Thursday, 11 August 2016

The Cormorants of Andvær, by Jonas Lie



It's summertime... so here from the archives is a wonderfully eerie summer fairy tale by the 19th century Norwegian writer Jonas LieLie was a contemporary of Ibsen, born 1833 at Hvokksund, not far from Oslo; but he spent much of his childhood at Tromsø, inside the Arctic Circle.  He was sent to naval college, but poor eyesight made him unsuited for a life at sea, so he became a lawyer and began to write and publish poems and novels which reflected Norwegian life, folklore and nationalism. 

I haven't been able to find any of Lie’s novels: most don’t seem to have been translated into English.  But I do have a collection of his reworkings of Norwegian and Finnish legends about the sea.  It’s called 'Weird Tales from Northern Seas'.  My edition was published in English in 1893 and consists of eleven short stories cherry-picked from a volume called ‘Trold’- 'Trolls' - and another called 'Fortaellinger og Skildringer ', which means something like 'Tales and Depictions, or 'Stories and Portrayals' (translations courtesy of the Bookwitch).  How I wish I could read the others.
I do not know how close these stories are to original folk-tales, though some strike me as very close in spirit.  Even in translation I find them powerful and beautiful, marvellously told.  I was reading this collection while writing the second of my ‘Troll’ books: one of his stories, ‘The Fisherman and the Draug’, was part of the inspiration for the malevolent ghosts which haunt the fisherman Bjørn in my own book. The one I want to share today is called ‘The Cormorants of Andvær’ – eldritch, mournful and beautiful. Tell me what you think of it, how it affects you. I am sure it will affect you. It’s such a strange tale…


The Cormorants of Andvær

Outside Andvær lies an island, the haunt of wild birds, which no man can land upon, be the sea never so quiet; the sea swell girds it round about with sucking whirlpools and dashing breakers.

On fine summer days something sparkles there through the sea-foam like a large gold ring; and, time out of mind, folks have fancied there was a treasure there left by some pirates of old.

At sunset, sometimes, there looms forth from thence a vessel with a castle astern, and a glimpse is caught now and then of an old-fashioned galley.  There it lies as if in a tempest, and carves its way along through heavy white rollers.

Along the rocks sit the cormorants in a long black row, in wait for dog-fish.

But there was a time when one knew the exact number of these birds.  There was never more nor less of them than twelve, while upon a stone, out in the sea mist, sat the thirteenth, but it was only visible when it rose and flew right over the island.

The only persons who live near the Vær at winter time, long after the fishing season was over, was a woman and a slip of a girl.  Their business was to guard the scaffolding poles for drying fish against the birds of prey, who had such a villainous trick of hacking at the drying-ropes.

The young girl had thick coal-black hair, and a pair of eyes that peeped at folk so oddly. One might almost have said that she was like the cormorants outside there, and she had never seen much else all her life.  Nobody knew who her father was.

Thus they lived till the girl had grown up.

It was found that, in the summer time, when the fishermen went out to the Vær to fetch away the dried fish, that the young fellows began underbidding each other, so as to be selected for that special errand.

Some gave up their share of the profits, and others their wages, and there was a general complaint in all the villages round about that on such occasions no end of betrothals were broken off.

But the cause of it all was the girl out yonder with the odd eyes. For all her rough-and-ready ways, she had something about her, said those she chatted with, that there was no resisting. She turned the heads of all the young fellows; it seemed as it they couldn't live without her.
 

The first winter a lad wooed her who had both house and warehouse of his own.

“If you come again in the summertime, and give me the right gold ring I will be wedded by, something may come of it,” said she.

And sure enough, in the summertime the lad was there again.

He had a lot of fish to fetch away, and she might have had a gold ring as heavy and as bonnie as her heart could wish for.

“The ring I must have lies beneath the wreckage, in the iron chest, over at the island yonder,” said she; “that is, if you love me enough to dare fetch it.”

But then the lad grew pale.

He saw the sea-bore rise and fall out there like a white wall of foam on the bright summer day, and on the island sat the cormorants sleeping in the sunshine.

“Dearly do I love thee,” said he, “but such a quest as that would mean my burial, not my bridal.”

The same instant the thirteenth cormorant rose from his stone in the misty foam and flew right over the island.

