Tuesday, December 5, 2000

The Hounds of the Mórrígan by Pat O’Shea. Summary

Klar, Celtic Romanticism 170

by Pat O’Shea

Pidge and his little sister Brigit go on a quest to save both this world (Galway) and the otherworld from the evil grasp of the battle goddess, the Mórrígan and her two other selves, Bodbh and Macha, who wish to reinstate a reign of terror. After Pidge finds an ancient manuscript in a bookstore, he inadvertantly sets the story of the hunt in motion.

This is a story of the ancient battle between good and evil, a medieval wild hunt where the hounds of the Mórrígan tracking the children through the soft boundaries between this world and the otherworld (replete with mists, gods, heroes and evildoers) to find one of the three drops of blood of the Mórrígan once spilled by CúCulainn at the Battle of the Ford. 

The triune goddess Mórrígan wants Olc-Glas, the evil snake that St Patrick imprisoned between the parchment pages: if she succeeds, her power will be tremendous and the apocalypse as we envision it, will truly be at hand. My heart is an ice well, said the Mórrígan. Soon I shall have one drop of my own strong blood. With it, I will dissolve Olc-Glas and swallow him into my cold heart. I shall add his poison to mine. Only Pidge (who is Patrick’s namesake) with faery helpers, can bring back her blood and save the world.

This clever story, written in three books, utilizes traditional fairytale motifs with specific rules: a previous good action pays off its reward in times of need.. . I was enraptured by the story-within-a-story motif (the 3-day journey through Tír-na-nÓg takes little more than an hour, our time), and I loved all the talking wee beasties: especially the frogs, the earwigs, the ducks, and Cú Rua, the fox. 

But the way Pat O’Shea wove the afterstory of the Cattle Raid of Cuailgne into Pidge & Brigit’s story was most satisfying, and the ending where the children couldn’t quite remember what happened, was also ingenious. We have the full pantheon of Irish gods and heroes: The Daghda and Brigit in their many (good) disguises, the druid, Cathbad, a repentant Queen Medbh and Ailill, their sons, the seven Maines, the entire hosting of the sídhe. . . We have a nasty half-Fomirii GIANT-smith who likes his neggs, the threatening hounds, and lots of delicious treachery all culminating in a glorious mother of battles.

Larry Niven was reputed ot have said that fairy tales were written for adults, not children. One could read a bit between the lines. Adults are dolts, and then there’s the English-Irish dilemma. 

There are some hilarious moments as the Mórrígan and her sisters mistaken for bad-ass English punker hag-chicks riding into town on—of all things—a Harley Davidson—who set up a command post in Galway, fits nicely into time present. (In 1996, a gaggle of British lesbians seeking refuge in Amsterdam, proclaimed to me that Galway was the new dyke heaven.) 

Representing the authority of the adult world, we have the poor misguided Garda sergeant who falls in love with the Mórrígan in her maiden aspect, and calls her his Angel (more like avenging angel, but then, Lucifer was said to be the most beautiful of God’s fallen beauties). And a stone of destiny, the Lía Fáil,

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