Monthly Archives: August 2013

Lizard’s Leg and Owlet’s Wing … and Other Spells

Spells, enchantments, potions, charms, hexes and curses … call them what you will, they make up a huge part of both fantasy fiction and the fantastical characters many of us know and love. And though I believe the true magic lies in a well-written story and in the characters that speak to us and endure, that certainly doesn’t stop me from getting pleasure in seeing the varied ways authors and writers of books and movies have used words to express traditional magic! I hope you enjoy them as well.

The Summoning Charm
Is there anyone within a few years beyond or behind my generation who isn’t at least familiar with this one? Ok, so maybe I’m being a little fanatic. Most Harry Potter fans are. But what else can you expect from someone who instinctively calls out “Accio keys!” while searching frantically through my purse …?! Short and sweet, this one simply means “I summon.”

Accio!

stone table2

Deep Magic
This is the magic law that is etched into the stone table Aslan was killed upon. It is full of power and meaning that, for me and many others, goes far beyond the fictional Narnian chronicles.

If a willing Victim that has committed no treachery is killed in a traitor’s stead, the Stone Table will crack; and even death itself would turn backwards.

Crossroads Uncrossing Spell
Earthy and timeless, these words come from Eileen Holland’s Spells for the Solitary Witch. I don’t know about you, but my somewhat dramatic imagination sees a fey creature, arms outstretched to the skies, crying out this chant.

Guardians of the North, grant me power!
Guardians of the West, send me strength!
Guardians of the South, give me energy!
Guardians of the East, know my spirit!

Fire Spell
In the BBC miniseries, Merlin, our main character – Merlin himself! – works magic in nearly every episode. This is one of many examples that I could give – a spell of fire, which translates literally: “You are air in fire’s heat; defeat the hostile one.”

Lyft sy þe in bǽlwylm ac forhienan se wiðere!

Enter the Three Witches …
The evil of the three witches who set out to destroy Macbeth is palpable in the following lines, which are only a few taken from the much longer spell in the play by Shakespeare.

Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the caldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg, and owlet’s wing,—
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

Love Charm
In April or May, fashion a heart out of willowy rosemary branches. Secure your heart with a yellow ribbon – and for added strength, weave in a piece of your lover’s clothing or a strand of his or her hair. Place the charm in a white envelope, then place the envelope beneath your pillow. When the charm has worked its magic and brought the one you love closer to you, burn the rosemary heart in fire, thinking all the while of the fiery nature of your passion and love. (Taken from The Good Spell Book by Gillian Kemp).

Shield Us From Fire
Eragon spoke these words in the Inheritance series by Christopher Paolini. They diverted fire from both him and his dragon Saphira.

Skölir nosu fra brisingr!

Rush, Waters of Bruinen
Arwen turns to her pursuers, the Ring Wraiths, and utters this spell. Anyone who has seen the movie The Fellowship of the Ring remembers the elven tongue … but what do these mysterious words translate to in English? “Waters of the Misty Mountains, hear the word of power. Rush, waters of Bruinen, against the Ring Wraiths.”

Nîn o Chithaeglir lasto beth daer; rimmo nín Bruinen dan in Ulaer!

There are spells of length, one-worded curses, rhyming and metered enchantments, a deceptively simple string of words … an endless variety of ways the words of magic have been portrayed through fiction and beyond. For me, no one of these methods is better than the other – each seems to fit with the story that is woven around it, and is meaningful and effective within its context.

Which are your favorites, from the above list or otherwise?

A Grimm View of Fairytales

grimm6We have all seen the Disney versions. We have all read the middle grade and young adult spin-offs. But what about the original, the darker, versions of the fairytales told by the Brothers Grimm – the ones many of us at least feel are so familiar? Ever wonder how the true, unabridged, original manuscripts read? Ever wonder how these stories were told, before a pen ever wrote them down, around a cozy hearth at night, or in a child’s darkened room before bed? You may find this list of the various little-known twists and turns of these tales quite interesting. And you may just find it a bit disturbing and, well … grim.

