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Inside Jack Daw's Pack: An Interview with Greer Gilman
Interview by Michael Swanwick
"Jack Daw's Pack" appeared in the Winter, 2000 issue of Century. It is a dense, allusive work and one that rewards close study. Those very qualities that make it most interesting, however, will also prove daunting to many who would otherwise enjoy it -- it is not the easiest story in the world to appreciate. So, shortly after its publication, in the hope of opening it up to a wider readership, I began an interview via e-mail with Greer Gilman about her work. The fruits of which are as follows.
–Michael Swanwick

Let's start with a few vocabulary words. A beck is a brook and to pyke is to peck. Shawm and crowdy are both musical instruments, the first a woodwind and the second a fiddle. To brock is to crumble, to clagg is to stick mud upon, and to sain is to make the sign of the cross, and hence to bless. A kist is a chest or coffer, to flyte is to scold, and thrawn means crooked or misshapen. These I was able to determine with the help of the Oxford English Dictionary. Others I had more trouble with. "Hodge" is the familiar for Roger, right? And thus a casual for a rustic laborer? "Tib" is a shortened form for Isabel and also, according to the OED, for Tibet, both common female names among the laboring classes, and thus a lass, or a sweetheart, or even a strumpet?

Gilman: Hodge and Tib are the common folk, country folk: "As Tibs rush for Toms fore-finger," says Master Shakespeare.

A "lyke road" is a funeral road (and I presume from the same root as "lich"), but is this an everyday road that's used for a funeral, or a road that leads only to the burial place, or a road that's used only for funerals?
Gilman: Could be any or all three, like a dance floor. Some lyke roads are occasional (that green is our dance floor) and some fixed (my dad built that floor, we always dance there). This one's the Milky Way, the old road of the dead.

Rantipole (in a romping, rude, or noisy fashion) and howking (digging, excavating, or hollowing out by digging), I found, but not "belantered" or "rantsman."
Gilman: In the canting tongue, "to ride rantipole" means to jig it wench uppermost, the dragon on St. George. "Belantered" means belated or benighted; to "rant" in this dialect means "to be jovial, boisterous, uproariously gay or merry; to lead a gay or dissolute life; also, to sing loudly" [OED] or to dance: so a rantsman is a Bacchant, a drunken reveler, but in the service of a ritual. He's been out all night making sure the spring happens.

Is a "trey stone" a trilith?
Gilman: Could be. But this is one standing stone with three cup-marks on it. A trey-table is one for dicing; so this stone is both a landmark or boundary (turn right at the Shell station), and a sort of unhallowed altar, a node, where chances befall and lots are cast.

What is a "flaycrow?"
Gilman: A scarecrow. To flay is to frighten, to put to flight.

I couldn't get "laithe" and "rooftree." The latter, I presume, is a rafter or ridgepole?
Gilman: Yes, a ridgepole. Dear me, thought that one was common. A "laithe" is a barn. The Brontes use that one. I was thinking of the field barns they have in Yorkshire, out back of beyond: you can't get a wain up those hills, and it's just too difficult to drag the hay to the farmstead, sledge by sledge.

I presume "awd" is dialect for "old" and "nowt" for "nought?"
Gilman: Yes.

What does "bacca" mean?
Gilman: Tobacco. Or whatever it is they smoke.

It's pretty clear, even to a linguistics slink-out like myself, that you're mining one particular corner of the English language here. What period and locale are you deriving your language from?
Gilman: Yorkshire, mostly, with Cumbrian outliers. Some of it is common to all Northen English, up through the Lowlands of Scotland; some is quite local. My earliest sources are 17th-century.

How deep does the archaic language go? I've noticed what seems to me, on a casual reading, to be a perfect absence of Latinate words and foreign borrowings. To what degree has the text been scrubbed of words that would be anachronistic to Cloud?
Latinities are scarce, yes, but not perfectly absent. A glance at the first section gives me "querulous," "triumphant," "melancholy."

"Scrubbed"? That seems oddly negative. Would you say that a limestone ecology had been scrubbed of say, pine trees? What grows in a landscape is what grows there.

This is not a radical statement of Englishness, such as Doughty's Arabia Deserta, or William Barnes's Outline of English Speech-Craft, in which the preface is the fore-say and a perambulator is a push-wainling. Much of what I write is out of love for what Alan Garner calls the "true and Northern voice," which is his by birthright and not mine. Have you read his book of essays, The Voice That Thunders? He writes of the tensions between his two languages, between his grammar-school and Oxford classicism and "talking broad": "Romance is rodent, nibbled on the lips. Germanic is resonant, from the belly. It is also simple, and, through its simplicity, ambivalent: once more the paradox." I know I have no roots in his north-of-middle earth. It's the riddling that draws me.

I love that a "riddle" is both the Sphinx's enigma and a kitchen sieve; that a "rune" is both a riddle and a running onward, a flow. A rune of blood. A rune of stars: which is their rise and turning. I love that "Cloud" and "Law" both mean "hill," that nebulous or iron-bound, they're one and the same place. I play interminably with "light" and "leave" and "wake" and "wood." And either you like this sort of thing, or you run screaming in the distance.

That kind of essential punning is hard, outside of Anglo-Saxon.

There's a tough strand in the language, running back through Hopkins to the Gawain poet (a northerner, like Garner). A green and thorny tongue, a covert of birds. Quintessentially English, being pied. "Counter, original, spare, strange." Not pure, but insular. Of many branched and braiding roots: one stubborn flowering. And I admit, the devil's own thicket to hack through. The older the hedgerow, the denser the tangle: Anglo-Saxon for rootstock; Old Norse and odd Celtic borrowings; and French gone wild, like a hedge rose. Oak and ash and thorn.

There are more voices in the second story of these three, "A Crowd of Bone": both Cloudish vernacular and a high Jacobean iambic, endlessly enjambed. But that is another thing altogether, a late Romance. "Jack Daw's Pack" is a riddle-story, almost a primary source: pure myth.

Also (but this may be unanswerable), to what degree does the language exist to serve the story, and to what degree does the story exist to serve the language? I'm of course talking about this particular story, rather than Story in general.

Inseparable. Words are what books are made of. The story makes itself through language, as the structure of a crystal feeds on salts.

As I've said elsewhere, "People ... talk of 'transparent' prose, as if the covers of a novel were a window on a world. And yet there's nothing there: no Middle Earth and no mean streets, no Sam Spade, no Lizzie Bennett. There is only code."


This is bloody opera, the music is part of it. It's badly scored at times--too many notes--but sound and sense are meant to be one thing.


What's Shakespeare in translation? Not that I come within lightyears of his hastiest scrawl, his least hackwork on a Beaumont and Fletcher--but damn it all, why can't I try for the thunder and lightning? My own teapot Tempest.

