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Thursday, July 2, 2015

Guest Post: Betwixt & Between by Katherine Harbour


In Thorn Jack and Briar Queen, abandoned buildings are places where the past, the otherworld, and the present intermingle.

A tricky sort of magic lingers in border places; the woods, neglected buildings, the transitional times of dusk and dawn. In these liminal areas, benevolent or malevolent beings manifest; Sasquatches stalk forests, trolls lurk beneath brides, Bloody Marys haunt mirrors, and Djinn prowl cemeteries. Faeries ride with the Wild Hunt on All Hallows Eve. Divinities and devils guard crossroads where one might encounter tricksters such as the Greek Hermes and Hecate, or the West African Eshu.

Forests become a rite of passage for fairy-tale characters and a metaphor for life itself in Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods. Wolves and witches, fauns and nymphs—all of life’s perils and temptations—exist in the woods. In Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock, the titular forest is a place where beings called mythagos, who once roamed the world as various cultural archetypes, take whatever form enters the mind of anyone who finds their way in. 

Man-made structures can also turn dangerous when unoccupied, leaving them to become a border place. But it’s an occupied house in Charles de Lint’s Moonheart, Tamson House, a puzzle of rooms and corridors (like the Winchester House in California) taking up an entire block in contemporary Ottawa, that becomes the portal for a sinister force. In Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, the house itself is an almost sentient thing that tricks the protagonist into a state of fear and madness.


Fear and madness seem to be an element of the creatures haunting rivers and lakes. Lakes, sometimes with drowned towns and monstrous serpents, are also the dominions of water horses, shapeshifters with the eating habits of crocodiles. Bridges that cross water and attract suicides thrive with hauntings, the Point Pleasant Mothman for instance. Demonic female entities such as the green ghoul Jenny Greenteeth and the child-killer La Lhorona are drawn to rivers. Yet water is less of a malevolent force in wells graced by goddesses (now the power places of saints), with the exception of one vengeful well spirit, Okiku, a murdered Japanese servant girl who became the inspiration for the Ringu (The Ring) films. And, in Elizabeth Marie Pope’s Elizabethan version of Tam Lin, The Perilous Gard, dark faeries haunt a sacred well where a child recently died.

Mirrors, so like water in appearance, have long been used as thresholds to the land of the dead—from the Aztec god of sorcerors, Lord Smoking Mirror, to the spiritualists in the turn-of-the-century using psychomanteum rooms. Mirrors are infamous sources of terror in horror films, magical devices in fiction: Alice’s looking glass adventures; the evil stepmother’s mirror in Snow White. Mirrors reflect a reverse world peopled with things that look like us, but are not.

And this otherworld, inhabited by such creatures, is often portrayed as a land people want to escape; as in this example from Lady Gregory’s Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland:
“…meeting a comely young man who had been his comrade but was now an inhabitant of one of those hidden houses, he asked how he fared."

"And for all his fine clothing . . ."

"The young man gave the names of three drudges . . ."

I would rather be living their life than the life I am leading now.”


In Greek myth, Persephone, the stolen bride of Hades, begins to pine away in the land of the dead until he grants her half a year in the sunlit world. Escaping the otherworld is a theme in fantasy fiction (although in Terri Windling’s Bordertown series and Lili St. Crow’s YA fairy-tale retellings, the real world and Elfland have met and become an uncertain reality.) In ancient ballads, Thomas the Rhymer and Tam Lin, drawn into fairyland by the queen, only want to be free of it.

Yet the otherworld, the betwixt and between, is where dreams are possible and human psyches create what they desire . . . and that will always be its lure. 

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Official Author Website
Order Briar Queen HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Thorn Jack

GUEST AUTHOR INFORMATION: Katherine Harbour was born and brought up in upstate New York and since then has also lived in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She began writing Thorn Jack since she was seventeen years old. After multiple revisions, it lead to her publication. She currently live in Florida.

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