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justice_turtle ([personal profile] justice_turtle) wrote in [community profile] readallthenewberys2013-09-14 11:24 am

Newbery Honor: The Tangle-Coated Horse and Other Tales, Episodes from the Fionn Saga (Ella Young)

Sorry about the delay in posting. I had a day. A couple of days.

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Today in Returning Newbery Authors we have Ella Young, whose previous tour-de-force The Wonder Smith and His Son was made of awesome and win, and took the second of our six five-star ratings so far. :D Once again she's retelling pre-Christian Irish folk tales -- this time from the story of Fionn mac Uail (pronounced "Finn Mac Ool"), one of Ireland's two best-known legendary folk heroes. (The other one is Cúchulain.)



* I have a paperback reprint here, and I don't know if it has the original illustrations (if there were any). We'll see.

* Yup, illustrations by Vera Bock. I never heard of her before, but these look like reasonably good illustrations in classic Celtic knotwork style.

* I've never read this book before, and I'm only very vaguely familiar with the Fionn saga, so... here we go. O_O

* Chapter 1: "A Night of the Nights". We first meet Fionn as a small boy, blue-eyed and red-haired, sitting in an oak forest pounding a deerskin with a stone to soften it in what seems to be approved Irish leatherworking custom. A woman named Bovemall (Bodhmall), apparently his caretaker, praises his skill and compares it favorably with that of his father, former Chieftain of Clan Bassna. Fionn mentions that his father and servants and knew things Fionn does not yet know, like horse-riding and swordfighting; it seems we have a sort of young-Sleeping-Beauty situation here, with the prince being raised by old ladies in a forest. Bovemall has a "comrade" called Liath, another old woman, who is helping her light a fire.

* Flashback time! We get an overview of the sorts of things Fionn knows - woodcraft, basically - and that leads into a flashback where Fionn is thinking about the day Bovemall showed him how to make friends with the wolves. This she did with singing in a forest clearing and then talking with the King of the Wolves about how Fionn wished his friendship. Then they made a formal pact with certain ritual elements, and from that day on, Fionn and the wolves have been friends.

* Bovemall has also taught Fionn various forms of nature magic, how to summon the wind and control the weather and talk to the water-spirits.

* Now it is evening and Fionn puts away his work and goes to the fire. He asks Bovemall if his mother Moorna may come to see him one day, and Bovemall says that she won't be able to, because her husband - her second husband, not Fionn's dead father Uail - has already let her visit Fionn once, in the spring, and is unlikely to let her risk the dangerous journey again.

* Moorna is of the Faery Folk, it seems; she left "the Plain of Honey" (Magh Meall or Moy Mell, also translated "Plain of Joy") to marry Uail, but did not expect that he would die not long after Fionn's conception.

* As far as I can figure out, the usurper Goll who rules in Uail's place in Fionn's ancestral castle of Aloon is a different person from the king who is Moorna's second husband. Goll murdered Uail before Fionn was born, and drove out Fionn and his caretakers to live as fugitives in the forest.

* Now Bovemall is going to tell Fionn the story of the Well of Wisdom and of the Salmon of Knowledge that swims there and "winnows greenness to the earth and life to every living creature", while they wait for their supper of venison to cook in the embers of the fire.

* Around the Fountain of Knowledge grow the Sacred Hazel Trees, which drop their ripe scarlet Hazels of Wisdom into the pool, and the jewel-encrusted Salmon of Knowledge rises to the surface and eats them. Some people have seen the Fountain in dreams, but only the gods or demi-gods, the "Shining Ones", have seen it in reality.

* Ah, and we have an Irish creation myth here! Before the world was made or even thought of, the Shining Ones walked by the pool, and one of them - Sive (not the same as the later wife of Fionn), here also called "Cassir", a reference to Cessair - wishes to see the roots of the Sacred Hazels deep down in the well where the Salmon has never dived. She is swept away "deeper than the Abyss itself" to the place that was not yet Earth.

* Sive created the land and the sea, then later another of the Shining Ones called Partholan came and created plants. After that comes Nemed, whose province seems to be the sky, but the book gets so convoluted and flowery in its prose at this point that I really can't be sure. According to what I'm reading on these Wiki pages, this is a variation of a legend that's supposed to tell about the various races which invaded Ireland and tried to settle there, most of whom supposedly died out completely due to illness, one after the other.

* After Nemed come the Tuatha Dé Danaan or "Folk of Dahna" (this book is, I fear, rather better than I am at translating Irish names into something comprehensible instead of simply rolling around in the fun sounds ;P), a group of semi-deities who later became the Sidhe or Irish Fairy Folk. They were followed by the people of Miled (a rough Gaelicization of the Latin for "Spanish soldier". It's complicated. O_O), from whom Fionn and the other current Irish people are descended.

* Bovemall identifies Sive not only with Cessair but with Dahna and with the goddess Brigit, who is considered by some scholars to have been "adopted" by the Roman Catholic Church as Saint Brigid of Kildare, and calls her the "Mighty Mother", who "has the shape of everything that lives". It's a... for an early Newbery, it's refreshingly unconcerned with proselytizing either Christianity or scientific atheism in opposition to these PAGAN SUPERSTITIONS of a PRIMITIVE PEOPLE. ;P (If I was snarkier than I am, I'd wonder how much that has to do with this particular primitive people being indubitably white; but I don't really think that badly of Ella Young. It might say something about the publishers, though, and what they would accept. ;P)

* Chapter 2: "The Moon-Bowl". Men come at intervals to speak to the young chief-in-hiding Fionn and to do him homage; one man gives Fionn the gift of a walrus or narwhal tooth, which Fionn is to set into the hilt of his sword when he has one, to bring him luck. Fionn is a good hunter with a sling and a rough javelin, but has no sword yet.

