Thursday 28 February 2013

'Bitter Greens' by Kate Forsyth

Kate Forsyth first appeared on this blog a couple of years ago when I reviewed her enchanting children's fantasy 'The Puzzle Ring'. Now her recent adult fantasy 'Bitter Greens' is about to be published in the UK.   It's a fabulous mix of history, fantasy and fiction: suitably, as its heroine is a storyteller par excellence,  the French writer Mademoiselle Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force (1654-1724), best known as the author of the fairytale ‘Persinette’ (1698), which later was adapted by the Brothers Grimm as the famous ‘Rapunzel’. Born to Protestant parents, Mademoiselle de la Force found it too dangerous to retain that faith at the intolerant court of the Sun King, Louis XIV, who denied Protestants religious and political freedom and pursued policies of persection and forcible conversion.

She converted, therefore, but in 1697 her lively wit and romans à clef, along with a number of scandals and rumours, provoked the King to send her to the Benedictine abbey of Gercy-en-Brie, where she wrote her memoirs and a number of other novels.

Told in the first person, 'Bitter Greens' begins with Charlotte’s disgrace and journey to the abbey, where the nuns strip her of her elaborate court dress – so complicated in its fastenings she literally cannot undress herself – replacing it with a simple linen smock and shearing off her hair. Charlotte’s quick tongue and spirit get her into more trouble and she undergoes penances such as lying prostrate for hours on the cold stone floor of the chapel.  In this misery, she finds a friend – an older nun, Soeur Seraphina, who takes her to work in the garden and begins telling her a story: the story of a young Venetian girl who was sold to a sorceress for a handful of bitter green herbs and shut up in a high tower…

Rapunzel - Kay Nielsen

From this point on, the story of 'Bitter Greens' interweaves history, fiction and fantasy, complex as any braid of Rapunzel’s hair. There is Charlotte’s own personal history at the court of the Sun King. There is the tale of a Venetian courtesan and witch called Selena Leonelli, or La Strega Bella, who becomes the mistress of Titian and who prolongs her youth by drinking the blood of young virgins. And there is the tale of Marguerite, the child whom La Strega imprisons in the high tower.

Rich and magical as it is, this is frequently a very dark story (and the UK cover, though pretty, says fairytale in a way which suggests a much younger book: this is not in any way a novel for children, and the Australian cover, above, may be a better guide.) Kate Forsyth reminds us of the extreme powerlessness of most women – even those apparently most powerful and celebrated, the Queen herself, or the King’s mistresses, whose wealth and status depend entirely upon his favour. Charlotte-Rose’s mother is deprived of her chateau, freedom and family at the whim of the king. Servant women are raped against walls and left to get on with their work. Charlotte-Rose's talent and intelligence is no security: like any other lady she she must flirt and tease and scheme for a suitable marriage. And the streets – whether of 17th century Paris or 16th century Venice – are full of girls whose only livelihood is to sell themselves. It’s a world of casual brutality, revenge, desperation, plague and persecution. No wonder if there are dead babies and abandoned children. No wonder if some of the survivors turn to witchcraft.

Bitter Greens is a powerful tale about survival, and the endurance of hope, and the tales we tell ourselves to help us carry on. It’s fascinating that Charlotte-Rose wrote ‘Persinette’ while she herself was shut up in a convent: and in Kate Forsyth’s hands the tale of the child taken from her parents and shut up in a high tower has truly disturbing resonances, a reminder of some dreadful modern examples. Fairytales are not always pretty. Nevertheless, there is hope. Rapunzel escapes from her tower, and Charlotte-Rose did eventually return to Paris – where, Kate Forsyth tells us in the Afterword, she became a celebrated member of the salons and joined a secret society set up by the Duchesse de Maine called ‘The Order of the Honey Bee’ – whose thirty-nine members ‘wore a dark-red satin dress embroidered with silver bees and a wig shaped like a beehive.’ Now that is survival with style.

 BITTER GREENS by Kate Forsyth, Allison & Busby (25 February 2013)

Friday 22 February 2013

Folklore Snippets: The River Horse

From Scandinavian Folklore, William Craigie, 1896

The River Horse

The river-horse (bäck-hästen) is very malicious, for not content with leading folk astray and then laughing at them, when he has landed them in thickets and bogs, he, being Necken himself, alters his shape now to one thing and now to another, although he commonly appears as a light-grey horse.

