November seems to have been a month of starting books and not finishing them. I started a novel by Isabel Allende and did not finish it, as it’s rather depressing. I started reading a book by Nigel Pennick written in 1992, and then learned that he has links with the far right, and haven’t felt like continuing with it (I probably will finish it, because I can read critically, but just felt sick at heart after finding out about it). I have managed to finish two books, though.
The Hollow Hills, by Mary Stewart
This is the sequel to The Crystal Cave (which I read in June), and just as finely written. It deals with what Merlin did during Arthur’s childhood, how he found the sword Excalibur and put it somewhere safe and mysterious for Arthur to find. I like the way that Mary Stewart paints the Arthurian story against a believable sixth century backdrop, showing a time of upheaval after the departure of the Romans, and the lingering remnants of Paganism set against the backdrop of the rise of Christianity.
Puck of Pook’s Hill, by Rudyard Kipling
Possibly the first Pagan novel I ever read. This book introduced me to Wayland Smith, Mithras, and Puck. It also contains the song that begins, “oh do not tell the priest of our art, for he would call it a sin, but we shall be out in the woods all night, a conjuring summer in”.
Two of my favourite characters in the book are Parnesius and Pertinax, the two Roman soldiers who are sent to Hadrian’s Wall by Maximus (Macsen Wledig). I am convinced that their friendship was actually love.
Kipling’s view of British history is rather optimistic and deterministic, especially his somewhat romantic view of the Norman Conquest; and his portrayal of Kadmiel, the medieval Jewish gentleman, is somewhat problematic, though Kipling is clearly sympathetic to the medieval Jewish community, despite repeating the myth that they were somehow destined to be moneylenders (whereas it was because they were forced to be).
It’s necessary to read this book with a critical perspective. Even as a child, I found some of the poetry in it a bit too much. However, the excellent bits outweigh the flaws, in my opinion (and it was written in 1906).
One can definitely see how this book, by instilling a love of the countryside and of history, contributed to the Pagan revival. The prose is beautiful, the characters deftly drawn, and the tone elegiac and wistful (though not to the same extent as the sequel, Rewards and Faeries).