Poem: Midnight Seabones by Meredith Debonnaire

For Megan
This one is definitely your fault!

There is something terribly lonely
About lying in bed at midnight
listening to the neighbours fight.
Phone clutched in one hand
like a prayer
like the only light
As I wonder if tonight is the night
I call someone.
My skull is so heavy.
My shoulders so sore.
How much more do they scream 
Before I lean out the window and add my opinion?
There are creatures shuffling on the roof - a pigeon coos.

I am immeasurably tired 
 - though in the last few weeks I have been constantly asked to measure it - 
And my heart is a bundle of wires, 
the remnants of a build-it-yourself children’s kit. 
My chest hurts so that every breath feels like a hit
or a slit in my lungs, the quick kiss of cracked ribs.
I cannot sleep while the night keeps being shattered, 
so instead I keep this strange watch, 
never knowing what’s happening or happened.

On my phone there is a voicenote from Germany
- a little miracle still hard to believe - 
So I lie on my side in my bed in the night
listening  to your voice: a cornucopia of plenty.
And you talk about queerness and the weight of being unknown
of feeling alone
of carving the names of our ancestors onto our bones.

Midnight is gone,
And someone is crying in the corridor below
but I can’t hear the words.
My ceiling shakes under the shifting weight of birds.
I still hurt.
I try to explain the pain of absence.
The gutting, gutttering, gasping ghosts
who I mostly know in whispers;
of finding myself in slivers.
Of the killing thing that is exhaustion
hunting me down like the memory of wolves.
Of the relief of recognition
and the screaming in the walls.

I am sending you a 1am essay:
I say
I want to stop carrying this inheritance of pain
- it’s like standing on the edge of the ocean
waiting for the tide to bring me survivors
but it delivers me bones again -
And I am always two steps behind myself, watching.
And I am always stalked by something with teeth.
And the grief of histories unspoken chokes me:
All I want is a body that knows how to breathe.

And the wind is a torrent of darkness, 
but there is no road for the highwayman to ride - 
just the yellow light pooling through the window
and the tide of small joys that I cling to inside
like
the taste of your names on my tongue
the long road travelled to know who I am 
the belly-deep song of euphoria
all the threads weaving back to where this began
- we are endless -

The weight of the morning presses down.
I have found I am not lonely
when I hold your voice in my hands.
As it stands I am always trying to carve beautiful things out of bones,
but I am part of the threads that hold this quilt together:
I do not have to do this alone.

I still want to cry when I meet queer people over fifty,
the voice in my head whispering: you survived you survived you survived.
And it’s nearly 2am and the neighbours are screaming
But I’m alive I’m alive I’m alive.
And my joy is a fire in a hearth, 
a torch in the dark for someone to find.
It’s a fluttering, flickering, flaring light
unconfined.

I am lying in bed in the wee hours of the morning.
I am hunting the shoreline for bones.
I am writing a fanfiction about queer softness.
I am listening to you
and we are both known.


Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com
Contribute to my hot chocolate fund!

Poem: Marginalia by Meredith Debonnaire

Marginalia

I find myself in the marginalia:
it is where my people live.
Quotes such as
“the poet’s spinster aunt, 
with whom she lived
and to whom her friends considered her to be married.”
I find myself in the marginalia: 
it is cramped here.
“Lived with a dear friend.”
“Never married.”
“Confirmed bachelor.”
We are still, in 2021, footnotes. 
Or sometimes the sudden, terrible full stop - 
a sentence you never knew until it ended
“trans woman killed in attack,
full stop.”

I find myself in the marginalia, 
the notes at the edges of history books, 
the underlining in second-hand poetry, 
the question-marks surrounding an Egyptian tomb
of two people
who were very good friends...
This expanse of empty page terrifies me - 
I do not know if I am permitted here, but
Someday
I hope
Someday
In a better future
Some young person may find me, 
sprawled out across a page from the past
Saying
“I am here, 
I am here
I am here”
And there will be no more
heart-stopping
full stops

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com
Contribute to my hot chocolate fund!

This poem is quite old, and I’m honestly unsure about it. But I’ve also been trying to edit it on and off for a looooonnngggg time so I decided it was time to usher it out into the world!

Poem: bog lovers by Meredith Debonnaire

bog lovers

She told me that she was
The memory of a skull from a bog
Just trying to recall what it was to have skin.
And I told her that I was
The ghost of a paved-over stream,
and would she please let me in?

And she told me that she
had a bird for a heart
and its twilight cries were a song.
And I told her that I
longed for dippers and jays
but the water, the water was gone.

And she held me as close
as a vine holds a tree;
as the soil holds her bones;
as her bones hold me.
And when she talks
her mouth drips bladderworts
and I sing back in the key of my love for the sea.

I haunt this landscape
wailing grief to the sky
and I hold her and gaze at the flame in her eyes.
And we’ll sink into each other
like boots into mud,
while the water welcomes us home
with dreams of a flood.


Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com
Contribute to my hot chocolate fund!

The Green Knight – film by David Lowery/Sir Gawain and the Green Knight – translated by Simon Armitage

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Those of you who follow me over on twitter may have noticed that I recently watched the film The Green Knight. What you may or may not have realised is that immediately after watching it I decided I had to re-read the source material, so I’ve also recently re-read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Simon Armitage. And I have some thoughts. Buckle up, it’s a long ridiculous ride.