* One day a messenger comes who tells Bovemall that Fionn's uncle Crimmall is beaten in battle and fleeing to hide in the western mountains, and the Clan Morna (apparently the people of the usurper Goll?), who want Fionn dead, are looking for him in every forest in Ireland. Crimmall used to send Bovemall warning of the Clan Morna's movements, but now the three wanderers must split up, and Fionn must live on his own, as a herd-boy or a crow-scarer, or a hunter's assistant, or a warrior's apprentice.

* Liath suggests that before they split up, Bovemall should look into her gazing-bowl and see what Fionn's life will be like. Bovemall is reluctant, because the last time she foresaw the future that way, she saw the death of Fionn's father Uail; but eventually she is persuaded, and after visions of various wanderings, she sees Fionn happy and victorious with the "Treasure-Wallet of Uail" in his hands, as his father used to hold it for the "Luck-Blessing".

* We hear about the treasure-wallet: it held powerful talismans and jewels that gave luck to Clan Bassna, and was carried around the sacred flame on festival days. It was lost to Clan Bassna when its traitorous guardian, Lia of Luachra (the second one on that page - apparently no relation to Fionn's guardian Liath also called Luachra), betrayed the clan to Goll in order to have the wallet for his own rather than simply guarding it. Without the luck of the wallet, the clan was defeated in the battle of Cnucha and Uail was killed.

* In the morning, Fionn and Bovemall and Liath take ceremonial leave of the forest that has sheltered them, and go out onto the roads to seek their fortunes.

* Chapter 3: "The Silver Pool". It is many months later. Fionn has wandered all over Ireland since leaving Bovemall and Liath, and now he walks by the River Boyne. He meets a man who is trying to catch the Salmon of Knowledge; it is explained that anything which happens in "the Heaven-World" where the Shining Ones live, such as the Salmon of Knowledge swimming in its pool, creates a "shadow" of itself in the mortal world. The shadow-self of the Salmon of Knowledge lives in this particular pool of the Boyne, called the "Pool of the Star-Dance", and the man wishes to catch this shadow-self.

* The man claims to be a plain fisherman, but Fionn recognizes him as the King's Poet, and says so. Fionn arranges to serve the Poet - hunt, cook, housekeep his camping-place - in return for learning the arts of poetry from him. The poet's name is Finnegas.

* Fionn's real name is Demna; Fionn means "beautiful one", which is a nickname. He tells Finnegas his name is Demna.

* One day when Fionn has been out gathering eggs for Finnegas's supper, he stumbles against a piece of greenish metal sticking out of the ground. He digs it out, and it is a double-edged bronze sword, perfectly balanced and undamaged. Fionn learned swordsmanship from a robber with whom he traveled for a while, but he has had no sword of his own until now. He runs to the river-bank with the sword and the eggs to show the sword to Finnegas.

* Finnegas has caught the Salmon of Knowledge! Fionn will cook it for him. But while Fionn cooks it and turns it on a spit, one little bit of the fish-skin sticks to his thumb and burns him, and without thinking, he puts his thumb into his mouth to cool it. This makes him the first person to taste the Salmon of Knowledge, and thus when Finnegas tastes it, its wisdom has already gone into Fionn. When Finnegas asks, Fionn explains what happened, and then explains that he is called Fionn and therefore the prophecy that the salmon would be eaten by someone called "Finnegas or Fionn" is not inaccurate.

* So Fionn eats the rest of the salmon, and makes plans -- to gather a group of other boys and train them as an army, and then with Crimmall's counsel, try to overthrow Goll and take back the kingship of Clan Bassna for Fionn legitimately, with the blessing of the High King at Tara. Fionn remarks that when he is king, he will "set poetry as a craft for warriors", which indeed he will do if I recall my Irish history properly.

* Chapter 4: "The Treasure-Wallet". Two soldiers have a conversation about Crimmall, who is very ill and feverish, and has sworn he will take neither food nor drink till he takes them with Fionn. The soldiers think this vow will be the death of Crimmall, since they're convinced Fionn is dead and buried.

* Crimmall comes out of his tent and says he hears the shouting and singing of Fionn and his young army in the forest. The soldiers hear nothing, but eventually a brown hound - Fionn's hound - comes running out of the forest, goes back in, and leads Fionn and his army out laden with spoil. Fionn carries the Treasure-Wallet of Uail, which he hands to Crimmall, and announces that Lia of Luachra is dead. Fionn found a woman weeping by the roadside over her son that Lia had slain, and avenged the dead boy by killing Lia and sacking Lia's "dune" or minor castle.

* Fionn and his army leave their treasure, including the Treasure-Wallet, with Crimmall while they continue to rove over Ireland. They stay one night with Crimmall, and the Treasure-Wallet watches over them.

* Chapter 5: "The Lordship of the Fianna". Fionn goes to Tara; and on the day he comes to it, he learns that a godling called Allyn, son of Midna, a member of the Tuatha Dé Danaan who lives on the very top of Slieve Cullion (the Mountain of the Wonder Smith), burns it down every three years and will indeed burn it down tomorrow, on the Eve of "Sowan" (Samhain).

* Fionn grows angry and asks why Allyn burns down Tara. Apparently it's because Uail stole a spear from Allyn's palace, and nobody knows where it is; it was not found in Uail's dune when Goll sacked it. Fionn asks why nobody stands against Allyn, and the answer is, that many warriors have tried but that Allyn's music puts them all to sleep. The High King has offered a reward of anything it's in his power to give, to anyone who can stop Allyn from burning Tara.

* Fionn speaks with an old clansman of his father's, one Fiacha son of Conga, who is walking along the road carrying some fish for his supper. Fionn explains that he is the son of Uail, and proves it by describing the Treasure-Wallet to Fiacha; then Fiacha explains that he stole the spear from Uail's dune while Goll was beginning to sack the place, and buried it, and built a little hut over it, in which Fiacha now lives.