Do I sound self-defensive? I am. I've taken a lot of flak for my high language. Either people "bounce off it like an Ent trying to dig into Orthanc" (as Dorothy Heydt said); or they get drunk on it, like wasps on fermenting fruit, and fall over. What I'm trying for is synergy.

Where do the mythological underpinnings come from?
Gilman: Good lord. That's a five-day question. Scraps of it are from the folklore and mythology of the British Isles. But Cloud is its own place: some of their customs and rituals look much like those of Britain, but are performed for wholly other reasons. Sort of an egg-laying mammal of a mythology.

Odd place, Cloud. It has latitude but no longitude, being east of the sun and west of the moon, and about as far north as Askrigg. Their sky looks much like England's as well, though their cosmology is wholly magical.

There are nineteen subtitles within "Jack Daw's Pack" (The Crow; What the Crowd of Bone Sang; The Harper's Lad; Scythes and Cups; Sheath and Knife; Coffer and Keys; Poppyheads; Sieve and Shears; Scarecrow; The Hare, The Moon; Masks; Rattlebag; The Hare, The Moon [Turned Down]; Riddles; Waking Wood; Riddles, Turned; Quickening; The Ragthorn; and The Thief). Are these meant to be the cards within Jack Daw's pack? As Stations of the Road, essential elements in the myth being reenacted? Simply as evocative headings? Or a combination of all three?
Gilman: They're some of the cards in Jack Daw's Pack; which in turn are the sun, moon, stars, and planets in their varied aspects. What in Cloud they call "the wood above." The Stations of the Sun. As such, they're places on a map of sorts, but no straight road. The sky is the story--cosmology as mythos--and these are scattered leaves from that book. Another essential pun: the leaves of the wood above, like the Sibyl's prophecies, are pages of an unbound testament.

Damned if I can write a linear narrative.

Is Jack "telling" the story--actually making it happen--by laying the cards down one by one?
Gilman: He is. There's a tension here, between the inevitable turning of the year and the fall of chance. And beyond that, recursively, a paradox: he himself is a card in his pack, a player in the tale. Beyond that lies the writer-as-Sibyl, telling earth's nativity.

And as long as we're here, my reading is that the story is happening simultaneously on three levels: First as a winter-myth, then as that same myth being knowingly recreated by guisers, and finally the myth being embodied by people who don't know that's what's h appening. So or no?
Gilman: So.

Okay, let's move into the actual text. "He is met at a crossroads on a windy night ... a man in black ... with a three-string fiddle in his pack." When I hear that Jack Daw, characterized as "a witty angry man, a bitter melancholy man," is a fiddler one might meet at a crossroads at night," and later that he's a gambler, I can only conclude that he's the Devil. Or maybe it's better to call him the Lord of the World. He's also, I believe, the only supernatural entity that appears only as himself. What's his part in all this?
Gilman: Lord of the World? He wishes. He's a servant: my Lady's huntsman, her spy. Not Death, but Death's pimp.

Moonwise In epitome:
Cloud's gods are the sisters Annis and Malykorne, dark and light of one moon. Mally's at the root of things; Annis is abyss. In Moonwise, Annis tried to halt time and was defeated. She's been dwindling in the long years since, in exile in the underworld. She's begotten a daughter on herself, in her glass: her captive, her consort, and herself reborn. That daughter is Ashes. Like Persephone, she winters in the underworld; but unlike the Kore, she was born there: spring is her escape, her rising from her mother's grave. And every winter she is hunted down, recaptured. Ashes in the guisers' play is her winter stand-in; she keeps the year alive while Ashes is in hell. For the space of her office, she is Ashes: a perilous role.

Jack Daw's an upstart god. He wants to be Dis in the dyad, to possess the godhead carnally. Get bastards on it. Change the myth by force.

His gang is Jack Daw's pack.

Ashes' rape is blasphemy. And crucial: whether or not the guisers' Ashes is Ashes and their fiddler Jack Daw himself, they enact the breakpoint in the myth.

So the story incorporates the patriarchy-attemping-to-supplant-the-triune-goddess trope?
Not quite the classic triad. Which witch is which? Is Annis the Crone? So she appears in Cloudish folktales, as the bluenailed blood-drunk hag of demotic legend; but her chosen aspect is ageless, slender as the moon. Even now her avatars retain a scarred beauty. The Maiden? She is indeed a sort of Artemis, a huntress and a scorner of men--but no virgin. Not now. Her consort is her mirrored self, her daughter. Ashes was begotten as a flawless vessel, a glass to be filled with Annis; she became her Mother's mistress and her thrall. The Crone as Virgin Mother: a chthonic Demeter, whose womb is the grave.

Ashes was created profoundly virginal--that empty glass--but she drank knowledge at her mother's breast. She was never a Maiden. And will never be a Crone: Death eats her as a child with child. Of the three, she is the only Mother, but she dies in giving birth.

Mally is no Mother, for all her broad lap. What she nurtures is creation as a work in progress. She's an artisan, cunning in her mystery. A wisewife. A gossip. (There are all these other distaff parts that aren't in the triad. Spinster. Sister. Aunt. Jung wasn't playing with a full deck.) There's a whiff of Cronishness about her, an unkindly edge. Asperity. But she does have a Maiden aspect, which she keeps to herself: a furiously green and thorny adolescence. You should see her Room.

Hmm. Hardly an idyllic vision of the goddess.

What patriarchy? That implies a settled power, sway, dominion. Jack Daw is an upstart. (So to speak.) An angry servant. A rogue. He's a bit louche, is old Nobodaddy. What he's playing on is the gang's misogyny, a slow resentment of the chosen Ashes. Her power of life and death. Her power of choice. They want to smash it; they want to possess it; they want to drag it down. Cock stuff. Cotemptible; but not the triumphal god-in-chariot and men-in-suits muster that "patriarchy" calls up.

There's no cult of Jack Daw. I can't imagine a Cloudish wizard. (They'd call him a man-witch.) Nor a priesthood. Theirs is not a hierophantic culture, but demotic. Their rituals are communal; their guisers put on godhead as a coat that may be doffed. Being Ashes is a heady and a perilous term of godhead; being caught in Ashes is hell.

What I'm working at is how the crystal of the myth is flawed. How it might change. As meta-demiurge, I've been turning it about, trying new ways it might fracture. Or dissolve--the shards are dangerous. Or even, in the end, sublime.

The myth was shattered and remade in Moonwise, and it grew back crooked.

Jack Daw would love to drive his wedge in, splitting off a new triad with himself and Ashes and his seed.

Ashes wants only to break free, to not be Ashes. In "A Crowd of Bone", she blasphemes herself, seizing on the body of a naive and besotted country lad: with tragic ends.

And Ashes' child--but that's another story.

Jack Daw's "pack" has at least three meanings. Are there any other meanings? Or is this just one instance of a thematic triune-ity?
Gilman: Haven't thought of any other meanings for "pack"; but I may, Oscar, I may. This thing is stiff with geminis and triunes.

