Daily Archives: January 11, 2011
I can only hope I’m not the only person who ever sneaked out at twilight and found a crossroads, or peeked into a wardrobe and hoped, for once, not to see the back of it.
Since it is my absolute favorite thing and I do plan to journey all the way to Edinburgh in order to become a quasi-expert on the subject, I may as well take some time to talk about my favorite part of Celtic mythology – namely, their concept of the Otherworld. Greeks have their Olympus and their Hades. The Norse myths elaborate levels within levels for gods, giants, men, and monsters. The Celts had no such clear structure and no divisions in their world, none that we know of, at any rate.
The Celtic god-figures lived in the world of men, and when they were beaten back and forced to leave, they merely disappeared into the hills. They rule the underworld. However, the Fae, as these gods soon came to be, are not always beneath the hills. Their world might be in the midst of a forest. It might be under the lake or it might be across it. One person might reach its shores, while the next, taking the same route, will never find it.
The concept of the Otherworld, a parallel dimension of magic, where everything is more beautiful, magical, and dangerous, has extended beyond the borders of Celtic literature. The Arthurian legends adopted it. Here, we find the Lady of the Lake (yes, the watery tart who gave Arthur Excalibur); we see Avalon; we meet the Green Knight and Morgan le Fey. All of these people and places and objects arise from a realm beyond mortal sight that only a few glimpse and even fewer ever explore.
The Otherworld translates well into fantasy literature. We all find the idea of a mystical world, just beyond our reach entirely enchanting (and more than a little frustrating). So enchanting is it, that we read it, write it, and perhaps secretly hope to find it ourselves. At least, I can only hope I’m not the only person who ever sneaked out at twilight and found a crossroads, or peeked into a wardrobe and hoped, for once, not to see the back of it.
Lewis, of course, made great use of the Otherworld when he created Narnia. The idea of being summoned from beyond the invisible line, by means of the wardrobe, painting, or magical horn, is very Otherworldly indeed. Narnia is not somewhere else. It’s right here. We can’t see it and we can’t find it when we look for it, as the professor said. But it is just around the corner nonetheless.
Whether it be by means of a wardrobe, a looking glass, a painting, a crossroad, or a solitary cairn in the hills of Ireland, we hope – and rather expect – to find enchanted worlds that are not separate from our own, but somehow a part of it, just out of sight.
We can blame the Celts for that.