* Fionn asks Fiacha for the spear, not to give it back to Allyn and beg him to go away, but to fight him with it. Fiacha is dubious, but agrees to bring it to Fionn that evening at Tara.

* Now we hear of the High King, Conn the Hundred-Fighter, and of his glory as he sits in state at Tara. To him enters Fionn, and makes Conn swear to give him whatever he requests if he can save Tara from burning, even if the lords of Conn's court protest against the gift. Conn so swears.

* Now it is evening, and Fiacha brings to Fionn the spear, which is named Birgha. Like some other legendary weapons, it is alive, and thirsts for blood. It is wrapped in a fairy cloak which restrains it; the only time Fionn's father Uail unwrapped it, it killed a close friend of Uail's. Fiacha warns Fionn to be very careful with it, then leaves so as not to get tangled up in the coming fight.

* Fionn waits for several hours, then at last he hears the music of Allyn. There's a full page talking about the magic music, which really needs to be read aloud for proper impact, and I can't summarize it here. Anyway, Fionn nearly falls asleep, but he leans his forehead on the flat of the spear-blade and realizes that the spear is singing a song of its own, a battle-song that wakes him up and gives him strength.

* Fionn sees the world in bright and unearthly colors as Allyn comes nearer, and Allyn himself glows like flame. Fionn begins to unwrap the fairy cloak carefully from about the spear, but just as he finishes, Allyn breathes lightning toward Tara. Fionn flings the cloak across the breath's path, and it blocks the fire and sends it into the ground. A second and a third time Allyn breathes lightning and Fionn deflects it with the cloak; then Allyn flees and Fionn pursues him with the spear.

* They run toward the Smith's Mountain where Allyn dwells, and as they cross the Boyne, Fionn splashes some of the water into his own face and cries out "Hail, Goddess!" to Dahna the Mighty Mother, to whom that river is sacred. She gives him strength, so that the god cannot outrun him, though he cannot catch up either.

* Finally they come to the mountain, but Allyn is wearied, and just before he reaches it, Fionn throws the spear and pierces him through. Then as Allyn stumbles onward toward the safety of the mountain, Fionn catches him by the hair and pulls him down.

* Allyn seems dead, but has no wound, and the spear has disappeared. Allyn speaks and says, "My head is yours for a night and part of a day. The Spear is mine till the end of time. I do not rue the bargain." So Fionn takes his head.

* Fionn presents the head to Conn, and makes his request: to be leader of the Fianna (the army of the High King) as Uail was before him, and to have "recompense and honor and the favor of the King's countenance for the broken men of Clan Bassna"; and all this Conn grants to him.

* And Goll and his brothers, Garra and Cunnaun and Art, and all the other chiefs in the Fianna, swear to follow Fionn as their leader.

* And now in comes a messenger saying that as soon as they put up Allyn's head on a pole outside for the people to see, a great silver and gold bird swooped down and took it away, weeping. The King says that this is because Allyn was of the Folk of Dahna, and "they care for their own", but Fionn thinks to himself that it's as Allyn told him.

* Chapter 6: "The Palace of Aloon". If you recall, Aloon is Fionn's father's palace, which Goll took, but now gives back freely. Lord Nuada of the Shining Ones, leader of the People of Dahna, built it for Moorna, Fionn's mother, when she married Uail, and it is more beautiful than anything human beings could have built.

* Now we hear about the Fianna as it was run under Fionn. Every man in it had to be both a poet who knew the major sagas of the time by heart, and an accomplished warrior and woodsman. There were specific tests, such as defending oneself against nine spearmen at once with only a shield and a hazel-rod; and many of the great warriors and heroes of the day were members of the Fianna.

* Chapter 7: "Saba". One night Fionn goes out under the stars with only his two Fairyland dogs, Bran and Sgeolaun; and at dawn they come to a mysterious thorn-wood, from which runs out a silver-white hind (adult female red deer). The two hounds chase her silently, and Fionn follows them.

* The hind and the two hounds lead Fionn back to his own palace, and as soon as the hind crosses the threshold, she turns into a beautiful maiden wearing a silver cloak. She tells Fionn that she has escaped from a fairy palace and has come here to ask for protection from the Dark Magician who enchanted her into a hind. Fionn promises protection, and would go out and kill the Dark Magician if it could be done, which it cannot. But as long as the girl stays in Aloon she is safe; the magician cannot take and re-enchant her unless she leaves of her own free will.

* The girl's name is Saba, and she and Fionn fall in love and are soon married. Saba cannot leave the castle, and Fionn spends all his time with her, not wishing to leave either, until raiders from Lochlann (Vikings) attack the east coast of Ireland and Fionn has to take the Fianna to go fight them.

* Fionn leaves the best guards and magical protections over Saba that he can, and after a week when the Vikings are defeated, he travels back home as fast as he can. But he finds that Saba is gone; yesterday the Dark Magician came in the shape of Fionn himself with his two hounds, and Saba ran outside to greet him, and was changed back into a hind and taken away over the hills.

* Fionn spends the next seven years roaming Ireland with Bran and Sgeolaun, looking for the silver hind, but he cannot find her. At the end of that time he stops looking and goes out hunting again with the Fianna as he used to do.

* They go out hunting with many very famous hounds, on the slopes of Ben Gulban (Gulban's Mountain), and the hounds pass a white-flowered thorn-tree that the hunters don't recall ever seeing there before. Then Bran leads all the rest of the hounds down a narrow gully that definitely wasn't there before, and they find a naked child, who (Fionn is sure) is the son of Fionn and Saba. This is Usheen (Oisín or Ossian), "Little Fawn", who grows up to be a warrior and poet like his father.

