Making Friends in high – and low – Places

Friends are sometimes as close and dear to us – if not dearer – than our own family. In cities, where people lead busy lives and are often separated from their families by great distances, many people form their own “families” with their circle of friends.

For a young vampire like Willow, who lives in the rural remoteness of Stinkforthshire-upon-Avon, it is quite hard making new friends. Other vampire children shun her; humans are mostly scared of her.

We often find new friends in the unlikeliest of places, though. Already Willow Band has befriended middle-aged Rita Ramona, who was originally an item on the Band’s breakfast menu.

Willow the Vampire has also made a friend of Eddie Strongarm, an essentially gentle, animal-loving soul, who was driven to murdering his wife with an axe, something he’d only ever read about in the gutter press papers and never dreamed of performing such an act of violence himself, no matter how much his horrible wife deserved it.

And let’s not forget Willow’s best friend Darren, who’d like to be a knight in shining armour at her side, but who always ends up being the damsel in distress, the one who needs rescuing.

Finally, her latest acquisition in the circle of friends department: Willow’s one time arch nemesis Felicity Henderson, the headmaster’s daughter, a snitch, a school swat and universal pain-in-the-neck.

Having mastered the art of blending into the day-time world of humans, Willow is sadly still lacking in social skills with regard to nocturnal creatures.

Goblins, fairies, sprites, sylphs, Puck and Pan, nymphs and banshees, white witches, dark witches, warlocks, ghosts, wizards, gnomes and finally pixies are all out and about at night, when Willow’s own parents are leaving home to hunt among the human population, yet she hardly ever comes in close contact with such fine examples of nocturnal life forms.

A new school year will bring new opportunities to make friends and enemies. A new villain on the scene makes it essential for Willow to cast her net wider with regard to the friends and allies she makes.

Belonging to the more pleasant creatures of the night, pixies are perhaps an odd choice for a vampire girl looking for friendship and approval, given their mischievous nature. However, in Willow’s second adventure, Willow the Vampire and the Würzburg Ghosts, pixies will play an important part.

Mischievous and childlike, fond of horse riding, dancing and wrestling, pixies are magical creatures that live under stones or in caves or in the vicinity of ancient monuments; they punish those who are unkind and reward humans who show them and others consideration.

Cover of "The Spiderwick Chronicles (Wide...

Cover via Amazon

In modern fantasy fiction there are many examples of these small blue (and sometimes green-skinned) trouble-makers. In J K Rowling’s Chamber of Secrets (Harry Potter series) some Cornish pixies end up in Harry’s classroom. Writers like Eoin Colfer (Artemis Fowl series) have used pixies very successfully and in a most charming, humorous way.

They live underground in a world entirely created by them, where just like humans they have crimes to solve, have to find their calling and make life and death decisions. There are also pixies in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld and in Holly Black’s and Tony Diterlizzi’s Spiderwick Chronicles.

So what exactly is our fascination with pixies? They are said to be childlike or even smaller with either blue or green skin, a great fondness for music and dancing, which they love to do en mass in a great outdoor celebration. What’s wrong with that?

With the arrival of Christianity most things that were good about the Old Religion, as the BBC’s Merlin and Co. would call paganism, were banished and given a bad name.

Free spirits like pixies, which are able to cast powerful spells and weave all kinds of magic, would be on the extermination list of any bible-bashing missionary trying to convert people in Cornwall and Devon, where the ancient race of pixies allegedly hails from.

Artemis Fowl (series)

Artemis Fowl (series) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let’s face it, when you’re trying to get bums-on-seats in your newly erected church, you don’t want the population to gather round in the woods where a bunch of pixies is twirling around to show off their twinkle-toes.

Church-goers mean money in the prince-bishop’s coffers – pixie-watchers are a wash-out when it comes to joining an old-fashioned witch-hunt, so Father Abbot can get his hands on witches’ lands and chattels.

There are many wonderful traits of character attributed to pixies; among my favourites are their love of dancing in the moonlight and their love for horses, weaving the animal’s mane into tight little ringlets while galloping over fields. It’s an idyllic picture of a creature in tune with nature and full of life, enjoying every moment to the full, just as it should be, when we’re grateful for the gift of life.

Earth, air, water and fire are awe-inspiring elements that deserve having their own magical, mystical creatures attributed to them. While sprites are airy light-weights among the creatures of the night, pixies can stand tall with the likes of gnomes and goblins, fairies, poltergeister (German plural of poltergeist) and ghosts.

