Saturday, August 28, 2010

Herne the Hunter - Born of Celtic myth and living on as a good ghost story

Tellers of tales about English forests have perpetuated chilling accounts of a phantom man-stag sounding his horn and riding with his ghostly hounds in the Windsor Great Park. With deer antlers rising from his red-eyed skull, Herne the hunter rides a black horse and glows with the spectral power of a restless shade.

1840s depiction of Herne the Hunter by George Cruikshank

Many versions of Herne the Hunter have entertained and frightened the folks throughout the centuries. A stable of monarchs from Richard II (1377 - 99), Henry VII (1485 - 1590), Henry VIII (1509 - 47), and Elizabeth I (1558 - 1603) were supposedly the master of this legendary hunter, but his roots go as deep as the oak forest he haunts.

According to the folk tales, Herne was a royal deer keeper accused of practicing the black arts. Such crimes required execution and he was hung from a great oak tree in his own forest. Another version from an era when black arts were perhaps not such a hot button issue claims that Herne hung himself from a twisted old oak, driven to suicide after the king had defiled his daughter.

An execution or suicide in the shade of an elder grove of course calls for haunting. Herne is cursed to hunt the vicinity of the oak where he died, chasing unlucky intruders. A lightning bolt during an especially fierce thunderstorm in 1863 reportedly split apart the hanging oak and freed Herne's spirit. The wood from the broken tree was burnt in the castle fireplaces to destroy the ghost of Herne.

Unfortunately for Herne, the English love of a good ghost story soon recaptured him. Supposedly Queen Victoria herself planted a new oak tree to serve as a tether on Herne's spirit.

Many reports of sightings over the centuries, including the 20th century, have fueled the legend of Herne, but these vivid accounts are likely inspired by imagination and the ease of getting spooked in the woods at night.

Forests possess special powers for frightening us. Large trees twisted by time and the force of storms radiate a living presense that is alien to our own lives. We sense their watchful greatness encompassing us with towering branches and roots that clutch the ground beneath our feet.

The beliefs and practices of ancient pagans often summoned the spirit of the forest with a man wearing antlers. The ghostly legend of Herne is obviously an early modern adaptation of ancient Celtic traditions. The Celtic lord of animals, Cernunnos, whose name means horned one, was associated with fertility and the Underworld. The Celts of the northern British Isles had a War God called Belatucadros, who had horns. According to Wikipedia, Belatucadros was equated with the Roman war god Mars during the Roman occupation of Britain, and lower ranking Roman soldiers worshipped him. Altars associated with this war god were small and plain, suggesting that the lower social classes honored him. Apparently the horned god or horned one has been in the minds of the masses in Britain for thousands of years, providing a familiar image for new tales of death in the forest.

Around 500 A.D. Windsor Forest sheltered a small settlement of Romano Celts about to be overrun by Anglo-Saxons. This enclave of people likely perserved the old legends of the horned god that were adapted into the folk tales of conquering cultures.

The motif of a man with antlers hunting the woodland is persistent. Herne, and other similar incarnations, serve to embody the strong primal forces of the hunter, the hunted, and the forest that is sustained by a cycle of growth and decay.


Mysteries of Planet Earth: An Encyclopedia of the Inexplicable by Dr. Karl R.N. Shuker

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Classic Character profile - Ned Land from 20,000 Leagues Under the Seas

“Complaining doesn’t have to do good, it just feels good! And if these pirates--I say pirates out of consideration for the professor’s feelings, since he doesn’t want us to call them cannibals-- if these pirates think they’re going to smother me in this cage without hearing what cusswords spice up my outbursts, they’ve got another think coming! Look here, Professor Aronnax, speak frankly. How long do you figure they’ll keep us in this iron box?” -- Ned Land the Harpooner

Characters are the foundation of any good novel. No matter how spirited the story or compelling the plot, without good characters that connect with readers the novel will fall flat.

