There’s a big new speculative fiction magazine coming to a smartphone, tablet or computer near you. Spearheaded by Fran Eisemann, Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores will launch at the stroke of midnight, December 31st, to ring in the New Year with art, essays, humor and, of course, fiction across four categories, including Science Fiction; Fantasy; Myths, Legends and Fairy Tales; and Eldritch.
That last is where I come in. I’ve been tapped to take on editorial duties for the Eldritch section. Which begs the question: Eldritch? Wait–what? Is that even a fictional genre?
A little etymology is in order. Nobody has a definitive answer to the question of how the term “eldritch” originated, but there are two main currents of thought. We have a pretty good handle on the second syllable, –ritch, which comes from the proto-Germanic rikijaz (later, rice, where the c is pronounced sh and later glides into the modern tch) meaning “rich and powerful” or “influential”. Eldritch, then, refers to a realm or region, a sphere of influence. No controversy there. No duels, no academic bloodshed over –ritch.
The first syllable’s a little slipperier. One might assume that eld- must mean “old”, as in “elder”, and that “eldritch” might then refer to an old country, an old power or influence. While that assumption would be linguistically incorrect, such similarities in sound and spelling have a way, I think, of contaminating the meaning of a word, scholarly attempts at disambiguation notwithstanding. The way people use a word ultimately defines it.
But scholars will be scholars. In the debate over the derivation of “eldritch” they fall into two main camps: those who believe that “eldritch” has to do with elves and those who do not. The Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue defines the word like so: “Belonging to, or resembling, the elves and similar beings…Connected with, proceeding from, suggestive of, elves or supernatural beings; weird, strange, uncanny.” This interpretation is based on the hunch that the “eld” in “eldritch” derives from the Old English aelph, meaning (you guessed it) “elf”. But Alaric Hall in his 2007 paper, The Etymology and Meanings of Eldritch argues convincingly that the “eld” in “eldritch” more likely derives from alja, meaning “foreign, strange, from elsewhere.” Let your tongue roll around that pair of syllables, alja. The j is pronounced like the dg in edge. When you do that, it’s easier to get why it’s more likely that eldritch comes from alja-rice than from aelph-rice.
“We might do better, then,” Hall concludes, “to understand eldritch in the etymological sense…of ‘otherworldly.’ ” He goes on to define Eldritch to mean weird, ghostly, uncanny, unearthly, hideous, often denoting a connection with the supernatural.
So that was fun,
but where does it leave us?
Is Eldritch a fictional genre or not?
We at Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores intend to treat it as one. But beyond a loose adherence to that short list of modifiers (weird, ghostly, uncanny, unearthly, hideous) and a caveat that we will not be publishing dark horror, we’ll leave it to the stories we do publish to stake out the territory the genre covers. You might find an occasional reference to elves, but if that’s what you’re looking for, you’ll do better to check out the Fantasy or Myths, Legends and Fairy Tales sections.
By the way, if you subscribe to CR&ES now, before the twelve strokes of the clock that put paid to New Year’s Day 2016, you’ll get in for 2 measly bucks! Not only will you get great Science Fiction; Fantasy; Myth, Legend and Fairy Tales; and of course, the best Eldritch stories around; you’ll also find news, reviews, interviews, essays, articles and art related to the kinds of fiction we publish. And you’ll get in on some great conversations in our forums, where you can put your own spin on anything you like, including whatever it is that makes a story Eldritch.