Fantasy is, in some ways, the most faithful of all literary genres to traditional storytelling, maintaining clear links with the mythical to help explore the deeper mysteries of the human condition.
Magic Realism authors like Salman Rushdie and Gabrielle Garcia Marquez weave ancient myth and traditional folklore into contemporary stories, providing “new” perspectives on modern life. Other’s, such as J.R.R. Tolkien or Ursula K. Le Guin, create entirely new worlds that give free rein to folklore, allowing the reader to escape the prejudices of the familiar and act as an objective observer of the human condition.
To act as more than mere escapism, however, fantasy literature must present a culture internally consistent with all aspects of its world and its people. Language is perhaps the most important component of culture and one of the most effective tools an author can use to transport readers into their alternative universe. Most modern fantasies offer only exotic sounding proper nouns and a handful of twisted colloquialisms and it is rare to find an author with the ability to develop and build a truly original linguistic structure to support their story.
Greer Gilman is such an author and perhaps one of the most talented linguists writing in any genre today. Her new book, Cloud & Ashes: Three Winter’s Tales, recalls James Joyce for its playfulness and inventiveness, mining the Yorkshire vernacular in particular in her creation of a mythical realm called ‘Cloud’. The two short stories and the novella contained within Cloud & Ashes each centre around Cloudish winter myths, based largely upon Celtic traditions such as the death and rebirth of the winter king. Like Tir na nÓg, Cloud is a land of pure myth and these stories are to be read as such, like the symbols on a pack of tarot cards.
Cloud & Ashes is an incredible achievement, a work rich with word play and potent symbolism. Whether you delight in unravelling multi-layered meanings in a text or if you simply enjoy the floating sensation of allowing richly figurative language to wash over you and carry you along, Cloud & Ashes is a book you will turn back to again and again.