Next winter the steersman of a yacht came a wooing.  For two years he had gone about and hugged his misery for her sake, and he got the same answer. 

“If you come again in the summer time and give me the right gold ring I will be wedded with, something may come of it.”

Out to the Vær he came again on Midsummer Day.

But when he heard where the gold ring lay, he sat and wept the whole day till evening, when the sun began to dance north-westward into the sea.

Then the thirteenth cormorant arose, and flew right over the island.

There was nasty weather during the third winter.  There were manifold wrecks, and on the keel of a boat, which came driving ashore, hung an exhausted young lad by his knife-belt.

But they couldn’t get the life back into him, roll and rub him about in the boathouse as they might. Then the girl came in.  “’Tis my bridegroom!” said she. And she laid him in her bosom, and sat with him the whole night through, and put warmth into his heart.

And when the morning came, his heart beat.  “Methought I lay betwixt the wings of a cormorant, and leaned my head against its downy breast,” said he.

The lad was ruddy and handsome, with curly hair, and he couldn’t take his eyes away from the girl.

He took work upon the Vær.  But off he must be, gadding and chatting with her, be it never so early and never so late. So it fared with him as it had fared with the others.

It seemed to him that he could not live without her, and on the day when he was bound to depart, he wooed her.

Thee I will not fool,” said she.  “Thou hast lain on my breast, and I would give my life to save thee from sorrow.  Thou shalt have me if thou wilt place the betrothal ring upon my finger; but longer than the day lasts thou canst not keep me.  And now I will wait, and long after thee with a horrible longing, till the summer comes.”

On Midsummer Day the youth came thither in his boat all alone. 

Then she told him of the ring that he must fetch for her from among the skerries.

“If thou hast taken me off the keel of a boat, thou mayest cast me forth yonder again,” said the lad.  “Live without thee I cannot.”

But as he laid hold of the oars in order to row out, she stepped into the boat with him and sat in the stern.  Wondrous fair was she!

It was beautiful summer weather, and there was a swell upon the sea: wave followed upon wave in long bright rollers.

The lad sat there, lost in the sight of her, and he rowed and rowed till the insucking breakers roared and thundered among the skerries; the groundswell was strong, and the frothing foam spurted up as high as towers.

“If thy life is dear to thee, turn back now,” said she.

“Thou art dearer to me than life itself,” he made answer.  But just as it seemed to the lad as if the prow were going under and the jaws of death were gaping wide before him, it grew all at once as still as a calm, and the boat could run ashore as if there was never a billow there.

On the island lay a rusty old ship’s anchor half out of the sea.

“In the iron chest which lies beneath the anchor is my dowry,” said she. “Carry it up into thy boat and put the ring which thou seest on my finger. With this thou dost make me thy bride. So now I am thine till the sun dances north-westwards into the sea.”

It was a gold ring with a red stone in it, and he put it on her finger and kissed her.

In a cleft on the skerry was a patch of green grass.  There they sat them down, and they were ministered to in wondrous wise, how he knew not nor cared to know, so great was his joy.

“Midsummer Day is beauteous,” said she, “and I am young and thou art my bridegroom.  And now we’ll to our bridal bed.”

So bonnie was she that he could not contain himself for love.

But when night drew nigh, and the sun began to dance out into the sea, she kissed him and shed tears.

“Beauteous is the summer day,” said she, “and still more beauteous is the summer evening; but now the dusk cometh.”

And all at once it seemed to him as if she were becoming older and older and fading right away.

When the sun went below the sea-margin there lay before him on the skerry some mouldering linen rags and nought else.

Calm was the sea, and in the clear Midsummer night there flew twelve cormorants out over the sea.





Picture credits:
'The Cormorants of Andvær' by Laurence Housman

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Dwarfs, Pixies and the “Little Dark People”





In ‘A Book of Folk-Lore’ (1913) the Devon folklorist Sabine Baring-Gould recounts three instances in which he and members of his family ‘saw’ pixies or dwarfs. I’ll let you read them: 

In the year 1838, when I was a small boy of four years old, we were driving to Montpellier [France] on a hot summer’s day, over the long straight road that traverses a pebble and rubble strewn plain on which grows nothing save a few aromatic herbs.