Firstly, film and poetry are two very different formats. It takes completely different skills to create an atmosphere with poetry than it does to create an atmosphere in film. People interact differently with film than with poetry. A poem depends on rhythms, on alliteration and description and meter to build something in your mind. A film depends on its imagery, on its soundscape, on the acting and costuming, to elicit a reaction in the audience. So moving something from one format to the other is going to be an act of translation.

I watched The Green Knight and was utterly blown away. I think it is likely to be the best film I’ve seen in several years. It was a masterpiece in creating atmosphere – the music was all (as far as I could tell) in a Medieval mode and so sounded distinctly odd to the modern ear, and the visuals were prioritising symbolism and the communication of feeling over realism. I’d honestly like to kiss whoever was in charge of the cinematography, because it was stunningly beautiful. I adored it. I adored Dev Patel as a less confident Gawain who spent a lot of time wandering about in the woods looking confused. I adored the casting decisions overall. A lot of interesting creative decisions were made about how to bring this old, weird poem to screen and how to interpret it, and personally I loved it. A lot of things were actually made stranger and given less explanation in the film than in the poetic translations that I have read.

For the sake of this post remaining a readable length, I will try to remain brief about some of the specific things I found interesting/loved in the film (I could easily ramble about it at length, and have done to some of my friends).

BEWARE SPOILERS FOR ALL THE THINGS

THE FILLUM: The Green Knight

The casting.

I adored this cast. I love fantasy and mythical genres, but like nearly every other genre, they have a racism and representation problem. I am not really qualified to talk about the differences between how worthwhile a raceblind casting of a traditionally white story is as opposed to telling more stories with a different origin and focus (I’d guess that doing both the things is good? Alongside really thinking through the implications of which characters you choose to racebend), but I would say that I am always excited to see these kinds of recasts. (If we wanna get nitpicky, I’d be pointing out that there was at least one Arabic Muslim knight in Arthurian legend anyway and that Medieval England saw a lot more travel and trade than people tend to think it did.) I loved the cast – all the actors were incredible, convincing, and brilliant. End of.

New Fun Parallels.

There were some parallels in the film that were (as far as I can tell) nearly entirely the invention of the film. Nevertheless, they were beautiful. At the Christmas feast that starts everything, we see Gawain’s Mother (played fantastically by Sarita Choudhury, and listed in the cast as Morgan le Fay – more on this later!) and characters who I assume are Gawain’s sisters taking part in a magical ritual. It is strongly implied that this ritual is what summons the eponymous Green Knight. At the Christmas feast, the Green Knight’s challenge is read out by Queen Guinevere, who gets some AMAZING spooky possession acting – glowing eyes, rigid body language, overlaid voices and all. Later when Gawain is setting out on his journey, there are two separate and parallel preparation sequences happening simultaneously: Queen Guinevere blessing Gawain’s shield and heart in the name of the Virgin Mary, and Gawain’s Mother and sisters preparing his armour and his belt with a whole other series of blessings. If I remember correctly, Guinevere’s blessing is to help him maintain honour and courage even if that means death, and his Mother’s blessing is more focused on his safety and return. There’s probably at least one essay in here about the portrayal of feminine relation to magic and religion, but I’ve only seen the film once and I’m writing this from memory. Still, watching these two parallel powers trying to work their influence on Gawain’s quest was fascinating.

Interestingly, Gawain was given a sort-of love interest (although she’s actually a sex-worker) named Essel back in Camelot. The actor for this was Alicia Vikander, who also played the Lady (Lady Bertilak de Hautdesert if you are familiar with the poem). This created an interesting set of contradictions and parallels: in the poem Lady Bertilak is a (quite lighthearted) challenge to Gawain’s virtue. In this film, Gawain’s virtue (in chivalric terms of sex without intention of marriage) was already gone so the Lady presented a whole different type of challenge: was she a reminder (a ghost) of Essel, who he abandoned to go on his quest? A threat to his notions of hospitality, which would certainly forbid him from a liaison with the wife of his host? A comment on the way he treated women of different classes? There’s a running theme of Gawain’s doubts about his honour and place as a knight, a questioning of what that might even mean, and women who keep offering him safety with a price. The Lord (Lord Bertilak de Hautdesert) also clearly wants to offer him rather a lot of things, including possibly safety from his fate of dying at the hand of the Green Knight, but that’s less a of a theme.

Oddly, the biggest reveal/parallel in the original poem is in fact removed from this film: the Lord is played by an entirely different actor than the Green Knight, and so this part of the story remains entirely different and obscure. I’m still not sure what I think of that.

Saint Winifred, and a picking apart of the notion of knightly romance as a whole.