* Chapter 8: "The Tangle-Coated Horse". Cunnaun, one of the Fianna, is bragging about his expertise with horses. Cunnaun is a big stocky man, and Diarmid the Brown-Haired, a skinny younger member of the Fianna, starts making poems kidding Cunnaun about how he'd pick the stockiest, slowest horse of any lot. At the end of one of Diarmid's poems he neighs, and a "high screaming unearthly terrible neigh" answers him!

* This comes from a "big shambling loose-jointed tangle-coated horse", being led by a man of similar description, both of whom shake the earth when they walk. They swap some name-calling banter with Cunnaun, then they go up to Fionn and ask to be given "a meal's meat and a day's work", which it is said that Fionn never refuses to anyone who asks him. The man's one skill or gift is, that he is "the laziest serving-man in the whole wide world", and his horse is similar. So Fionn is stumped to come up with a day's work to set them, but he says he will gladly give them both a meal anyway.

* Cunnaun says the man can probably eat "all before you as the darkness eats a hillside", because "from cavernous emptiness comes loud-mouthed boasting"; and the horse, taking offence, goes down into a hollow where Cunnaun's own horses are pasturing, and starts kicking and biting them all about.

* Cunnaun shouts at the stranger-man to call his horse out of the pasture, and the stranger says Cunnaun should call the horse himself.

* Cunnaun takes a boar-spear and runs down and tries to kill the tangle-coated horse, but it does not take even a scratch, and Cunnaun winds up breaking the spear on its hide.

* So then Diarmid gets on the horse's back and tries to move him, but the stranger-man says that the horse can't even feel skinny Diarmid's weight on his back, so Diarmid tells Cunnaun to get onto the horse with the sixteen next biggest guys in the Fianna, but Cunnaun says he wouldn't sit on that horse's back for half the world.

* But once the seventeen biggest warriors of the Fianna besides Cunnaun have gotten onto the horse's back, it still won't budge, and Cunnaun gets angry and hauls on the horse's tail.

* And the horse starts moving, slowly first and then faster, and Cunnaun realizes he can't let go. And the horse races across fields and rivers, with Fionn and the hounds and the other Fianna warriors running after him; and the horse runs even across the sea, where Fionn et alia can't follow.

* Then there come two youths, one of whom holds a white-blossomed branch, the other of whom carries an axe made of green stone and the tooth of a sea-lion. The one with the axe has the skill to make a good seafaring ship with one blow of his axe and one turn of his hand, and the other can follow any trail over land or sea. So Fionn takes them on as servants and orders them to build the ship, let Fionn and his warriors embark, and then follow the trail of the horse.

* They do so, and follow the trail to a strange country. There they meet another strange youth, who challenges Diarmid to a wrestling-match, and while they are wrestling, pulls him into the nearby lake, which then sinks through the earth and leads the Fianna to the Land-Under-Wave, Tir-fa-Tonn, where the People of Dahna moved after the people of Miled arrived in Ireland, due to some trickery by the leader of the Milesians.

* They meet a leader called Silver Flame, who explains that the entire deal with the tangle-coated horse and all the other strangers was done expressly to lead Fionn to their country for a visit, because he kept turning down their invitations. Diarmid and Cunnaun and all the Fianna-men who rode the tangle-coated horse are there in their country and none the worse for wear.

* Cunnaun is aggrieved, though, because he feels that the trick with the horse was ungentlemanly, and Silver Flame says they will make amends. So Cunnaun says that the People of Dahna have to send the horse back again to the hill where they started, with seventeen of the Fair Folk mounted bareback on it and someone of Cunnaun's own rank to dangle at its tail. And Silver Flame agrees that this shall be done, and that proper white horses of Fairyland shall be lent to carry all of the Fianna back to the hill in style.

* It turns out that the tangle-coated horse is a disguise of Mananaun's own horse, that is the horse of the king of the Tuatha Dé Danaan, and that the "laziest serving-man" was Silver Flame or Mananaun himself.

* Everyone parts in a rare good humor, and Diarmid is given a "knot of remembrance" by the boy with whom he wrestled, who promises to send a unicorn to bring Diarmid to visit often.

* Chapter 9: "The Shining Beast". Fionn and the Fianna go out to hunt in the fog one morning; and when the fog lifts they see a Strange Beast, with the head of a boar but with many more horns, and with the body of a stag with a boar's pelt, and with "feet like no animal under the sky", and with "on either side of its body a shining moon". And they begin to hunt after the Beast, but a giant Red Woman comes upon them and begs them to call off their dogs, for she has hunted it for thirty days and nights all the way from Lough Darrig, and must hunt it till it falls in order to save the lives of her three sons.

* But Fionn says he won't call off his dogs for anyone. He says he will give the woman the Beast after he has caught it, but she laughs at him.

* It turns out the woman is a piast, a water-serpent, in human form, and she claims to be swifter than the Fianna's hounds and stronger than they themselves, and with a more ancient right to hunt in Ireland than they have. She dares Fionn to stop her, and turns into her natural form and begins to boa-constrictor him; but his dog Bran pounces on the piast and grabs her throat, and she has to let him go in order to make him call Bran off. Then she turns into water and sinks into the ground.

* All but three of the Fianna have gone on with the hounds; Cunnaun and Diarmid and another called Lewy's Son are there, and they can't move until Fionn touches them and unfreezes them. Cunnaun counsels against chasing the Beast, but Fionn will not be gainsaid, and they go on with Bran in the lead.

* (I note that Ms Young keeps referring to Bran as being female. I have no idea if this is accurate; I always had a vague notion that Bran and Sceolaun were brothers, but I can't swear to it. And it's not like it does any harm, to have a female character in the story, even if it is a dog. ;P)

* Finally the Beast comes to a hill-palace of the Fair Folk and goes in, and the Red Woman comes up to them and asks if they have the courage to follow her into the hill. Fionn says they have the courage, but they are all spattered with the Beast's blood and their own sweat, and he would not be so rude as to enter a hill-palace in such a state. So the woman summons some fairy youths from the hill to bring water and clean clothes for the Fianna, and when they are all presentable, they go into the hill with the woman.