It is certain that the river-horse still exists, for it is no more than a few years back that a man in Fiborna district, who owned a light-grey horse, was coming home late one night and saw, as he thought, the horse standing beside Väla brook. He thought it strange that his man had not taken in Grey-coat, and proceeded to do so himself, but just as he was about to lay hold of it it went off like an arrow and laughed loudly. The man turned his coat so as not to go astray, for he knew now who the horse was.

In Kristianstad there was a well, from which all the girls took drinking water, and where a number of the boys always gathered as well.  One evening the river-horse was standing there, and the boys, thinking it was just an old horse, seated themselves on its back, one after the other, till there was a whole row of them, but the smallest one hung on by the horse’s tail.  When he saw how long it was he cried, “Oh, in Jesus’ name!” whereupon the horse threw all the others into the water.

Another version:

One evening, many years ago, some young girls from Ryslinge had been out at a farm in Skirret, to help the woman there to card her wool, and it was pretty late before they started home. They followed the path from Skirret to Ryslinge, which went through the marsh. The girls were frightened as to how they were to get over this dangerous spot, but on coming to it they found there a lean old horse, so lean that one could count its ribs.  The boldest of the girls immediately mounted on its back, and the others followed her example, for the more that mounted it, the longer grew the horse.  They then rode into the marsh, but when they had got half way over, the foremost girl looked behind her, and when she saw that they were all on one and the same horse, she was so scared that she cried out,

“Jesus Christ’s cross!
We are sitting all on one horse.”

As soon as this was said, the horse suddenly disappeared, and the girls were left standing in the middle of the bog, and had to wade to land. 

Picture credit: 

An t-Òrd, Skye:  Stranded water horse (Wikimedia Commons) Photo by Martin Gorman, who writes:

"The skeleton of a stranded sea monster lies in a garden next to the beach at Ord. A sign informs that these are the only known remains of the long-tailed water horse Hydro equus extendus. Apparently they are only sighted twice a year when they swim inshore to browse on whelks. This one was stranded on an exceptionally low tide in 1967. You can't beat a good monster story!"

Thursday 14 February 2013

Martial Arts for Cats?

This is an unashamed blast of the trumpet for a writer who isn't half as well known as he deserves to be. If you love children's fantasy adventure, I hope some of you will try these books.  If you don't like them I'll eat my hat.  

Nick Green's ‘The Cat Kin’ with its sequels ‘Cats Paw’ and 'Cat's Cradle' is a brilliant contemporary fantasy for young readers. What if a child could have a cat’s powers?  What if you could jump ten times your own height, see in the dark, tread silently, be almost invisible?  What if you had a very unusual teacher who could show you how to do all this, via a forgotten Ancient Egyptian martial art called 'pashki'?  What wonderful advantages your new powers would give you, if you had to combat a bunch of evil crooks experimenting on animals in a nearby factory!  What fun!
A few years ago when I  first heard of Nick Green's debut novel ‘The Cat Kin’, it was news.  Nick had self-published the book believing in its worth: and he was absolutely right.  After it was reviewed in The Times by Amanda Craig, who called it ‘a gripping adventure’, it was bought by Faber & Faber.  Nick was writing the sequel, there was going to be a trilogy, and everyone was talking about it.  What a great success story!  So I whizzed out and bought a copy.  I was entranced. 

Two London kids, Ben and Tiffany, each living tough lives, join an after-school gym class run by a strange woman called Mrs Powell.  And it turns out that what she teaches is the lost Egyptian art of ‘pashki’ – moving and sensing like a cat.  Soon Ben, Tiffany and the rest of their class are leaping over London’s rooftops, slipping near-invisibly through the streets – and about to need all nine of their new lives as they discover the very dark deeds taking place in the old factory with the chimney like a wizard’s tower, visible from Ben’s apartment block.  The plot is exciting, the writing is fresh, funny and perceptive.

But there’s a dark side to the books, too.  Tiffany is struggling with the reality of her brother’s illness.  There's a moral dilemma: what if illegal experiments could produce a drug to cure him?  Ben and his mother are under threat, their apartment wrecked by thuggish developers who want them to move out.  And both children have to learn responsibility for their new, sometimes frightening powers.

Well, there turned out to be a dark side to the success story of Nick’s publication, too.  Despite so many good reviews, despite the fact that by this time Nick had written the sequel, Faber & Faber decided not, after all, to go ahead with publishing this second volume, ‘Cat’s Paw’. 