Saint Winifred, acted by Erin Kellyman, is another invention of the film rather than something from the poem. Or at least, Saint Winifred is a Christian saint, but her appearance in this story is not something I’ve seen in any translation of the poem. There is a crystallisation in her interactions with Gawain of a theme that runs through the whole: that is, the interrogation of what honour, chivalry, and that kind of knightly romance even is. The whole encounter with her is wonderfully eerie: an exhausted Gawain falls asleep in what appears to be an abandoned cottage, only to be woken by a young woman in nightwear wanting to know why he is in her bed. He is clearly unnerved by her, offers to leave, but stays when she asks for his help. It turns out that what she needs is to find her head. Gawain is concerned about this, as her head is on her neck. There is some lovely dialogue about whether she is real or a spirit, and whether that matters. When she reveals her head is in a millpond (and how it came to be there – a knight/lord taking umbrage to Winifred’s refusal to bed him) Gawain asks what she will give him if he does this for her. THIS is a type of exchange seen often in knightly romance: do this thing for me and I will give you a kiss/ribbon/handkerchief/frog/magical belt/etc. Winifred, however, responds in visible distress “Why would you ask that? Why would you ever ask that?” and into the pond Gawain goes.

There’s a lot going on in this scene on a lot of different levels, including the amazing visuals, but I’m really excited by this rejection of that courtly romance thing. The Green Knight as a whole offers us a lot of thoughts about knightly romance and honour (see: all the conflicting magics at work on Gawain, the differing treatments of Essel and the Lady, Gawain’s struggle to identify either bravery or honour, the dialogue between coming home safely and acting honourably), but this is a moment where it is really not fucking about. Why, when presented with someone in distress and need of help, should one follow a script about exchange and honour? Chivalry may have some set etiquette, but (the film seems to be saying) surely the more chivalrous thing to do is simply to help. Not to ask what gifts a dead woman might give you for finding her skull and bringing it home.

Ominous smooching.

So the bit of the poem that I always remember is the surreal exchange of kisses between the Lady, Gawain, and the Lord. It’s got a whole framing in the poem (more on that later), but overall The Green Knight has an atmosphere of mildly threatening weirdness and this exchange is not an exception. The film decided to make the whole sexual innuendo about the belt more than an innuendo, so we get the World’s Most Awkward Handjob after which the Lady tells Gawain off, and then there’s a whole ominous bit with the Lord who has caught a fox that has been hanging out with Gawain and lets it go and then ominously smooches Gawain. I really haven’t managed to sort out any of my feelings about all these things at all. I am but a poor confused queer attempting to poke my feelings with a stick.

My initial thoughts went something like this:

  • Poem smooches are lighthearted and fun and the descriptions make me laugh and it all feels mildly queer. I enjoy this.
  • Film is all like “menacing menacing menacing menacing” and explores that whole knightly romance with exchanges thing (if you do x for me then I will give you y) but from a different angle (that angle being the Lady gives Gawain The Most Awkward Handjob, then gives him a magic belt and tells him he’s a disgrace. Which is somewhat confusing. Unless Gawain is into being told he’s a disgrace? A discussion for another day perhaps).
  • Lord smooches Gawain and it is… Threatening? Touching? Sweet but threatening? There’s a semi-metaphorical fox.
  • Gawain clearly has no idea what he wants or what he’s doing, and I think most of us queers can relate to that.

The queerness of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was a draw before I even knew I was a queer, so I have feelings about how it’s presented here. I just don’t know what they are. The lighthearted-ness of the poem is something I adore. The atmospheric weirdness of the film is also wonderful. Perhaps the problem is that there is still such a dearth of queer rep (especially in fantasy television) that every time there’s any I feel like I have to pick over it with a fine-tooth comb.

The Green Knight as a Big Ol’ Pagan Tree

I’m not sure how to elaborate on my heading, but the Green Knight in this film, rather than being a man with green skin and green hair and green beard and green clothes etc etc, is a fecking tree. He has more in common with the Green Man motif that is common across the UK (and elsewhere? I think you see it across parts of Europe as well) than the physical description of the Green Knight in the poem. He lives in a chapel that is actually a chapel, not a hill, but that is entirely overgrown. The Green Knight has always had this element of something Pagan about him, but the film goes all out on that interpretation, separating him from Lord Bertilak, cutting out the whole explanation bit at the end of the poem, and so creating a mysterious, ancient, magical, tree-man who can survive death. The way the promise and return-strike plays out in the film (I’m trying to avoid spoiling everything for you!) adds to the sense of the Green Knight as a seasonal harbinger of death/rebirth.

 

There are many other things in this film: giants, music, a band of strange ragamuffins, endless landscapes, brilliant costume designs, a fox. It’s a strange and beautiful thing, and I love it. I think, in my head at least, it’s easier to simply see this film as something inspired by the poem, rather than ask for a faithful rendition of it.

ONWARDS WILDLY TO THE POEM! Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

 

Simon Armitage’s translation is a gorgeous beast. The rhythm is wonderful: he uses alliteration and internal rhyming schemes to create a lovely mouth-feel (yes that’s a word I’m now using to describe poetry, no I shan’t be taking questions). Each stanza ends with four short lines in a more traditional ABAB rhyming pattern. Overall it has a lovely shape to it, which is somewhat essential for a poem this length.

I have not read enough poetry from this era to know if this is a thing, but it strikes me that Beowulf starts in a far away country and establishes lineage, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight does the same. For some reason it is very important that we know about Troy and how because some people left Troy, England now has The Best People before we can get onto the important business of Christmas at Camelot.

Again, I am trying to keep this to an actual readable length, so I’m splitting this into things I enjoyed about the poem and occasionally contrasting them with the film.

General poeticness.