I was sitting on the box with my father, when to my great surprise I saw legions of dwarfs about two feet high running along beside the horses – some sat laughing on the pole, some were scrambling up the harness to get on the backs of the horses. I remarked to my father what I saw, when he abruptly stopped the carriage and put me inside beside my mother, where, the conveyance being closed, I was out of the sun. The effect was that little by little the host of imps diminished in number till they disappeared altogether. 

When my wife was a girl of fifteen, she was walking down a lane in Yorkshire between green hedges, when she saw seated in one of the privet hedges a little green man, who looked at her with his beady black eyes. He was about a foot or eighteen inches high.  She was so frightened that she ran home. She cannot recall exactly in what month this took place, but knows it was a summer’s day.

One day a son of mine, a lad of about twelve, was sent into the garden to pick pea-pods for the cook to shell for dinner.  Presently he rushed into the house as white as chalk to say that while he was engaged upon the task imposed upon him he saw standing between the rows of peas a little man wearing a red cap, a green jacket, and brown knee-breeches, whose face was old and wan and who had a gray beard and eyes as black and hard as sloes.  He stared so intently at the boy that the latter took to his heels.  I know exactly when this occurred, as I entered it in my diary, and I know when I saw the imps by looking in my father’s diary, and though he did not enter the circumstance, I recall the vision today as distinctly as when I was a child. 

In spite of the vivid and detailed nature of these visions Baring-Gould didn’t believe he or his family had seen anything ‘real’. He continues stoutly:

Now, in all three cases, these apparitions were due to the effect of a hot sun on the head. But such an explanation is not sufficient. Why did all three see small beings of a very similar character?  With ... temporary hallucination the pictures presented to the eye are never originally conceived, they are reproductions of representations either seen previously or conceived from descriptions given by others. In my case and that of my wife, we saw imps, because our nurses had told us of them… In the case of my son, he had read Grimms’ Tales and seen the illustrations to them. 



Rational indeed – though still quite puzzling that sun-stroke or heat-stroke should in each case have brought on visions of dwarfs or pixies.  But perhaps it ran in the family. However that may be, Baring-Gould acknowledges that this explanation only pushes the problem further into the past – ‘Where did our nurses, whence did Grimm [sic] obtain their tales of kobolds, gnomes, dwarfs, pixies, brownies etc? … To go to the root of the matter, in what did the prevailing belief in the existence of these small people originate?’  And he answers thus: 

I suspect that there did exist a small people, not so small as these imps are represented, but comparatively small beside the Aryans who lived in all those countries in which the tradition of their existence lingers on. 

The grim events of the 20th century have taught us to beware of that word ‘Aryan’, liberally scattered in the introduction to many a 19th century collection. Sir George Dasent, introducing ‘Popular Tales from the Norse’ (his translation of Asbjornsen and Moe’s 'Norske Folkeeventyr’) includes a section on ‘the Aryan race’ which according to contemporary anthropological wisdom had spread across Europe ‘in days of immemorial antiquity’.  In 1905, citing the biologist Thomas Henry Huxley as his authority, Charles Squire in ‘Celtic Myths and Legends’ writes confidently of ‘certain proof of two distinct human stocks in the British Isles at the time of the Roman conquest’. He describes them: the early people who built Britain’s long barrows were ‘Iberian’ or ‘Mediterranean’ in origin: ‘a short, swarthy, dark-haired’ aboriginal race; but ‘the second of these two races was the exact opposite of the first. It was the tall, fair, light-haired, blue- or gray-eyed people called, popularly, the “Celts”, who belonged in speech to the “Aryan” family … It was in a higher stage of culture than the “Iberians”.’ In the illustration below from a history of the world published in 1897, we see how the heroic Celts were imagined, along with an account of the 'Aryan migration'. And they were supposed to have displaced a different race of indigenous people, driving them almost literally underground.


'The Celtic Vanguard' from 'Ridpath's History of the World', 1897

This notion of ‘two races, two cultures’ has been discredited. Archaologists and geneticists now agree that Europe has been a melting-pot of racial groups from at least the early Neolithic. European Mesolithic hunter-gatherers were neither replaced nor suddenly shunted out; instead, over several thousand years, they assimilated both the culture and the genes of a gradually diffusing population of Neolithic farmers. It wasn’t until the Bronze Age (says Professor Barry Cunliffe in ‘Europe Between the Oceans, 9000 BC – AD1000’) that sea-faring and trading populations on the on the coasts of Europe, Britain and Ireland, developed the Celtic tongue as ‘an Atlantic façade lingua franca’. Isn't that wonderful? The Celts didn’t ‘come from’ anywhere: they were in place already. The Celtic languages evolved because coastal peoples travelled and traded and intermarried and talked to one another. Britain wasn't isolated, it was always an integral part of Europe.