This sort of crushing blow is something that only another author can fully understand.  Bloodied but unbowed, Nick decided to self-publish ‘Cat’s Paw’, and be damned to 'em.

Which he did.  And in the best fairytale tradition, courage and tenacity, allied to faith and talent, paid off.  ‘The Cat Kin’ and 'Cat's Paw' were taken by ‘Strident Publishing’ and republished with a brand-new covers.  The third book in the trilogy, ‘Cat’s Cradle' was published recently in 2012.  I read it last week in one single gulp, and loved every minute! Tiffany and Ben combat their worst enemies yet: a criminal clan whose sinister art installation in Tate Modern looks like bringing London literally to its knees. The intrepid hero and heroine are evenly matched, and as they cheat death by crocodile and leap all over the roof of St Paul's Cathedral, their friendship turns delicately into something warmer.  What's not to like?

Nick Green writes with flair, wit, and an enviable way with words. (I love the moment when Ben creeps up behind a criminal to put a pashki move on him: "The man slid to the floor, taken out as quietly as a library book.")  He also has a tremendous sense of place. This is London. The books are brilliantly exciting. As far as the ticklish business of age range is concerned, I'd suggest the older end of the children's market, and younger teens (say a rough guide of 9 to 14?)  because of some violence and the occasional death of sympathetic minor characters, which younger children might find upsetting. (You have to wait for the end of the trilogy to find out that the account of one death, at least, has been exaggerated.)  But overall these are positive books with happy endings. They ought to be selling in shedloads.

If you have a Kindle, you have a chance to try out Nick's latest book for yourselves. ( I haven't read it myself because I haven't yet succumbed to a Kindle, though this is the sort of thing that makes me weaken.)  It's called 'The Storm Bottle' and you can download it FREE on February 14th and 15th by clicking on THIS LINK. And here's the description:

"Foam unzipped the waves. I saw a crescent fin, a glass-boulder forehead. The dolphin had come back."
Swimming with dolphins is said to be the number one thing to do before you die. For 12-year-old Michael, it very nearly is. A secret boat trip has gone tragically wrong, and now he lies unconscious in hospital.

But when Michael finally wakes up, he seems different. His step sister Bibi is soon convinced that he is not who he appears to be. Meanwhile, in the ocean beyond Bermuda’s reefs, a group of bottlenose dolphins are astonished to discover a stranger in their midst – a boy lost and desperate to return home.

Bermuda is a place of mysteries. Some believe its seas are enchanted, and the sun-drenched islands conceal a darker past, haunted with tales of lost ships. Now Bibi and Michael are finding themselves in the most extraordinary tale of all.

Damn it, I'm really going to have to get that Kindle.

Friday 8 February 2013

Thou Shalt Not Ride Sunwise Around Tara!

So - in this second post about the mysterious and powerful Irish injunctions called geasa - what on earth were they all about?  There’s a note by PW Joyce at the back of his translation of 'Old Celtic Romances’ in which he comments,

Geasa means solemn vows, conjurations, injunctions, prohibitions.  It would appear that individuals were often under geasa or solemn vows to observe, or to refrain from, certain lines of conduct – the vows being either taken on themselves voluntarily, or imposed on them, with their consent, by others.  It would appear, also, that if one person went through the form of putting another under geasa to grant any reasonable request, the abjured person could not refuse without loss of honour and reputation.

Interesting as these comments are, they don’t seem quite to cover the range and quality of all geasa.  Was the geas Gráinne laid upon Diarmuid a ‘reasonable request’ when she asked him, one of Finn’s faithful warriors, to marry her under Finn’s nose at a wedding feast that had been arranged partly to settle an old enmity between Finn and her father?  It’s true that Diarmuid doesn’t have to agree – he asks several of his friends what he should do – but the unanimous decision of all is that though Diarmuid can decline Gráinne’s geasa, he will lose all honour if he does.

Thus there seem to me to be different kinds of geasa.  Gráinne’s geas on Diarmuid is an almost insuperable injunction on him to do something he would never otherwise have dreamed of doing, and it involves him in loss of honour no matter what action he takes. The fact that he chooses to obey the geasa rather than keep faith with his lord shows how incredibly powerful the injunction was considered to be.  (So: not at all something you’d use to get the children to tidy up their rooms! Not something you’d use lightly!)  Gráinne had given her father her consent to be Finn’s bride, but casually, ‘without giving much thought to the matter’:

“I know not whether he is worthy to be thy son-in-law; but if he be, why should he not be a fitting husband for me?”