* And it turns out the King of this hill-palace protects the Beast from being caught or harmed. But it's very cranky about that, and rejects the protection, saying it wants to trust in its own speed and strength. And it runs out of the hill, and the Fianna and the Fair Folk all follow behind.

* Finally at sunset they run him down, and he falls dead and turns into a dead man-shaped creature - not human. The Red Woman warns that there is poison in all his garments and his hair and his many jewels; and she takes some earth and drops it ceremonially over the man, saying that her three sons are saved: that the poet can make songs again, the Master of Wisdom has peace again for meditation, and the sculptor can make statues again at will.

* And then the body of the man that was the Beast shrivels up like a many-colored leaf and blows away. The woman warns the Fianna that they may have bad luck from the death, and she offers to take any of them who wish to go, into the land of the Ever-Shining Ones where she herself is going. They all turn her down, but Cunnaun (bless him, I'm really starting to like this grouch) complains that they've had a long hunt and no venison at the end of it.

* So the Red Woman waves them toward a large red stag that is running past, and they all hunt on his trail; but they can't catch up with him, and he leads them to the valley of Glen-na-Smole (Valley of the Thrush) in Wicklow, in the moonlight.

* Fionn calls off the hounds, saying that he doesn't trust this valley in the moonlight, and the Red Woman appears again and says he is very wise. Then when Cunnaun keeps grouching that "there is no venison in this hunt", she takes out a small white hound from her cloak and sets it on the stag, and it catches the stag and kills it. Then the Red Woman goes away.

* Cunnaun counsels that they should leave the stag alone, because he suspects it will come to life again as soon as they look away, and lead them to the Land-Under-Wave or to Balor's country; he'd rather go home to Aloon than spend the night in an Otherworld. Bran agrees when Fionn asks her, and she leads them home.

* Chapter 10: "The House in the Valley of the Yew-Tree". It is another day, and Diarmid and Cunnaun, who seem to be the main supporting cast members of this story arc, have been out hunting and are cooking venison for their supper on the hot stones of a "Fenian oven" or hunter's oven. (The word "Fenian" comes from "Fianna".)

* Ahaha, and Cunnaun's monicker is "Cunnaun of the Bitter Tongue". ^_^

* Anyway, they banter back and forth a bit - the best part of this book is the banter among the Fianna, which I'm having to skip over because you can't summarize it - and eventually Diarmid asks Cunnaun to tell him the story of how Fionn was once, like them, camping out at the end of a long day's hunting, but saw a house and went into it and... "we all know how that venture shaped itself", says Cunnaun darkly. I like Cunnaun. He's a snarker.

* Anyway, here is the story. Fionn and Usheen and Cunnaun and another man of the Fianna called Keeltya (Cailte mac Rónáin, Fionn's nephew) were out riding, and they came to a hill over "the valley of the old yew tree". They felt weary and decided to camp there, but while they were getting ready to sleep, Usheen spotted a light in the valley.

* Usheen suggested they should go down and ask for shelter in the house; Fionn doesn't think there should be a house there, but Keeltya says that maybe it's a house of the Folk of Dahna, where Fionn's people will be welcome just the same as in a house of common Irishmen. Cunnaun is against going, but everyone banters him about always predicting the worst, and they go down to the house. Cunnaun goes with them - because he doesn't want to leave them to their fate, he says when he's telling Diarmid this story afterwards. ;-)

* They hear a scream just as they come near the house, but they still go forward, and some rough-clad men come and take hold of their horses' bridles and bid them welcome. They go inside the house, which promptly seems to shrink to a nasty smoky hovel. Fionn sits down on a bench, and Cunnaun stands by the doorway, looking around. The shadows keep thickening, and when Cunnaun mentions that there should be more light and fire, the man of the house - who looks like a goblin - throws elder-wood onto the fire. (This is mildly poisonous, and Cunnaun has a brief as-you-know-Diarmid moment where he makes sure we know that elder-wood boughs are traditionally used for laying curses.)

* There are other creatures in the hovel with them too, besides the goblin-man: an old hag who has three heads on one neck, one with a thin one-eyed face, one with a round three-eyed face, and one with the face of a weasel; and a headless creature with a large eye-socket in the middle of its chest.

* The goblin-man orders music for the guests, and on one side of the room there rise up nine headless bodies and on the other side nine disembodied heads, which scream to each other! Fionn, like a gentleman, says "When a house offers the best that it has, no better can be asked," when the goblin-man asks "Is it good music?" :D Fionn is good at talking to these critters, whatever they are.

* Then the goblin-man goes and gets food for them - smelly, tough, stringy meat on spits of rowan wood, also known as mountain-ash wood. Cunnaun implies that there is something very seriously wrong with using rowan wood for cooking-spits, though I can't find out what. Anyway, the goblin-man puts the meat so close to the fire that it seems to burn, but when he offers some to Fionn, it is as raw as though it had never been near the fire.

* Fionn says "It is not my habit to eat raw meat" - Cunnaun says he managed to indicate to Fionn that there was something wrong with either meat or spits, although Cunnaun (bless him) is the very definition of an unreliable narrator, and Fionn may have noticed the rowan-wood spits or the weirdness with the raw/burnt meat on his own - and the goblin-man gets very angry and accuses Fionn et alia of rejecting hospitality offered.

* Then all the creatures in the room jump up, and the bodiless heads start flying about, and attack the Fianna men; the three-headed hag jumps on Fionn, and Cunnaun grabs Fionn's bench and starts hitting out with it, trying to get the hag off of Fionn. The fire goes out, and they keep fighting in the dark.

* They fight until a great voice outside the house cries out "Halloo, Halloo, the hunt is up, Hydramel, Hydramel", when they fall down senseless and don't awaken till dawn. Then they find that they're lying out of doors on the grass, with no sign of the evil house, and not a scratch or a bump on any of them, and their horses grazing close by.