I can see why the pixies’ love of music might be condemning them in the eyes of the Church. Music is the one art form that embraces all the other elements. We hear a powerful tune and it goes under our skin.

Our mind’s eye conjures up pictures to go with the melody. Music can make us laugh or cry, be sentimental or enraged, make us feel all sexy and romantic or aggressive and in the mood to smash up our hotel room a la Keith Moon. Music transports us and makes us forget everything around us, including being servile to our spiritual leader, our liege and overlord.

Dancing to the rhythm of music, with our eyes closed or gazing into the eyes of a loved one with our arms entwined is such a fundamental expression of being human – of being alive – that it must naturally be outlawed by ruling classes trying to convince us the afterlife is the only rightful place we should be striving for… because the worldly life will only provide us with sin and misery (don’t forget, we are poor, little and obscure, unlike prince-bishop and duke ruling over us with an iron fist). Believing in pixies would upset this oppressive world view, naturally.

From a writer’s point of view, using music in one’s writing is an instant way of connecting with our readers. Mention a well-known tune and anyone who knows it will immediately be rooting for your heroine or hero, who’s just whistled this 1960’s classic. Allow your protagonists to go misty-eyed in a restaurant, when they hear THEIR song, the one that played when they fell in love 20 years ago; get your villain dancing to the overture of the Valkyrie and you will have created an unforgettable moment.

If you had to play a tune for a bunch of dance-crazy pixies, what would you play and why?

(source of book pictures: Wikipedia; sourced of animation: heathersanimation.com, webweaver.nu/clipart and netanimations.net)

Medieval Cooking for Vampires (Beginners Part 3)

While I’m not in favour of advocating fast food for humans, this culinary concept is not always a negative one.

Reading up upon medieval spells and remedies I was surprised to learn a medieval person’s diet was actually quite different from what I thought it would be. Far from all the yummy ham, capons, chickens and roasted piglets we see King Arthur, his knights and Queen Guinevere consume in the BBC’s Merlin series, most medieval people didn’t eat meat very often and getting a protein rich diet would have been quite rare for an average girl like Willow the Vampire.

Cooking lessons for humans would have been very different from today. For a start, carrots were either white or purple but not orange (not introduced until 17th century), no doubt pretty confusing for colour-blind witches and warlocks at the time. How do you tell such ingredients apart from radishes or mandrake?

Parsnips, onions, turnips (of Blackadder’s Baldric fame), apples, wild garlic, watercress, cabbage, beetroot, leeks, beans, eel and various cheap dried meats would augment a meagre diet that consisted mostly of “gruel” type broth made from barley, acorns, rye or buck wheat.

Even in the 10th century, a full four centuries after Arthur had first complained to Merlin about the outrageous practice of serving salad to his meat-loving king, bread as a daily household ingredient was relatively rare – grinding wheat was time-consuming labour for women and in any event, most households were grindingly poor.

Health issues in general were addressed with a haphazard approach. If it didn’t kill you and you survived the cure, the “healer” would be set up for life and make a good living. If you died, the healer was probably going to die too – at the stake, accused of sorcery! The remedy might not actually do you any good, but survival often depended on faith rather than the physician’s skill. With regard to food production, a medieval Vampire Council was particularly concerned about the high death rate among human infants and their mothers.

Caesarean births were surprisingly common – although the mother rarely survived. The method was mainly applied to save the child so it could receive baptism before death occurred. The understanding of conception was still a rather muddled affair and some bewildering, often occult remedies existed to help childless couples. Childbirth in general was a risky and confusing issue in medieval times:

Charm One: “To make a woman pregnant give to drink in wine a hares rumnet (NB: they probably meant rennet) by weight of four pennies to the woman from a female hare, the man from a male hare and then let them do their concubitus and after that let them forbear; then quickly she will be pregnant and for meat she shall for some time use mushrooms and, instead of a bath, smearing (NB: anointing with oils), wonderfully she will be pregnant.”

It seems hares were generally associated with fertility – personally, I suspect the consumption of wine might have done the trick…although the stink resulting from not washing might be rather counterproductive (pardon the pun). Hare’s tonic aiming to produce a male child consisted of a dried hare’s belly being shredded and then eaten by both partners, washed down with a drink.