Jack is also, I believe, the only supernatural entity that appears only as himself.
Gilman: Almost any male in this story may be Jack Daw: the crow-lad, the beggar's brat, Whin's lover, any of the guisers. Like Annis, he begets himself; but as she cages her child, he abandons his brats. If Annis hoards, he scatters. Some (though not in this) he kills. That old god thing.

Almost as mysterious is Brock, with her leathern cap and anvil, Death's doxy, thief, gossip, midwife, and tinker, who walks the moon's road with her bag and harvests souls.
Gilman: Brock is the third goddess, the odd one out. At its root, her name means "grey," or "badger" in the dialect. She's somewhat Mercurial: a psychopomp, a go-between, the third in marriage beds. A meddler. She clothes the naked soul in flesh. Unclothes it, after death, and lays it down.

And the Crowd of Bone?
Gilman: The Crowd of Bone is a constellation and a card in Jack Daw's pack. A "crowd" is a fiddle; as in the ballad of the Two Sisters, this is a fiddle made of a dead girl's body, pegged with her fingerbones and strung with her hair. It plays of itself, the same tune always: the true tale of her death.

And yes, the Crowd of Bone is also the Totentanz, the skeletons that dance to Death's fiddler.

The winter-myth being told here is in part the hunting of the wren, yes? I've never really understood the whole wren thing at all. What's going on with it, and how integral a part does it have in your story?
The wren is the winter king, the sun that dies and is reborn at solstice. So they say. The wren is sacrosanct, tabu: it is the blackest of bad luck to do him harm. But at the turning of the year he must be hunted, caught and killed. His corpse is then displayed with pomp, "in ribbons so rare," and borne from door to door with the bidding, "Please to see the king." (In Ireland, boys have been known to take round a potato stuck with feathers.) For their pains, the wren boys are given ale or coins or cakes: the sort of offerings one gives the dead.

In Cloud, at Lightfast, on the shortest day, the wren is hunted by the guisers. He is hung in a cage of thorns--his crown--garlanded, and borne from hearth to hearth. The guisers must be let in: they bring the sun. The cortege includes a Fool; a Fiddler; an ambiguous Awd Witch in petticoats, who sweeps before them with his broom; the Sun; and Ashes, who is silent, all in mourning for the wren, who was--they say--her lover or her son. (Cloud is a scattered world; there are as many variants of myth as there are hills.) She carries a bag of ashes of the old year's crown, with which to mark the faces of the unwed girls, the childless, and the bairns. At every house, the guisers give a play, half mockery, half rite, in which the Sun is slain. Then Ashes resurrects him. In the fullest variants, they dance and weave a knot of swords to head him. But even in the roughest, bang-the-door-and-beg plays, there is a combat or a heading-game--a brawl at least--between an old man and a young. Sometimes the old man is called Craw's Eye; elsewhere, he is Hulver, jovial and deadly (much like the Green Knight); or he is Slae, their Saturn-figure, black and bitter in his cups. He is always Jack Daw.

Any clear night, you can see the guisers, reeling round the sky. They're hunting the Wren (that we call the Dolphin), but they never catch him. First comes the Hobby Horse; then the Wren's Cage or the Old Year's Crown (if you've sharp eyes, you can see a ghostly Wren, a nebula, within); then the Fool with his Tabor, brandishing their Knot of Swords. And last comes the Fiddler. Their Cloudish Orion is called by many names: the Hanged Lad in Hallows and the Fiddler at Lightfast, when he plays for the guisers and the starry hey to dance. (In a ballad, Jack Orion is a fiddler "who could fiddle the milk from a maiden's breast"; he played the lord asleep to bed his lady, but his knavish boy forestalled him: for which he hanged the boy.) In spring, he is the Flaycraw, who wards the seeded sky; and in summer, the Sheaf, whose binding is a belt of stars. Like John Barleycorn, he is reaped. Three witches brew and bake him, share him round. He is drunken; and he drinks. In the fall of leaf, he is the dreamer, Tom o' Cloud: he wakes wood.

There are seven songs explicit in the text--"Cross the Water to Babylon," "The Crowd of Bone," one that begins "The owl flew out, the raven in" and two others beginning "Oh, my name it is Jack Hall, chimney sweep, chimney sweep..." and "My mother was burned for a witch, My father was hanged from a tree..." There's a snatch from the middle of a song, "...if I was black, as I am white as the snaw that falls on yon fell dyke..." And finally, Ashes sings her tale, the lyrics for which are given in full. Are these songs your own invention?
Gilman: All mine but three. "Jack Hall" is a real folk song, a gallows piece. There was a real Jack Hall, who had been sold to a chimney sweep for a guinea as a child, and was hanged for burglary on Tyburn tree in 1701. "Up the ladder I did grope and the hangman spread his rope / but never a word I spoke, coming down." Evocative, I thought: the hanged man, the sold child, and the chimney sweep's cry. "Chimneysweeper" is a rustic name for the dandelion; so is "Piss-a-Bed." It's the crow lad's emblem, with his ragged white head and his fears. The sun's weed. It's a bastard, come-by-chance and thriving all unwanted. A weed and a scatter-seed, and an emblem of vanity: "Golden lads and girls all must / As chimneysweepers, come to dust..."
"My mother was burned for a witch..." comes from a guisers' play, from North Yorkshire. It's the Fool's part, which makes it all the more poignant for me. He comes to it after boasting, "I killed me an urchin [hedgehog] as big as meself / And it made me a rare apple pie."
"...if I was black, as I am white..." is from a version of "The Beggar Man" (Child 279). It's sung by a lass eyeing a tinker, with a mind to run off with him. Unlike her sister of Cassilis, she goes with a jaunty step. That lady "remembered I was young / And had to put myself into a song" (as Sylvia Townsend Warner wrote); this lass doffs apron and smock for a beggar's rags: she guises.

Haven't counted the folk songs and ballads--like the "Two Sisters"--that are hidden in the text.

Another question, this time about "the road between Cold Law and Soulsgrave Hag," which is to say, from the cold law that says Ashes must go into the earth to her soul's emergence from the grave of Annis's womb to bring the spring. The road is, you've said before, the Milky Way.
Ah well. I found Soulsgrave Hag on a map of North Yorkshire, and I snapped it up gleefully. A hag is a peat bog: it devours. And a Law is just a (roundish) hill in those parts. Cat Law, Cold Law. Though it's also a word for a monumental tumulus, a cairn of stones; Hob's Law would be his barrow. I wanted good plainheaded Northern names, down to earth, but with a shiver of dark to them. Vernacular poetry.

They're real places in Cloud. Anyone can walk between Cold Law and Soulsgrave Hag, sell sheep or buy pepper and needles, and walk back again; but not always. Sometimes Cold Law is Law.