* Fionn mopes that maybe they deserved "such hospitality" because of the death of a Queen's son, that they did not prevent. And Diarmid asks what is that story, and Cunnaun tells it, saying that it's a short one.

* The story goes, that this prince was the only child of a Northern king and a lady of the Hidden Folk who can turn invisible, and that he wished to be the most perfectly accomplished and wise prince possible. He came to train with the Fianna, and was better at everything than any of them, and so everyone was jealous and envious of him, and he died because "the gladness of the earth was sundered from him, and the strength of the sun."

* Chapter 11: "The King's Candle-Stick". I think Cunnaun and Diarmid are still out on this same hunting-trip, although it's hard to tell because Ms Young begins each chapter in medias res, whether there's been a change of scene or not.

* Anyway, Diarmid wants to ask Cunnaun about the interpretation of a dream Diarmid has had, but Cunnaun steers the conversation away because he wants to tell more stories about his exploits with Fionn. ;-) He asks if Diarmid has heard the one about how Cunnaun in the shape of a giant magical bird rescued Fionn from captivity in Lochlann (Scandinavia); Diarmid says he has.

* Cunnaun mentions "Even Keeltya, that made a candlestick of himself and outfaced so many things" was not as awesome as Cunnaun -- and Diarmid asks, quite logically, how Keeltya turned himself into a candlestick.

* Well, it's a way of speaking. More strictly, Keeltya acted as a candle-bearer, as a disguise. You see, Fionn was imprisoned in Tara under the High King's wrath, and the Fianna could not break him free or even manage to speak to him. But at last, Keeltya disguised himself as a merchant and infiltrated Tara, and stole the garments of a serving-man whose duty was to hold up a big waxen candle in the feasting-hall for the King.

* Keeltya had been to Tara for a feast, and knew the right way to hold the candle, but it was still a very tiring job. Normally there would be several servants who would hold the candle during a great feast, and Keeltya has the first shift.

* But the High King recognizes Keeltya, and in the best Irish passive-aggressive way, he doesn't make a scene; he just mentions casually to Fionn that the candle-bearer looks weirdly like Keeltya. Of course Fionn denies that it is Keeltya, saying that Keeltya is too proud to stand as a serving-man for any king in any palace.

* Then when the shift-change should come for the candle-bearer, the High King says that he likes this candle-bearer and they should not change; and again at the next shift-change. And then near the end of the meal, the King throws the wine from his cup in Keeltya's face, and still Keeltya doesn't move or wince.

* And so the High King is impressed by Keeltya's loyalty, and orders him to hand the candle "to the loudest laugher" (the nobles of the court were laughing at Keeltya for taking all the king's abuse without complaint) and come and talk with him, and Keeltya asks what ransom the High King wants in exchange for Fionn's liberty. And the King tries to bargain him a bit, and finally sets the price: one pair of every bird and every beast that Ireland has. Keeltya agrees, and spends the next year gathering and catching all the animals -- even the Cat from the Cave of Cruachan, which Cunnaun thinks was a bit above and beyond even for Keeltya, since this is a mystical cat, the King o' the Cats or one of his retainers, which had never been out in daylight before.

* Anyway, Keeltya brings all the animals alive in a great herd to Tara, and into the house the High King has built for them on the lawn. The house has nine doors, and Keeltya fastens every door tight, and waits for the King to come out to greet the sunrise. And then after greeting the King properly, he flings open the doors of the house, and every animal and bird comes roiling out at once among the King's sunrise procession! :D

* And like any good Irishman with a sense of humor (which should be all of them, but you never know), the King takes the joke as a joke, and gives Fionn his freedom.

* Chapter 12: "King Under Wave's Daughter". Fionn, Usheen, Keeltya, Diarmid, and Cunnaun are out by the sea in Achill (an island off the west coast of Ireland), in a swamp, looking for shelter. They've been hunting wild goats along the sea cliffs, and now they're looking for a sturdy cottage they built last year, to shelter them from the storm that's about to break.

* An osprey lands on Diarmid's shoulder for a minute before flying away again. Usheen says that should bring Diarmid luck, and Cunnaun (who I'm really, really starting to like - the old curmudgeon) says Diarmid needs more common sense, not more luck. :-)

* Cunnaun, who is a good tracker, finds the way to the cottage, and they shelter inside. Fionn starts trying to make fire with two sticks while Usheen sings the ceremonial prayer that goes with this activity. (I love how full of apparently traditional poetry this book is.)

* Soon the fire is lit. While they are bantering about who should tell what tale to entertain the others, Diarmid sees "a Face brighter than lightning" look in the window. Cunnaun warns that Diarmid should not look at such things for fear they'll entice him out into the storm to his death.

* (I really like Cunnaun. He's got my own philosophy: ghaisties and ghoulies exist, but mortal man should not meddle with them, or they may destroy him whether or not they mean to.)

* Diarmid then hears a voice "lamenting and crying for shelter", and Cunnaun again warns him to stop his ears against it. But Diarmid goes over to the door, and he hears what sounds like a child's voice crying out, "Let me come in, let me come in. I am so cold!"

* Diarmid wants to let the voice in. Cunnaun is sure it's something evil trying to trick them. Diarmid cites the Fianna rule that they must never refuse shelter to a traveller in need, and points out that Fionn could take down ten demons by himself and even Usheen could take just one.

* Fionn tells Diarmid to open the door if he wants, but he must deal single-handed with whatever comes in; none of the other Fianna men will help him. Fionn, Keeltya, and Usheen then lie down and try to go to sleep. Cunnaun stays on his feet.

* Diarmid tries to open the door just a crack, but the storm blows it wide open, and a "horrible and fearful Hag" stands on the threshold, dressed in rags, and with coldness and water flowing from her into the room.

