Tuesday, December 5, 2000

The Wild Hunt, by Jane Yolen, summary

Klar, Celtic Romanticism 170

by Jane Yolen

Jane Yolen’s The Wild Hunt is about boy as hero. In this Celtic-flavored fairytale, Yolen explores the uneasy boundaries and perceptions in this story of opposites in a hunt, as personified in the yearly cyclical battle between a divine couple.

In this story within a story, the medieval wild huntsman, Lord Herne (Cernunnos) as winter, and Robert Graves’ archaic White Goddess (a white cat of the hearth) representing summer—are continually at war. 

Herne, with his horses and hounds, is dark, evil, cold—and like most men, he wants to dominate with brute strength, to make winter a permanent season. Yearly, his wife, the White Goddess (she of many names) must find an innocent boy to become a hero and thus break cruel winter’s grasp so that the thaw may come.

Yolen writes that this is a story about magic, the wild hunt, power choices and names. . . (but heroes have two names). . . There are parallel worlds with twin houses with two boys who live in different dimensions: Jerold and his alter-ego Gerund. As Jerold reads a picture book entitled The Wild Hunt, the story begins to unfold around him. 

Luckily the houses are protected from Lord Herne’s evil vassals by a magic ring of rowan trees. When Gerund is kidnapped by Mossman and renamed “Bait” by Lord Herne, which he becomes, the two boys meet up and must resolve the dilemma. Language and naming plays an important part of the story. 

When Jerold writes his name on the window pane it is seen (backwards)by Mossman and used as a weapon against him. Lord Herne, must name and capture Jerold, and though married to the White Goddess, doesn’t know her true name either, and so, can never dominate her. 

She is portrayed as an aloof enigmatic talking cat/kitten who can’t be governed like dogs or men alike. Gerund’s dog, Mully, with the flatulent brainpower of a matchead, provides comic relief to the cat’s conundrums, and becomes sacrificial fodder.

The 15 tripartite chapters are almost and sort of clever, and the language, with its aphorisms and puns is well crafted to engage an adult reader, though the tale itself is sketchy. I emailed Jane Yolen to ask about her sources, and she said she has a whole wall of books on folklore that she draws from. 

Though no stranger to Celtic legend, she claims her story was based on Germanic (not Celtic) myth; and Mossman came from forestlore. She said the house itself in the story is based on her home in St Andrews, Scotland, where she spends half the year (presumably as the White Goddess).

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