So the Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould was wrong. There was never a distinctly different race of ‘little dark people’ living on the edges of a conquering population of tall, fair, confident ‘Aryans’. Nothing to give rise to a belief in a ‘hidden folk’ of pixies, dwarfs or elves. 

You can see why he liked the idea. It seemed to answer a lot of questions, besides lending to folk-lore a kind of scientific gloss: anthropological ‘truths’ preserved in tales. Many a writer has been honestly misled by it. In Rosemary Sutcliff’s tremendous novel ‘Sword at Sunset’, the Romano-British and nominally Christian hero Artos, fighting off the Saxon invasions in the 3rd century AD, takes as his allies ‘the little Dark People of the Hills’, who live half-underground in turf-covered bothies, use poisoned arrows and worship the Earth Mother. Their clan leader, the Old Woman, calls Artos ‘Sun Lord’ and tells him:

‘We are small and weak, and our numbers grow fewer with the years, but we are scattered very wide, wherever there are hills or lonely places. We can send news and messages racing from one end of a land to the other between moon-rise and moonset; we can creep and hide and spy and bring back word; we are the hunters who can tell you when the game has passed by, by a bent grass-blade or one hair clinging to a bramble-spray. We are the viper that stings in the dark –’

And in the same author's if-anything-even-more-magnificent ‘The Mark of the Horse Lord’, the half-Roman half-British ex-gladiator Phaedrus, masquerading as Midir, Lord of the Dalriads (actually a 4th century AD Scots-Irish Gaelic kingdom), lays down his iron weapons to call upon an Old Man of the Dark People who lives like a badger in ‘a tumble of stones and turf laced together with brambles’ with ‘a dark opening in its side’:

[Phaedrus] had heard before of places such as this, where one left something that needed mending, together with a gift, and came back later to find the gift gone and the broken thing mended; it was one of those things no one talked of very much, the places where the life of the Sun People touched the life of the Old Ones, the People of the Hills. Like the bowls of milk that the women put out sometimes at night, in exchange for some small job to be done – like the knot of rowan hung over a doorway for protection against the ancient Earth Magic – like the stealing of a Sun Child from time to time.’  

This Old Man is ‘slight-boned … with grey hair brushed back from his narrow brow, and eyes that seemed at first glance like jet beads…’  Sutcliff was writing in the mid-1960s when the ‘two races’ hypothesis was still widely credited: she writes with great imaginative sympathy. I grew up with these stories and it was easy to be swept along by the idea: these Little Dark People, Painted People, remnants of the past clinging to the verge of cultures which had displaced them, were the historical origin of the fairies. I felt sorry for them. Even in Sutcliff’s sympathetic treatment, these imagined, marginalised archaic people are nearly powerless.  Their magic – feared though it is – doesn’t really work on the more civilized Sun People. They are spies, not warriors: they creep through the heather with poisoned arrows, killing by stealth.  In fact they’re natives, with all the baggage that implies in colonial and post-colonial Britain. They may help the heroes, but they can’t be the heroes.  Their time is past.



Writing in 1913 Baring-Gould doesn’t even allow them the skills to erect dolmens:

They were not, I take it, the Dolmen builders – these are supposed to have been giants because of the gigantic character of their structures. They were a people who did not build at all. They lived in caves, or if in the open, in huts made by bending branches over and covering them with sods of turf. Consequently in folk-lore they are always represented as either emerging from caverns or from under mounds. 

This is to lend to folk-lore an authority far beyond its deserts. 