I cannot overstate what a delightful poem this is – Simon Armitage is very skilled, and it’s a translation that really lends itself to reading aloud. There’s a sort of rollicking-ness to it that is very enjoyable, and the imagery and dialogue are all beautiful.

King Arthur is Ready To Throw Down.

So in The Green Knight film, King Arthur is old and clearly a bit broken. I actually enjoyed this representation of him enormously, along with the proliferation of slightly Northern accents. Not so our poetic King! The only reason that Gawain is the knight who faces the Green Knight is because he manages to talk King Arthur out of his table-jumping rage and persuade him that the knights would feel dishonoured if their King had to defend himself in his own hall when all the knights are right there. Gawain comes across as rather calm and thoughtful, and does not even stand up until given leave (I think he’s sat with a lady, and just up and leaving her would be Rude). I’m always fascinated by trying to pick apart what constitutes honourable and proper behaviour in narratives like this, and this initial dialogue between the Green Knight, King Arthur, and Sir Gawain is really interesting. Also the contrast of Arthur being quick to anger, and Gawain appearing more calm is an interesting one. Sadly, poem Guinevere does not get to be spooky and possessed.

Where the narrative weight is.

Something I enjoyed, in a mildly surreal way, was that the poem gave almost as much time to how much fun everyone had after the Green Knight was beheaded as it did to the weirdness of the Green Knight. It felt like we just… Needed to know that yeah, sure, one of the knights has entered into a strange game with a total stranger who can survive having his head chopped off, but this does not stop the celebrations at Camelot. There were several instances of things like this, where the narrative weight seemed odd to me: something about being a modern reader of an old piece of work probably. One of my favourites was that, in the poem, Gawain’s journey to find the Green Knight is summed up in a single stanza which is effectively “Gawain travelled through some scary mountains and woods, and had a lot of adventures, there might have been giants, we don’t have time for that”. Then when he arrives at the house of the Lord and Lady, we get actual pages of him and his hosts just talking, descriptions of the Christmas revelry, and what everyone was wearing, and how polite everyone is. Whoever the author of this poem was originally clearly just Did Not Have Time for things that weren’t the focus of the story, and also had very clear ideas about what was important e.g. telling us all the great food that was being eaten, describing people’s clothes, and making sure we know how polite and kind and honourable all our protagonists are when they talk to each other.

Contradictions, challenges, and hospitality in the Bertilak de Hautdesert Household.

(according to an exceedingly speedy duckduckgo search, Bertilak is German in origin and means “playful dance of light” and Hautdesert is French and means approximately “high forest”)

So after his entirely unspecified adventures that may or may not have involved a giant, Gawain is given shelter at the house of an unknown noble: the Lord. This happens after he gets very upset that he won’t be able to attend mass over Christmas because he is wandering about in the woods, so the fact he finds this place at all is a near-literal answer to his prayers and a sign that God rewards the faithful. Probably.

This is a large section of the poem, and an entirely fascinating one. It makes up a small portion of the film towards the end, and the atmosphere is entirely different. Gawain in the poem is a committed man who has already had to make several arguments about how he is duty bound to fulfill his promise to the mystery knight, even if it means death. He is not the confused and untested knight that Dev Patel portrays (I love Dev Patel, and Dev Patel’s Gawain).

Poem Gawain is greeted with enormous enthusiasm and delight by his hosts. They are clearly OVERJOYED that this strange knight has turned up and needs hosting over Christmas. The reaction is basically that this is The Single Best Thing To Happen Ever, We Have Been Given A Knight For Christmas! Thank The Lord!!!

This is when the infamous smooching game gets set up: it’s framed as a bit of Christmas fun, and the Lord comes up with this idea after a whole evening of celebration (he’s quite possibly drunk). The game is that the next day, the Lord will give Gawain whatever he receives/wins, and Gawain will do the same.

We then get this AMAZING contrast where the Lord goes hunting and there’s about six pages describing the hunt in great gory detail, including the dressing of the deer. It’s all very visceral, bloody language. And then we go back in time to the morning, and get Gawain’s day. The Lady has snuck into his room and is laying out an extremely logical case for Why They Should Have The Sex using all the rules of hospitality. Gawain (who is naked in bed) then comes up with an equally logical counterargument also using the rules of hospitality and chivalry. She counters his counterargument, and this goes on until eventually she admits defeat but comes up with a very good argument for some kisses, which Gawain accepts. The whole thing is playful and mildly ridiculous, and there’s real emphasis on the fact that Gawain goes to mass afterwards.

Of course at the end of the day, the Lord turns up with all the dead deer and gives it to Gawain, who makes a speech about how fantastic the Lord is at hunting, and then proceeds to kiss him.

This goes on for three days.

