Hello everybody! Today, we have a pretty late blogmas post, because I’ve had a busy weekend, and it’s the wonderful 2022 debut Alex Mullarky, with a piece about folk tales, her book the Sky Beneath the Stond and her childhood Christmases. Onto the post!
There is a legend about Bega, the Irish princess who appears in The Sky Beneath the Stone. Having already sailed across the Irish Sea in a coracle to escape an arranged marriage, Bega goes to the local landowner, asking for land. He tells her she can have all the land that snow falls on the following day – but it’s summer. Lo and behold, when they wake up on Midsummer’s Day, the entire valley is covered in snow.
In Christian tradition Bega was a saint; the village of St Bees is named after her. In The Sky Beneath the Stone, Bega has founded a Refuge for Wayward Souls – humans lost in the fairy realm – rather than a church. The story above is the version I was told in school (at St Bees), but it seems to have changed a lot over the centuries. That’s the beauty of a good story: it’s open to interpretation, and those interpretations will shift and change as the years go by.
Underfell is a land without seasons: the lack of weather is one of the first thing our hero, Ivy North, notices when she travels through the portal. After all, she’s a hiker and a camper, always negotiating with the weather. The stillness of the sky and the air is eerie. So, it stands to reason that there’s no winter there, and no Christmas. Not quite sure if that’s better or worse than the White Witch’s Narnia – always winter, but never Christmas. But the fairy realm of Underfell is a distorted mirror image of a real place: Cumbria. Long Meg and Her Daughters, Mardale Green, Saltom Pit – all the places Ivy visits have equivalents in the world we know. The one thing they have in common is stories. Legends, anecdotes, memories – that’s what keeps these places alive in Underfell, even when they’ve been closed off forever, like Saltom Pit, or flooded to create a reservoir, like Mardale Green.
When you think about the sheer number of stories we tell and memories we have of the festive season – think of the Netflix Christmas movies! – there’s no doubt that once in a while, the Christmas spirit must be stirred in Underfell.
I can bet you Bega throws open the doors of the Refuge to welcome fairies and wayward souls alike in for a feast by the roaring fire. Yun would be there, kicking off her boots and leaving Nessa the osprey on the roof to give Bega’s seagulls the fright of their lives. She wouldn’t have to worry about rubbing shoulders with Taliesin, though, because I suspect he and Urien have a tradition of their own: sneaking through one of the portals to visit the world above, just to feel frost crunching beneath their feet and see their breath clouding on the cold air.
In my family, Christmas is a cultural holiday. When I was growing up we usually spent the day just the five of us, and it was all about cooking, eating and playing with our presents (or reading them). But since we’ve always had dogs, there was always a Christmas Day walk: just a short one, through the bare trees of our local woods or across the moor that was once an open-cast mine. I think that the Norths – Ivy, Callum and their mum Iona – would probably prioritise the walk over everything else, but I bet they’d have a lot of fun cooking their Christmas dinner together too.
Happy Winter Solstice season, and happy festive holidays in whichever way you’re celebrating! I hope you too will be enjoying a glass of mulled wine and sinking into Susan Cooper’s midwinter classic, The Dark is Rising.
Thank you so much for reading! Have you picked up Alex’s book? Which part of her post did you find most interesting? I’d love to chat in the comments!
Speak very soon,