Most of the nineteenth century collectors of the fairy tales and folk-lore which we all love so much were driven by nationalist impulses and racial pride. Each sought, as the Grimms did, the pure voice of their own ‘folk’. As the century progressed what they in fact uncovered was the inextricably interrelated nature of European folk- and fairy- lore. Despite the near-impossibility of claiming a particular version of any story as ‘original’, some went on to claim an ultimate ‘Aryan’ heritage for such tales, going so far as to assert that the Aryan master-race originated in Scandinavia – since, clearly, the Nordic peoples were the tallest, blondest and bluest-eyed of the lot. Most of these gentlemen intended only to generate pride in what they saw as their heritage. They did not recognise it as racism - the term had not yet been coined - but racism it was. As folklorists, as lovers of fairy tales, we need to be responsible for the ways we interpret the stories we tell. 

While I was researching Mi’kmaq and Algonkin folk-lore for my book 'Troll Blood', I came across a salutary reminder of how untrustworthy some 19th century commentators can be when discussing origins: in a compilation called ‘The Algonquin Legends of New England’ (1884) I found the anthropologist Charles G. Leland with a bee in his bonnet about what he claimed had to be a Norse influence on Mi’kmaq stories. Having decided that the Mi’kmaq tales were in effect too ‘noble’ to have been the product of Native American minds, he made the wildly unsupported assertion that the Norsemen must have told stories from the Eddas to the indigenous peoples of what is now Newfoundland and New Brunswick: that the Mi’kmaq culture-hero Kluskap (‘Glooscap’, in his account) ‘is the Norse god intensified … by far the grandest and most Aryan-like character ever evolved from a savage mind’. I almost dropped the book and was forced to regard it ever after as compromised and unreliable. If there was any contact at all between Norsemen and the Native American population in the 10th to 13th centuries (the likely duration of occasional forays from treeless Greenland for much-needed North American timber), the Greenlanders’ Saga suggests that it was violent and short. But that’s not the point. The point is the mindset which says ‘this is too good to have been created by [insert racial group]’. 

The dwarf Eitri making the hammer Mjölnir.


Returning to the origin of pixies, elves and dwarfs – if they’re not a folk-memory of some once co-existing shy and inferior race, what are they?  As Baring-Gould says, the notion must have come from somewhere.  Well, Britain, Ireland and Northern Europe are dotted with burial mounds and barrows. The Irish story of the love of Midir for Étain states plainly that Midir is a king of the ‘elf-mounds’, the underworld, and the tale is full of instances of death and rebirth. As I argue more closely in an essay called ‘The Lost Kings of Fairyland’ in my recent book, fairies have long been associated with the dead. In a fascinating essay ‘The Craftsman in the Mound’ (Folk-Lore 88, 1977) Lotte Motz discusses the figure of the dwarf as a smith and craftman dwelling in hills, mounds and mountains, who may be heard hammering away in underground smithies. Pointing to the many instances of ‘legends of dead rulers who reside, sometimes in a magic sleep and often with their retinue, within a mountain’, she continues:

A relation to the dead appears to belong also to the dwarfs of the Icelandic documents; so the dwarf Alviss [‘All-Knowing] is asked by Thor if he had been staying with the dead, and a poem in a saga tells of a doughty sword which had been fashioned by ‘dead dwarfs’. I would… assert that the mountain dwelling of the smith holds, rather than temporary wealth, eternal treasures in its aspect as the mountain of the dead. 

As if to emphasise his deathly character, like a ghost fleeing to its grave at cock-crow, the dwarf Alviss (the story is from the Poetic Edda) cannot endure daylight but turns to stone at sunrise. 



‘The day has caught thee, dwarf!’ cries triumphant Thor, who like Gandalf in ‘The Hobbit’ has kept him talking… 

It's always been thought dangerous to see fairies. Like the Furies in Greek mythology, if you talked about them at all, you used flattering circumlocutions – the Good People, the Seely Court, the People of Peace. They came from the hollow hills, the land of death, and it was wise to be frightened of them.  Maybe the visions, the ‘legions of dwarfs’, the little green men or pixies which Baring-Gould and his wife and child separately saw signified something more sinister than folk-memories.

After all, sunstroke can kill you.
 




Picture credits: 

Pixies - John D Batten - Wikimedia Commons
Nisse eating barley porridge - Wikimedia Commons
The dwarves Brokkr and Eitri making the hammer Mjölnir - Arthur Rackham - Wikimedia Commons
Alvissmal - Alviss answers Thor - Wikimedia Commons 
The Celtic Vanguard - Wikimedia Commons  
Dolmen, Jersey, 1859 - Wikimedia Commons
Puck - by Fuseli - Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 22 July 2016

Four lovely reviews for Steel Thistles!