Some things that are interesting:

  • the contrast in descriptions of the hunts against Gawain and the Lady’s conversations – so on the second day the Lord hunts a boar, and on the third he hunts a fox. The descriptions are intense, and the Lord is portrayed as this sort of relentless force. It’s all about the baying hounds and the bloody hunt. Some of the huntsmen die. And the boar puts up a massive fight. Meanwhile the Lady is, perhaps, hunting Gawain. She sneaks into his room, implies everyone else is asleep (including her unexplained old woman chaperone, more on her later), comes up with all sorts of well thought out arguments that take into account Gawain’s code of conduct and current place in their household, that he’s agreed to do anything she asks (this was some sort of chivalric thing when he first arrived) and Gawain has to try to wiggle out of this argument while naked in bed. You get the feeling they’re both having a lot of fun. And then of course, Gawain gives any kisses he’s received to the Lord at the end of the day, after having been gifted with a massive amount of deer meat, or a whole dead boar, or on the third day, nothing much in particular. I don’t know if we’re meant to see the kissing as doubly dishonourable because the Lord is out doing Honourable Manly Stuff, or if we’re meant to compare these two hunts, or what. But it’s a fab sequence.
  • Hospitality and chivalry – I don’t know a lot specifically about chivalry and hospitality rules in Medieval England, but the impression I get is that Gawain is put in a difficult position here because A) he is a knight receiving hospitality, and a certain code of conduct is expected. This appears to include a level of fealty specifically to the lady of the house. It would be Extremely Rude to refuse a direct request from her. B) She is making a direct request – in a roundabout way – which is Hey Gawain, thou art a Most Attractive Knight, Let Us Do The Horizontal Waltz. C) HOWEVER it would also be definitely against the rules of hospitality and chivalry to sex up someone else’s wife, especially the wife of his host. D) He is honour-bound by their little game to give anything he receives to the Lord – this may or may not be something that Gawain considers when deciding not to sex up Lady de Hautdesert.  All this means he has to find a way out of having sex with her without appearing, at any  point, to be directly refusing any request she is making of him. The dialogue is brilliant.
  • Promises and honour – Gawain has made a lot of promises at this point. He’s promised to find the Green Knight and suffer his return blow. He’s promised fealty and service to the Lady. He’s promised to play a game with this Lord. And this point in the story is when we see a crack in Gawain’s commitment and courage. Lady Hautdesert, on day three, wants to give him a gift. She first offers a ring, which he refuses as it is too expensive. She then offers a belt that will protect him from harm. Gawain tries to refuse, but he is scared of dying at the hand of the Green Knight and so accepts it. That evening (interestingly on the day of the Lord’s least successful hunting venture – he only got a fox) Gawain gives the Lord all the kisses he received throughout the day (the Lord is always Entirely Delighted by this, and Gawain often precedes the smooching with another speech about How Excellent The Lord Is), but keeps the belt. I touched on the chivalric romance with exchanges earlier when discussing Saint Winifred: where the film spent some time taking apart this entire notion, it is simply part of the world of the poem. It is however, something that, although presented in a lighthearted manner, can 100% get you dead if you misjudge things…

Finding the Green Knight.

In the poem, the Lord supplies a servant to guide Gawain to the chapel of the Green Knight. The servant warns Gawain away in pretty grisly terms, offers to lie about where Gawain went, and implores him not to die because he’s been really gallant and well-liked while he was a guest, and it’d be a shame. This role is fulfilled in some ways by the Fox in the film, who also warns Gawain away. In both interpretations it is important that Gawain is given the option of leaving, sometimes more than once, and chooses to go anyway even though it is made explicit in the text that he is frightened to die.

When Gawain, alone, locates the Green Knight’s chapel he finds only a hill and a glade, and the sound of an axe being sharpened. It is a wonderfully atmospheric moment, with the Green Knight actually making Gawain wait while he finishes sharpening his axe before coming to meet him. And then the confrontation, in which they play an extremely high stakes game of chicken. First Gawain flinches, and the Green Knight has a go at him about that. Then Gawain girds his loins and prepares to take another blow, which the Green Knight pulls at the last moment because Reasons. Finally, the Green Knight strikes him and breaks skin, and Gawain decides he’s had enough and grabs his own weaponry and makes an excellent speech about how he only promised to receive one return blow and has now received three and if the Green Knight tries again it will be a proper battle. Gawain has fulfilled his promise and upheld his honour, and now he is no longer obligated not to Throw Down. 

By this point the overall shape of the story in the film has completely diverged from the poem. Where in the film we never get as far as the third strike, ending on a delicious cliff of anticipation, the poem continues and offers us explanations (for a given value of explanation). As in the traditional heroes’ journey, Gawain gets to return home. The mysterious Green Knight is given some rationale, and tied firmly to the world of the real and tangible rather than the mysterious and inexplicable.

I find this interesting, because on the one hand you can view the explanation given — the Green Knight is actually Lord Bertilak de Hautdesert, whom Gawain has been smooching. Morgan le Fay persuaded him to let himself be magicked up and go to Camelot to test the resolve of their knights, though Morgan le Fay thought they would fail and Lord Bertilak thought they would win. Lord Bertilak set up his own, independent second test of Gawain’s virtue through persuading his wife to seduce him, and seeing if Gawain would actually give the Lord everything he’d received during the day as promised. He only nicks Gawain’s skin because Gawain accepted the belt and did not pass it on as promised — as removing the magical connections from the Green Knight: he’s just a guy that was enchanted, not a tangible representation of a strange seasonal being turning up to test your courage in the face of inevitable death. On the other hand, you can read this as a blurring/entangling rather than disconnecting – yes the Green Knight is in fact just some dude, but there is a sorceress powerful enough to enchant him. His existing concepts of courage and bravery were enough that he thought this a fair enough test to carry out, and he still survived having his head chopped off. I like this connection: the Green Knight may be Bertilak de Hautdesert under a spell, however that doesn’t detract from the fact that this is a world in which spells and magic are an ordinary part of the landscape, and miraculous deliverance happens.

