Thursday, July 01, 2010

Lovely Language

Today I used the word "frangible" in my blog over at ADDaboy!. My editor thanked me for the post and for teaching him a new word. I laughed because sometimes in my heady pursuit of new words that tickle the mind I forget that not everybody knows the words I'm using. Just ask my poor wife and family.

Frangible is a lovely word, combining in my mind both fragile and breakable. Of course, I didn't always know what it means either. It's not a common word. Most people just use fragile and leave well enough alone.

As a 12 year old in 7th grade, I remember needing a dictionary to get through a book on Project Bluebook. It seemed such a sensible thing to do that now I always read with a dictionary on hand. Today with the marvelous world of electronics, I carry a dictionary and thesaurus in my pocket. Some eBook readers have built in dictionaries. All you have to do is click on a word. What a wonderful world.

I still love language, and as a budding novelist I study how others use it.

Recently I've been reading IRISH FAIRY TALES by James Stephens (free on Project Gutenberg, but I heartily recommend getting the version illustrated by Arthur Rackham. I bought mine at at B&N). The book is filled with wonderful language. I've since learned that most of the stories originate from the Fionn cycle, and therefore are about Fionn (pronounced "fewn").

The heroic origin stories of Fionn are long and tiresome to me. I prefer the whimsical tales of faerie, so when I learned that there was another one in the book, but this time all about his dog, I virtually gagged at the thought of reading it. (I truly did. I made a "bleah" sound, complete with protruding tongue. So glad nobody was around to witness it.) I'm glad I pressed on.

'The Birth of Bran' was an entertaining & humorous fairytale despite its link to Fionn. This fairytale was short and filled with those clever bits that tickle my mind the way learning new words do. Here are three favorites:

  1. The setting and tone of the story was engaging right from the first paragraphs:
    "…in this story there is a man who did not like dogs. In fact, he hated them…Whenever a dog barked he would leap out of his seat, and he would throw everything that he owned out of the window in the direction of the bark. He gave prizes to servants who disliked dogs, and when he heard that a man had drowned a litter of pups he used to visit that person and try to marry his daughter"

  2. Describing the beauty of fair maidens is something Irish fairytales are renown for. Here Tuiren, the aunt of Fionn, is depicted:
    "Her face was fresh as a spring morning; her voice more cheerful than the cuckoo calling from the branch that is highest in the hedge; and her form swayed like a reed and flowed like a river, so that each person thought she would surely flow to him."

    Even married men pined to marry Tuiren and there was much weeping when she became betrothed to Iollan. I love this description:
    "Lugaidh himself gave the bride away, but it was not a pleasant ceremony for him, because he also was in love with the lady, and he would have preferred keeping her to giving her away. When she had gone he made a poem about her, beginning:

    There is no more light in the sky—

    And hundreds of sad people learned the poem by heart."

  3. Lastly, the description of the courtship of mortal, Iollan, and his fairy lover, Uct Dealv (meaning Fair Breast) is dripping in the syrup of romance yet written with poetically beautiful prose which impressed me instead of being a literary ipecac. I'll share my favorite bit here:

    "Then they went hand in hand in the country that smells of apple-blossom and honey, looking on heavy-boughed trees and on dancing and beaming clouds. Or they stood dreaming together, locked in a clasping of arms and eyes, gazing up and down on each other. Iollan staring down into sweet grey wells that peeped and flickered under thin brows, and Uct Dealv looking up into great black ones that went dreamy and went hot in endless alternation."

    I remember having that date ages ago when I was a teenager. Didn't you? Twitterpation, as Friend Owl coined it, has been captured so beautifully here.

Overall, there seems to be a twinkle in the eye of the storyteller as he starts with the typical storybook descriptions, then twists them with a wry wit as he makes the characters very human and the stories all the more real.

And how then does Bran the dog fit into this? Jilted Uct Dealv turned fair Tuiren into a dog and gave her to the dog hater. He fell madly in love with the dog due to her delicate loveliness, there were puppies (which I assume weren't scandalously created), and one of the pup's is named Bran.

All neatly tied up in the end as fairytales usually are, but with enough twists and turns to make me wonder why this one has never been retold in modern times. I suspect that this tale of Iollan and Tuiren was originally a separate tale but grafted into the Fionn mythos somewhere along the timeline. What do you think of it?