Law is the underworld, the sky below, as the heavens are the wood above. Law is where Ashes is held captive; where the stars go when they set. Law is also that unchancy constellation which we call the Serpent-Holder, the thirteenth in the Zodiac. They see it as a circle of stones: Annis' stronghold is all breaches, and impregnable. Like Spiral Castle. You can stray there, or be snared: you can't get in or out.

And yes, cold law is Annis' rule, her myth, inexorable as Gorgon.

But it's also the passage through winter from–when to when?
Ashes' journey is from Hallows, when Annis wakes and hunts souls, through Lightfast to Kindling (Candlemas) when she rises from the earth. Light springs in her wake.

Also, the equivalence of cards and constellations, coupled with the trey stone, strongly suggests the nineteenth-century theory that the standing stones in Great Britain were each identified (by a now-lost system of cup lines) with a particular star, so that their totality would have created a map of the heavens in reverse upon the surface of the earth. Was this intended, or a simple resonance of meaning?
Hadn't thought of it that way.

The patterns in the stars are accidents, creations of the constellating mind: the same that turns random synaptic fireworks into dreams of prophecy. We can't help it, we see patterns everywhere.

I once handed out maps of Avebury with an invitation to connect the dots and find the Goddess.*

So. A map of the heavens? Not as such. Not in Cloud. In the underworld, in Law, Annis keeps a microcosm of the heavens, done in yew and stone. A labyrinth. Death's garden. But then, she's the goddess of fixity, the mistress of unchange. Cloudish cosmology is Mally's province, so untidy and ambiguous. Remember, they don't have a Book, but scattered leaves. They're not pinned down. Not that there aren't quilt knots here and there, stitching heaven and earth. Houses, in the astrological sense; or sacred places, which are realer than the world, and have a way of disappearing like the egg in Alice. Woods, stone circles, sheepfolds. And the one long seam, the Milky Way.

Besides, some of their constellations are walking about. The Fiddler, Ashes. You can meet them on the road, get them drunk or with child. Or hunt them down, like the Wren.

Others are things. You may find the Riddle hanging in your kitchen, near the Ladle; or prick your finger on the Broochpin, scrabbling for a bit of silk to match your old petticoat.

I'm thinking of the sky-on-earth as worldwarp, something inwoven.

A note on the wren:

As a scholar, I know that the White Goddess and the Golden Bough are flights of fantasy, that the most evocative and ancient-seeming rituals can spring up overnight, like dew. Every morning is the dawn of time. But I'm writing as if their lunacies were true, were science. As in another history of the world, they are. In AEgypt and in Cloud.

*From GEnie (17 January, 1994):

All of the above has me musing on patterns and potsherds. And on crackpots.

Ronald Hutton, writing on "alternative" archaeologists: "The climax of [Michael Dames's] vision is the discovery of a great figure of the Mother Goddess delineated by the Neolithic monuments and natural features of the Avebury area. The trouble with this is that it is a matter of joining dots selectively upon a map. So many Neolithic sites and natural features have been recorded in this district that a great many different patterns can be 'discovered' by the same technique. I myself produced a perfectly nice unicorn by it, and thank Mr. Dames warmly for the sheer childish pleasure of that experience."
--from The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles
(Blackwell, 1990, p. 131-132)

"Avebury as Rorschach," says a friend of mine, an archaeologist. There are no constellations, only stars; but we can't help drawing them. What's interesting is that we want our patterns to inhere. Our fates, we hope, are in our stars, not in ourselves. So we project. We are in love with all our fortuitous unicorns.

Okay, a couple of steps into the story. Jack unpacks the tale. Ashes begins to guise. Now we come to Ash's sacrifice at the workings of Crow. Is Ash the same as Tom a'Cloud?
He's wandered into that part, unaware.

Crow arrives, Whin begins to guise, and then the first conflation of myth and life occurs when Ash, who is also the Sun (or Son), is sacrificed. Now, as I read it, these events are not being presented out of order so much as they are occurring out of order. Yes?

Or rather, once you're in the myth, there is no out of order: only variations on a stated theme. The art of fugue. Cat's cradles. As I see it, stories are temporal; myth is spatial. It has a crystalline structure, fixed laws of relationship. I could try to show you, if I had enough toothpicks and gumdrops. A sort of molecular mythology kit. Or--do you know those toys made of wire, linked warped polygons that twist and tumble and turn inside out? Like that: configurations in space. Except there's this Moebius twist to it, so that one person is at once child and father, or mother to herself. A and O. The earth's womb as Klein bottle.

Does that make sense at all?

Ash is also the starveling boy in "The Scarecrow"?
He could be.

In the myth he is. The starveling boy--the crow lad--is Whin's son is Jack Daw's seed is the Ashes child is her lover is the boy in "The Rattlebag." Which is his death. Having slept with Ashes, he becomes that constellation of avatars, takes on that past, that doom.

Everything Whin touches turns to Ash.

This story is a hall of mirrors. No matter what door he comes in, it vanishes; and every way he turns, he sees himself recurring, all the way forward and back.

So that when he fears "that the Ashes child will dance among the furrows," he's afraid of himself?

Acu tetigisti.

More mirrors, now I come to think of it. Selves begotten in a glass.

And--this is weird, I've just thought of this--he does meet his other, darker selves in that barn. His pack. Incest as gang rape.


In "The Hare, the Moon," the hare, specifically equated as Ash, is characterized as being "swift and mad." Is madness a necessary part of the boy's role?
It's a part. Tom a' Cloud (the tinker in Moonwise) was told to "wake wood." That is, to rouse himself, to rise up mad. Another essential pun. To wake wood is to call from sleep the Wood Above, the Unleaving: the pack of tales that is Cloud. It is also to keep watch, to shepherd it; and also to mourn its passing. His dream is this world.

In "Poppyheads," Whin-become-Ashes squats in the furrows and "holds herself open, like an old sack in a barn." It's hard not to imagine her grimacing as she does so. Is this the Sheila-na-gig here?

As we imagine her, in all her fierce primeval holiness; and not as scholars have decreed, as a Romanesque satire or sermon on the flesh.

Though the crone is not Whin, but Whin's anagoge: a vision or a memory of what she fears. Her other self. As the crow lad fears the child in the furrows, Whin dreads the hag.

And meets her at the ragthorn, in a blind beggar's guise.

In Cloud, what we call Scorpio, they call the Scythe. It shears the Poppyheads, that never rise in their heavens: the ever-blooming flowers of the underworld, the souls in Annis' lap.

A couple of sentences later, when she claws at the ground and cries "Mam, let me in!" Does she go within the Earth? Or is she refused?
I don't know. What's vivid for me is her longing and despair. She craves the sanctuary of her mother's lap, her grave. She only knows she wants to get back in. More inversions. This is Persephone grown old and raddled, searching for her mother, the unwithered earth. She's lost the way to hell.

