Filk and Folk-Tales

So, I broke down and bought a used CD of Songsmith, filk-music from Andre Norton’s Witchworld universe. Some of the songs are very, very specific to the Witchworld, and in some cases to the novel of Songsmith. But a few others could be our-world folk songs without half trying, in part because Norton drew on a very rich language of legend and mythology to build her world.

“Lord Hathor’s Ghost Stallion” is what got me thinking about the topic. The story is about a ghost horse who seeks revenge for his master’s death. The horse died just after Lord Hathor, and still haunts the area. That is the core of a lot of stories, ghostly dogs that linger, horses, ghost cats (often the vengeful dead seeking justice)…  The song (which alas is not on YouTube) has nothing specific to Witchworld in it, and if you changed “Lord Hathor” to “Lord Roger” or something else it could be an English or Scottish half-ballad.

“Dale Bride’s Lament” is another one that is very, very much like “High Germany” or ‘Shularun” about the woman left behind after her young man has gone to war. “Bonny Light Horsemen” is another one in that theme.

There’s humor as well. “The Chambermaid’s Dowry” is the lament of a sailor who tries to seduce a chambermaid (assault in some cases) and she and the landlady out-wit him. “Oh she was fine, that sweet bonny lass/ Like a fair ship on the sea./ But how I regret the day we first met/ for oh, how that maid plundered me!” He had it coming to him, trust me. Folk song parallel or neo-folk? Frank Luther’s “Peg-leg Jack.” Or the more serious version, “The Black Velvet [Ribbon] Band.” “Her eyes they shone like diamonds/You’d think she was queen of the land/ And her hair hung over her shoulder/ Tied up with a black velvet band.”

Given how much filk borrows from our-world folk music, both in tunes and in story-patterns, it makes a lot of sense. But I’d never really pinned the filk-tunes to folk-archetypes before this listen.


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