Melusine’s Footprint: Reflections on the Publication of a First Book

A Toast to Melusine

A toast to Melusine!

I am very pleased (okay, okay, wildly jumping up and down and screaming in joy like a child) to announce the publication of Melusine’s Footprint: Tracing the Legacy of a Medieval Myth, which is now available from Brill Publishing. This is a collection of twenty interdisciplinary scholarly essays on the Melusine figure, spanning her English, French, German, Dutch, Spanish, and Chinese iterations.

I’d like to take just a moment here to thank my co-editors, Misty Urban and Deva Kemmis, to whom I send virtual celebratory hugs: “We did it!” Since this is a blog about learning to be a professional scholar, I feel it might be interesting and useful for me to share some of the history of this project. The story of the volume begins with our chance encounter at the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo in 2014. Deva and I were co-presenting a paper on the German and French Melusines in a MEARCSTAPA-sponsored session on monsters, and Misty was presenting on the Middle English Melusine in another session. My then-dissertation director Amy Vines introduced me to Misty, whom I had not known previously, and we commiserated on the fragmented nature of Melusine studies, how bound by discipline and language most resources for the study of this fairy figure are. What the world needs, we concluded, is more interdisciplinary Melusine. I blurted impulsively: Why don’t we write an edited volume of essays that brings all of these traditions together?  Amy was encouraging, but firm: Yes, this is a very good idea, but Dissertation First! Misty and Deva agreed to that stipulation and I complied (mostly…. the CFP and initial set of essays happened before I completed the first full draft of the dissertation, but I was done with it before the final essays came in for last proofing. That’s more or less what she said, right?) Three years later, the initial idea is a concrete reality. I could not have asked for better colleagues with whom to travel down this path, and I treasure our work together.

I’d also like to take a moment to reflect a little on my own trajectory towards this moment. Writing books has always come fairly easily to me–well, at least, writing towards completed books has done. I wrote my first book at the age of eight; a handwritten, eighty-page “novel” with illustrations of its alien protagonists who crash-landed on Earth and started a new community, called The Fuzzy Wuzzies. That book landed me a spot at the National Young Author’s Conference. Heady with this early success at authorship and certain I was just one good idea away from publication, I wrote a book a year from then until high school, when my ideas got too big, my attention span too small, and my workload too all-encompassing, to actually finish anything I started. Since high school, most of my writing has been nonfiction and scholarly in nature; I have written many article-length works, and begun many book-length works. I have even published several article-length works, and completed several book-length works, one or two of which may work their way through revision and into print. But actually publishing a book–that goal has been daunting up until now. It took all of that writing, and rewriting, and writing with others, and rewriting with others, to get to a point where I could produce and publish something like Melusine’s Footprint. My eight-year old self is geeking out that I have my name on a book cover; and also, she is a little aghast that it took so long to accomplish it. Well, maybe it could have happened sooner, but I’m glad it did not. I’m relatively certain what we have accomplished with this volume would not have been possible with me at its helm before this point; I needed to grow into the writer who could do this kind of scholarship at this level of expertise. That writer was developed through collaborating with Misty and Deva, and our series editor, Kat Tracy, on this project; and through advanced training in scholarly writing with my  doctoral committee: Amy Vines, Denise Baker and Jennifer Feather. I am so grateful to them all for the many lessons I have learned throughout this experience.

I am excited now, rather than daunted, by the prospect of revising and submitting my first solo-authored book for publication. There is a book in the world with my name on the cover. I can do this, and do it well. Knowing that, rather than simply believing it, is the best outcome of this experience for me, personally. I hope that my success after many, many years of work towards this goal inspires others to hold on to their faith in themselves and their work, and to keep on working towards publication.

An early review of Melusine’s Footprint from Gillian Alban (author of Melusine the Serpent Goddess in A. S. Byatt’s Possession and in Mythology and The Medusa Gaze in Contemporary Women’s Fiction: Petrifying, Maternal and Redemptive) is highly favorable: “This magnificent book combines the research of twenty interdisciplinary scholars who meticulously investigate the eponymous footprint of Melusine from a wide variety of literary as well as artistic approaches. It illustrates how richly this theriomorphic monstrous snake woman has contributed to the culture of so many European countries, and extends as far afield as China, in a study that clearly indicates the continuing fascination of this most enchanting and threatening figure. Melusine is here variously discussed as an instructive exemplar of Christian piety, a powerful mother who desires to humanize herself through marriage into the chivalric, religious order of her age, a transformative figure unifying humanity with nature, an abject object of the gaze, a fairy who functions as a monstrous Other in the mirror of romance, and a metaphor for transgressive feminine prowess. This enthralling work contributes extensively to Melusinia, reading the fairy serpentine hybrid as a symbolic force who never remains contained within any boundaries that may attempt to inscribe her.”

I look forward to seeing how other scholars respond to this volume, and to the future critical studies it inspires. And now…. on to page proofs for an article on the Robin Hood legend, and revisions on that current book project… !



About Melissa Ridley Elmes

Professor and writer; Unrepentant nerd; chaotic good. Author of Arthurian Things: A Collection of Poems. PhD, MFA. She/hers. Views my own.
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