Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is creating a reading list for an introductory course in the topic of your choice. I was that graduate student who was always suggesting new special topics courses because I loved developing courses and lesson plans, so I immediately had the problem of choosing just one idea for this post. Don’t be surprised if I start doing more of these topical reading lists in the near future, but for today, I’d like to welcome you to Magical Literature of the American South.
Southern literature is a huge field and contains a multitude of genres from the well-known Southern Gothic to the perhaps lesser-known Grit Lit. It can also be analyzed by cultural subject like Appalachian or Creole, and there are also styles and periods to consider like Agrarians, the Grotesque, Colonial, and Confederate. Entire courses can be created for each of those topics, and an in-depth look at all of Southern literature is much more than I’m willing to attempt in a reading list for a blog post. The chunk I can pull apart and share with you today is the thread of magic found in some of my favorite works by Southern authors and/or set in Southern locations. I’ve been generous in my definition of magic, so this list contains a little bit of magical realism, mountain magic, ghosts, and urban fantasy. Most of the selections are set in the Appalachian region because that’s my home in more ways than one.
John (aka “Silver John” or “John the Balladeer”) wanders the Appalachian mountains with his silver-stringed guitar. During a visit with Luke & Creed Forshay, he discovers that the top of Wolter Mountain, an ancient and sacred site, has been purchased by unknown Englishmen. His friends ask him to look into mysterious sights and sounds that have been reported since the purchase, and he learns the Englishmen are Druids who are trying to waken the old gods. When his friends are kidnapped, John works with a medicine man to rescue them.
This is the first book in the Tufa series, a blend of fantasy and the local folklore of Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains. When the first Europeans arrived in the mountains, the Tufa were already there. Their origins were lost to history, but there are clues hidden in the songs they have passed down for generations. Private Bronwyn Hyatt is a Tufa and a wounded soldier returning home from war, and she’s one of the few Tufa to ever leave home. She’s now struggling to relearn the music of her home in a place where songs can both heal and kill.
Ingledove and her brother Lang go to visit their mother’s grave. That trip requires a boat ride because the valley where they once lived was intentionally flooded as part of a dam project. (The dam in the story is real. Several of my relatives were part of the over 1000 families who had to be relocated as a result of the Fontana Dam.) They find a strange inscription on her headstone that calls her a daughter of Adantis, and of course, they stumble into this magical land in the heart of the mountains. Adantis is inhabited by a mix of the early settlers from Ireland, Scotland, and northern England and the Cherokee who escaped the Trail of Tears along with magic and magical beings from those cultures. Lang falls under the spell of a half-serpent, and Ingledove must use the magical ways of their mother to save him.
Six different narrators lead you to the story of Myra Lamb on Bloodroot Mountain. She has “haint blue” eyes and holds some of the family magic, called “the touch”. This is a hard story to summarize because it’s character-driven, and the reader goes back and forth in time from multiple points of view. Read this more for the setting and the characters than for any linear plot.
The setting is Kentucky in the 1960s. Sarah Browning is at college studying to be a teacher when her father becomes ill and then dies. His death brings her back home, and as she tries to adapt to the changes in her life, she meets her reclusive neighbor Owen Campbell for the first time. Their first interactions are strained, but over time, they fall for each other in spite of some hurdles in their way. One hurdle that isn’t a spoiler is that Owen is a shifter who can take the form of both a deer and a wolf. This is such a sweet romance, and it’s free on Amazon!
This is the third book in McCrumb’s Ballad series, but most of the series could be added to this list of magical stories. Historian Jeremy Cobb is backpacking on the Appalachian Trail even though he has no trail experience because he wants to retrace the tragic journey of eighteen-year-old Katie Wyler, who was captured by the Shawnee after the massacre of her pioneer family in Mitchell County, North Carolina. He has no idea that the spirit of Katie Wyler is still seen wandering the hills, but mountain wise woman Nora Bonesteel sees her every autumn.
Eden Moore is an orphan, but she’s never alone. Three dead women watch over her from the shadows. Eden’s attempts to untangle her family tree takes her from the ruins of a sanitarium in Tennessee to a swamp filled with corpses in Florida. She finds a taint in her bloodline that dates all the way back to the Civil War and realizes she’s in the middle of serious supernatural business.
Jane Yellowrock is the last of her kind, a skinwalker of Cherokee descent who can turn into any creature she desires as long as she has DNA handy (usually in the form of teeth or bones). She remembers nothing of her life before she stumbled out of the Appalachian wilderness some 18 years ago, an apparently feral child. She was estimated by authorities to be about 12 years old and spent the next 6 years in a Christian orphanage. As the series progresses, she learns more of her heritage. In this first book, she’s hired by one of the oldest vampires in New Orleans to hunt a rogue vampire.
Amelia Grey restores cemeteries, and she also sees ghosts. Her father always told her to never acknowledge the ghosts and to stay away from the haunted. She was doing so well until she was hired to restore a cemetery in Charleston, South Carolina, and met John Devlin, a haunted police detective.
Eva Tilling is one of the popular kids in her small high school in North Carolina, but she values her friendships where status isn’t the most important thing. When she’s hit by a car, she finds that she can suddenly see how people are going to die when she touches them. As she’s trying to figure out this new power, she learns that getting hit by a car was no accident and someone wants her dead.