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Talking Location With author Ana Sampson

30th September 2023

Ana SampsonTalkingLocationWith.. Ana Sampson, author of Gods and Monsters: Mythological Poems edited by Ana Sampson & illustrated by Chris Riddell

Around the World in Ancient Stories

Some fireside tales – like those of merpeople, or dragons – have sprung up in locations all over the world. (This makes me suspect that – just maybe – there’s something to them…) When I began gathering poems about myths for a new anthology, Gods and Monsters, I found many of them rooted in locations we can still visit today, places where these old stories still breathe in the landscape.

Windsor Park, England

“the drumbeat of hooves on heath and on hollow

the call of it all – come follow, come follow,”

From ‘Herne’s Song’ by Jan Dean

Herne the Hunter, the figure of a man with antlers, is said to haunt Windsor Great Park (Berkshire, England), although the former location of Herne’s Oak is contested. He appears in Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor although it’s hard to know whether or not Shakespeare drew on earlier stories, and weaves his way through later tales, including John Masefield’s The Box of Delights and Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising sequence. He has been variously identified as Richard II’s swiftest huntsman, or a Park keeper from the days of Elizabeth I, and to be the leader of the Wild Hunt. Wild Hunts appear in legends throughout Europe, sometimes led by the Norse God Odin instead of Herne. If you catch sight of it tearing through the night, beware: it foretells calamity.

Ana Sampson

Windsor Great Park

Loch Ness, Scotland

“Sssnnnwhuffffll?

Hnwhuffl hhnnwfl hnfl hfl?”

From ‘The Loch Ness Monster’s Song’ by Edwin Morgan

Loch Ness, in the Scottish highlands, is a deep, murky and mysterious body of water that has become world famous for stories of a monster. The tales have a long history: tradition has it that in the sixth century Saint Columba commanded the creature to stop devouring local people. After a road was constructed near the loch in the early twentieth century, several sightings by motorists were reported, and the modern idea of a plesiosaur-like beast with a long neck took root. Despite photographs of the monster being debunked, and the ‘discovery’ of its footprints being confirmed as a hoax in the 1930s (the impressions were, in fact, made with a hippopotamus foot umbrella stand), in August 2023 a new official ‘Nessie Hunt’ was held.

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Greece

“Ithaca gave you the marvellous journey.

Without her, you wouldn’t have set out.”

From ‘Ithaca’ by C P Cavafy

The beautiful island of Ithaca lies in the Ionian sea, off the coast of Kefalonia. Homer’s epic The Odyssey tells of Odysseus’s adventures on his way home to Ithaca following the Trojan War. Some of the best known Greek myths – from outwitting the cyclops Polyphemus to Odysseus’s men being transformed into pigs by the enchantress Circe – come from this voyage. For the twenty years that Odysseus is away, his wife Penelope is besieged by suitors keen to win her hand – and the throne of Ithaca. She promises to choose one when the shroud she is weaving for Odysseus’s father is complete, but every night she secretly unpicks the day’s work.

Mexico

“Thunder rumbles with every beat of his great wings

He drives the clouds down to the plains”

From ‘Cloud Forest’ by Dawn McLachlan

Tlaloc was the fanged Aztec god of rain and fertility. The place most associated with his worship – which included human and child sacrifice – is Mount Tlaloc, a now inactive volcano in the Sierra Nevada in central Mexico, although earlier rain deities were probably associated with the mountain centuries before the Aztec period. At its summit, there are still traces of an ancient shrine dedicated to his veneration, as well as a newer construction built in the 1970s, thought to show that his worship hadn’t quite died out in modern times.

Ana Sampson

Monte Tláloc

Egypt

“It sometimes smiles and it sometimes winx:

But nobody knows just what it thinx”

From ‘Out in the Desert’ by Charles Causley

The Great Sphinx of Egypt stands on the Nile’s west bank. It has a human head and lion’s body, and was constructed from limestone during the era of the Egyptian Old Kingdom, around two and a half thousand years BC. Later pharaohs and Greek and Roman emperors were drawn to visit the dramatic site, although at other periods it was buried by the desert sands. It’s often claimed to have lost its nose to the cannonballs of Napoleon’s soldiers, but there are illustrations from before Napoleon’s campaigns that show the nose already missing. Much is unknown about this extraordinary monument, but its power and splendour are still amazing visitors today.

Australia

“Come full, come fair, come in

the water’s just right for a swim!”

From ‘Bunyip’ by Attie Lime

The bunyip is an evil creature from Aboriginal folklore from southeastern Australia that lurks in water – lakes, rivers, creeks, swamps and billabongs. In reported sightings, it seems to take many different forms, including that of a seal or dog-like beast, a sea serpent or of a bird-headed alligator, but is always to be feared. It gives its name to a town in Victoria and the Bunyip River in the same state.

County Antrim, Northern Ireland

“With grey hair streaming:

A meteor of ill omen,

The spectre of hope forlorn,

Keening, keening!”

From ‘The Banshee’ by John Todhunter

In Irish folklore, the red-eyed, streaming-haired banshee’s appearance – wailing and keening – fortold a death. One story of the banshee is associated with the ruins of Shane’s Castle, the seat of the O’Neills, which can be visited in Country Antrim. One of the O’Neill ancestors freed a cow entangled in a hawthorn tree, angering the fairies to whom the hawthorn was sacred. In revenge they stole his daughter away to the bottom of the lake, and she could only return to the world as a wraith to warn of coming calamity.

ANA SAMPSON

Catch Ana on Twitter: @AnaBooks 

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