There is a deep, dark forest of folklore out there, just waiting to be explored. Some parts of it are strange and unsettling. Other parts are lighter, a dazzle of sunlight through the leaves. But all of it makes for fantastic inspiration for writers like me. There is nothing I enjoy more than strolling through the #FolkloreThursday hashtag on Twitter, collecting little nuggets of lore and hoping that they turn into the seeds of a story.
In this blog series, I intend to explore the lore that inspired my short story, “Jenny Redcape,” which I will be releasing as an ebook on July 20, 2017. First up, let us turn our attention to that gruesome denizen of Scottish border castles, the redcap, also known as a bloody cap, a red comb, or a powrie.
For anyone who is accustomed to the Disney version of fairies and has dug no deeper, encountering a redcap would be a particularly rude awakening. Dwelling in places of violence and bloodshed along the Scottish-English border, these warped goblins lurk among the ruins of castles and fortified border towers. Their object? Murder, of course. Upon discovering a likely victim, these savage little men will either use boulders to crush him, rip him apart with their talons or sharp teeth, or disembowel him with their pikestaffs. Some say redcaps will then drink the victim’s blood. All sources agree that they soak their hats in the blood, dyeing them red with gore, thereby earning their grisly name. Legend has it that if a redcap’s hat ever dries out, he will die.
Seeing their heavy iron boots, you might think you can outrun these toothy nightmares. You’d be wrong—the redcap has supernatural speed in his favor, and supernatural strength to boot. You can’t run, and on their home turf, you probably can’t hide.
So what should you do to keep yourself safe, should you decide to go wandering the borderlands? Keep your eyes peeled for a squat, thick old man with fiery red eyes, long fangs, eagle talons, a telltale red hat on his head, and a pikestaff in hand. Should one approach, your salvation lies in spirituality—a cross can banish a redcap, or the recitation of scripture. Either will cause the redcap to vanish with a shriek, leaving one of his fangs behind—a potentially powerful souvenir from your close encounter of the fairy kind.
What do redcaps have to do with my story, “Jenny Redcape”? Well, note the name, for one. I had some notion of writing about a vigilante Red Riding Hood, for reasons I’ll discuss in another blog. This idea was rolling around in my head when I read about the redcap’s habit of soaking his hat in the blood of his victims. So was born my story about a vengeance fairy, Jenny Redcape, who washes her cloak in the blood of slain innocents, activating the blood magic that allows her to hunt down their killers. But unlike the redcaps, there is more to Jenny than murder. Behind the brutality of her calling lies a trouble past, a deep loneliness, and the need to see justice done. To find out more, check out “Jenny Redcape” when it is released on July 20, 2017.
In the meantime, stay tuned for the next exciting folklore blog. In my next post, I will discuss two particularly famous redcaps and how they made their mark on folklore history.
Briggs, Katharine. An Encyclopedia of Fairies: Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures. New York: Pantheon Books, 1976. Print.
Briggs, Katharine. The Fairies in English Tradition and Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967. Print.
Kymmell-Harvey, Samantha. “Celtic Creatures Primer #4: The Redcap.” Samantha Kymmell-Harvey: Historical Fantasy, Historical Fiction, and Folklore. N.p. 2012. Web. 18 June 2017.
“Redcaps.” Zeluna.net. N.p., 2017. Web. 18 June 2017.
Rose, Carol. Spirits, Fairies, Gnomes, and Goblins: An Encyclopedia of the Little People. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 1996. Print.