When she sees Finn, however, she changes her mind.  Desperate not to be married to this man older than her father, her eye falls upon handsome young Diarmuid. She uses the power of the geas as an extreme, last-minute measure: her only chance of escape.  

Other geasa, however, are more in the style of prophetic warnings or tabus, like the many geasa laid upon King Conaire in 'The Destruction of Da Derga's Hostel'.  He is not to shoot birds, for example, because his father was a bird-man, the male equivalent of the swan-maidens of many folktales, who can cast off their feathery skins and appear in human form.  This is a straightforward tabu: you don’t kill the animal which is your totem, to which you are ‘related’ by spiritual bonds and by blood. 

But the complicated geasa about not going righthanded (sunwise) about Tara or lefthanded (widdershins) about Bregia, or following three Reds to the House of Red, or sleeping in a house from which firelight can be seen at night, these are prophetic warnings.  They are not, perhaps, quite as inescapable as the prophecies of Greek myths.  When the oracle at Delphi tells Oedipus he will slay his father and marry his mother, you know it’s a done deal. No matter what Oedipus does, no matter how hard he tries, this is what will happen.  The event is foretold.  In the case of the Irish King Conaire, however, the geasa merely indicate unlucky actions which ought to be avoided; and although the assumption is that some kind of bad luck will follow, they don’t spell out exactly what the consequences will be.  Also, the prohibitions laid down by the geasa seem arbitrary: they are in themselves innocuous actions.  We would all want to avoid killing our fathers and marrying our mothers.  But most of us could ride clockwise around Tara, or sleep in a house with firelit windows, without coming to harm. 

The geasa piled upon Conaire spell out a sequence of actions and omens which will lead to his death; but he cannot know this in advance. For the reader, or for the audience hearing Conaire’s tale told or sung aloud,  the geasa are a highly effective literary, poetic device for building up tension and the sense of approaching doom.  And in the same way, the two geasa laid upon Cú Chulain – not to eat the flesh of a dog, and never to refuse an offer of food from a woman – having lain dormant for much of the tale, snap together like the  jaws of a trap as the old hags call him to turn aside from his journey towards the army of Maeve to taste the meat of the hound they are cooking. It’s a signal that the end is coming, a sign of doom.  And Cú Chulain cannot escape it, although the tale makes it clear that he has the opportunity – he may refuse, but not without dishonour, not without falling short of his own greatness. “A great name outlasts life,” he says – like Achilles.

Cú Chulain has already seen the Washer at the Ford:

A young girl, thin and white-skinned and having yellow hair, washing and ever washing, and wringing out clothing that was all stained crimson red, and she crying and keening all the time.

“Little Hound,” said Cathbad, “do you see what it is that young girl is washing?  It is your red clothes she is washing, and crying as she washes, because she knows you are going to your death against Maeve’s great army.  And take the warning now, and turn back again.”

“I will not turn back” [says Cú Chulain] …”And what is it to me, the woman of the Sidhe to be washing red clothing for me? It is not long till there will be clothing enough, and armour and arms, lying soaked in pools of blood, by my own sword and spear.  And if you are sorry and loth to let me go into the fight, I am glad and ready enough myself to go into it, though I know as well as you yourself I must fall in it.  Do not be hindering me any more then,” he said, “for, if I stay or if I go, death will meet me all the same.”

(Translation by Lady Gregory)

As Jane Yolen poignantly said in her comment to last week's post, "We are all under a geasa--of life, of death. And trying to make sense of when it will be our time, we put the knowledge into story of battling what we know is inevitable."

I can’t confidently answer the question of whether geasa were ever truly used in real life, outside the tales and the epics, but I would hazard a guess that they were, just as we know that the oracles were regularly consulted in ancient Greece and in Rome.  I’m willing to bet that there were geasa - prohibitions, tabus - against the killing or eating of various animals associated with ancestry and with luck, like Conaire’s bird/spirit father, and Cú Chulain’s iconic struggle with the hound which gave him his name.  Once Cú Chulain had – effectively – become a hound, as he did when he offered himself to Chulain the smith in exchange for the dog he had killed, then in a sense all dogs became his kin.  Of course he could not eat them. 

