GANEIDA'S KNOT.

Go mbeannai Dia duit.

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Quaker by conviction, mother by default, Celticst through love, Christ follower because I once was lost but now am found...

Sunday, April 3, 2011

For here starts war, carrion birds sing, & grey wolves howl. ~The Fight at Finnsburgh.
  You ever get surprised by a book? 
 See I know Bernard Cornwell.  He did a series on Arthur ~ which I was foolish enough to read.  Irritated me no end.  Like any amateur historian with an interest in 4th/5th century Britain [ie King Arthur & the fabled Camelot] I have my pet theories.  I know whether I think he was  real or not.  A king or a warlord.  Whether He was Welsh, British or something feral out of the northern reaches.  I have a vision of the Britain that is from the history I've read & Cornwell didn't fit what was in my head.  Marion Zimmer Bradley [Mists of Avalon]  is closer ~ or Manda Scott [Dreaming the Serpent Spear].  Ok, yeah I know; they're women, but they get it.  They get the mix of hard~nosed realism & Celtic mysticism.  Cornwell went for the Roman angle & that has never ever fitted in my mind.  No one I've ever read suggested Arthur fought like the Romans.  He fought like a Celt & the further you go back, into the very first stories, the original ones Thomas Malory built his Medieval romance around, the less Roman he gets & more Celtic warlord he becomes, half god, half man ~ which is why Bradley & Scott make so much sense to me.  They've read the Celtic material.  They use the old symbols.  They understand the Celtic idea of the King being married to the land ~ to say nothing of Merlin who is very definitely a druid.  Forget priest or sorcorer.  The Druids were power hungry madmen & the real power behind any throne:  Brehons, genealogists, lawmakers, historians, councillors...so Romanizing this period is just sad. [And yes, I know about Mona so think Culdee.]  It was a lot of things but overly Roman it was not, though the Celts practically enough took what they liked of Roman ways: the baths [the Celts invented soap for crying out loud!], the aqueducts, the wine ~ very definitely the wine!

That being the case I was more than a little suspicious of anything else I came across of Cornwell's.  Actually I might have forgiven him his historical inaccuracies if his Arthur was interesting but he wasn't.  He was dull.  Almost as dull & irritating as Stephen Lawhead's Arthur ~ & don't get me started on Lawhead who did things completely reprehensible with people, places & times ~ for which there is absolutely no excuse! None.  Arthur might have been a lot of things, including totally imaginary, but he was hardly dull. At which point it is only fair to point out Cornwell is considered an extremely good amateur historian.

So what was I doing reading The Pale Horseman?  The honest truth? IGA was practically giving them away so I bought one. Now this isn't the first book in the series; it is the second one.  Not that I care & not that it matters.  Enough background story is shared so you can't get lost.  The world is the world that became after Arthur's death, a Saxon world.  At which point I deviate to point out the Scot's word for the English is Sasseneach ~ Saxon, & they are still hated with a passion!  Just so you know.  England is becoming but is not yet.  She is made up of lots of smaller kingdoms, each with their petty king, chief of whom is Alfred, king of Wessex ~ which is sort of in the middle of the south.  Cornwall was on one side, Kent & Essex on the other & to the north was the old kingdom of Mercia..  And the whole lot was being harried by the Danes.  As another aside Viking used to be a verb, not a noun, so viking was something you did, not something you were & what the Danes did was go a~viking, rather successfully as it happens.  Successfully enough they nearly stole Alfred's kingdom out from under him!

The Pale Horseman is the story of part of that war & it's definitely not for the squeamish!  The tale is told by Uhtred, a disinherited Saxon raised among the Danes, pagan in Alfred's Christian court, & a warrior among priests & scholars.  Yes, it is massively bloodthirsty.  No, none of the main characters are at all likable.  It makes you blush for the superstition & sins of the early Christian church but....it was un~put~downable!  It was a romping good read.  Not great literature.  Nothing lovely about the language but it is storytelling at its absolute best.  It grips you by the throat, pumps adrenaline through the bloodstream & keeps you turning pages long after your bedtime!  If you have a strong stomach, highly recommended.  I'll be getting the next in the series.

5 comments:

Bonnie said...

Yay a new series to check out from the library! Watched Friendly Persuasion this weekend and thought of you. :-)

Ganeida said...

You have been warned. ☺ Envy you watching FP. I love that moveie!

Gerry Snape said...

I'm loving all of this passion Ganeida! We have all been hooked on "The Killing" from Denmark on the box...land of those Saxons. And lo and behold at Cafe Church today ...up pops a Dane! Actually I think that my celtic father may have had quite a bit of that in him as he was so tall and blond but spoke with an Armagh twang and taught us ancient words...though I don't know if he realised that they were celtic.
Great!

Ganeida said...

lol Gerry. I wish they would teach history so it was interesting because [to use the term everybody knows] the Vikings at one time held the coastal fringes of Ireland & the Celts held the centre ~ sort of peacably. They held most of the Orkneys too, until about the 17th century, got to America well before Columbus yadda, yadda...I can go on. I found the church stuff fascinating because the Saxons in prior years were considered the worst of the worst, impossible to Christianize & so awful they were the only people the Irish wouldn't go to... you know, all those lone monks sailing off to preach the word...but they wouldn't go to the Saxons. They were hated & feared, far worse than the Danes. Been a while since I did my reading on this so I'm a little fuzzy on some things but the words people choose to keep to describe certain things are very telling. Sasseneach is one of those words. lolOne day I'd like to have the time to indulge my passion for etemology. The killing sounds fascinating.

Jo said...

This is my third attempt to leave a message and I am not having much success -- who know why!!! Feel free if you are inundated by messages from me!