The masterpiece by Jules Verne 20,000 Leagues Under the Seas is famous for Captain Nemo, the brilliant madman in charge of the Nautilus, but he is not the only great character in the novel. Ned Land offers readers an endearing man with whom many people can identify. Ned's working class attitude is entertaining. He tends to be the voice of true reason among intellectuals. He gets to deliver many good lines. He provides an anchor on reality for his comrades Professor Aronnax and Conseil, who are too easily beguiled by the scientific wonders included with their imprisonment on the Nautilus.

In the story, Ned Land is a Canadian whale harpooner who is recruited on the expedition to hunt whatever mystery is sinking ships on the high seas. Of course it turns out to be Captain Nemo's Nautilus, and Ned Land, Aronnax, and Conseil are made prisoners on the extraordinary vessel. Although Ned is grateful to avoid drowning, he finds the prospect of permanent imprisonment on the Nautilus repellent. His devotion to escape is unflagging. He is an honest working man of the seas. He loves to hunt and explore, but is hardly willing to give up niceties likes freedom, getting paid, and shore leave. Because opportunities to escape from the Nautilus are generally nonexistent, Ned is forced, often at the insistence of Aronnax, to wait in docile captivity. Trapped, Ned's temper focuses on complaining about the food. He tires of seafood and longs for terrestrial fare. Captain Nemo even lets him go hunting on shore, and Ned happily harvests meat of the land variety. Thoughts of escape are naturally on his mind, but hordes of native cannibals drive Ned back to the Nautilus.

In the Disney movie version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Seas, Ned Land is played by Kirk Douglas, one of my all time favorite actors. Douglas did a splendid job as Ned Land. Although the movie portrays Ned in some significantly different ways than the novel, he still provides a character who grounds the viewer in reality. I expect that is why his name is Ned Land. Authors can be so blatantly obvious sometimes and still get away with it.

Yes, the Nautilus is amazing and can enter the wondrous realms beneath the waves, but Ned reminds us that, despite the wonders of underwater exploration, the desire to give up life on land entirely is insanely counter to the needs of our species. Ned is the sanity by which the unhinged Captain Nemo and his strange crew of followers are measured.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Dark fantasy author Anna Kashina talks about her new novel Ivan and Marya

Recently I favorably reviewed the fantasy book Ivan and Marya by Anna Kashina. While corresponding with the author, she agreed to an interview. Please enjoy her comments about creating this engaging story based on folk tales from her native Russia.

Anna Kashina was born in Russia and moved to the United States in 1994. After publishing a novel and a short story collection in her native Russian, she switched languages and is now writing in English. Her fantasy works have been published in the U.S. and Australia, as well as in German translations. Her most recent novel, IVAN AND MARYA, is a dark romantic fantasy based on Russian folklore, published this year by Drollerie Press. She lives in the U.S. Northeast and combines her career as a scientist with her passion for writing.

1. The Ivan-and-Marya flower is the central symbol of your novel. When did you first learn about the folklore associated with this flower?

Ivan-and-Marya is one of the most common flowers in Russian forests that blooms around Midsummer. The folklore associated with this flower really starts with its name and goes deep into the Russian culture. Ivan and Marya used to be the most common names for boys and girls in Russian villages, and the most frequent characters in the folk tales. I loved reading those tales when I was a child, and always felt that combining the two names in a flower in itself suggests a magical story, one that has to be associated with the Solstice and the ancient Russian traditions of Midsummer celebration. I was happy to be able to relay some of this folklore in my novel.

2. In "Ivan and Marya" I felt you successfully mixed third person and first person writing. What were your reasons for taking the separate approaches to telling the stories of each title character?

