‘Cornwall’s Wonderland’ by Mabel Quiller-Couch

Mabel Quiller-Couch was a children’s writer and editor in the late 1800s,  and this is like many of the harder-to-find letters one of her short story collections that I have ganked from Project Gutenberg.  Though I’ve read a lot of SF&F focusing on Arthurian legends in my life, I haven’t really taken the time to touch base with British folklore and retellings.  Since one of my grandparents claimed that his lot came from Cornwall with a family tartan, I can at least tie this in with an assumed personal cultural heritage (one day I’ll get off my bum and actually research our family history.)

There’s a lot of commas.  That’s the first impression I got, reading through.  Since I’m trying to cut back on my own comma use when I write fiction, I notice these a lot more than anything else right now.  Some feel wrong and unnecessary, others make sense but seem overkill.  I’m beginning to think I have a bit of a comma obsession, and that it really has nothing to do with the books I’m reading.

The stories are delightful. It begins with the naming of Cornwall, after a Trojan (Roman) soldier who concluded diplomatic talks between the Trojans and the Giants by agreeing to a Giant’s proposal to wrestle for the right to invade.  The entire collection focuses on stories about the interaction between humans and supernatural figures.  The Big Folk are rugged, slow and not always the wisest, while the Little Folk are trickier and a little more abstracted from the physicality of the human world.  There’s a bit of a thematic drift throughout the book; we move from direct supernatural creatures to witches and eventually concluding with the tragedy of Tristan and Iseult.

A lot of the introductions and conclusions to the stories use arguments to establish the truth and accuracy of the folk tales.  Tricks include claims that the main characters were too dim or stupid to fabricate such fanciful stories, and the changing and withholding of names to prevent any harm of reputation to living relatives.  It reminded me of two things simultaneously; urban horror legends (the ‘a friend of a friend of mine’ formula) and the behaviour used in news media and historical documents to prevent harm of various forms from coming to individuals.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the stories, and the variations in vocabulary and language from standard current English.  Some of the tricks and storytelling got me thinking both about my own family and about the ways humans rationalise and verify things to themselves.  I couldn’t find any reviews with quick searching, but I suspect some are out there in hardcopy somewhere!  If I come across any, I’ll edit this entry to reflect them.  As it is, the stories are short and you could always drop over here to read it.

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