Wednesday Wanderings: Hiraeth
Obviously, Scylla and Charybdis is full of exotic names and words, from planets and cities – though many of those are based in Earth mythology – to technological devices and the mysterious alien Derithe. But there is one term in particular that comes from our world and runs through the novel: hiraeth.
Hiraeth is a Welsh Gaelic word that means homesickness, nostalgia, home longing – the grief of a place or person lost. It’s not a term that is precisely translatable, but it is very Celtic, recognizable in the sensibilities of Scottish and Irish music (hey, I’m a musician) as well as the Welsh. There’s a bit of an illusion to it: maybe the thing you’re longing for never existed, at least not the way you remember it.
(A joke I like to use in setlists involves the Irish tune Southwind, a lovely ballad where the singer, lonely for home, asks the winds to carry his words back to those who live there. Except … it’s probable he wasn’t more than ten miles from home at the time the song was written …)
Gwydion introduces Anaea to the word early in the novel. At the time, it doesn’t mean much to her: she’s too focused on the larger universe to think about missing home. As her journey continues, and the universe challenges her at every turn, she begins to identify with hiraeth and what it means … but where is home? And was it ever the way she imagined?
The way hiraeth came into the novel was due to a series of unrelated choices. The original short story on which the novel is based had only one named male character: Gwydion. I had already decided to name the denizens of the female-only space station after Amazons in Greek mythology, so it seemed appropriate to give Anaea’s counterpart a name from a different mythos. I’ve loved Welsh mythology from a young age – in fact, the first fantasy novels I read, Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles, are strongly based in it.
Hiraeth wasn’t in the first draft of the novel, either. What was in the first draft was a lengthy word game sequence, which I talk about in more length in my post on Sarah Jane Higbee’s blog. Anaea needed an alias to play, and I wanted one that had resonance. I chose the word hiraeth for that reason, and then had to go back and introduce it into the narrative. The word game ended up being removed – it was (fittingly) too many words with too little relevance – but hiraeth stayed.
And it’s a fitting place to end my formal “tour” of the virtual realm, though I’ve still got a few extra stops to make and a guest to welcome. In the end, we hope to return home.