A quick post to highlight four lovely reviews of 'Seven Miles of Steel Thistles' (the book) which as many of you will know, is a collection of some of my essays on folk-lore and fairy tales. Do please excuse me as I jump up and down!


The most recent comes from Kevin Crossley-Holland, poet, author, and translator of Anglo-Saxon texts such as 'Beowulf' and the 'Exeter Riddle Book'.  He writes:


Katherine Langrish is a wonderful companion for an excursion into the otherworld of traditional tales.  Highly readable, sharply perceptive about individual tales as well as engaging with wider motifs, this book is always down-to-earth, no matter how high flown the subject matter.  We know we're in safe hands when we're invited  to consider why folk-tale fools and saints can be rather frightening, or to take account of who is telling a story and why, to reflect on how some reports of ghostly happenings (as opposed to structured stories) are almost impossible to discount, and to recognise the role of princesses in fairy tales ('They tell us to be active, to use our wits, to be undaunted, to see what we want and to go for it.')  The book is so generously furnished with apt quotations as to seem at times almost like an anthology, and it will appeal to absolutely everyone fascinated by the staying power of folk tales, fairy tales and ballads. 'Seven Miles of Steel Thistles' is a fine book with a long life ahead of it.



Writer, editor and artist Terri Windling, reviewing the book on her blog Myth and Moor, wrote:



One of the very best books I've read this year is Seven Miles of Steel Thistles: Reflections on Fairy Tales by Katherine Langrish, the author of West of the Moon and other excellent works of myth-based fantasy for children.

Now while I might seem biased because Katherine is a family friend (her daughter and ours have been best friends for many years), in truth I am sharply opinionated when it comes to books about folklore and fairy tales; I was mentored in the field by Jane Yolen, after all, which sets the bar pretty damn high. Thus it is no small praise to say that Seven Miles of Steel Thistles is an essential book for practioners of mythic arts: insightful, reliable, packed with information...and thoroughly enchanting.


The whole review can be found here.




A third is from award-winning YA and children's author Linda Newbery.  Here's part of what she has to say:

Katherine Langrish draws on her life-long enjoyment and appreciation of traditional tales, and her book combines wide reading and scholarship with personal insights and interpretations... Her book ranges widely, from Canadian Mi’kmaq stories to Japanese kitsune, Shakespeare’s fools and Alan Garner’s owl plates, with, of course, the Celtic and Norse mythology which is woven through Langrish’s own fiction. She is a most engaging companion – informed, curious and perceptive - and I highly recommend her book to students of the genre as well as to anyone who enjoys good stories and good writing.


You can read the whole review here:  http://www.lindanewbery.co.uk/2016/07/15/seven-miles-of-steel-thistles-by-katherine-langrish/




Last but certainly not least, here's praise from the critic Nicholas Lezard in his weekly column for the Guardian:

What [Langrish] has done so brilliantly, either making general points or addressing specific stories or themes, is tell us stories about the stories: where they might have come from, what they might mean, or whether they are meant to mean anything. (Of faeryland, that “other place” which is neither the world, heaven, purgatory or hell, from where those we thought dead might, very rarely, be rescued, she says: “This is the fantasy of grief,” and I have never heard a better explanation.) It is all spun out so seemingly artlessly, or naturally, that you feel as if you are sitting cross-legged, gripped, like a child hearing one of these stories for the first time.


Read the whole review here: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/may/04/seven-miles-of-steel-thistles-review-katherine-langrish-fairytales-written-down-as-told

You couldn't wish for lovelier comments or more perceptive readers, and I'm very happy and thrilled. Seven Miles of Steel Thistles was published by the Greystones Press at the end of April, and is available from Amazon in paperback (here) and as an e-book (here).  It's also available in paperback from Hive.co.uk (here).  (As indeed are all my other books.)  Finally, those living outside the UK can order copies from the Book Depository, which offers free delivery worldwide, here!

Right, that's the commercial over. Thankyou for your patience and thankyou even more to all the lovely people who've bought copies already.  Where would I be without readers?





Picture credits

Illustrations of some of the fairy tales mentioned in the book: 

The Juniper Tree by Kay Nielsen
Undine by Arthur Rackham
Mr Fox by John D Batten