I’m willing also to believe there were geasa or prohibitions concerning all kinds of other omens and lucky or unlucky actions or directions, because after all they still exist today:  feng shui, not walking under ladders, not having thirteen at a dinner table.

But the geas that one person could lay upon another, to compel them to do something even against their will and their honour – that’s something else again, and as far as I know doesn’t seem to appear in other mythologies.  Did it ever exist?  Was it a metaphor for what we now call emotional blackmail?  Or was it something more fearsome and holy, reserved perhaps for special occasions, for religio-political purposes? Was it a remnant of Druidical power?

Picture credits:

Cú Chulain and the Bull by Karl Beutel 2003 Oil on Canvas, Armagh County Museum Collection

Grainne - artist unknown, image from this link where you can find more Irish and Celtic stuff from - if anyone recognises the artist please let me know and I will gladly credit him or her.

Statue of Cuchulainn by Oliver Sheppard in the window of the GPO, Dublin - commemorating the 1916 rising.
Source: Wikipedia, under Creative Commons License.

Friday 1 February 2013

Thou Shalt Not Eat the Flesh of a Dog!

Geasa’ – the magical prohibitions or tabus laid upon Irish heroes such as Cú Chulainn – must have been very difficult and frustrating to endure, especially since it seems to have been the fate of most heroes eventually to violate them.

You remember how the young Setanta, son of Sualtim, gained the name Cú Chulain (‘Chulain’s Hound’), after killing the fierce guard-dog belonging to the smith Chulain? When Chulain complains of his hound’s death, the boy offers to make it up to him:

“If there is a whelp of the same breed to be had in Ireland, I will rear him and train him until he is as good a hound as the one killed, and until that time, Chulain,” he said, “I myself will be your watch-dog, to guard your goods and your cattle and your house.”

(Translation by Lady Augusta Gregory, ‘Cuchulain of Muirthemne’,1907)

After that, Cú Chulain was laid under two geasa: never to refuse a meal offered to him by a woman, and never to eat the flesh of a dog.  At the end of his life, when he is riding out to fight against Maeve’s great army, the geasa are used against him by three witches at least as deadly as those in 'Macbeth':

After a while he saw three hags, and they blind of the left eye, before him in the road, and they having a venomous hound they were cooking with charms on rods of the rowan tree.  And he was going by them, for he knew it was not for his good they were there.

But one of the hags called to him, “Stop a while with us, Cuchulain.”  “I will not stop with you,” said Cuchulain.  “That is because we have nothing better than a dog to give you,” said the hag.  “If we had a grand, big cooking hearth, you would stop and visit us, but because it is only a little that we have, you will not stop.”

…Then he went over to her, and she gave him the shoulder-blade of the hound out of her left hand, and he ate it out of his left hand. And he put it down on his left thigh, and the hand that took it was struck down, and the thigh he put it on was struck through and through, so that the strength that was in them before left them.

It couldn’t be more ominous, and presently, in forlorn battle against the odds, Cú Chulain is mortally wounded and straps himself to a pillar-stone, or standing stone, west of the lake of Muirthemne, so that he will not meet his death lying down: and his horse, the Grey of Macha, defends him with its teeth and hooves, until at last the hero dies and the crows descend upon him.  Fans of ‘The Weirdstone of Brisingamen’ will notice that Alan Garner has used this scene for the death of the dwarf Durathror, who straps himself to the pillar of Clulow on Shuttlingslow, defending Colin and Susan from the morthbrood.

In ‘The Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel’, which is another part of the Ulster cycle, King Conaire, whose father was a magical bird-man, is placed under a truly startling variety of geasa:

“Do not go righthandwise round Tara and lefthandwise around Bregia. Do not hunt the evil beasts of Cerna.  Do not go out beyond Tara every ninth night; do not settle the quarrel of two of your own people; do not sleep in a house you can see the firelight shining from after sunset; do not let one woman or one man come into the house where you are after sunset; do not let three Reds go before you to the House of Red.”

But of course, one by one Conaire breaks all the geasa. He goes out to make peace between two of his subject lords, and travels the wrong way around Tara and Bregia to avoid raiders; he hunts the beasts of Cerna without realising what they are. 

And it was the Sidhe that had made that Druid mist of smoke about him, because he had begun to break his bonds.

