In 2002, a novel thought to be the first written by an African-American woman became a best seller. Called “The Bondwoman’s Narrative,” the book was signed ‘by Hannah Crafts.’
In a story in the New York Times, Julie Bosman notes that the novel “as praised for its dramatic depiction of Southern life in the mid-1850s through the observant eyes of a refined and literate house servant.”
But one part of the story remained a tantalizing secret: the author’s identity. That literary mystery may have been solved by a professor who says that the author was Hannah Bond, a slave on a North Carolina plantation owned by John Hill Wheeler.
Around 1857, Bond disguised herself as a boy and escaped, fleeing first to upstate New York and then to New Jersey, where she eventually married and found work as a schoolteacher.
The Mything Links
A while back, Neil Gaiman wrote in the Guardian about ten mythological characters who haunt him.
One whom he singles out is Coyote, the Native American creator and trickster, a character dear to me as he appears in all four of my young adult Worldweaver series. He’s been an incredible character to write and a very difficult one to get a complete handle on – which is all as it should be.
But my own list of favorite characters from fable and mythology would also have to include:
She was one helluva capable multi-tasker as a Goddess – that, or nobody had a clue as to what she really was. In ancient Egypt, she was worshiped as the ideal mother/wife (the Ultimate Woman) as well as being in charge of such overwhelmingly sweeping subjects like Nature, and Magic. She is described as being a friend of the downtrodden – but she also apparently listened closely to the prayers of the aristocracy. She restores life to the dead.
And at least one source cites a popular image of her, suckling her son Horus, as something that the Christians picked up and transformed, like they did with so many pagan rites and images, into Mary suckling the Baby Jesus.
Isis is a Goddess motherlode. Dip in and you’ll find EVERYTHING you need, sooner or later. I kind of always admired that. It takes cojones to be all things to all people all of the time.
Keeping it Egyptian for the moment, Bast. Oh, come on. I see the Cat Goddess every day in my own domestic shorthair when she Strikes Up the Regal Pose – and then goes goofy in the very next moment.
There is something utterly irresistible in imagining the Egyptian depictions of the dignified Bast playing at the shenanigans that our beloved pets do – and I am certain Bast PLAYS. She’s a cat, after all.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Bast. And when one of my beloved cat companions passed, I wrote prayers in their name to the goddess who rules their kind and commended their souls into her keeping. In some ways, I believe completely in the existence of a goddess, or even just a spirit, who takes care of these creatures who were so loved during their time on earth when it comes their time to leave it. It makes it easier, in a way, to say gooddye.
Koschei the Deathless.
Him, too, I tossed into the soup in one of my books. How could I not use such an astonishing character, one who can only be killed by breaking a needle against his forehead – and the needle is in an egg – and the egg is in a duck – and the duck is in a rabbit – and the rabbit is in an iron chest – which is buried under a tree – which is on a lost island somewhere in the middle of a trackless ocean?
Vasilisa Prekrasnaya, or Vasilisa the Beautiful
She comes from Russian mythology and fairy tale. I was always particularly fond of the story where the three princes (the two older brothers and the proverbial Ivan, always the youngest of the three Russian princes in fairy stories) are asked by their father to shoot their arrows into the air – and where the arrows land, if there is an eligible bride waiting there, then that is whom they will marry.
The eldest of course gets a duke’s daughter; the second son gets a rich merchant’s daughter; the hapless Ivan shoots his arrow into the swamp and it is picked up by a frog whom he is then, by the decree of his father the King, obliged to marry. Shenanigans ensue when it turns out that she is in fact an enchanted princess and shows up the other brothers’ brides in ways that bring out an excess of schadenfreude which it was quite unseemly for me to feel as a young girl. I LOVED this story.
Like Professor Tolkien, I crossed paths with the image and the concept of a dragon and after that I ‘desired dragons with a profound desire’.
It was dragons who pushed me into Anne McCaffrey. It was a dragon who ruled “The Hobbit”. Even the HBO version of Game of Thrones is much better with dragons. Dragons are something visceral and fundamental and dammit if they never existed *they should have done so*.
There was a ‘documentary’ that we had taped which covered the subject of dragons, of how some version of them appeared in just about every culture on Earth even when such cultures were widely separated by time and space – and the documentary treated them as UTTERLY REAL, as something that had to have existed in order for them to have left such a lasting impact on the human psyche everywhere.
We lent the tape of the documentary to someone who never gave it back and I am really sorry that we lost it, because it was a magnificent piece of filmmaking. It separated dragons into species (mountain dragons, forest dragons, water dragons…) and traced their relationships; it explored how dragons breathed fire and how they flew; it explored their lifecycle from eggshell to death, and told the story of how they became extinct in the end, just like the dinosaurs did.
There you go. An overview of a personal mythology Top Five.
What’s YOUR favorite myth? And who lives in it?”
31-Day Blog Challenge, #28
At a certain time in the lives of every family of Serbian origin there comes a special day – their Slava day.
It stems from the day on which their pagan ancestors accepted the Christian faith – and every family has their own day, their own saint’s day, their own “slava” which literally means “celebration”.
For that occasion, something is made that has a deep significance on the day – something called “koljivo”. It is a dish made with wheat berries, and it is made in remembrance of the family members who may no longer be amongst the living – in memory of those who have gone, a spoonful of this wheat is offered to every visitor who steps across the threshold on this day. I love this thing, but because it’s so culturally significant it isn’t something that is made every day.
This is a dish of memory and remembrance and prayer; it’s an invocation of beloved ghosts. I will give you the recipe here but I advise making this on a special occasion you hold holy in your own culture and your own world – on a day on which you want to bring forth memory and have it bless a gathering of family and friends, like the gnarled old hand of a favorite grandmother.
The recipe itself is very simple.
You decide how much of this thing you want to make. Then you measure out equal amounts of wheat berries (bulgur wheat is good), sugar, and ground-up walnuts.
Set the sugar and the walnuts aside for now, and put the berries into just enough water to cover them, and bring to the boil. Let it boil for a couple of minutes, then discard that water, replace with fresh water, repeat the process. Do this three or four times – or until the wheat berries begin to soften. You’ll see them – and sometimes hear them – pop.
When they are ready, crush them into a paste – we traditionally use a meat-grinding thing where you pour the berries into the top opening and turn a handle and the mill grinds up and extrudes the well-cooked wheat into ropes of wheat puree – but I am guessing that more modern kitchens might do something similar with a blender or a food processor. The idea is to get a smooth even-consistency paste, however you achieve this.
When you’re done, mix the wheat paste with your sugar and your walnuts. It is optional whether you want to add some raisins in there – but it’s nice with them, so you might as well. Then you sprinkle on some clove powder – and here you have to use your own judgment, I LIKE it strong, but not everybody can cope with that, so use as much as you feel enhances your senses.
Mix it all together with a wooden spoon until you have an even texture, and refrigerate.
Blessings on everyone who uses this to celebrate some special day in their lives. Take a spoonful, wait for it to melt away on your tongue, and let the memories come.
Asbestos-bound first edition of Fahrenheit 451
Cory Doctorow at BoinBoing reports that on eBay — a first edition of Bradbury’s anti-book-burning classic signed and numbered by the author — and bound in asbestos, to save it from the firemen depicted in the book…It’s in pretty rough shape, but it’s a much-sought-after rarity (albeit one that should be kept in an airtight plastic bag). Bidding starts at $600.