Thursday, March 31, 2016

Norman Power

Norman Power (b. Islington, London, 31 October 1916; d. reg. Birmingham, May 1993)

Norman Sandiford Power was the eldest son of Walter Sandiford Power, a clergyman, and his wife May, née Dixon. 

Power grew up in Newcastle-on-Tyne, where his father was vicar in a poverty-stricken parish.  The family moved to Birmingham in 1926. He went to Stanley House School, and then to St. John’s School, Leatherhead. Power studied history at Worcester College, Oxford (B.A. 1938; M.A. 1942), and theology at Ripon Hall, Oxford (B.A. 1940).  He was ordained a priest of the Anglican Church in 1940, and thereafter served in the Birmingham area, settling as the vicar of Ladywood in 1952, a position he held until his retirement in 1988. He was also the canon of Birmingham from 1965. Power married Jean Edwards on 17 April 1944; they one son and three daughters.

Power’s first publications were nonfiction, including The Technique of Hypnosis (1953) and The Forgotten People: A Challenge to a Caring Community (1965), the latter concerning the displacement of the poor and elderly in his district as properties were being destroyed by developers. Power also contributed a weekly column to The Birmingham Evening Mail, beginning in 1953, and wrote articles, stories, and verse (sometimes using the pseudonym Kratos) for various periodicals, including Argosy, Punch, The Observer, The Guardian and The Birmingham Post.  He published a volume of poetry, Ends of Verse (1971), with an introduction by Ruth Pitter, and two short books, In Bereavement–Hope and Son of Man–Son of God, both in 1979.

Power’s fiction grew out of stories he told to his children as bedtime stories.  He wrote three short novels about a north Atlantic island, the home in the fifth century of the kingdoms of Firland and Borea, the latter ruled by the evil magic of Queen Ivis.  In the first book, ten-year-old Richard learns he is the rightful king of the forbidden territory of Firland.  He is aided by the wizard Greylin, who goes forward in time to consult with Sherlock Holmes (with the permission of the publishers of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories).  The first book was published in paperback (with cover and a map signed Clebak) as The Firland Saga (Kinver: Halmer, 1970), and reissued in a nice hardcover (illustrated by Michael Jackson) as The Forgotten Kingdom (London: Blackie, 1973). The second volume (also illustrated by Jackson) was Fear in Firland (London: Blackie, 1974). The first book was translated by Benedikt Benedikz into Icelandic in 1973, and both were translated into Danish in 1973 and 1974.  A third volume, Firland i Flammer [Firland in Flames] (1974) appeared only in Danish translation; it has never appeared in English.  In 1978, Power wrote:  “I thought, if Tolkien can create a world and Lewis a country, surely I could manage an island! In not too serious a mood, I mixed an element of Tolkien, a sampler of Lewis, a touch of T.H. White (The Sword in the Stone—which I also loved) and a dash of Asterix the Gaul—and plastered them on to a rough Malory background.  Hence Firland!”

Power’s association with J.R.R. Tolkien began in March 1938 when Tolkien was invited to speak at a meeting of the Lovelace Society at Worcester College.  Power already knew The Hobbit, published some months earlier in September 1937, and he sat at Tolkien’s feet as Tolkien read his then-unpublished fairy-story Farmer Giles of Ham. Years later, just before Tolkien died  in 1973, Power and Tolkien exchanged some letters and books, when Power lived near Tolkien’s boyhood home. After Tolkien’s death  Power wrote a handful of articles about their association, in Library Review, The Tablet, and various Tolkien-related publications.

One further Tolkien association comes via artist Pauline Baynes, who illustrated Tolkien's Farmer Giles of Ham (1949) and The Adventures of Tom Bombadil (1962), among other Tolkien-related projects (in addition to illustrating C.S. Lewis's seven volumes of The Chronicles of Narnia).  Baynes also did an illustration of a scene from the first Firland book which appeared as the cover illustration for the Autumn 1980 issue of Mythlore (whole no. 25).

Cover art by Pauline Baynes for The Forgotten Kingdom

Monday, March 28, 2016

Marjorie T. Johnson

Marjorie T. Johnson (b. Nottingham, England, 24 February 1911; d. Nottingham, England, 26 October 2011)

Marjorie Thelma Johnson was the younger of two daughters of George William Johnson, a solicitor’s clerk, and his wife Ellen Gertrude Johnson. Her sister was Dorothy Alexandra Johnson (1902-1988). Johnson worked professionally as a secretary in a solicitor’s office.   

Johnson had seen a fairy first as a six-year-old child, and wrote an account of this visitation (initially omitting the fact that her sister was also a witness, though later accounts correct this) that was published as a letter in John O’London’s Weekly, on 28 March 1936, following a request published on 7 March 1936 for “first-hand accounts of fairies seen in this country,” which brought in over a dozen signed accounts during subsequent months.   

In 1950 Johnson become the secretary of a resurrected Fairy Investigation Society, which had originally been founded in 1927 by naval captain Quentin C.A. Craufurd (1875-1957), and though it lasted some years its meetings dwindled out during the war. In 1955 Johnson began putting together a book of first hand encounters with fairies which she called Fairy Visions, and she was assisted by Alastair Alpin MacGregor (1899-1970) who published letters in The Listener  and Folklore soliciting further accounts. MacGregor dedicated his Ghost Book (1955) to Johnson, yet withdrew from the project a few years later as he wanted to go abroad and Johnson wanted to press forward with publication. Around this time Craufurd wrote a foreword for the unfinished book.

On 23 October 1960 The Sunday Pictorial, a London tabloid, published an article “She Does a ‘Kinsey’ on Fairies . . . ,” by Tom Riley,  which traduced Johnson and her beliefs by highlighting her comments about the sex lives of fairies, claiming falsely that her entire book was on fairy sex. Johnson published a letter in The Sunday Pictorial disassociating herself from the article, because of which she and her sister had been plagued by sensation-seeking journalists. Johnson soon withdrew from an active role in the Society. The work on her book continued, though it was delayed by family health concerns and her own professional obligations. 

In 1996 Johnson finished the final draft of her book, now retitled Seeing Fairies: Authentic Reports of Fairies in Modern Times, A Book for Grownups. Leslie Shepard (1917-2004), who had run the Fairy Investigation Society for some years, helped her to try to find a publisher, though they were long without success, at least among English-language publishers. The book first appeared in German translation as Naturgeister: wahre Erlebniss mit Elfen und Zwergen [Nature Spirits: True Experiences with Elves and Dwarfs] in 2000. Two further translations appeared in 2004, in Czech as Přírodni duchové [Nature Spirits] and in Italian as Il popolo del bosco [The Forest People]. Johnson died in 2011 at the age of 100.  Her book finally appeared in English (in the United States) three years later as Seeing Fairies: From the Lost Archives of the Fairy Investigation Society, Authentic Reports of Fairies in Modern Time (San Antonio, Anomalist Books, 2014), with an introduction by Simon Young. The cover photograph shows Marjorie Johnson playing a bamboo pipe in 1934. 

Johnson apparently also self-published, in association with the Nottingham Writers Society and the Gypsy Lore Society, a booklet Gypsy & Fairy Lore & Children’s Verse (date unknown), but no copies are currently known to have survived.