Why isn't the crow-boy able to participate in the rape? (Other than the obvious, real-world reasons, I mean.) Is his refusal/inability to take part what prevents Jack Daw's blasphemous takeover bid?
But the myth is inherent in the real world; it plays itself out through mortal human beings, with their frailties and fears. He's twelve. He's terrified. He's appalled. That's a goddess lying there, or at the least her vessel in a sacred mystery. For all he knows, she's his mother.

And he does take part. However badly he botches it, he's still there with his cockerel out, kneeling over her. Complicitous. ("'Boy and all,' said the beggar. 'They set him on.'" Though bear in mind she's not the most reliable of narrators--but we'll get to that.) Certainly, he's laid hands on her, helped hold her down: that's his blood under her nails. ("'But I marked 'em, aye, I marked 'em all.'") He's cursed with all the others.

And he's haunted by this rape. Not only the enormity, but his failure to refuse. His impotence. His shame at what he did and didn't do. He's damned either way. That's the burden he takes into the third novella, toward the breaking of the myth; that's part of what drives it.

Is Cloud matriarchal? I'd hesitate to call it "feminist" in any sense, but men seem to be something less than central there. Necessary, perhaps, but not important.
Dear me. Do you find this disturbing?

Matriarchal? Yes. Scarcely a utopia, unless your idea of idyllic involves sheep muck, oat cakes, and the odd child sacrifice. Myself, I'd say it was feminist with a small "f", in that women matter. They're not just objects, but real characters, in all shades of grey: flawed and powerful, rooted and journeying. My world is gynecentric.

Are men unimportant? No. The sun goes round the earth, that's all. Tom a' Cloud has not a few essentials in his keeping: bread and balladry and dreams. He's the scarecrow of shadows; he's the seeded earth, the sun made harvest, and the cup; he's the guardian of the Wood. A kindlier cradle-god than his aunts. Even his shadow, the acrid and ithyphallic Master Daw, hauls a packful: chance, war, venery, and commerce.

These are not ideological choices, but straight from my archetypal cellar. Not a king in the pack.

Well, I ask because, where most Solar myths have the Sun in a central position, here the Sun's rebirth seems to be subsumed into Ashes' birth/rebirth. Is this simply because of Cloud's gynocentrist slant on things, a difference of emphasis? Or is it that the rebirth of the Sun is the Thing Unsaid, that which the story is all about and which is never directly addressed until the final line?
No. It's a thread in the fabric, that only sometimes flashes out. Intrinsic, integral, but not the thing itself. The goddesses weave. The Sun is inwoven.

Or is something different going on here altogether?

Mally and Annis are the primal powers of the earth; they were before all else. They are one and they are other: two faces of a coin, dark and light of one moon. They are creation and annihilation, timeless; he is born and dies each year. He's a harvest, like corn, like apples. Like a dandelion, whirled away. He's fleeting. He indwells.

Think of the Cloudish year as braided endlessly, so that even as the Sun dies he is rounding for his next rebirth.

He's born at Lightfast.

In spring he's something of a blade; he begets himself:

"He gives the meadows green gowns. And flowers falling to his scythe lie tossed and tumbled, ah, they wither at his fiery kiss. They fall in swathes, in sweet confusion, to his company of rakes, his rade of scythesmen all in green. The hay's his dance."
But the solstice is his turning, his descent:
"Vaunting, he calls the witchstone, Annis, to the dance, for mastery of the year, and wagers all his reckless gold. But he has spent his glory and must die. The barley is himself."
He can't outdance her: she's the earth and insatiable. The grave. It's like a game: scythe cuts; stone breaks; grass enfolds. (That other little death.) In Cloud they say the corn sleeps in the Witch's lap, her lover and her child.
"Ashes reaps him. By harvesting, she's sunburnt, big with light." The child she's carrying is his and his successor. This is Ashes in her red mode, daughter of the huntress. "She wears a wreath of poppyheads; her palms are gashed, they're red with garnering. They open like a cry...She's three then, each and all the moon, his end: her sickle shearing and her millstone trundling round, her old black cauldron gaping for his bones."
In autumn, he is eaten.

At his wake, at Hallows Eve, the witches share him out as riddlecake, as round as the wheeling sun. They drink him and he makes them giddy. And they hoard his seed. He will be scattered like Osiris, hanged like Odin: not for knowledge, but as guardian, the genius of his own rebirth.

"They waked him through the winter and they scattered him: the earth his grave, his lap. His last sheaf was the Flaycraw. They hanged him on the Gallantry, to blacken in the wind and rain, to cry the crows. And so his green seed sprang."
(That's from "A Crowd of Bone.")

I owe the vision of the Scarecrow/Hanged Man/Child Sacrifice to the late miraculous Lal Waterson. Her song, "The Scarecrow," haunts me, and it has for years. Three verses. Spare. Intense.

At Lightfast, Ashes bears her son.

In the Cloudish vernacular, the Sun myth's tangled up in ritual and rowdy play. The wren is killed as his stand-in; but not so long ago, a Sun was chosen at the fire-leaping, danced with Annis at midsummer, and was slain as offering for the light returned. In the guisers' play, it's done as a sword dance, a heading game: part mystery, part slapstick.

"Click! Clack! He knocks the old man dead, that headed him before. And tumbled by the knot of swords, he rises, flaunting in their gaze."
Whin's encounter with the beggar, who is in some sense her or an alternative of her, ties together several plot lines and reveals much that was hidden to the girl. But I had a sense, reading it, that there was more going on just below the surface. Was one of the Goddesses talking to Whin here?
Oh yes. That was Annis.

The raven's a dead giveaway. And her blindness and her bluenailed hands, her braid of wind. Her mirror with another's face in it. All attributes. Oh yes, and her ravaged beauty, her scarred throat that was pierced by shadow. Her virgin milk: which is the river and the road of death.

Being Annis, what she says is all mirrors: cold truth but cracked, refracting.

It is the last night of her stint on earth. At dawn, she turns to stone, returns to her demesne of silence and her chain of souls. But for now, she is incarnate, carnal: which means "crow." Like her creatures, she is avid and contemptuous of what she feeds on. All flesh is carrion to her.She would eat the earth to clean bare bones, gorge on death, to rid her sight of it. Her loathing is desire. Sylvie's broochpin waked a fury in her, fixed hunger in her very marrow.

In Moonwise she was innocent of good and evil, mere self becoming more self, unvengeful as a virus. Innocent as entropy. A law of nature. Back then she had a kind of grandeur: she was rock and stars and numbers and cosmology. Her crown was souls. But then her solipsism nearly turned the world to someplace tidier, like Neptune. She has fallen now from Law to tyranny. And knows it. And rages.

She made Ashes so that she might be reborn, in all her old fierce primal chastity; and found another fury in her fork. Making love to her impassive mirror, she is shattered, she is pierced with an unholy ecstasy.

Ashes is herself.