Actually, I first wrote the whole story first-person in Marya's pont of view. In this particular fairy tale, Marya is in the camp of evil, and I was really interested in giving the traditional tale an unusual twist by telling it from the evil's point of view. Of course, Marya herself is not really evil, just a victim of circumstances, which became even clearer to me as I wrote. I found it an interesting challenge to relate to a fairy tale anti-hero in first person and to bring out the reasons for the readers to like her and sympathise with her. When it was finished, however, I realized that something was still missing. One point of view was not enough to show how the two main characters were a match, how they were worthy of each other despite being near opposites. I felt that I needed another dimension to contrast Marya's point of view with Ivan's. But since Ivan was the traditional good guy, it was much easier to relate to him without the additional intimacy of the first-person view. So, his story came out naturally in the more traditional third person. As I worked on it, I loved the contrast created by the two narratives, immersing into the darkness of Marya's world in first-person and then emerging into the light of Ivan's story. I was aware this kind of narrative was not traditional, but I felt it was working and I just went with it. The two points of view ended up equal, and this balance finally made the story complete. I probably shouldn't say such things, but I am pretty happy with the result.

3. Your writing indicates that you are strongly in tune with your connection to the natural world. What elements of Nature inspire you the most?

Forests. To me, nothing compares to the calm, peaceful feeling of being surrounded by trees and hearing their whisper, to the beauty of the timid flowers that grow in the deep forest shade, to inhaling the smells of earth and leaves. I feel really alive when I am in a forest. I must have been a tree in my past life :-). Forests cover large parts of Russia and are really abundant in the areas around Moscow, where I grew up, so I have spent a lot of time in a forest as a child, and it was my favorite pass time just to walk around and watch everything grow. While I enjoy writing about many elements of nature, forests are my favorite and I was really glad for a chance to give glimpses of both their peaceful and ominous side in "Ivan and Marya".

4. Any additional comments?

First, I wanted to thank you, Tracy, for the interview. I enjoyed the chance to share some of my thoughts and experiences and to talk about my novel.

I also wanted to share a link to the awesome trailer for "Ivan and Marya", made by my cover artist Olga Karengina:

If you like it, please vote for it between September 21 and 26 at:

Read an excerpt

Buy the novel at Drollerie Press

Finally, more information about me can be found at my website ( and my blog ( I am also on Facebook and Twitter (akashina), and I always welcome friends, fans, and followers!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Devil's Lair - Medieval fantasy by David Wisehart

Writer of novels and screenplays, David Wisehart kindly published an interview with me at his Kindle Author blog. I'm very grateful for the nice post he put together about my fantasy series. Readers who use the Kindle store would benefit from following this blog. So many works are produced for Kindle ebook readers, and blogs such as these offer convenient places for people to discover little-known novels.

David Wisehart's own novel Devil's Lair promises to be a great read. It has two 5-star reviews at Amazon, and, from reading Chapter 1, at his website, I can say it is well written. Violent and emotional, Devil's Lair is succinctly described as "A medieval knight leads a quest through Hell to recover the Holy Grail from the Devil."

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Rys Chronicles fantasy ebooks now available at Diesel Ebook Store

The availability of my fantasy novels The Rys Chronicles continues to expand, at least in digital formats.

I confirmed today that all four of my novels are listed in the Diesel Ebook Store. I've read a couple good comments about this retailer from ebook enthusiasts at Diesel sells the epub format that many reading devices can accomodate.

Here are the links to my novels at Diesel:

Union of Renegades
The Goddess Queen
Judgment Rising
The Borderlands of Power

Friday, August 13, 2010

Peer into the Past at The Secret Museum of Mankind

Once upon a time there was very little mass production. The peoples of the world were more isolated than connected. They designed and made their own clothes. They lived their own cultures. Mass media either did not exist or had little influence. People of the world today are more homogeneous in appearance and culture than they realize despite all the focus on differences.

The rise of photography in the nineteenth century allowed the cultural and ethnic diversity of the past to be captured. An amazing archive of photos from around the world depicting ancient cultures, ethnic groups, and even primitive tribes people is available at The Secret Museum of Mankind.

