Where did the word “Moel” come from?


A Myvyrrian Map  5 June 2012

An early version of the Myvyrian Map

The one question that I am most often asked as a writer is: “Where did the word “moel” come from?”

It’s a fairly straightforward answer but the evolution and how the word came to define both my writing and illustrating is unchangeable.

I used to be a secretary/administrative assistant/office manager and have sharp typing skills.  I still type 110 wpm to this day.   But, sometimes my fast typing does make for mistakes.  And that’s where “moel” came from.  I was trying to type the word “mole”.  When I saw the typo I liked it so much that I kept as MY word.   And I named my studio Moel Eyris Studio (at Henwoodie).  Eyris is MY word for “Island(s)”.   Over the course of doing research in archaeology and prehistory (of Scotland) I came across another very interesting word: moudiewart — which is the archaic Scottish word for “mole”.

If you look up moudiewart in the OED you will find a fascinating array of definitions.  The most profound being: moldo warpo that translates literally as “earth thrower” (a mole).  Naturally, as a writer, I took the etymology of these words to heart and they became the core of my own mythology: THE LAY OF MOEL EYRIS: The Saga of the Bear’s Son.

I created an entire history for my word “moel”: mool, maol, moel, and so on.  I like to think that “mool” is the most archaic in the etymology of the word ‘moel’.   And, of course, I created my own definition for the word.   The most interesting definition is for the word “maol” — it means “mythographer” (not mole).

In my mythology moles and mythographers play the most important roles in the narrative.  Many geographical place names on the Myvyrian Map of Moel Eyris are derived from “moel”.

Here are some examples: Moel Terre (Mole’s Earth); Moel Weorpe (Mole’s Worth); Mowdie, Moudiewart, Moel Faulds; Moel Breeks, Mools Wadder; mool dykes; Moolstery; Cymry of Maols, and so on.  In my mythology the actual animal, a mole, is most often a “scupper” or messenger (for maols).

So, from one simple typographical error sprang an entire mythological world in which nearly all my stories and illustrations are set.

THE LAY OF MOEL EYRIS: The Saga of the Bear’s Son comprises five books:

The Secret Book of Moolstery

The Secret of the Mool Dykes

The Secret of Morag’s Too’er

The Secret of the Myvyrian Map

The Secret of the Dragon Eggs

The narrative is firmly rooted in more than thirty years’ research delving into the prehistory of Scotland, the Orkney and Shetland Islands, the Outer Hebrides, St. Kilda, and, of course, The Flannan Isles.

I wanted to create (write) my own world in which magic was real and based on fact, not wand waving fiction.   Words have power.  Throughout history this has been proven time and time again.  Just think of that old adage: The pen is mightier than the sword.   It’s very true.

THE LAY OF MOEL EYRIS (from now on referred to as LOME) tells the story (and history of a mysterious and real archipelago that is neither “here nor there”.  It is betwixt and between the two Realms of Man and Faërie.  The inhabitants of these islands are diverse and have fascinating stories of their own.   The fates are intertwined, their destiny is unstoppable.   Their beliefs are unshakeable.   

To go back a wee bit farther in my own evolution as a writer I would have to tell you that 1) I have always been an avid reader and that 2) it was when I discovered the writing of J.R.R. Tolkien that my life was changed forever.   I became obsessed with “barrows” and “barrow-wights” and when I looked these words up in the OED it became imperative that I visit England and Scotland and see these remarkable ancient structures for myself.

Note:  IF you look up the word “barrow” in the OED it will refer you to such words as “cairn,” “tumulus,” “burial mound,” etc.

My quest to explore cairns and barrows myself began in 1978 with an extended eight week expedition (sounds so much more interesting than “trip”) to Scotland.   And then onto the Orkney Islands, across the north coast of Scotland (hitchhiking and hiking) and taking the ferry from Ullapool to Stornoway in the Outer Hebrides.  

I must say that I was NOT disappointed in the sites I explored.  My imagination was set on fire and the more I saw and explored, the more I read about these ancient sites, and then began to read (and hear) the legends and superstitions associated with them, my work and writing would change forever.

If you go back and look at one of the very first picture books that I wrote and illustrated you will see how profoundly archaeology and folk beliefs influenced my writing and illustrating.  RAVENA (Holiday House, 1983) was the first children’s picture book that shed light on my fascination with cairns, standing stones, bean sidhes, bog trotters, etc.   My own mythical world of Moel Eyris began to take form.

Throughout my career as a professional writer and illustrator I have made detailed maps, architectural plans, sections, elevations (of farm buildings, cairns, Moolstery et al) and have kept thousands of pages of detailed notes on the flora and fauna of the islands, the inhabitants (how they came to be there and how their lives evolved), the history, the magic and the mystery of these islands—in short, Moel Eyris became MY world.

As this blog evolves (you notice that there is a lot of evolving in my life and work) I will share glimpses into the world of Moel Eyris and will begin to outline who is who and what is going on in their life (or death).   

As I work on the illustrations for picture books that I am obligated to finish it is very difficult to NOT think about, not write about, Moel Eyris—the Islands on the Edge.

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