 

There is much else to get your teeth into here: Gawain’s return and welcome to Camelot is significant in many ways. The overall shape of the poem, the descriptions of landscape, the relationships between magic, religion, miracle, and happenstance are fascinating, and it is an excellently weird window into a period of English fantastical literature.

And finally, a note on Morgan le Fay

This post has gotten ridiculously long, but I can’t leave without a quick Morgan le Fay mention. She is an elusive but catalystic presence in both the film and the poem. Sarita Choudhury’s character is never named in the film, but Wikipedia credits her character as Morgan le Fay: this is thematically backed up by the fact that she is the one (along with Gawain’s unnamed sisters) who summons the Green Knight. The Morgan le Fay of the poem is revealed to be the unnamed elderly chaperone following Lady Hautdesert about, as well as being Gawain’s Aunt (the Green Knight mentions this after he and Gawain have made friends, to try to persuade him to come stay with him again and hang out with family), and the one who came up with the whole idea and then enchanted Lord Bertilak de Hautdesert. There is something absolutely fascinating to me here, both about the character Morgan le Fay generally, and about this specific way she appears in this narrative. In both tellings she starts everything, either by summoning the Green Knight or by “creating” him. Her motives fall anywhere between idly testing the court of Camelot to angling for its downfall, and are not entirely explained in either version. She has no dialogue in the poem, and almost none in the film. She is a presence, and a catalyst, and clearly has an agenda, but she haunts the narrative (it makes me think, especially in the film where she is acted by a woman of colour, of Ebony Elizabeth’s Dark Fantastic Cycle of spectacle, hesitation, violence, haunting, and emancipation, laid out in The Dark Fantastic  which you should read). There is an untold story in the background of both film and poem, and that is the story that would actually hold an explanation of the events that happened and the motives behind them, and that story belongs to Morgan le Fay.

Image shows a woman of Indian descent, played by Sarita Choudhury. She is facing the camera, wearing a sculptural cloak with a large hood in gold.cream. She is holding a white scarf up to her face, about to blindfold herself, and part of her face is obscured. Her eyes are closed. Due to the lighting, most of her body is in darkness. Light emanates from behind her head like a halo in shades of blue, darkening as it travels out so that the edges of the backdrop are black.


*post edited evening of 15th Dec to add in sentences in the section about finding the green knight that had been accidentally deleted somehow!

Enjoyed this ramblesome piece of writing? You can buy me drinks through the internet!

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

 

Tales from Tantamount

Some thoughts on Tales From Tantamount by Nimue Brown.

Druid Life

First Image

Tales from Tantamount is a project by Merry Debonnaire that frankly isn’t easy to describe. It’s made of words, and is charming and funny.

Tantamount is a town that doesn’t stay put, and during the book it goes on holiday, gets in the river and visits a swamp. The life of the town comes to us through found objects and ephemera, and while there are stories, they aren’t told in conventional ways. Tantamount has an array of supernatural beings, and a goat on the council. No one seems to know how the various local councils work.

Fans of Nightvale are going to find this is just their sort of thing. If you enjoyed my Wherefore series I rate the chances of you also enjoying this. It made me chortle a lot.

You can get Tales from Tantamount from Merry’s ko-fi store https://ko-fi.com/s/c8cbd9a609

View original post

Tales From Tantamount – now available

Cover shows a shield divided into four, with a tentacle in top left, a magpie top right, a well with fingers gripping the edge in bottom left, and the bottom right being eaten by a strange creature wrapped around the shield. Tales From Tantamount is written across a scroll at the top, and Meredith Debonnaire across the bottom.So, here we are! I’ve finally managed to move Tales From Tantamount off Amazon and onto my Ko-fi shop. It’s had a little extra proofreading, both by me and by the fabulous Nimue Brown, so hopefully any typos that were in the first edition have been dealt with. I do not currently have a plan for making a paperback copy of Tales From Tantamount available; it’s something that I’d love to do, but I haven’t had time to sort out the logistics of it. I also, in the course of sorting this out, found a video of me reading bits of Tales From Tantamount back in 2019. So for your amusement and mine, I’m going to link to the video – enjoy!

Buy Tales From Tantamount here.

Tales From Tantamount – move in progress!

Cover shows a shield divided into four, with a tentacle in top left, a magpie top right, a well with fingers gripping the edge in bottom left, and the bottom right being eaten by a strange creature wrapped around the shield. Tales From Tantamount is written across a scroll at the top, and Meredith Debonnaire across the bottom.

Hello my lovelies! So, due to the ancient law of Sod, I got a migraine last week when I was meant to be moving Tales From Tantamount over to my ko-fi page. As things currently stand, Tales From Tantamount has been taken down from Amazon, and I am using this opportunity to do a speedy check for spelling and grammar snafus that got through the last round of proofreading. I also have an exceedingly wonderful friend doing a proofread of it. As soon as that is finished, the PDF will be up on my ko-fi available to buy. I am still considering how to manage hardcopies.