The Secret Museum of Mankind was created from a book published without credits or copyright in 1935. The home page describes the book's contents as "a book to gawk at by flashlight under the bedcovers." The plentiful photos of naked native women made it appealing to adolescents apparently. Now it offers an unfiltered look into the past around the world.

The modern reader may be offended by the frequently racist commentary attached to some photos, but the text remains informative because it tells you who you are viewing and where they lived.

Divided among the regions of America, Africa, Asia, Europe, and Oceania, you can spend a great deal of time browsing these galleries. Imagining the many ways people used to live is fascinating for me.

Explore these examples to see what I mean:

She has stood, until weary of attracting attention, by a wall in Biskra, this geisha of the Sahara, with her hard-won dowry of gold and silver adorning her person. She can sing Arab love-songs, play flute, hautboy, and zither, and dance more seductively than girls of any other tribe. Her skill in making cigarettes and coffee is famous, and all her charms and accomplishments are for hire.

Dwelling in the valley of the Pangoa river, this Indian belongs to one of the many subdivisions of the Campa tribe, widely distributed over the Amazonian basin. Keen hunters, their only weapon is the bow, and unlike some of the other tribes they use no poison on the arrow. In his sleeveless gown of wild cotton, and plumed coronal, he shows a certain nobility of feature and of character.

Wearing numerous heavy earrings, this Garo woman believes that after death the devils who wait to devour her soul will fight instead for the rings, while she makes good her escape

Monday, August 9, 2010

Readers - browse indie books, Authors - gain exposure

The Indie Books Blog operated by thriller author Scott Nicholson features a new ebook by an independent author three to five times a week. Each post gives visitors a quick summary of the ebook along with a short three-point interview with the author. Subscribing to this blog offers readers an easy way to monitor titles from sources other than large publishing companies.

Today, the first novel in The Rys Chronicles series "Union of Renegades" was featured. Hopefully I'll be able to introduce a few fantasy fans to my fiction through this outlet.

Any author who has one or more ebook titles produced independently can submit his or her information for likely inclusion at the Indie Books Blog. Have ready your cover art in digital format and go complete the interview at the Get Featured page.

Author Scott Nicholson is a supporter of writers who produce their work independently. He is the author of numerous short stories and novels, including Speed Dating with the Dead, Drummer Boy, The Red Church, and The Skull Ring.

Read about all of his fiction at Haunted Computer Books.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Big eastern coyotes thriving in Midwest, see video evidence

They might be watching you on a bike lane or hiking trail at dusk. Maybe one of them ate your cat. Some people find it hard to believe that they are even there.

They are coyotes. In the Eastern United States and Canada they are growing bigger thanks to abundant food and some unexpected cross breeding with Great Lakes wolves starting in the 1920s.

Designated as eastern coyotes, this emerging species often grows to over 50 pounds and has larger skulls and jaws than the coyotes of the West. The August 2010 issue of National Geographic reported on this new coyote type that is thriving in New England and Eastern Canada. According to the article, the DNA analysis of eastern coyotes shows them to be more coyote than wolf. They retain the sneaky and adaptable nature of coyotes, which helps them survive amid large human populations, plus they now benefit from pack-hunting behaviors inherited from their wolf kin.

The recent National Geographic article "New Beasts in the East" failed to mention the obvious presence of these bigger wolf-style coyotes in the Midwest. Last summer I moved back to my native Michigan after living out West for 14 years. Not long after returning to Michigan I saw a dead coyote on the side of Interstate 94. The animal looked large, and I immediately recognized it as a coyote. Having lived in Northern California for a long time, I knew what coyotes looked like. That lovely fur that blends almost every color was unmistakeable.

A quick search for coyote video on YouTube easily delivered results. Some videos were from hunters, who enjoy hunting these elusive predators. Then I found some videos from YouTube member IrenaScott created for the enjoyment of observing wildlife. The land in her videos looked like the Midwest, and, upon contacting the videographer, IrenaScott confirmed that the coyotes were filmed in Central Ohio.

