This is a review of a short story, some miscellaneous finds around the story subject, and a summary post for the Once Upon a Time Challenge. (Badge links to the beginning post for the challenge)
Mini Synopsys: This short story, “John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner” is apparently based upon an ancient fable about the Raven King/Fairy King/John Uskglass/Oberon/and more – all being one and the same name. The theme of the fable and this story is a king being fooled by a common man.
This common man, a charcoal burner, is unaware that the man hunting near his home is in fact the Raven King. He becomes outraged when his home, garden, and supper are ruined by the king’s hunting party. This creates indignation in the charcoal burner, where he then takes some extreme measures to get back at the Fairy King.
Thoughts: This is the second story that I have read in this collection by Susanna Clarke. It is actually a light and slightly humorous story, and I would say although I enjoyed it, I did not quite as much as “Antickes and Frets” (see my review and misc info post). However, it has intrigued me more, as you will see from the research and links below.
The Intriguing Bit: I have never really been a big fairy fan, although recently I am finding current retellings of some classic stories, especially those of a dark ilk, especially fascinating. As a child fairies always felt too frilly, and fluffy. I preferred aliens, mythic gods or goddesses, other legends such as Nessie, big foot, or trolls. So my adult knowledge of fairies is very limited.
Now in my 40s, for some reason fairy tales have come into my interest orbit. The name the Raven King intrigued me, amazingly so. So as any self respecting computer addict would do I “Googled” it. Expecting loads of information around the search, I found very few pages with substantial stuff regarding him. I did, however, find that he has a variety of names, like the names mentioned above - Fairy King, Oberon… and that he is linked to King Author and Camelot. Some legends even say that King Author was the Raven King.
Here is the information that I found which is of substance. This quote was taken from an online encyclopedia at StateMaster.com. The live links in the text are Wikipedia links for more information on the particulars for the subject word.
Oberon, also Auberon, King of the Fairies, is most well-known as a character in William Shakespeare's play, A Midsummer Night's Dream, written in the mid-1590s. Oberon gives his wife, Titania, a potion that causes her to fall in love with Bottom - in order to get the changeling, who was given to Titania by her dying maid.
And an interesting bit, via this same source:
..the medieval concept of the character Oberon arose from a multitude of earlier sources.
Susanna Clarke specifically tells readers her thoughts around this character, which she molded for her story. He plays a role in her award winning book Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. This excerpt is taken from an interview on her website:
The Raven King had an odd genesis. Ursula Le Guin has a magician in the Earthsea trilogy who has no name: the Grey Mage of Paln, whose magic was so dubious, his name was forgotten. And there’s a magician in The Lord of the Rings, right at the very end, who comes out of Mordor to do battle against our heroes, and no one knows his name because he himself has forgotten it. I thought this was rather cool, and when I was developing my magicians, I wanted one without a name.
Unfortunately I hadn’t quite understood what would happen if I had a major character without a name. The consequence has been that he has acquired more names than most people: the Raven King, John Uskglass, the Black King, the King of the North and a fairy name that no one can pronounce.
All very interesting and leading to a number of wonderful links, and misc connections. One in particular is from a creative new blog called Celestial Elf; Machinima. Here Celestial Elf (the blog owner) put together a short video within the online game Second Life. It’s based upon a poem he wrote about the Raven King, where he reads it with an English accent within the video.
You can read a portion of the short story online - “John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner”.
If you know anything about the Raven King, have books you recommend, or links about this subject, sharing them in the comments would be wonderful!
For your convenience purchasing links from Amazon for the books mentioned in the post are linked below:
Challenge Conclusion: This is the last short story, and post, for this year’s Once Upon a Time Challenge. I will have completed three shorts and three books. To see my thoughts about them see the links below. All are excellent stories.
- “Antickes and Frets” by Susanna Clarke from The Ladies of Grace Adieu.
- “The Goosle” by Margo Lanagan from The Best Horror.
- Keeper by Kathi Appelt (young adult/tween, mythic – slipstream)
- The Russian Dreambook of Color and Flight by Gina Ochsner (slip stream, literary)
- The Song of the Whales – by Uri Orlev (translated children’s fable, slip stream/magical realism)
I would like to thank Carl V. from Stainless Steel Droppings for hosting this fun challenge.
Have a great Monday!