* Cunnaun, muttering "May the Smith protect me," hides in the farthest corner of the room and wraps his cloak around his head so that he can't see or hear anything more that goes on, and hopefully won't get trapped by enchantment like he suspects Diarmid is going to.

* But Diarmid invites the Hag into the house, formally, as a guest. She comes in and tries to sit by the fire, but the water dripping from her rags nearly puts it out. The Hag asks if she may sit next to Diarmid for warmth instead.

* Diarmid agrees. The cold of her makes him pass out, but when he awakens, he is still in the house; the storm is over, the fire is blazing, and a beautiful young woman who seems made of moonlight is standing by the hearth wearing a cloak like a sea-wave.

* This is the former Hag, now un-enchanted by Diarmid's kindness; she is the daughter of the King-under-Wave, and she asks Diarmid to choose a gift from her as reward.

* Diarmid wants a royal house overlooking the sea, on the crest of the hill above this valley. This the girl says will be created at sunrise, and she says that because it was so easy, he can have a second asking.

* So Diarmid says, "I would like to see yourself again. I would like you to be in the house." And the girl says that, though she knows Diarmid will always care more about a swift hound and a good story than about any king's daughter in the world, she will be in the house. Then she leaves.

* In the morning Cunnaun wakes Diarmid up, and he tells them about what happened. The house is there; Cunnaun warns that if Diarmid goes into it, the likelihood is that he will never come out again, being enchanted. But Diarmid does not listen and runs up the hill into the house.

* Cunnaun says they must go and try to get Diarmid out of the house again. Fionn agrees that he, Fionn, has sworn to bring Diarmid up as a warrior, so it is his duty to help rescue Diarmid. They decide that if they can get Diarmid to speak harshly to the Lady and blame her for something, the spell will be broken, but otherwise Diarmid will be taken away to the Land-Under-Wave and they'll never hear of him again.

* Now we hear about how Diarmid went into the house, and about the beauty of the Lady and how she has her servants fetch for him everything that he desires, including his own best hound and her three whelps (puppies).

* One day Diarmid says he wishes to go hunting with his comrades, Fionn and Usheen and Keeltya and Cunnaun. The Lady says he may go, but Diarmid worries that she and the house will be gone when he returns. She says they will only disappear when Diarmid has spoken to her three times in anger, or if he ever mentions to her the hag she was when they first met.

* The Lady's name is Murias, by the way.

* So Murias takes a green beryl-stone and uses magic to see the four men whom Diarmid wishes to visit, and she makes a magic to try and break their power over him. She draws the four of them to visit her house, and the first one who comes is Fionn.

* Murias gets Fionn to come into her house and drink some charmed mead which will attach her magic to him and work to break his power over Diarmid, but in return, Fionn manages to get her to give him his choice of a gift from the house, and he takes one of Diarmid's hound's puppies.

* So when Diarmid returns, he speaks angrily to Murias about the loss of the whelp, and this tells Murias that Fionn's magic is stronger than her own.

* The next day Diarmid again goes out hunting with his friends, and Murias makes an even stronger charmed cup of mead. She draws Usheen to her house, but in return for entering and drinking her health in the charmed mead, he takes the second of the three pups of Diarmid's favorite hound.

* And again Diarmid reproaches Murias and she knows that Usheen too has a magic stronger than her own.

* Now on the third day when Diarmid is again out hunting, Murias makes the strongest charmed cup she knows how to make, and she draws Keeltya to her house, and he takes the third pup.

* When Diarmid returns, the hound runs out to him, howls three times, and falls down dead; by which Diarmid knows that the last whelp is gone, and he curses Murias for the third time and names the hag in his curse. So the house disappears and there is nothing there but the dead dog, and Diarmid, and the goblet or "wishing-cup" Murias used for the enchantments, still wet with the wine of Moy-Mell (the Plain of Honey).

* Diarmid, after burying his dead hound, takes the cup and runs down to the sea. He finds a coracle on the beach, and takes it out to sea. At first he rows, but soon the coracle is flying over gigantic waves with a speed no rowing can give it, and Diarmid kneels in the boat, waiting for what shall happen to him.

* Now the boat is taken in a magical bubble down to the bottom of the sea. Diarmid walks through the Land-Under-Wave, still carrying the wishing-cup of Murias. He comes upon three drops of red blood among the grasses, and he takes the three drops in the wishing-cup and carries them with him.

* Now Diarmid comes to a giant woman cutting rushes with a sickle. The woman tells him that Murias has come home, but is sick unto death because of Diarmid's betrayal.

* Diarmid asks how he can get into the Princess's bedroom and speak with her, and the giantess says that it is not possible; but Diarmid shows her the cup he carries and says that he has spoken with the Princess before, and the giantess offers to carry him in the middle of the bundle of rushes she is cutting, for that bundle is to make a bed for the Princess, who has a fancy to sleep on rushes like a hunter.

* Diarmid takes the offer, and he speaks with Murias. She says her illness is because of the three drops of her heart's blood that she lost when she thought of Diarmid three times on her way home, and even though Diarmid has brought the drops, she can only be cured if she drinks them from the Cup of the "Plain of Wonder", Magh an Ionganaidh - the Cup of Healing - and only if the King of that place gives the cup to Diarmid with his blessing.

* But Diarmid says he will try, and Murias tells him how to go about the quest. The Plain of Wonder lies under a sea, across a river from the Land-Under-Wave.

* While looking for a boat to cross the river, Diarmid sees a giant man with red hair and red skin and red clothes, and this man takes Diarmid across the river in the palm of his hand.

* It turns out that this giant-man is called the Red Listener, and that Diarmid once helped his master, the King of the Plain of Wonder, across a river in Ireland when the King was in disguise as an old vagrant seeking help. The Red Listener has helped Diarmid across the river to return the favor, and also tells Diarmid how to get to the palace and what words to use to ask for the Cup.

