By Scott Bury
Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day. For most people in North America, it means little more than an opportunity to drink beer and wear green and act silly — whether you participate in such activities or not.
On the radio yesterday, I heard a man who moved from Dublin to Ottawa remarking about how much North American observances of St. Paddy’s have changed from the origins of the holiday. According to Craig O’Brien (apologies if I did not recall the name correctly), the holiday is more family-oriented in Ireland, far from the raucous, drunken display of mass oafery Canadians and Americans indulge in.
During the introduction to the interview, a reporter asked people “on the street” who St. Patrick was. Unsurprisingly, no one could answer correctly.
Of course, every reader of this blog knows that St. Patrick was the fifth-century Christian missionary and bishop who converted many Irish people. I know I don’t have to remind you that he is venerated as an early primate of all Ireland, and I won’t even bother with the later myths that sprang up about St. Patrick driving all the snakes from Ireland or using the shamrock to explain the concept of a single god with three persons.
In a rut
So, what does this have to do with writing fantasy? Ireland is a favourite setting for fantasy writers. The hills, ruins, legends of Cu Chulain, the history of Druids and kings and Ireland’s long struggles are fertile sources for new stories.
But the persistent and erroneous myths about St. Patrick, likethe hijacking of the holiday by deliberately idiotic revellers, symbolize a creative rut in fantasy writing.
I have read many excellent fantasy and historical fiction novels and stories set in ancient Ireland, or Britain, or northern Europe. Stories about Bridget or the Morrigan, variations and retellings of King Arthur and his knights — they can be well told, inspiring and enjoyable. But what many are not is original.
When writers derive stories from other writers, it gets tired, quickly. Like fan fiction. Writers who don’t dig very deep don’t produce rich fruit. What we get are the literary equivalents of plastic green bowler hats and green suds.
Another occasion that triggers the imagination fantastic is approaching, too: spring will be here, officially, in five days. New growth, new life, new opportunities that rise from the fertility left by everything created in years past.
My challenge to all writers and readers of fantasy fiction for this spring is both simple and ambitious: let’s get out of those deep ruts. Let’s dig deep into the fertile soil of history, mythology and our own imagination, look at ancient stories under bright light and start something really new.
There’s new energy all around us and within us, too. Let’s use it, and let’s see a Guild of Dreams Spring of new ideas, new stories, new sources and new readers.
And just to dispel any misconceptions: I won’t chase any snakes away, but I won’t turn down a beer tomorrow, either.
Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Daoibh!