Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Weeper


Portrait of Ginevra di Amerigo de' Benci.
Leonardo da Vinci.
oil and tempera on poplar panel, circa 1480.
National Gallery of Art, Washington.

One of the difficulties in writing magic realism/ urban fantasy is gauging the collective knowledge of readers - the automatic recognition of base elements - thus eliminating the need for extensive background explanation and repetition of the legends in question.

Stories about vampires and werewolves do not suffer from this - the myths are widely understood and twists easy to introduce - without any recourse at all to clever variants of As you know, Bob.

Since Raine expressed a curiousity about the banshee, the bean-sidhe, and the laundromat, I'll conclude my excerpts with a portion of that scene - but I realize I may be building on the shaky foundations of a much lesser legend.


A small woman, in a forest green track suit and a stone-gray windbreaker sleeve-tied around her shoulders like a cloak, stood filling a washer next to mine. Ornate, carved combs swept back her hair, brick red, from her delicate, ageless face.

Her ears, contrary to popular description, were not pointed. She had no aura, as such, she was pure shimmer.

She smiled and looked me up and down, green eyes crinkling, and turned back to her mixed wash. Sheets and men's clothes mostly, brightly stained. Cold water wash for blood.

I should have been more surprised than I was. Perhaps Rick's passing encounter with the dullahan prepared me.

"These machines are wonderful, indeed," she said. "So saving on the hands and back. No more wringing until the arms feel wrenched from their sockets, and the fingers aching from the cold! And it a busy time and all."

"I can imagine," I gasped, partly because the kid rammed his push toy at my ankle and whacked me across the shins with his sword. I was in his way.

She looked down at the minature Conan the Barbarian in Bob the Builder overalls and then over at his oblivious mother, speculatively.

"Inter-marriage!" She snorted. "Some I grieve; some, I don't. I grieved for your mother."

My mother? My mother was a foundling, they told me, of no known family.

Oh.


19 comments:

Scott said...

Neil Gaiman has characters that are of mythological origin, and spends a whole novel revealing slowly just what that character is. That's part of the fun of reading. You get a sense that you should know.

Robyn said...

I love it.

Can't you make your own version of myth to fit your story? I've seen it done with scores of vamps and wolves. Many authors change the rules for effect.

Bernita said...

Unfortunately, Scott, I'm no Gaiman.
Are you saying I should not worry about lack of exposition regarding banshee form, roles, etc?

Thank you, Robyn.
Actually, I have tried. Minor versions of the myth depict her as beautiful and not the hag of the conventional and later versions, and I've combined the washer woman aspect with the night keener.
I guess I worry parts might not make any sense to the reader.

ORION said...

I know nothing of these things as I don't read the genre but I totally enjoyed this and wanted to read more. As a reader I like having the info unfold slowly. It's like a puzzle.
Assume the reader knows more than you think or wants to slowly figure it out without the "as you know bobs" (oops I almost left it as boobs!)

Bernita said...

Hee, Pat! I often have to check the word "guy" that I don't type "gut"...

I think in genre the archetypals have be be rendered more direct and less oblique, more deduction than induction. But maybe I got that backwards...
I prefer to trust the reader, I just hope neither the banshee nor the dullahan are too obscure for impact.
A "fetch" by any other name...
Thank you.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Oooohhh....I like that...it left multiple hangy questions...more, more!!

raine said...

Oh, I did enjoy this. Intriguing!

Agree with you--trust the reader.
Knowing the piece was based on myth and legend, I'd recognize the 'washer woman'.

Cold water wash for blood.

Great, chilling line.

kmfrontain said...

I've always found laundromats a wee bit scary and bizarre. This was a good excerpt, Bernita. :-)

Steve G said...

Bernita, very interesting. Brick red hair. I don't recall the last time I read or heard this. Unique, for me at least.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Bonnie.

Glad you did, Raine.
That line does fit well, I think.

Thank you, Karen. I don't know quite what it is.

Doubt the description is original, Steve. Had an aunt-by-marriage with hair that colour.

Gabriele C. said...

The advantages of modern technology. CuChulain would probably drive a Ferrari these days and shoot a semi automatic.

Very nice scene.

Bernita said...

Or perhaps a Humvee, Gabriele!
Thank you.

archer said...

Hmm. My view is that a reader doesn't have to know the underlying myth. Plenty of people who love My Fair Lady couldn't name the Shaw play upon which it is based, and of those who can, how many really can relate the Greek tale of Pygmalion? That's their loot, these myths. If we're caught stealing one we're complimented.

Bernita said...

An interesting example and a broader view, Archer.

Jeff said...

"A small woman, in a forest green track suit and a stone-gray windbreaker sleeve-tied around her shoulders like a cloak, stood filling a washer next to mine. Ornate, carved combs swept back her hair, brick red, from her delicate, ageless face.


Her ears, contrary to popular description, were not pointed. She had no aura, as such, she was pure shimmer."

This is fantastic description, Bernita!

Bernita said...

Oh, Jeff!
Thank you
I feared it was clunky.

LadyBronco said...

Love the painting.

Love the snippit.

I am with robyn on this one...
I think you could make your own version of this myth, and make it believable.

Marie said...

Intriguing piece. Great discriptions too.

Bernita said...

May be my favourite da Vinci, Lady B. I get very tired of Mona Lisa.
Thank you.

Thank you, Marie.