Over at SF Signal, Charles Tan has been interviewing the contributors to new Ellen Datlow anthology Beastly Bride – including Indian writer Shweta Narayan and Finnish writer Johanna Sinisalo.
From the Sinisalo interview:
CT: What is it about the Finnish epic Kalevala that interests you?
JS: It is quite original compared to many other European epics, because it has such a strong emphasis on our ties with nature. There are a lot of woodland and water deities, magical animals, and the bear is in Finnish mythology almost a semi-god. Kalevala’s heroes and heroines also all seem to have a very humane side – they are not invincible or faultless, quite the opposite. In that aspect they’re quite modern. I have actually written even a whole novel called “Sankarit” (“The Heroes”) in which I converted the main characters and plots of Kalevala to be set in the 1990’s. The sages, magical smiths, adventurers, witches and so on were in my novel rock stars, athletes, computer wizards etc. It was a very fun thing to write.
From the Narayan interview:
Charles Tan: Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, what made you decide to combine Selkie stories with serpent/Naga stories?
Shweta Narayan: I don’t think “decide” is quite the right word. I doubt I could approach a Naga story any other way.
Let me unpack that. I’ve loved snakes since my mother took me to the Madras Snake Park when I was five or so, and I’ve actively looked for Naga images and stories as long as I can remember. But while I am a heritage Tamil speaker, I’m neither fluent nor literate in any language native to the Indian subcontinent, and that leaves my understanding of my “own” folklore pretty sparse.
Most of the tales that I grew up with were from Northern Europe; my parents made an active effort to counter that trend, but the European stories were just easiest to find. And since I read a lot, and we didn’t live near any English-language bookstores till I was twelve, just keeping me in reading material must have been a task!
So Selkie tales were part of my formative reading. And when I was seven or eight, I wasn’t left thinking about the objectification of the Selkie bride and her reasons for leaving, or about the distraught husband. Forget the grownups — I wanted to know what happened to their kids! So that’s a story hook that has been hanging around in my brain waiting to latch onto something for a long time.
I only know three patterns of traditional Naga tales: sentient snake interacts with religious figure, hero goes to the land of the Nagas to gain magic or wisdom, and hero goes to the land of the Nagas to get a bride– and that last lies so close to Selkie stories that I never consciously “combined” the traditions, because they were not really separate in my mind to start out with. It felt obvious that Naga brides would be compelled to stay somehow and would leave as soon as they could.