Charm Two (for women whose foetus is found to be dead): “The woman who may have a dead bairn (child) in her inwards, if she drinketh wolf’s milk mingled with wine and honey in like quantities, soon it healeth.” An alternative method was to use the heart of a hare which, dried and pounded to a pulp, was mixed with frankincense dust and presumably also washed down with wine. In either case, the woman was more likely to die than be cured.

United Kingdom

United Kingdom (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Charm Three (for women who lost children early in infancy): “Let the woman who cannot bring her child to maturity go to the barrow of a deceased man, and step thrice over the barrow, and then thrice say these words:

May this be my boot

Of the loathsome late birth

May this be my boot

Of the heavy swart birth

May this be my boot

Of the loathsome lame birth.”

All manner of bizarre remedies existed for ear problems, bladder troubles, chapped lips in winter or year round baldness among men. I particularly like the recipe for getting rid off dandruff by mixing watercress with goose fat and smearing it on one’s head…I also like the advice, how to get rid of insects in one’s ears:

Collect the juice of green earth gall, or juice of horehound, or juice of wormwood, whatsoever of these you choose. Pour the juice into the ear, this will draw the worm out. If there’s dinning (NB: buzzing) in the ears, take oil, apply on to ewes wool, and when going to bed close up the ear with the wool. Remove it on waking.

Don’t you just love the last instruction? You can just imagine dozens of medieval peasants shouting at each other, because they’d stuffed their ears with ewe’s wool and forgot to remove their worm remedy).

Bladder troubles and kidney stones were cured by Dwarf dwosle or Pennyroula, which was pounded and mixed with two draughts of wine. The sufferer would drink this stuff and any stones the sufferer might have would be “forced out” and the healing process would begin in a matter of days.

Male baldness, an affliction the medieval Brit seems to have been particularly cursed with (no change to today’s specimen), was apparently treated with the juice of nasturtium and watercress. Bizarrely, this concoction was not smeared on the balding head, but on the man’s nose…which finally explains why men over forty have such an abundance of nasal hair.

These latter three remedies were excerpts from  Leechdoms, Wortcunning and Starcraft of Early England, collected and edited by Revd Oswald Cockayne in London 1864 (fragments republished in Harriet O’Brien’s book “Queen Emma and the Vikings”, Bloomsbury 2005, where above charms also appear. NB: Revd “Cockayne” was cearly an early advocate of drugs, who had a sense of humour).

Reading about the diet and remedies prevailing in medieval households, I began to wonder, how vampires substituted their meagre pickings. Blood would not have been as nourishing as in later centuries, when vampires like Buffy’s Angel, Drusilla or Spike thrived in Sunnydale.

Trade paperback cover of Buffy: Season Eight V...

Trade paperback cover of Buffy: Season Eight Volume One, written by Joss Whedon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fifteen years on from Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer bloodsuckers have reason to complain about their diet once more, given the high fat, sugar, salt and protein content in human blood. Human fast food outlets and lonely microwave meals in front of the TV are to blame, but humans themselves are not responsible for the introduction of a fast food concept. Vampires might loathe to admit this, but obesity among the fanged community today goes back to a time, when an early medieval Vampire Council introduced a new concept to change their fellow fanged ones’ culinary experience.

Early medieval bloodsuckers were endlessly complaining about the scarcity of decent food. Firstly, because there weren’t enough humans around in a largely rural landscape, which meant the gap between meals could be rather long and secondly, because medieval human blood wasn’t very nutritious and it took several kills to get a satisfactory meal.

Later in the 10th century, when England had been fully Christianized, a network of nunneries and cloisters was erected across the country, a development greatly supported by the Vampire Council. Feasting became much easier and, as far as vampires were concerned, the concept of fast food chains was born.

Just knock at a cloister door, pretend you’re a pilgrim and hey presto, you get an instant meal in the shape of some delicious young novice or a Mother Superior showing off the whiteness of her wimple and the crispness of her neck.

International fast fang outlets such as “Murder King”, “MacDrainers” and “Starsucks” were created to cater for the travelling vampire in a hurry. This revolutionary concept made it possible for fanged communities to cover vast distances without worrying where to get their next meal (“Mine’s a double nun with French friar to go. Hold the garlic and relic bones. Extra mustard, if you please”).

The introduction of fast fang outlets helped to preserve vampires to this day. It explains, how 19th century vampires reached Sunnydale in California and later established a colony in Los Angeles, close to Angel’s old hotel.

(animation source: heathersanimations.com, photographs of Llandaff cemetry & Cathedral by Maria Thermann, Buffy book cover photo credit Wikipedia)