Folklorist in the house

Now that my book has launched, I’m a full and offical member of the Book View Cafe. And that means I can start blogging!

I’m not going to spend all my time talking about Lies and Prophecy; that’s what my own blog is for. (Among many other things.) I like having a theme to explore for an extended series of posts, though — I spent a year at SF Novelists blogging about common pitfalls in writing female characters, and I’ve got a series on my LJ that I really ought to finish, about the techniques of writing fight scenes — and so, in casting about for a topic substantial enough to keep me busy for a while, I settled on folklore.


My undergraduate major was in archaeology and folklore, and before I left graduate school to write full-time, I completed the coursework for a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology and folklore. This is a subject I spent about a decade of my life on, in various forms. And it’s also a subject near and dear to the heart of the fantasy genre: we often acknowledge our debt to fairy tales and myths, even when we aren’t directly retelling them.

But how well do we really know folklore? Most discussions of its relationship to modern fantasy barely even scratch the surface of what’s out there. So over the next however long it takes me to run out of things to say, I’m going to go piece by piece through the different types of folklore, how we relate to them, what we do with their component parts, and what this means for fantasy as a genre. I’ll keep the academic jargon to a minimum, but hopefully I can bring my formal education to bear in a useful fashion, and maybe give some of you a new way of looking at what you read — or even ideas of your own to pursue.

Look for my posts on Friday mornings, every other week. Next time, we’ll pick up that word “folklore” and peer at it a bit, to see where it came from and what exactly it means.

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About Marie Brennan

Marie Brennan is a former anthropologist and folklorist who shamelessly pillages her academic fields for inspiration. She recently misapplied her professors' hard work to the short novel Driftwood and Turning Darkness Into Light, a sequel to the Hugo Award-nominated Victorian adventure series The Memoirs of Lady Trent. She is the author of several other series, over sixty short stories, and the New Worlds series of worldbuilding guides; as half of M.A. Carrick, she has written The Mask of Mirrors, first in the Rook and Rose trilogy. For more information, visit swantower.com, Twitter @swan_tower, or her Patreon.

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Folklorist in the house — 5 Comments

  1. Adding you at Live Journal — I’m Alfreda89. And looking forward to your series! I have been sifting folklore books for months looking for the right ones in Japanese and now Chinese folklore for a character in a contemporary fantasy I’m creating. It will be so nice to have someone to ask “Got any recs?” (I settled on Royall Tyler’s book, for starters.)

    Once my library is back on the shelves, I will be a good herb source, if you need one.

    Looking forward to your other series, too!

  2. Yay for using your academic background!
    I was considering grad school in folklore, but ended up in Linguistics (since they actually gave me a stipend), but I’ve found that a lot of the anthropological thought on folklore is equally applicable to language. I’m looking forward to hearing what you have to say!

    • Yeah, there’s sort of a three-way crossover there between language, literature, and culture. Folklore studies still exist; they’re just mostly folded into other departments these days.