At last, on his way to find shelter in the hostelry of his friend Da Derga of Leinster, with its seven doors, Conaire sees himself preceded by three horsemen clad in red:

Three red bucklers they bore, and three red spears were in their hands: three red steeds they bestrode, and three red heads of hair were on them. Red were they all, both body and hair and raiment, both steeds and men.

(Translation by Dr Whitley Stokes, ‘The Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel’, 1902)

Knowing another geas has been broken, Conaire sends his young son Lefriflaith after the men to ask who they are.  Lefriflaith calls out to them three times, and the third time one of them calls back that they are three of the Sidhe, banished from the elfmounds:

Lo, my son, great the news.  Weary are the steeds we ride.  We ride the steeds of Donn Tetscorach from the elf-mounds. Though we are alive we are dead. Great are the signs: destruction of life: sating of ravens: feeding of crows: strife of slaughter: wetting of sword-edge, shields with broken bosses after nightfall.  Lo, my son!

The incantatory prose of Whitley Stokes’ translation has again been wonderfully taken up and adapted by Alan Garner in the chapter called ‘The Horsemen of Donn’ of ‘The Moon of Gomrath’, when Colin and Susan kindle fire on the mound:

They were dressed all in red: red were their tunics and red their cloaks; red their eyes and red their long manes of hair bound back with circlets of red gold; three red shields on their backs and three red spears in their hands… Red were they all, weapons and clothing and hair; both horses and men.

“Who – who are you?” whispered Colin.  “What do you want?”

The middle horseman stood in his saddle and raised a glowing spear over his head:

“Lo, my son, great the news!  Wakeful are the steeds we ride, the steeds from the ancient mound.  Wakeful are we, the Horsemen of Donn, Einheriar of the Herlathing. Lo, my son!”

King Conaire’s last two geasa are broken when a lone woman comes to the door of Da Derga’s hostel (or inn):  she has the Druid sight, and ill-wishes the king:

“It is what I see for you,” she said, “that nothing of your skin or of your flesh shall escape from the place you are in, except what the birds will bring away in their claws. And let me come into the house now.”

With great unwillingness the king allows the woman to enter, though not unnaturally “none of them felt easy in their minds after what she had said.”  Finally, firelight from the hostel is spotted by Conaire’s enemy, Ingcel the One-Eyed and his army of reivers.  They attack the hostel, great destruction is wrought, and Conaire dies.

A last example, just as ill-fated, is the geasa placed on Diarmuid by Gráinne, daughter of King Cormac and the promised bride of Finn MacCool. At the wedding feast Gráinne is put off by Finn’s age (older than her father!) and falls in love with one of his warriors, young Diarmuid.  After sending Finn a cup that makes all who drink of it fall asleep, she asks Diarmuid to marry her, and when he refuses, she says,

I place thee under geasa, and under the bonds of heavy druidical spells, that thou take me for thy wife before Finn and the others awaken.

(Translation by P W Joyce, ‘Old Celtic Romances’, 1879)

Diarmuid replies:

Evil are those geasa thou hast put on me, and evil, I fear, will come of them.

He asks those of his friends whom Gráinne has not put to sleep what he should do, and they all agree he must follow the geas even if it results in his death, which of course it eventually does, though not before many others have died first. Wounded by a boar, Diarmuid explains to Finn that Gráinne ‘put me under heavy geasa, which for all the wealth of the world I would not break,’ and begs Finn to save his life with a drink of water cupped in his healing hands.  But, thinking of Gráinne, Finn spills the water three times and Diarmuid dies.

Maybe geasa were just a poetical, literary device, the equivalent of the prophecies about Greek heroes like Achilles and Oedipus, where the narrative imperative says that Achilles’ heel will be his undoing; that Oedipus will kill his father and marry his mother, etc. If not, though – if they ever had any real currency – you have to wonder. Could anyone use them? If so, how often? How carelessly?  Could you do the equivalent of putting your children under geasa to pick up their socks and tidy their rooms?   Or would that kind of thing backfire just as badly as most of them seem to have done in the tales?  Geasa seem to have been impossible to refuse, however arbitrary or awkward they might be. In my next post, I’m going to take a closer look at how they actually operate, both in fiction and – maybe – in real life.  

Picture credits:

Cuchulain in Battle by Joseph Christian Leyendecker, Wikimedia Commons
The Moon of Gomrath by Alan Garner, cover by George Adamson