At Christmas time the traditional role for a faery seems to be perched on top of a Christmas tree, possibly, in a secular age, standing in for one of the angels who scared the pants off the shepherds as they watched their flocks by night. Although the faery Melusine of Lusignan, who knew all about meeting humans more than halfway, insisted that she was a good Christian, along with the belief that a bit of magic never did anyone any harm. Not that all ended up roses for her – but that was largely because of her husband’s fault. Trust a human to muck things up!
Anyhow her story comes to mind for me this Yuletide with the reissue, by Skylight Press, of my first book about her: Melusine of Lusignan and the Cult of the Faery Woman, and it may be helpful to distinguish this approach to Melusine as compared to my other two books about her The Romance of the Faery Melusine and The Book of Melusine of Lusignan in History, Legend and Romance. Each one shows a different facet of the lady.
I was so struck by the legend of Melusine that when I first came upon it I was moved to write out her story for myself – including that of her amazing relations – her faery mother Pressine, who hailed from Scotland (as Queen of Albany) and was on close terms with Morgan le Fay and her magic island that one only finds by chance – her sisters Melior and Palastine, respective guardians of an initiatory test of the hawk each midsummer’s day, and of a great treasure hidden in a mountain guarded by a giant - and her ten sons, most of them marked in some way as a consequence of their faery origin – one with one all seeing eye, another with three. Four of them were great heroes and rescued rich damsels in distress to become kings of Switzerland, Bohemia, Armenia and Cyprus. They had a younger brother, Geoffrey Great-tooth, who was a giant killer but subject to boar like rages and killed his brother Fromond after he had become a monk – by burning down the abbey along with the rest of the community. Then there was the aptly named Horrible, and the less said about him the better. Even his mother suggested having him put down in infancy before he grew up to be completely uncontrollable. There can be quite a savage side to those of the faery kingdoms – they are not all sugar and spice and flimsy draperies. To these stories I added a little of my own experience of contacts with faery and modern facets of the tradition with a chapter on Melusine today. All this has been supplemented in the new edition of Melusine of Lusignan and the Cult of the Faery Woman, with a fabulous front cover of the picture of the faery flying round her castle from the Duke de Bery’s “Book of Hours” – he being a lord of Lusignan in his day.
But for those who want to be transported by the story of Melusine by a master story teller can do no better than immerse themselves in The Romance of the Faery Melusine, which is my translation of the story as told by the brilliant French novelist André Lebey – and I can do no better than quote from a review at the time from the librarian of the Society of the Inner Light:
· I loved this book. I read it with the music of French folkies “Malicorne” playing in the background, and I savoured every word. Yes, the descriptions are so evocative that one can almost taste them! Lebey/Knight have achieved a hyperrealism through an almost hallucinatory pageant of minutiae which build and heighten the sense of time and place, of mood, of emotion, creating from the bare bones of legend a world entire. And it’s action packed! All human life is there, love and loss, bravery, betrayal…The people are real, though distant in space and time; we are shown, as it were, a myth through a series of masques or tapestries that dazzle and delight the senses. Comparisons are odious, but if you are thinking to yourself “the reviewer loves it, but will I?” then if you like what Evangeline Walton did with Celtic myth, you probably will. There is in Lebey/Knight’s book a particularly French sensibility which makes it unique, of course. Here is a master of story weaving his magic and bringing the lovely lady Melusine back to us once more, impressing the legend firmly into our mind’s eye.
Suffice to say that it is one of the best selling Skylight fiction titles and one that I am very proud of, to the extent of attempting another translation of a Lebay title all about druids – but more of that later.
Finally, for those who like to buttress themselves with the factual is The Book of Melusine of Lusignan in History, Legend and Romance as a consequence of my own visit to Lusignan from which I have culled the story of Melusine as recounted by a local parish priest; a definitive essay on Melusine by the French academic Louis Stouff who edited the original text of her romance; some photographs and descriptions of the church and town of Lusignan, which the faery was also said to have built, along with a crib of the first English translation of the Melusine story of c.1500-1520. All topped off with a couple of chapters of my own researches into a historical outline of the Lords of Lusignan (a couple of whom were Kings of the Crusader Kingdoms of Cyprus and Jerusalem) and of Faery Tradition and Jerusalem. As one of my readers, the Avalonian Ian Rees, has remarked: As someone who lives in Glastonbury and who works regularly in Jerusalem I see much potential in what is being offered to us in what can seem like a quaint story of faery ancestry. The juxtaposition of the apparently ethereal world of the Faerie with the blood and guts and ancient hatreds and holiness of Jerusalem might seem a trivial thing – a bit like calling on Tinker Bell to save the world, but trust me, Faerie can handle it. The encounter with the Christian mystery with Faery is at the heart of the Grail and Arthurian traditions and in these books it seems to me we are seeing a new unveiling of the mystery.
For more information on all this and more, take a trip to the Skylight Press web site.