Growing up I was obsessed with fairy and all things of the magical realm: fairies in all their forms, sprites, brownies, gnomes. I devoured books and stories of fairy legends from all over the world. If there’s a way to get to the land of fairy, I’ve probably heard of it (or at least how to project yourself there). If you want to invite fairies to your garden, I’ll be glad to recommend what to plant — and what not to ring. In undergrad, my interest took a more academic flavor through discovering Joseph Campbell and scholarly analysis of the old legends. At the same time, I had just enough personal connection to Celtic legends in particular — my family is mainly of Celtic and Scandinavian descent — and intriguing, irresistible personal experiences such as when my normally pragmatic grandmother warned me, out of the blue, never harm a fairy ring but wouldn’t say why — that I was hooked (possibly enchanted). I also had the wonderful opportunity to study in Northern Ireland and spend time throughout Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, plus Wales, England, and Scotland — all of which infused a love of the Old Stories inextricably into my identity.
At the same time, I’ve always loved science and the scientific method as an approach to life, and I experience the natural world as a web of interconnectedness. Environmental issues are particularly important to me. However, it has always struck me as odd that the worlds of science and fairy are generally positioned as mutually exclusive, when in my mind they are inherently connected: who says fairies can’t be scientific, and who says science isn’t magical?
These ideas came to fruition in The Dancing Fishes of Anoon and organically merged in Milo’s world. Although much of the world building is unique to Milo’s story, fairy references often have specific meaning or symbolism: colors, fabrics, trees, and names or physical locations of places often have connections to the Old Stories. Queen Arian, Danaan, Lore and Lei all have origins in our fairy-loving past. The specific trees in the fairy compound and the elder, elm, and acorn insignia of the Queendom of the Teg are rooted in the Old Stories. Anoon is modeled after an island said to drift occasionally off Pembrokeshire in Wales, and is a nod to the fairy Otherworld in legends. Milo’s last name, Maddux, is an Americanized version of a Welsh surname — and my grandmother’s maiden name. Milo’s and Jolene’s journey to the island, although greatly embellished, has roots in physical locations in Wales and England, and their arrival through the tunnel places them near St. Michael’s Ley Line at Glastonbury Tor. I could walk you there! Similarly, Queen Arian’s description of how the Tegs traded for water on the Mainland before she created the drinking pool is linked to the old Welsh legend of fairies from mist-drifting Western isles raiding the Mainland (don’t make eye contact, just trade with them for what they want).
The more scientific side reflects my understanding and love for the scientific method, of learning and forming hypotheses based on reasoning and observation, of understanding how everything is connected in the natural world, so much so our safety and survival often depend on our ability to work together — not against each other or as individuals — in order to thrive. Milo and his friends becoming an enchanted school of fish to fight the Miasma mirrors Milo’s recollection from his research that fish form bait balls and in turn, dolphins and porpoises work together — as do whales, tuna and even some sharks — to manipulate a bait ball in order to feed. The idea is that nature, if allowed to simply be, is harmoniously connected, and if something gets imbalanced, such as the Miasma poisoning a water source or agricultural chemical runoff defiling a stream — something will arise to bring the balance back — IF we work from within that powerful and mysterious balance of nature.
Science and the study of the natural world is a beautiful way to see this rebalancing manifest. It’s a way to study who we are as a part of a complex, interrelated world. What’s more, Milo’s and Jolene’s journey reflects the sense that we as humans (and enchanted turtles) are not separate from this harmonious — and yes, magical — system, but a part of it as much as the dolphins, the trees, the stars, the otherworldly beings. The idea that we have a responsibility to maintain our balanced place on a precious planet is infused into the story as Milo navigates the everyday world with his mother, friends, community, as he embarks on adventures in the land of fairy. This experience interconnects to remind us that wonderful things do happen, kindness prevails, love builds on itself, always expanding, and that children can embark on wondrous adventures and still be home in time for sushi and a bike ride.