I shall post on here as soon as Tales From Tantamount has successfully moved. In the meantime, you can find my Ko-fi page here: https://ko-fi.com/meredithdebonnaire

Tales From Tantamount – a change in venue

Cover shows a shield divided into four, with a tentacle in top left, a magpie top right, a well with fingers gripping the edge in bottom left, and the bottom right being eaten by a strange creature wrapped around the shield. Tales From Tantamount is written across a scroll at the top, and Meredith Debonnaire across the bottom.

Greetings! So, this is a general information post about Tales From Tantamount. This title is being removed from Amazon – I don’t quite know when precisely it will stop being available on there, but Amazon should stop fulfilling orders pretty soon. I am going to be putting up a PDF available to buy through my ko-fi page. There’s a few things that need tweaking, but hopefully that should be available by the end of the week (I will update you when it is). In terms of print versions, that’s up in the air at the moment. I want to have print versions of this available for you lovely people, however I need to figure out how to do that in a way that is financially viable for me. So stay tuned, or make suggestions!

I’ll be trying to get the links on my website all sorted out to reflect this change, but there may be some chaos while I get things sorted! Again, I hope to have this sorted out by the end of the week so do let me know if there’s anything still linking to the wrong place by next Monday!

Thanks

Merry

PS you can find my kofi by clicking the button below

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Book review: Thirteenth by C.M. Rosens

Book cover is primarily green, shaded to look as though light is coming from the right side. A central gold embellishment resembles an eye inside a circle. Above that, the book title "thirteenth"is written in uneven capitals. Below, the author name "C.M. Rosens" in a smaller fontGran’s house was the oasis of calm Katy Porter craved.

*note: Thirteenth is the sequel to The Crows, so you should read that first. Also this review may have spoilers for The Crows, so be aware.*

C.M. Rosens is in a league of her own, something I say with both love and enthusiasm. In The Crows, she grabbed every gothic horror trope she could find, put them through the blender, and somehow made me hate Carrie’s painfully mundane ex-boyfriend more than the literally-a-murderous-cannibal neighbour. In Thirteenth, she takes the idea of the Chosen One by the horns and then covers it in eldritch tentacles and teenage rage. It was an absolute joy to read.

Our protagonist is Katy Porter (she’s a cousin of Ricky Porter, a main character in The Crows who eats people and tells the future, yet I still want to just wrap him in blankets and check he’s okay). She’s the family’s chosen one. The problem with this is that, when your family are the descendants of a nameless dimension-bending tentacled eldritch god who kill and/or curse each other over things as petty as flower shows, you’re not going to be chosen for anything good. So like any sensible seventeen-year-old labouring under an ominous prophecy, Katy decides to run away.

This does not go to plan.

And so, Katy Porter finds herself stuck living with Ricky, considered creepy even by her family’s standards, and Fairwood House, which is alive and has sort-of absorbed Carrie Rickards. Her elder brother Wes is also involved, although he is in turns terrified and incoherent (in no small part due to one of the uncles blackmailing him into testing drugs). This story is, in many ways, a story about family expectations: it’s just that in this family, three generations back some sisters decided that summoning an eldritch god and having its babies was an excellent plan. Katy would really like to be focusing on college and not the fact that her dad is a serial killer and she has some kind of horrible destiny, Ricky would like to make friends but doesn’t know how, Carrie/Fairwood is a little tired of trying to explain ethics to Ricky, and Wes would like it if anyone could remember his face and also could his family members stop threatening to eat his partners please? And somehow between the four of them they need to figure out if there’s any way for Katy to be in control of her powers, rather than controlled by them.

It’s a brilliant story. Somehow, in the midst of some very gory transformation sequences and a lot of murder, it is incredibly emotionally touching. There’s an unexpected gentleness at times: the characters are trying to be friends, however clumsily (Ricky and Carrie/Fairwood is one of my favourite examples of this). C.M. Rosens also has a delightful sense of humour that had me cackling in public. As in The Crows, the mundane is mixed in with the magical with stunning results, and the characters are complicated and messy and weirdly loveable. Pagham-On-Sea continues to have strangely accurate small town vibes, and the ending was so satisfying that I nearly screamed (I was, yet again, reading this in public so I tried to restrain myself).

Rating: read this, don’t ask whose heart is up the chimney


Enjoyed this review? You can buy me a drink if you feel so moved! Also if you’ve read this book please please come talk to me, I need to yell about the ending and I’m trying to avoid spoilers in the review. ALSO C.M. Rosens has a trigger list for this book on her website, so if you think this sounds good but you aren’t sure if you’ll be able to handle horror, you can go and check that out. I found it very helpful.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Book Review: Hunger Pangs: True Love Bites (Flirting with Fangs Edition) by Joy Demorra

Book cover has a two-tone red background that implies a river of blood. There is a subtle skull in the top left. Central to the lower third are three people. To the left, two men have their arms around each other and are looking to the right, where a woman is looking back at them. The implication is of mutual yearning. One of the men is slightly taller and broader, tan skinned, with hearing aids and one arm in a sling or support. The other man is shorter and slighter, black hair, pointed ears, pointed teeth, dressed primarily in black. The woman has thick blonde hair flying upwards, brown skin and freckles, a full figure and a purple dress. The book title and author name are included on the front cover.

Lightning flashed followed by a roaring boom of thunder which split the quiet of the night.

