The Secret Commonwealth

By Jane Stevenson

History and folklore collide when a 17th century alchemist discovers there are supernatural forces at work as England slides towards Civil War

Monday, 7 November 2016

Kings and Queens

Another post on naming, which is one of the things which has to feel right. There are quite a lot of names for fairy kings and queens; due to the shape of my story, I needed several. Most of them are so thoroughly stamped with one particular interpretation that they’re unusable. You can’t have characters called Oberon and Titania without causing A Midsummer Night’s Dream to pop into people’s heads. Fortunately, there are a fair number of names for entities both good and bad; Herlechin  is one of the names for the leader of the Wild Hunt – he gave his name to Harlequin, that ambiguous figure, and gave me a name for a drow king, a variant form, Herluin. Similarly Irodis is  a version of Herodias, one of the names which was used for the goddess of the witches in the middle ages. Ilmatar comes from somewhere completely different, the Finnish  Kalevala, where she is a female spirit of the air. I also took the name to bits to give me a word for silver, ilmar, and an intensive, -tar, meaning  ‘great’ or ‘super-‘.   I used two enormously ancient names for figures in the back story, Atasiu and Devinda;  Ata being Father (pater in Latin, athair in old Irish), and siu, sky; the same elements as in Ju-piter, or the ancient Indian (Vedic) Dyaus Piter, reversed. Devinda is White Goddess, ‘de’ being ‘goddess’, as in Latin ‘dea’, and ‘windos’ an old Celtic word for ‘white’ associated with a variety of legendary figures.  Arcas I invented after going round a variety of possibilities, and Bran sort of came with the story due to the legends which associate Bran, ravens, and the Tower of London.  

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Peter Davidson
 Peter Davidson says:

THis feels very important -- is the idea that the invented world needs to have the same sense of "deep time" and "deep language" as the historical one?

posted 7th November 2016

Jane Stevenson
 Jane Stevenson says:

Yes; in this particular novel, there is a supernatural world along with historical England and Scotland; the 'real' world is shaped by historical processes, and if it isn't going to go flat and one-dimensional, then the supernatural world has to be shaped by its own sort of historical processes; not just the cataclysm which has thrown their world out of balance, but indication that they have a past, collective memories. When shaping entities with immensely long lifespans, it felt most natural to turn to the oldest languages I know about, Sanskrit, Latin and Greek, but also Old Irish, Hittite and Etruscan. I did take 'Ilmatar' from the Kalevala, but otherwise Finnish is off limits because Tolkien liked it so much, and so Finnish-based words tend to sound as if they've escaped from LOTR.

posted 7th November 2016

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