotunheim on whale-back. Their queen, Glamdis, has a harem of sixteen louts (male trolls) but also sometimes takes a fancy to a human, like the human father of Frith. However, Jotuns also have a dislike of half-trolls; Frith’s half-sister says that the children of troll/human and elf/human unions belong nowhere, always torn between worlds.

Elves, by the way, are only mentioned a couple of times, but appear prominently in the sequel The Land of the Silver Apples.

Columbine: I especially enjoyed Jack’s use of magic. Taught by the Bard, he becomes aware of the “life-force” in all things and draws on it to perform deeds like raising fog and lighting fires. It is very respectful of nature.