Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

Strange Wetlands: A Jolly Elf’s Permafrosty Home and Other Wetland Fairy Tales

Strange Wetlands Let the footpath guide you—
You’ll be safely led;
There is bog beside you
Where you cannot tread!
From “Song of the Rush-Grass
& Cotton-Grass Fairies” – Cicely M. Barker

The story of Santa Claus comes from Germanic mythology. Santa, himself, is a “jolly old elf,” as we know from Clement C. Moore’s poem, “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” It’s no surprise that Santa’s workers are also elves. But the idea that they labored over toy-making in preparation for Christmas at the North Pole is a relatively new theme. Before that, a 1925 Finnish radio host revealed the secret location of Santa’s home—not the North Pole but in Finnish Lapland, a mountainous place called “Ear Fell,” named aptly for the shape of a hare’s ears. Because he lived in this place, he could hear all the children of the world and tell whether they were naughty or nice. Ear Fell is largely covered by tundra. In fact the word “tundra” comes from the Finnish “tunturia,” which means barren land. Permafrost lies beneath the moss and lichen layer.
Many sources still claim that this is Santa’s true dwelling place. (Apparently the North Pole is a diversion tactic.)

In mythology, “fairy” and “elf” are often synonymous to the British and in other countries, such as Iceland. Until the Victorian era, fairies did not have wings in art or literature; they were the same as elves. Santa belongs to a large mythological family with many other elves and fairies, all tied to nature and all having magical powers; the myths aim to explain some element of science or society.

In Nordic mythology, the bog woman creates fog when she brews something in her pot. She looks like a troll but she’s really an elf. All her children are elves. When they grow up, the girls become bog women, too, and make mist and fog. The bog boys start out looking like “dirty little boys” but develop into the rich soils and branches of vegetation. The elf king is oldest of them all. It is similar with British mythology: the Fairie in England is a blend of the Germanic dwarf-elf people and the Celtic people.
The Black Angus are the fairy dogs that cross the moorlands and wastelands at night. Boggans, also known as peat or bog fairies, have bulbous, mud-covered bodies. In Ireland, they are called “ballybogs.” “Jenny Greentooth” is a water woman, known by other names depending on the country. “Asrai” is a nocturnal water fairy who cannot be touched by sunlight, or else she slips into the water without being seen. “Nixie,” a tiny water nymph, purifies small pools of water, streams, ponds and wells. Then there are numerous flower fairies, such as the Holly Fairy, the Cottongrass and Rushgrass Fairies.

Related to elves, dwarves are in the same fairy group. In Central America, dwarves are forest-dwellers, who possess powers of fertility and can predict fortunes. There are many Native American myths about dwarves, for example, the Awakkule are mountain elves (or dwarves) that appear in many legends. In Maine, the Wanagemeswak are thin river elves in the mythology of the Penobscot people. In the South, the Senecas believed in Djogeon, dwarves who dwelled in ditches or streams.

When the myths move into swamps, however, the creature becomes a troll or goblin, considered “dark elves.” Most sources claim that trolls live in swamps almost exclusively—with the exception of those who hide beneath bridges. Of course! If wetlanders have any hope of rewriting the fairy tales set in swamps to paint them in a more friendly light, then they’d have to change many a legend.

Here’s the Strange Wetlands guide to rewriting a wetland fable or fairy tale:

1. Think of a moral, e.g. wetlands perform valuable functions and need to be protected, even if trolls live there.  A possible theme might be, “Save the swamp troll.”

2. Create two or three main characters. For example, an endangered swamp troll, an elfin ecologist and a fairy queen, who leads the Elfin Lands Protection Society (ELPS).

3. Place the characters in a difficult situation or moral dilemma. This should be easy—a wetland setting is already a quagmire. Maybe a crew of goblins petition to dredge and fill the swamp, which will displace the trolls and wreak havoc on the whole community. The elfin ecologist must draft a report to present at the next ELPS Tisk-Tisk Fairy Force work group meeting. No one can understand a thing the swamp trolls are muttering.

4. Write the moral of the story based on “lessons learned.” For instance, the characters query the close-by communities and recommend “best practices” for elfin swamp dredge & fill petitioning, or whatever may lie at the heart of the fairy tale.

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2 Responses to Strange Wetlands: A Jolly Elf’s Permafrosty Home and Other Wetland Fairy Tales

  1. I once wrote a Swamp Fable about how the skunk got her stink…maybe I should resurrect it?

  2. Leah says:

    That sounds neato, Cat! Let me know when it’s published. :)

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