And as she feels with Ashes' body, she is caught in Ashes' rape.

"They hold her down for him, the moon's bitch, twisting, cursing in the filthy straw. A vixen in a trap." Caught in her own mirror: no wonder that she claws and rages.

That atrocity is crucial. That resentful drunken gang of rustics is suborned by godhead, turned aside from their guising to enact a mystery unaware. Whoever their Ashes and their fiddler are in body, they are god-possessed. In theological terms, there is real presence. And the crow-lad knows it. "She is Ashes and holy."

The rape is .

In the myth, was and will be, memory and foreshadowing, are all one adamantine Now. Those men had histories, as Whin has. (Note what scenes are in the present tense.) They chose brutality, or failed to stem it; they will hang, burn, drown. Yet they are also chosen, ravished by that harpy, myth. It needs pricks, and it snatches theirs. Instruments of Law.

As I've said, Annis speaks in riddles; but her curse is real enough. Those men are crow's meat. They've raped death.

Why does Brock have the encounter with Whin?
Because Whin is like one dead. She's leapt the beck, she's liminal. And Brock's the god we meet at thresholds, first and last:
"On Whinnymoor she lurks, and bids the silent traveller stand; takes nothing of him naked, but a coin, a clip. Those waifs that shiver, dance and shiver on the moss, in nothing but their own brief souls, she laps in her rough jacket, earth and bone; she slaps them squalling into breath. She is death's midwife and her go-between, the third in marriage beds. Her clip is kindling." [CoB]
The Coalsack in the Milky Way is known as Brock's Bag: it is the moor on which the unborn wander and the newly dead must cross. Bare souls. Their kindred send them on with offerings of cakes and small silver, bowls of ewe's milk, eggs. Brock takes their coins, unclothes them of regret and memory: else they cannot rest. And in return, she sometimes gives--or takes--rough comfort: claps spirits, cradles hearts. Lays down their shadows, naked as they stand: makes love.

Whin knows her: "It's bonny on this earth, this morn; I'd linger."

But Whin is Ashes still. There's no home in this world for her. Her road is the Lyke Way, back of Law. Like Ashes she "walks it in her bones, and waking." And like Ashes, she is singled out by Brock, sained, chosen.

Brock has work for her.

The keeping of the myth is in her hands: "It's done, and long since done, and all to do."

That planet we call Mercury is Brock's star in Cloud. As I've said, she's Mercurial, a mingling of mischief and gravitas: the god of tinkers, thieves, and travellers. A picklock of maidenheads, a poacher of hares: "He's for Brock's bag, caught kicking." But she also has a gentler aspect, a rough tenderness: she's the goddess of childbirth and of lambing, a healer. She initiates.

She keeps the Ashes child from foxes and from crows.

She lies with Tom Cloud in his madness and the Hanged Man on the Road.

She brings the Sun. Remember that in Cloud, the Sun is mortal: he is born and dies like any traveller, and walks the same road out of death. He has a soul, "of many, one," like Wordsworth's Tree.

Not least, she steals Ashes from her mother's keeping, out of hell. "I've keys to all locks, and I come and go."

Whin is her initiate, her novice in the craft. With the cord of the soulbag, Brock takes her in, admits her to the Eleusinian mysteries of Cloud. A stony sanctuary. By "A Crowd of Bone," she is death's journeyman. And in the third tale--ah, but wait and see.

As a master, Brock is enigmatic but just. She asks Whin, "Will yer gang wi' me?" Take note of that. Consent is rarely asked or given in this history: its concerns are power and identity. Possession. The rape is grisliest; but everywhere are souls enslaved and captive bodies. The child on his leash. Ashes in her mother's glass. And for Whin, the burden is unwanted godhead. It instones her. She is Ashes, she is Annis, endlessly reflected in the mirror of the Gorgon myth.

The guisers' Ashes reigns as her shadow on earth, her sake. The chosen is unnamed. It's giddying at first, as in its root sense: god-possessed. "Ah, but she can feel the power in her marrow, like a vein of stars." Her part bears with it certain powers and dangers: she may chose what lover she will, work certain arts; but she must keep nothing that she gets by Ashes. If she gets with child, that child is forfeit, a sacrifice among the furrows; and his mother is kept nameless and apart by the community, and used at will until she dies. Anciently, she was caged like the Sibyl. That crone in the poppyheads was kept for prophecy, as she recalls: "If you suckle at her dry breast, drink her darkness, she must speak your fortune, love and death." But in common practice, she is whored.

"I'd not be ended in a tale," says Whin.

Brave words. She's not just running from her family or her hillfolk neighbors, but from Law. By her refusal, she is starving earth, calls down a hail of ravens. Hunted, she is still defiant, flaunts her gold scarf and her rings: but everything she touches turns to Ash and mirrors. There's not much farther she can run.

You can't put off godhead like a guiser's coat. But you can work with it. By taking up with Brock, she's turning ill to use, riding fate where it takes her. In time, she will be--not resigned, but enduring: "What I is, is Ashes. Same as earth is earth. Her coat that she put on." [CoB]

So where is Malykorne? Does she play an explicit role in the plot, or is she all immanence?
Not explicit. She performs, like Coleridge's frost, a "secret ministry."

Creation, as I've said, is no big bang, but endlessly unfinished: women's work. What with stars and instars, and the biosphere, and all that mending and remaking, Mally has her work cut out. The leaves! The hailstones! Not to mention all those baskets of souls. And the gathering of light and carding it and spinning warp for the endless web, the story...

As they say in Cloud, she's thrang as Throp's wife. Over-ears in work. She bustles.

Annis is her other face: you can't create an eye or a butterfly without Atropos' fatal shears. Ontogeny is ruthless; it carves. But Mally's not what I'd call squeamish; she hunkers down with her gossips, with Annis and Ashes, for her share of Tom Cloud:

"She's three then, each and all the moon, his end: her sickle shearing and her millstone trundling round, her old black cauldron gaping for his bones."
Like Violet's fairies, like Dame Nature, she is. Not kind. Not otherwise. "Another, brown as autumn, broad-lapped, takes the cup; she kneads the cake." Yet she hallows. For all her thorny lap, her crabbedness, she's refuge. She embraces: like a burr of light round a candle, like a halo round the moon, foreboding storm. A prickly haven. In Cloudish folklore, Malykorne is not a mother goddess, but a gossip--godsib--whose tutelage is souls. Her nurslings are the odd and mad and lyrical, the lost and lightborn. Waifs and tinkers. Hedge visionaries, fiddlers, fools. Half deities. She gives them Cloud ale from her cupped hands. They drink, are drunk with her and by her: so they dream of the Unleaving and wake wood. Tom Cloud's one, of many:
"Ah, but he's for Mally's lap, she haps him all in snow. It's winter and her loom is bare. Wood's her cupboard, and her walls are thorn; her bower's all unswept. Thou can't get in but she lets thee. And she's Tom Cloud's nurse."
That's Mally's paradox: she is at once indwelling and off elsewhere. (Remember "let" means "hinder" as well as "give leave": another one-sided coin of a word. So's "but." Is that "nevertheless" or "unless"?) The hell of Annis is you can't get out; with Mally, damn it all, you can't get in. And yet all Cloud is in her cupboard. (See: Little, Big.) She offers fire and fleet and candlelight: a keep. Outside on Whinny Moor is hail and sleet and darkness, and the hunt. Against the shadows and the biting cold, the terrors of mortality, she offers no more walls than firelight; yet her embrace is sanctuary.