* The King gives Diarmid the cup, which is cut from a single large sapphire; and the Red Listener takes Diarmid across the river again, and helps him fill the Cup from the Hidden Well, which is what needs to happen to cure the Princess.

* The Red Listener also tells Diarmid what will happen: when he puts the first drop of blood into the cup, he will forget his love for the princess; when he puts in the second drop, he will forget his journey to the Plain of Wonder; and when he puts in the third drop, he will become homesick for his own country, and the Red Listener cannot tell him how long it will be before he, Diarmid, gets home.

* Diarmid leaves a blessing on the Red Listener, and goes back to the palace and heals Murias as he has been told; and because of his homesickness, Murias kindly sends him home and wishes him well.

* (And it strikes me that this is pretty much a straightforward inversion of the usual Eros-and-Psyche story, not so much in what happens, as in what ending is considered "happy". In the stories where a woman has lost a man through disobeying the arbitrary restriction, she seeks after him to find him -- "Seven long years I served for thee, the glassy hill I clomb for thee, the bluidy shirt I wrang for thee, and wilt thou not wauken and turn to me?" -- and the happy ending is when the two of them are married and there are no more obstacles between them. But in this case, the people we're supposed to sympathize with - Fionn and the Fianna - play the role of the "wicked stepsisters" who trick the male Psyche-character into disobeying the restriction, and after the Psyche-character has found the female Eros-character and saved her life... it's deliberately played as (relatively) happy and right that he leaves and goes back to Ireland to "his own place", and that he loves it the more for his absence.

If I were writing a whole paper on this one chapter/story, and had quite a bit of time to do it in, and more knowledge of literary analysis, I could analyze the differences in gender relationships portrayed by these two versions of the storyline, and maybe even draw a conclusion. As it is, all I have is the fact that it's an inversion I've never seen before, and an awkward feeling I don't know how to support that it may or may not have anything to do with the fact that Diarmid is a man and Psyche is a woman.)

* (I think the matter is that in the other versions I've read, where the Psyche-character is a woman, it's always portrayed as either a happy ending if she gets together with the male Eros-character again at the end, or an unhappy ending if she doesn't. Which is all very fine and proper in the grand tradition of romantic fairytales -- BUT. It does involve an unavoidable presumption that female!Psyche's proper place is "with her man". And when we have a male Psyche whose proper place is not "with his [dominant] woman" but "with the male hunter-warrior Fianna"... then in that wider context, there's a very definite implication that our story's reinforcing the heteronormative gender binary, with the woman as submissive housekeeper and the man as unconstrained "one of the guys", whether that's intended by the writer or not -- or even whether the original writers knew the parallel story or not.)

* (Since this is a traditional Irish tale of the Fianna, I'm not docking Ella Young for it. I just... wanted to point all that out explicitly.)

* Chapter 13: "The Nuts of Knowledge". Fionn is waiting alone by the Tarn of the Shadow near holy mountain Slievenamon. It is Samhain Eve, when Sive the Mighty Mother descends from Slievenamon and goes to the Well of Knowledge to drink. If Fionn can stay awake all night, see Sive's shadow flicker in the depths of the tarn as she returns from the Well of Knowledge, and call out her name at the right moment, she will give him of the Water of Knowledge to drink, and he will be able to speak with all the birds and beasts and with every living thing.

* This is a very poetically written chapter, so I'm condensing it a lot more than some of the others that were more full of incident.

* The Fairy Host passes Fionn, and the night passes, and when Sive passes the tarn, Fionn calls out her name. But he feels that the sight of her beauty destroys him, and he cannot speak his wish.

* Fionn dreams, or seems to dream, that he falls into the water, and that he is the Salmon of Knowledge, and that he jumps into the beauty of flaming wisdom above the water, and that he falls through the Abyss and dies.

* And then he awakes, and thinks that he has been dreaming... but he has now all wisdom, and the ability to hear the talk of the birds and the grasses and every single thing.

* And that is the end of the story of Fionn proper. The last chapter, Chapter 14, is "Three Hundred Years Later", and I know what happens in this one.

* A porter-monk called Benedictus, at an Irish monastery where Saint Patrick is staying, is our POV character. A crowd of men run up to him and tell him that they were trying to move a big pillar-stone which fell across the road, and that a giant man with golden hair came up on a white horse, and called them weaklings, and bent down from his horse and shifted the stone easily with one hand; but the saddle-girth broke from the strain, and as soon as one of his feet touched the ground, he turned into an old and withered man, and his horse turned invisible and ran away with the wings of the wind.

* Now some of the workers are bringing this old man to see St Patrick and have him exorcised in case he's a demon. Benedictus brings Patrick out from the church, and Patrick takes the old man into the lawn of the monastery and brings him food and drink, and asks to hear his story.

* And the old man says he is Usheen the son of Fionn, and when he has eaten and when Patrick has brought a scribe to note down all that Usheen shall say, Usheen tells how he was riding on the beach with the Fianna and how Niamh (here spelled phonetically "Nee-av"), the daughter of the King of Tír-na-nÓg, came riding up and called him to come away with her, for her heart was stolen by the beauty of his poetry.

* And Oisín went with her, and thought that he dwelt with her for three years, but in the outside world it was three hundred years. And when he wished to go home again she told him this, but he still wished to go, so she lent him a horse and warned him not to touch the soil of Ireland or he would age three hundred years at once.

* So, as we know, Oisín fell from his horse and is bound to stay in Ireland till he dies. Patrick and the others tell him what they know of the after-history of Fionn and the Fianna, and how it is said that Fionn lies sleeping in a hidden cave "until the time comes".

* So Oisín stays with the monks until his death, and tells them all the stories of the Fianna that he knows, and the scribes write them down, "and we that have the tales are thankful." The end.



That was a good book.

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