  1. The Frog Prince. The princess drops her golden ball into the well. A friendly, albeit “disgusting” (her words, not mine!) frog fetches it for her. How does she discover that this green slimy creature is in fact a prince? What does she do that unlocks his identity at last? A kiss, you say? Think again. In one translation of this classic, our delicate princess throws the poor frog across the room, hoping to kill him, and when his poor little froggy body slams into the wall and falls to the ground … poof! He’s a prince. Romantic stuff, huh?
  2. Rapunzel. Ah, yes, where should I start with this one? First off, her father is horrible and cowardly enough to promise her to a witch before she has even been born. Yikes. Then Rapunzel herself is forced to live in a tower, alone and seeing no one but the enchantress, the only mother she knows. At this point I would be so depressed and cabin-fevered it’s not even worth thinking about. But best yet is the fact that, when she is at last banished to the desert for meeting with the prince, we find out that their … ahem … “meetings” have been quite productive, as she soon gives birth to twins. “Aaaand, that’s the end of your story for the night, children. Sweet dreams!”
  3. Hansel and Grethel (yes, it’s “Grethel” in the original). Headline: Father and step-mother can’t provide enough food for entire family, so they lead kids deep into forest and leave them to die. Enough said, yes? (Unless, of course, you want to discuss the fact that a very young girl gets up the nerve to shove an old lady into a fiery oven to her death … talk about disturbing!).
  4. Cinderella. After her father remarries, he apparently mentally checks out. That’s what got me most about this one. After verbal abuse, an insane amount of chores, lavished gifts on the two step-sisters, and banishment from the ball, you’d have thought her father (who, contrary to Disney’s version, did NOT die) would have been man enough to come to his only legitimate daughter’s rescue. If he was any example to Cinderella, you’d have thought she’d swear off men altogether and just forget the ball. There’s also that fun part about how the step-sisters cut off part of their feet so they can fit them into Cinderella’s slipper and marry the prince. When their treachery is discovered, two birds come and peck out their eyes. Ugh and double-ugh.grimm3
  5. Little Red-Cap. We know her as Little Red Riding Hood, of course. A story of which details my 6-year-old son would be enraptured by, as they concern a huntsmen taking a pair of scissors to a wolf’s gut to release the old lady and girl he had swallowed. Still, though … I’m not sure we’ll be reading that one for another couple years at least. Another not-so-fun fact: in the French version of this tale, neither Red Riding Hood nor her grandmother even make it out alive!
  6. The Pied Piper. This man – very understandably – wishes to get revenge on the village of Hamelin for not paying up after hiring him to rid them of their rat infestation. To get back at them he leads all their children away. Now, some stories say he leads them through the mountain, never to be seen again. From most points of view, that’s scary enough, really. But one dark, early version of the tale says the piper leads the poor children straight into a river, where they all drown. I would say the punishment here most definitely does NOT fit the crime. This is a guy who has issues with letting things go …
  7. Snow White. You’d of course expect Snow White to be a bit bitter after all the witch put her through – I mean, the old broad wanted to have her killed, after all. And none of us reading the story actually wish the witch to live happily ever after – right? Least of all Snow White. Her skin may be as white as snow – but her thoughts most certainly are not. After her eventual marriage to the prince, Snow White forced the witch to put on red-hot iron shoes and dance at her wedding celebration until she dropped down dead. I don’t know about you, but that’s not a girl I’d want as an enemy.
  8. Rumpelstiltskin. I read this one many times growing up, but in each version Rumpelstiltskin basically throws a temper tantrum when his name is discovered, and stomps himself right through the floor. The end. Want to know the grim Grimm version? I knew you did! This little guy throws a fit to rival Henry II, planting one foot deep down into the earth. He then grabs his other foot with both hands and – brace yourself – pulls his leg until he’s ripped himself clean in half. Gross. I did warn you.

The list goes on and on, really. All you have to do is grab the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales and go to town if you want to hear the original tellings. For myself – I love fairy tales, make no mistake, but a little goes a long way when it comes to horrible parenting, cruel and unusual revenge, and just plain mean princesses.

How ‘bout you? What are some of your favorite (or least favorite) details from the Grimm archives?

Frog Kisses: Two Middle-Grade Book Reviews

the frog princessThe Frog Princess by E. D. Baker

Emma is an awkward princess who does not agree with her mother’s wishes to get her married off. When she visits her favorite haunt, the swamp, she meets a talking frog who claims to be a prince under a spell. Emma kindly consents to kiss him so he will return to his human form, but instead becomes a frog herself! She and her new “prince” frog friend must journey together to find a reversal to their spell.

A charming take on the original “frog prince” story, in my opinion. Baker takes us on Emma’s exciting journey and we get to watch as the princess goes from annoyed with her royal froggy companion to – well, quite fond! Emma’s voice is distinct, and her personality comes through in the story.

Baker does an excellent job of spinning an adorable fairytale that I would recommend to any child (girls most especially!) over the age of 8 or 9. If I had read this story as a middle grader, I know I’d have loved it. Oh, heck, what am I saying? I love it now! And if you read it and love it, too, don’t forget to check out all the exciting sequels!

Frogged by Vivian Vande Velde  frogged

This book was published after – and I read it after – Baker’s “The Frog Princess.” So when I discovered the basic premise to the book (girl-kisses-frog-and-turns-into-frog-herself) I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical.

All I can say is – what was wrong with me?! I should have had more faith in Vande Velde! She came through (as usual) with an original story, very far removed from Baker’s book. Another unhappy princess, yes (this one named Imogene). Another kiss that turns the princess green, yes. But that’s where the similarities ended.  From searching for the witch who cast the spell to begin with, to joining a group of traveling players, this book is completely entertaining from start to finish. I barely put it down! Vande Velde’s main character has a wry and sarcastic sense of humor, wit, charm and personality, and I was drawn to her from the start.

So … yet another great book for middle-graders, middle-agers, and … well, you get the point.

Happy reading, friends!

Nathan Lumbatis

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