What’s in a Name?
“Mab” seems like a funny name for a writer whose work is rather unpopulated by fairies. The name is a portmanteau of the writer’s first and maiden name. Having written her first book in high school, with rising hopes of being published, perhaps the Shakespearean queen rode in her hazelnut chariot to midwife those dreams—especially as Mab Morris didn’t stop with one book, but ended up writing ten in those subsequent years later, and continues to work on more.
No matter how proud Mab might have been of her maiden name, it wasn’t exactly euphonious. After marriage gave her a new last name, making the portmanteau seemed like a fun choice—even if it gave rise to the light, romantic images of Henry J. Ford or Lancelot Speeder rendition of fairies. Her ideas were edgier, like an Arthur Rackham, or, even better, like Rein Poortvleit’s work, which while he did works on gnomes and fairies, also had incredible work depicting the natural world.
The Andrew Lang Colored Fairy Tale Books helped build a foundation for her work, Ford or Speeder art notwithstanding. The Persian story, written from two different sources, “What the Rose did to the Cyprus” in the Brown Fairy Tale Book, is just one example. It is a complex story, and defied the simple ideas of what a fairy story might be. What inspired Mab was that Lang did not limit his gathered tales to just European sources, but gathered folk tales of cultures from around the world. Plenty of Magic in those tales, but surprisingly few fairies.
After writing a number of books, it became clear that Mab’s own works would never dance with fairy tunes. More often than not, her work echoes with the otherworld. The novella The Red Khémèresh, for instance, introduces a created language with words the shaman Phayaden uses to describe reality: ihyel as the natural world that we see around us (and is also the name of the world Mab has been building since the 1980s), and vhagas, the unseen world—a world fairies might naturally inhabit. In the shamanism depicted in that book, the real world is actually the ihyelvhagas—combining the seen and unseen world. The world is one where Nature and demi-gods work and walk beside the people who change and impact their lives as well. One could say that Phayaden changed the lives of demi-gods, just as much as they influenced hers.
Mab Morris’ world Ihyel, and other books that go beyond it, are like Lang’s books, or Campbell’s Mask of God series, in that they reflect the vast, fascinating ancient cultures, folktales, and myths around the world. The Red Khémèresh has foundations in Sumerian myth, as well as Mongolian and Siberian Shamanism. Forthcoming books, like Fate of the Red Queen, have influences from Filipino martial arts, ideas of the origins of the Goddess Kali as described by Joseph Campbell’s Mask of God: Oriental Myths, and many more. Other sources of inspiration rise from Inuit shamanism, Etruscan myth, Ndembu healing ritual, land based Viking culture, and jaunts into the lore of mythological beasts and creatures.
There may be few immediately identifiable fairies in her work, but there’s an ever underlying “not just this realm” in almost all her work. It seemed appropriate that she would choose her littlest book to midwife her dreams of being published, introduce her work to the world, and to display a world that is seen… and unseen.
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