Look up, you can see it in the winter sky.

In winter, the Wood's above. When Annis hunts on earth, and Ashes languishes in the underworld, the stars of Hallows blaze in heaven: Mally's Thorn, the Witches who undid cold Law, the Fold, the Fiddler, and the Nine. So bright you could almost touch them. Tantalus. "Thou can't get in but she lets thee."

And when you do get in, there's nothing there. That's Mally's other paradox. In the long sun and the green world, Hallows is nowhere. At Ninerise on May morning, it all turns inside out, unhallows. Throughout the triumph of the summer Sun, the dark stars reign: the Scythe and Ashes, the Raven and the Crowd of Bone. No roof but Law.

(Note: the stars you can't see are important. Influential. And the dark side of the moon. All but the Unleaving Stars make their journeys to the underworld, and all return in their seasons. Like Ashes' captivity, these sojourns under earth are crucial. Some are named: the Wren has its Cage, and Nine Weaving their Kist; the Flaycraw has his Fallows. And some stars, like the Poppyheads and Annis' Chain of souls, lurk forever in her realm, unrising. In Cloudish astrology--but that itself is a monograph.)

Turn and turn about is their cosmology.

Malykorne in winter, waking, is the root of all; in summer, she's a hedge-witch. Common as haws. In winter, Annis is a striding hag, a huntress on the fells; in summer, she is the grave of all. Unbound, each goddess is unhoused. Occulted, she is powerful. Their cosmos is chiastic, crossing and recrossing: hunt and hallows; hell and hedgerow. Counterchanged.

Their crossing-points--the hinges of the year--are perilous.

"Mam, let me in!" cries Ashes in the stubble field. Which Mam? Which goddess is the light and which her shadow? Out or in? She's in a field of poppies. Is she in the underworld, beating at the sky? Or here above, with hellmouth shut against her? Devouring inverted is indifference, revulsion. And O turned inside out is nowhere.

Ashes "may rive at Mally's thorn for shelter; owl's flown, there's none within. No hallows. So she walks barefoot and bloodfoot, and she lives on haws and rain. And moon's her coverlid, her ragged sheet." Cold comfort. Yet the moon is Malykorne: what she has, they share.

That's in October, toward one crossing; in April, "the hare runs, towards hallows, to the thicket's lap, unhallowing in white. He sees the white moon tangled in her thorn. Her lap is sanctuary. He would lie there panting...But at dawn, the hey is down. The white girl rises from the tree; she dances on the hill, unknowing ruth."

White girl? Ah, we're getting to that.

"Whin saw a girl unbending from the tree...a grove of girls, of sisters, woven in their dancing, scarved in light. A hey as white as hag. Nine Weaving."
The Nine are the Cloudish Pleiades, that weave the green world and the other, of the skein that Mally spins. In spring they vanish from the heavens: they go under Law. All but one. They are eight to the naked eye; the ninth, lost sister is the morning star. Burnt Eldins. Burd Alone. She tosses up her golden ball; she winds her clew and finds her sisters, locked in Annis' kist: the clew's the key. And with their grey hoods and their lanterns, they ascend the winding stair. Light out of darkness, as life out of death: they're the likes of Ashes, multiplied. But airy, not of earth. They rise May morning, harbingers of dawn. They dance. They are a hedge, a hey, a garland: interweaving, they're unbound. They are the labyrinth through which cold Ashes travels, toward her rising and rebirth.
"'She dances now,' said Brock." If Ashes is Annis mirrored, left hand to her right, then she is Malykorne. Not captive in her, but re-crescent. Another turn of the spiral, bow beyond rainbow. Annis catches things in crystal; Mally scatters through her rain. Her bow is now and nowhere: mere instress of light. What Whin sees fleetingly is Mally's work, her mystery: Ashes transcendent. And if Ashes, then her mirror, Annis, is renewed; if Annis, Malykorne: so round the spiral, each to each. In Moonwise, I giggled at the thought of Mally as a vernal goddess, "frolicking crossly with a garland." But at the crossing, now and nowhere, three entwine: like graces in the Primavera, crescents of the moon. "I stand among a grove of girls. A garland, woven all of Ashes." [CoB]
Mally's work goes on beyond this story. She cronies with Brock. In time, they see to it that Ashes' child is born a daughter and half-mortal. That her soul indwells in earth. A great work, braiding blood and bone with light. That child must make her own way out of Law. If she survives--she is Ashes, and both Annis and Jack Daw have rival and unpleasant plans for her--she may change the world. In time, she does her own work, of her own will: what she can. Which is astronomy, undoing heaven with her glass. And yet her science still is Mally's work, still endless: finding stars and nurseries of stars, beyond the wood above. New stories in the sky.

Oh dear, I still have to write this thing. Don't know if I'll bring it off.

Could you explain the symbology of the hare, which is pervasive but of a quick and illusive nature?
The hare is a third thing, both male and female, black and white, she's life and death and rebirth. A creature of the moon. (So the dark side of Mally/Annis, her occulted male? Must think about that.) S/he is an object of desire, always hunted. As the white hare, he flees towards the thicket, the thorny lap of the goddess; as the black hare, she is that lap. (As in the song, "The Bonny Black Hare.") Hares lie coverless, always: they dig no burrows. No hallows. They live by their long legs and their wits. They go mad in March: which has turned out, (as I alluded in Moonwise), to be the females duking it out with the males. And hares conceive while they are pregnant, a lovely emblem of the Cloudish braided mythos, in which gods endlessly overlap with themselves.

At the end, the guisers cry, "Craw's hanged!" to mark the rebirth of the sun . . .
Not quite. The sun's rebirth is at the winter solstice. This is May morning, Ninerise, when Mally walks from her winter hallows.

Recall that Annis is also a crow. That's the mocking name they give her Erinyes aspect, the harpy that pursues Whin. A crow, and a mistress of crows. And May morning is her death, her turning into stone, as Hallows Eve is her awakening.

Hare and crow seem both to be androgynous.

