Holly Black: '[Fantasy] makes us think about why we believe what we believe'

This article is from 2019

Holly Black: '[Fantasy] makes us think about why we believe what we believe'

Ahead of her appearance at the Book Festival, The Spiderwick Chronicles author discusses her new trilogy and the enduring allure of the supernatural

Fairytales – or the kelpies, selkies and changelings that populate Scottish mythology – capture the expansive imagination of children effortlessly. However, as they grow older, any earnest belief in magic is quickly abandoned, as the culturally-sanctioned lessons of science and history become the only accepted forms of knowledge and such stories are left by the wayside.

Yet the importance of an enduring interest in fantasy is that it can teach us a thing or two about how to look beyond our own worldview. This at least is what Holly Black, the best-selling author of The Spiderwick Chronicles, believes of her current writerly endeavour: The Folk of the Air series. 'I think that to read these books, we have to allow ourselves to have some sympathy for the moral systems of Elfhame [the faerie universe of The Folk of the Air] – and I think that does make for an interesting exercise,' she says. 'It makes us think about why we believe what we believe.'

Whilst folklore can sometimes pose more questions than it answers, there's a reason why these stories endure. If we listen to them hard enough, we might be able to access the truths we have difficulty discovering elsewhere. 'Like storms or the sea, [faeries] have enormous power and operate based on rules outside of human systems,' Black says. The faerie world could, she reasons, teach us important lessons about how we should be treating the environment we seem so keen to suffocate in mounds of plastic. 'Perhaps what they can teach us is to respect the natural world more, if not out of love then out of fear.'

Narratives around magic can also give form to some of our most human struggles – the powerlessness we often feel in the face of authority or social norms, something which feels particularly potent amongst the young adult audience that Black primarily writes for. 'The powerlessness and desire for control that all kids have […] does feel universal to me.' She continues, saying: 'All people recognise that feeling of having limited choices.'

Black may be clear on the ways that her books may have helped some readers make sense of their present but she's much more tight-lipped when, at the end of our discussion, she's asked what the future holds for the final The Folk of the Air instalment, The Queen of Nothing, due for release in November. 'We begin in the human world with Jude in exile, we learn about a curse and there's a serpent. I am not sure if I can say more than that!'

Spark Theatre on George Street, Tue 20 Aug, 8.45pm, £12 (£10).

Holly Black & Samantha Shannon

Samantha Shannon’s first novel outside her much-loved The Bone Season series is The Priory of the Orange Tree, a masterpiece of worldbuilding that’s had fantasy fans reaching for the superlatives. The bestselling first book in Holly Black’s The Folk of the Air series scooped a nomination for the 2019 CILIP Carnegie Medal;…