*A note on editions! The author has published two editions of this book: the Flirting with Fangs edition (which I am reviewing) contains on-the-page smut scenes. The Fluff and Fangs edition (which I have not read) instead fades to black, and includes a scene where any emotional or character development that would have happened during the smut happens in a different context. The reader, therefore, is free to choose their comfort level.*

I do not know that I have ever felt quite so intensely seen, nor so completely and kindly loved, by a book before. I have read a great many books that I have loved. There are books that feel like coming home when I read them, books that have reached into my chest and held my heart and squeezed, books which have introduced me to parts of myself I did not know existed, books which have given me windows into cultures I do not know. This is not the first time I have read a book that made me cry, or laugh, or bite my nails. However, this is (I think) the first time I have read a book and felt as though the book knew me.

Hunger Pangs: True Love Bites is many things – a wonderful send-up of a certain kind of supernatural fantasy, a tongue-in-cheek love letter to a number of romance tropes, a commentary on oppression and war and what they do to people – but it was perhaps most importantly about kindness and love, and about recognising the things that masquerade as love.

Nathan is a werewolf, and he has survived an injury that should have killed him. Consequently, absolutely no-one (including himself) knows what to do with him, how to treat his remaining injuries, or how to help him rebuild his life: none of his family appear to have any experience helping a disabled werewolf. Vlad is a vampire caught in a damaging romance that is all tangled up in his family issues, and he is also trying to rule the vampire Eyrie in the absence of his father (who prefers Vlad refer to him as the Count) – a balancing act between keeping everything under control and overstepping his bounds. So when Nathan takes the job of Captain of the Guard at the Eyrie, neither of them are exactly expecting to find love. But Nathan cannot help being extraordinarily competent, and Vlad can’t help finding competence delightful, and the two of them slowly begin to revolve around each other like planets under the influence of gravity. I really enjoyed the sort of love language that these two had: Vlad with his ever-moving thought process using his wide-ranged knowledge base to try to find help for Nathan, Nathan paying quiet attention to Vlad (who expects to be dismissed), and all the ways that they found to try to treat each other with care.

Our third delightful protagonist, Ursula, has a parallel storyline. With her werebear companion Alfbern, she has discovered a problem with the magical trees that shield the world and begun a desperate quest to discover just how badly screwed everyone is (SPOILER: screwed. Really screwed). This eventually brings her to the Lorehaven wolfpack to assess their sacred tree and, thus, to meet Nathan. And I can tell you quite gleefully that what we are looking at here is the beginnings not of a love triangle (imagine the little tumblr graphic about how most love triangle’s are actually love corners, usually with the woman backed into it) but of a wonderfully queer polyamorous throuple.

Joy Demorra writes with an absolutely vivid turn of phrase that at times reminded me of Terry Pratchett, although her worldbuilding is much different and there is more of the period romance vibe. There are so many utterly delightful background characters that I can’t even begin to mention them all because then I would have to list every single character in the book, yes even the ones I hated because ooooo they were written so well. There is a sort of defiant joy running through the whole work: the world that Joy Demorra has created has a difficult history, is actively at war, under magical threat that most don’t know about, and dealing with food shortages and riots. But there is joy, and defiance. There is a repeated motif of people choosing to care; about others, about themselves, and about where they live.

It was also just full of casual queer representation of all kinds: off the top of  my head I can think of several asexual characters, multiple characters using “they” pronouns, and a whole variety of relationships in the background as well as the foreground. There was also a lot of casual disability rep – one of the vampires uses a wheelchair, Nathan needs various aids – and the kindness and accuracy in how the author (if not always the world) treated all of this brought me to tears.

There is so much in this book to be cherished that I cannot list it all – indeed I feel like I’ve barely scraped the surface. So to avoid me trying to tell you the entire plot and what I love about all the characters, here is one of the moments that made me feel absolutely seen. It is a tad spoilery, so be warned! There was a tipping point in Vlad’s established romantic relationship, which is with another vampire called Elizabeth. Her behaviour towards him has been repeatedly awful, and has been pointed out by others, but he feels trapped (there are reasons for this). Elizabeth escalates, and does something awful to a bystander at which point Vlad finally puts down some boundaries. She then says something to the effect of “but you love me!” to which he replies “not enough.” and I honestly just jolted because I don’t believe I have ever seen that in a romance-centric book before – this acknowledgement that you can love someone, can dearly want to make things work, but if that other person is actively harming you and others around you and is unwilling to change love is not enough and you are not obliged to stick with them. Not for the first time reading Hunger Pangs: True Love Bites, I cried in public.

So, here it is: it’s a delightful book full of werewolves and vampires and ghosts, clearly written by someone who absolutely loves fantasy and romance and who obviously had a wonderful time giving everything Fantasy Names With Puns In, and I dearly want to throw it at everyone I know until they have all read it.

Rating: read this book, remember to bring appropriate throwing toys for your local werewolf at full moon.


For some reason, WordPress is sometimes letting me use the standard small medium large sizes for images, and sometimes making me resize them at random. So if the book cover is an odd size this week, that’s why!

Buy me a drink should you feel so moved! Or you could buy my strange book  Tales From Tantamount– link in the sidebar.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Previous Older Entries

Unless otherwise stated, content © Meredith Debonnaire