Why is JD hanged? As a necessary part of the myth, of course. But also as punishment for his part in the rape? For hubris? To keep him in his place?
Now that will need thinking on. It's a mockery of the wren's crown, of course: the year turned upside down. If the wren in his garland is the old sun slain, his wake and his rebirth, then the crow is--what? An old year, like a rotten apple, blackened and about to drop? Certainly, the Hanged Man is one of Jack Daw's aspects: the crow lad sings that his "father was hanged from a tree," and Annis foretells the gallows for a guiser. But which? Could be that Jack Daw slips the noose, but sees to it that another is hanged for his sake: a crow-lad, a fiddler, Ash. He chooses his scapegoat, in a sort of crooked Ashes ritual. Thimblerigged.

Hubris? That seems alien. The Cloudish mythos is not about crime and punishment, but inevitability. Implacable fate. But with Jack Daw and the beggar, there's a note of vengefulness creeping in. Spite.

Could it be that his fate is in the hands of the guisers?

There's a great deal of bawdry in the text, sex in the fields, courtship, jokes, and most particularly puns. Why?
Why not?

It's what it is, as green leaves are green.

And anyway, much of it's darker than bawdry. All shades of green. There's some wicked wordplay for a bit of spark. There's love, lust, nightmare; mysteries, sacred and profane; abuse of innocence, naked whoredom, bloody childbirth, alchemical incest, and the rape.

So it's not because that's the sort of lives these people live?
Which people? All of Cloud? The gods? The guisers? This isn't naturalistic fiction; it's a mystery play, a book of emblems. Remember, these are cards. And Jack Daw's pack, at that.

Or because myth operates on a primal, subconscious level?
Balderdash. Myth isn't about primal urges; it's about how the world works, about the relationship of things. Metaphysics. As above, so below. If blood, then bread. Up kills. Time was, time will be. This way in. No way out. It's patterning and metamorphosis. It's why.

Or so I think.

Sex is a strong force: it holds things together and blows them apart. Myth, like physics, deals in what has energy, how power interacts with bodies. Mass and charge. Plus strangeness, charm, and up. So: love and hatred, birth and death, jealousy, the forbidden and the inescapable.

Do you think Oedipus is about sex?

Life in Cloud seems to be most particularly bleak (particularly for poor Ashes), far more so than one is used to encountering in fantasy. Or am I misreading this?
The life of the common folk in Cloud falls somewhat short of Eden, consisting largely as it does of scant food, beggary, stoop labor, and relentless cold rain. I'd call that pretty bleak. Terrific scenery: but you can't eat atmosphere. Given their hard bare lives, they take comfort and joy in what they can.

Riding rantipole with witches is a long way from "Corinna's gone a-Maying."

Ash and Whin, the crow-lad and the crazed old whore are common folk, caught up in myth. Their lives are shadowed with significance; but nothing that befalls them is unearthly in itself. Other girls give birth alone; other children starve and shiver, and are beaten for their fears. Other old women wander, mad and homeless. And other reckless boys are hanged or drowned or die on battlefields: all carrion for crows. Being caught in a story is ambivalent. The burden of godhead is fatality; the crown is meaning.

As for Ash's astonishing good luck with ladies--remember when you meet him, he's the rampant Sun, the lord of summer; and he's fey.

You mentioned earlier the interconnectiveness of "Jack Daw's Pack" and Moonwise. Exactly what is the relation between the events of Moonwise and this story?
In the beginning, the myth was unworldlier: the goddesses' concerns were time and being, stars and souls.

Then as ever, Mally revelled in her immanence, in leaves and fractals. What she is, she hallows: she indwells in commonplace made numinous, the endlessly unfinished and untidy world. Chaos and old nighties.

But Annis was and is fastidious. In some archaic age, she tore her shadow from herself, and bound it in an iron brooch. She was then ethereal, the starless crystalline. Cold Law. The witch in Moonwise is an eidolon, her sending.

And then, as you may remember, Ariane and Sylvie broke the spell. The skywitch fell and shattered, the stones danced, the year turned. And Sylvie pierced Annis with the iron brooch, and bound her to her shadow. Old Cloud and high Cloud were ended; low Cloud began.

See Stroke, Dolorous.

I rather like it that the travellers from our world don't heal Cloud. They set it going again, but it's scarred.

Annis now is bloodfast, pinned and dwindling to a hag. In her captivity in Law, she keeps a crazed and clouded grandeur. Think mad sorceress, brooding on her hoard of souls. Mad as rats in a ruin. She is Law itself, the labyrinth in which she paces, and the fell it stands on: hell is in "the image of a woman sleeping, with the hooked moon at her heart" [CoB]. The sky below. Her castle is her mind. But in Cloud her avatars are carnal. She's the witch that stalks the fells, insatiable for children's blood, that hangs their tattered skins to dry on bushes. She's the earth that eats the Ashes child, the crow that makes "carrion of halfborn lambs." She's the crone in the furrows, the grave that gapes. All shadows of our mortal fears. She hates them, and she broods.

Stark mad.

And Ashes is her last device, her means of sublimation. Annis has a shard of her old self, air and darkness, that was shattered in her fall. The seed of Law. All she needs is a flawless vessel for this alchemy, an empty self to fill...

"Jack Daw's Pack" is the first in an interrelated sequence, the second of which, "The Crowd of Bone," a novella, has already been written. How many works in the sequence, and what's the overall scheme?
Three. I hope.

"Jack Daw's Pack" is an exploration, a laying-out of the cards. As I've said, it's pretty much naked myth. Neutron star material. It introduces the guising and Whin, who was Ashes. It's the tale in epitome.

There are three strands braided in "A Crowd of Bone." The first is Kit and Thea's history, which is past. Thea was Ashes: not a guiser, but the goddess herself, Annis' daughter. She took up with Kit, a fiddler and a mortal, seizing on him as a tool to break her mother's power, to get out of hell. He, poor dazzled fool, thought she ran away with him for love. It ends badly.

The second thread is Whin and Kit's. They are the story's present, mortals tangled up in myth. Whin is now Brock's journeyman psychopomp. She finds Kit drowning on the Lethe shore, and pulls him out: his time is not yet. They tell their stories.

And the last thread, which is timeless, belongs to Thea's ghost: the dead girl talking to her daughter in hell.

The working title of the third novella is "Unleaving." This last book is Thea's daughter's, in which she undoes the heavens. All burnt to ashes in her glass. I don't want to queer it by foretelling, but Kit and Whin and all the old gods bear their parts in it.

Nothing so elegant as fugue and counterfugue, synthesis/antithesis. A whirlwind, an unruly gyre.

Copyright © 2000 Michael Swanwick

Michael Swanwick's third novel, Stations of the Tide, won a Nebula Award for best novel of 1991. It was also a nominee for the Hugo Award, as was his novella, Griffin's Egg, and was nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award in Britain. His first two published stories, The Feast of Saint Janis and Ginungagap were both Nebula Award finalists in 1980. Mummer Kiss was a Nebula Award nominee for 1981. The Man Who Met Picasso was a nominee for the World Fantasy Award in 1982.

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