So this weekend I was at Spoutwood Farm’s May Day Faerie Festival, out in the faerie-filled boondocks of Glen Rock, Pennsylvania. Imagine: you maneuver along twisting pathways and up and down sprawling bright green hills and under ribboned arches and across miniature wooden bridges, while about 500000 messy-haired red-cheeked children in fairy wings scamper alongside elaborate evil queens and sparkling fairies and leaf-covered green men, not to mention all kinds of artisans and artists and bellydancers and other magical creatures. Of course, there were many many mermaids, on crowns and cups and plaques and necklaces, on “Mermaid Island,” in song (Jennifer Cutting’s Ocean performed the classic sea balled “The Mermaid”), in the gorgeous lounging mermaid dolls of Susan Snodgrass, and even at this glamorous mermaid posing station right next to the glittering (in spirit) portapotties:
I was at the Fairie Magazine tent with publisher Kim Cross and her many gorgeous helpers and friends, including swordsmith (and sometime mermaid-sword-maker) Matt Stagmer and the joy-spreading Twig the Fairy (and occasional Twig the Fairy-Turned-Mermaid), who on good days might appear like a vision in the back of your car
AND the amazing, inimitable Charles Vess, who makes wondrous, otherworldly art like this:
Charles and I were set to do two “Faerie Chautauquas” or talks together, Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 2. Originally, these Chautauquas were to also include Ari Berk and Gary A. Lippincott, so I figured I could let them do all the talking as I am very lazy. When Ari and then Gary ended up heartlessly abandoning us, it was down to Charles and me. Charles suggested that I read from one of my books while he drew the scene I was reading, so on Saturday I read from The Fairest of Them All, my novel that comes out in August, a scene of Rapunzel hunting in the forest in glamorous warrioress fashion. Here’s Charles’s illustration, done with magic marker on posterboard:
After I read, Charles continued to draw and I kind of just yammered on, with no plan and no end in sight. SO for the next day, I thought perhaps we might need a better plan and by “better plan” I of course mean mermaids. I suggested that we force the audience to participate, too, which is a tactic beloved by lazy people everywhere, and Charles suggested I end at a pivotal moment and let everyone else decide what comes next. So Sunday morning Charles and I made a glamorous visit to WALMART for pens and paper and posterboard, and that afternoon I read a scene from Mermaid, a few pages up to the moment when our mermaid drinks the sea witch’s potion and is about to turn into a human. All the while, Charles drew:
And then I handed out paper and pens and told everyone to create something. If nothing else, I figured everyone would at least have to spend a few minutes imagining being a mermaid, and said activity would likely make everyone more full and complete as they carried on with their lives. That being the case, the results were still really, really lovely.
Artist Jenny Davies-Reazor, for example, imagined that in those last minutes before losing her tail, the mermaid might scrape off some scales, pluck a pearl or two from her tresses, and store them in the now-empty vial. She’d make herself a necklace that would forever remind her of the world she left behind:
Another woman imagined that in that last moment, as her tail turned to legs, the mermaid would regret her decision and dive back into the ocean, intent on returning to her own world, and begin to drown as water filled her lungs and her legs kicked furiously against the tide. Another drew pictures of the now-human mermaid, in the castle now, struggling to put on human clothing, trying to tug pants’ legs onto her arms and being generally completely befuddled. Others focused on the mermaid’s emotional state as she leaves one world and enters another.
And meanwhile, Charles finished his drawing
and mermaids, in all their incarnations, continued to dazzle humankind everywhere.