Creatures of the Mythic Night
I discovered the fiction of A.S.Byatt while I was living in England. A brilliant writer, the real joy is finding the odd fairy tales embedded in the main story. Filled with compelling images and psychological twists, they remain in your mind long after you have put down the book.
The is a very beautiful one from Possession: A Romance, 1990. Based on the legend of the Feary Melusine, Possession is like a fairy tale onion, layer upon layer of wonders. This story involves the mysterious whiteladies of the night…
The old woman bade the Childe farewell, courteoulsy enough, if curtly, and sent him on his way to the frontier, telling him to keep boldly along the track, deviating neither to right nor left, though creatures might call and beckon him enticingly, and wonderful lights might be seen from time to time, for this was enchanted country. He might see meadows or fountains, but he must keep his stony way, she told him, apparently with no great faith in his strength of purpose. But the Childe said he wished to come to the place his father had told him of, and that he wished to be faithful and true in all things and that she need not fear. ‘As to that’ said the crone,’it is all one to me whether the whiteladies pick your fingers or whether the sluggish goblins of the grimpen dispute your little toes between them. I have lived too long to care much for the outcome of one quest or another: Cleaned white bones are as good as a burnished princeling in a mailcoat to my old eyes. If you will come, you will come; if not, I shall see the whiteladies flickering fire on the heath.’ ‘I thank you nevertheless for your courtesy,’ said the punctilious Childe, to which she said, ‘Courtesy is too fine a name for it. Be off with you before I fall into a teasing frame of mind.’ He did not like to think how that frame of mind might be, so he pricked his good horse with his spurs and rode out onto the stony track with a clatter.
He had a thwarting day of it. The heath and moor were criss-crossed with little tracks, dusty and twisting between the heather and the bracken and the little juniper trees with their clinging roots. There was not one way out but many, all athwart each other like the cracks on a crazy jug, and he followed first one and then the other, choosing the straightest and stoniest and finding himself always under the hot-sun at another crossing just like the one he had just left. After a time he decided to go with the sun behind him always — at least this led to consistency of proceeding — though it must be told that when he decided this he had only the haziest idea , dear readers, of where the sun had been at the beginning of the venture. So it often is in this life. We become consistent and orderly too late, on insufficient grounds, and perhaps in the wrong direction. So it was with the poor Childe, for at dusk he found himself apparently back at the place where he had set out from. He had seen neither whiteladies nor grimpen goblins, though he had heard singing at the end of straight sandy paths he had avoided, and had seen creatures crash and spring briefly far away in seas of bracken and moorland herbs. He thought he recognized the twisted thorn trees, and might indeed have done so; there they stood in their triangle, as they had done at dawn; but of the old crone’s little hut there was no sign. The sun was going down fast, over the edge of the plain; he pricked forward a little, hoping he might be mistaken, and saw before him, a little on his way, an avenue of standing stones, which he had no memory of seeing before, though they were, to say the least of it, hard to miss, even in the graying light. At the end of the avenue was a building, or structure, with huge gateposts and a heavy roofing stone and a stone to mark the threshold. And beyond, the growing dark. And out of this dark, towards him, stepped three most beautiful ladies, walking proudly between the stones, and each bearing before her on a silken cushion a square casket. And he marvelled much that even in the gloaming he had not been aware of their coming, and was wary of them, for he said to himself in his mind,’It may be that these are the bonecracking whiteladies of whom the old woman spoke so lightly, come to turn me from my path as the light of the world fails.’ Certainly they were creatures of evening for each seemed to create her own light as she walked, a haze of shimmering, and glittering and fluctuating light, most lovely to behold.
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