IrenaScott's video embedded below contains many images that should fascinate people curious about eastern coyotes in the Midwest. Please forgive some of the grainy and indistinct quality resulting from filming during dusk and at a distance. The video begins with some delightful images of coyotes frolicking in a field at the edge of a woodland. Farther into the video there are thrilling sounds of yipping and howling in the dark woods. In the last couple minutes you will see a close up view of a dead juvenile coyote along with some commentary about wolves. You will see from the size of the juvenile coyote roadkill that it was on its way to becoming a large predator. The video ends with some excellent shots of a gorgeous adult coyote in red summer coat hunting small animals in a field.

(Many diverse wildlife videos are available at IrenaScott's channel.)

Why are coyotes thriving in a region once so thoroughly rid of large predators?

When North America was conquered and settled by Europeans, the forests were cut and the wolves hunted into oblivion. People settled into farms, towns, and cities and progressed into well-lit lives filled with technology and pollution and a safe sense of forever being free of Nature's lurking dangers.

But the woods grew back.

Wherever bulldozers and saws stopped going, the trees sprouted and grew, filling in the gaps between the forlorn rotting stumps. The back woodlots of countless old farms preserved little remnants of wild secret places where the trees grow tall and the brush is thick on the edge of the fields. Enough people also gradually realized that it was wrong to utterly destroy the natural world, and laws were passed to protect plants and animals. Lands were set aside and often kept from the pitiless jaws of industry.

Coyotes now occupy these spaces. They also trot under cover of night into woodsy suburbs where gun-toting hunters rarely roam.

Coyotes have also adapted to our civilization. They slip around and between the immense footprint of human society. They hunt and scavenge and raise their young.

Catherine Reid's heartfelt book Coyote: Seeking the Hunter in our Midst provides abundant insights into the success and evolution of eastern coyotes.

-- Reid cited many facts about the difficulty of exterminating the species once it finds suitable habitat. For example, in Michigan from 1935 to 1970, the state spent nearly $1.9 million in coyote bounties to hunters and the kill rates never went down.

-- Interestingly the successful eradication of wolves from Eastern North America has allowed coyotes to fill the role of top predator. Without the competition traditionally provided by wolves, coyotes can expand into that vacant predator niche, access more food, and grow bigger.

-- Coyotes integrate into our society. Our food trash supplements their diets along with a steady supply of guileless small pets.

Human beings like to consider themselves the masters of Nature. We can certainly do a lot of damage, but ultimately we cannot subjugate it all. When we're not looking, Nature keeps dealing the cards, and some of our fellow animals will pick them up and play with what they get.

Coyotes are known masters of exploiting opportunities, and I wish them success. I realize they will, on rare occasions, be dangerous to people, but we would benefit from an awareness that Nature is not safe. We need to be careful. When I take my small children hiking, I make sure they walk in front of me, never behind.

Nature isn't Disney. It doesn't make all the animals fuzzy and benign. The spirit of the hunter always takes shape sooner or later. The intelligence and supremacy of the hunter are irresistably admirable traits. The rules of thou shall not kill or thou shall not steal do not apply to coyotes. Thou shall survive and thou shall get away with it are more likely parts of their code.

Consider yourself warned that there is something out there in the woods. You are being watched.

If anyone has any links to photos or videos of eastern coyotes, please share them in the comments.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

On the menu at the Fantasy Tavern

Last night I completed my review of the fantasy book Ivan and Marya by Anna Kashina. I publish my reviews of fantasy books at the Fantasy Tavern. To find out more about this beautifully written Russian folklore based fantasy please visit the Ivan and Marya review. I recommend the novel and will soon be sharing a review with the author at this blog.

The Fantasy Tavern also includes a listing of links to free fantasy ebooks. I also started a page with links to free fantasy art. Fantasy writers and artists who have free online samples or complete works that they want to promote should contact me for inclusion in the appropriate listing.