Crossposted from Cocktails and Hot Sauce
There’s a part of every novel that’s a nightmare to write. In Bound to the Beast there’s little doubt about that part that gave me the most grief – bringing life to the Wild Hunt.
Ah yes, the Wild Hunt. A pack of the undead who maraud across the land, terrorizing the natives and sucking blood! Ghosts! Zombies! The evil dead, with their eyes drooling from their sockets and their flesh hanging off! That’s going to be fun to write, huh?
Well, you’d think so, and it was fun to research. The origins of the Wild Hunt are obscure and diverse, encompassing the Germanic ‘Wilde Jagd’ and the Nordic ‘Ride of Asgard,’ their leaders including Odin, Woden, and in England King Arthur, Sir Francis Drake, and the devil himself, as well as Herne the Hunter, the hero of my novel (see my pictorial history of The Horned One.)
The hunters themselves have variously been portrayed as the rotting corpses of condemned criminals, hellhounds, fairies, or the souls of deceased, unbaptised infants (the latter two, of course, sometimes perceived as one and the same.)
And their purpose?
Well, usually the Wild Hunt were seen as harbingers of doom, scourging the land on the eve of great disasters, and that’s the angle I used in my book, where my tortured anti-hero, Herne, has led the Hunt across England on the eve of Viking pillaging, the Norman Conquest and the plague of the black death.
There are plenty of awesome descriptions of the Hunt too, not least in the romantic literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when so much ‘ancient’ folk lore was (re)invented.
Arguably most evocative is W.B. Yeats, ‘The Hosting of the Sidhe,’ from his collection inspired by Gaelic faery lore, The Celtic Twilight (1893).
The Hosting Of The Sidhe (by William Butler Yeats)
The host is riding from Knocknarea
And over the grave of Clooth-na-Bare;
Caoilte tossing his burning hair,
And Niamh calling Away, come away:
Empty your heart of its mortal dream.
The winds awaken, the leaves whirl round,
Our cheeks are pale, our hair is unbound,
Our breasts are heaving our eyes are agleam,
Our arms are waving our lips are apart;
And if any gaze on our rushing band,
We come between him and the deed of his hand,
We come between him and the hope of his heart.
The host is rushing ‘twixt night and day,
And where is there hope or deed as fair?
Caoilte tossing his burning hair,
And Niamh calling Away, come away.
Hmmm, a bit of a hard act to follow.
Yes, but I really shouldn’t whinge. Reinventing the Wild Hunt for my own purposes was hard work, but a hell of a lot of fun. The main trouble was representing the Hunt as anything other than a monolithic mass, so I turned, as so often, to research.
I discovered a plethora of colourful characters, including Wild Edric, once a Lord of the Welsh Marches, and his fairy wife Godda, who apparently led the Hunt to terrorize the people of Shropshire before the British campaign in Crimea in the 1850s, and prior the First and Second World Wars. It’s always good for a character to have challengers snapping at their heels, so I made my Herne work hard to keep control of his hunters.
The Wild Hunt, then, has haunted imaginations for centuries, and after a little exploration, they certainly took root in mine. When the wind moans and rattles through the trees of the New Forest, it’s hard not to prick up one’s ears, listen for the bay of the hunting hounds and the pounding of the hooves, and shiver at the prospect.
Could it be time for England to fall again?
Well, I bloody well hope not. But I wouldn’t say ‘no’ to a fleeting glimpse of Herne and his fairy band…