The Fruit of Passion: Chapter 14

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Well into the night the Rumians rejoiced in their fine choosing of their Queen; over generous goblets of melomel they sang glorious melodies, pouring into their notes all their pride and all their longings whose realization would come at the hands of the seer with the golden-winged feet.

Of dreams they spoke, dreams where Rumia’s soil would always bear dew-glazed fruits and the fields would ripple from the caresses of the breeze as if an endless, bright sea ready to cast its pearls on the shore. Of heartfelt fancies where their children would grow with the binding charms of love and awen, seeking to forge alliances with the realms that lay beyond the glamour. Of yearnings where peace and prosperity would make their nation rise to the summit of greatness and rouse a sense of awe to the hearts of other nations even at the very ends of the earth.

All their aspirations, all their hankerings, all their visions the Rumians placed them on Morella, fervently hoping she would surpass even her mother in majesty and lead them all into a new, ruby-gold era that would be lauded in the poems of the bards and dominate many chapters of future history books.

Many approached Morella with benevolent wishes and felicitations which she received with equal fervour. But beneath her elation, anxiety fluttered and grew by the hour. She entertained no foolish thoughts regarding the quest. The crew–all Rumian and fae knights blessed with the ability to morph into birds–was about to wade into uncharted waters. Would they be able to locate the island of Hyperborea? If they did, would they manage to tear the Porffor away from the royal couple’s possessive grasp? And if they were successful, how high would the price of such a violation be?

Cyprianus had talked of the tranquil nature of the fair Boreades, but Morella shared much more the King’s faith that they wouldn’t relinquish their treasures without a fierce struggle first. The cauldron and the goblet were no chance items, but ones that blurred the very boundaries between life and death. On the wrong hands, their power could tragically disturb the balance of the natural order of things, a thought shared by the King as well.

Impelled by that concern, Morella and Lord Rhys made all twenty one members of their crew swear by a grave oath never to breathe a word about their mission to anyone nor reveal the nature of the vessel they were to bring to Rumia.

‘’It saddens me that I cannot join them,’’ said Dione to Morella after all were sworn to secrecy. ‘’I cannot take the semblance of a bird, but I could be the one to ride upon the arrow.’’

To which Morella replied, ‘’Drem will do so now in your stead. The island of the Hyperborea is no place for you, sister. The absence of the sundown would wreck you. You would be a liability to the whole band.’’

Dione nodded with a deep sigh. ‘’Why didn’t you return the arrow to Cyprianus? What need have they of it since they will all fly in a swarm through the skies?’’

‘’A matter of politics. Abaris is one of them. If the Boreades receive tangible proof of their compatriot’s connection with our own crew, chances are they might be more amenable to our cause.’’

‘’Celyn, too, expressed a desire to cross the borders beyond the North Wind.’’ Dione pushed open the doors of the Throne Room so as to rejoin the feast in the Great Hall along with Morella. ‘’Anna put up a fiery resistance. She wouldn’t hear of it.’’

‘’Understandably.’’ Morella wove her way through the crowd and took her seat at the high table. ‘’Anna is hanging by the thread of an uncertain future. Her mother’s presence is bound to give her great comfort. It’s my keenest regret that I cannot accompany them in their search.’’

‘’Verily.’’ Dione drank from her goblet. ‘’You’re not one to ask from others what you yourself wouldn’t be willing to do. But it would reflect poorly on you if you abandoned our people with the coronation just having taken place. It seems most of the time life works untimely, as if out of spite against us.’’

Morella laughed. ‘’We are the living proof of that, aren’t we?’’

An excerpt from my mythic fantasy novel currently titled The Fruit of Passion.

Please, share your views! All constructive feedback is welcome.

 

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Thomas Dylan: And Death Shall Have no Dominion

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And death shall have no dominion.
Dead man naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
They lying long shall not die windily;
Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through;
Split all ends up they shan’t crack;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashores;
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
Though they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion.

Book Review: The White Wolf of the Hartz Mountains

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Amongst the pages of Frederick Marryat’s gothic novel, The Phantom Ship, lies a short tale titled The White Wolf of the Hartz Mountains. A supernatural yarn filled with strange events meant to haunt the reader, it narrates the tragedy of a family brought to despair and annihilation under odd circumstances.

In the vast expanse of Transylvania, Krantz, a serf, commits  double murder by killing his wife and lord for having engaged in a sexual affair during his absence. Fearing the punishment he will surely receive, he decides to flee with his three young children to an isolated area where none will be able to trace him, thus ending up in the Hartz Mountains.

But the Hartz Mountains conceal within their harshness and cold beauty a horrifying secret. One night, a white she-wolf howls without intermission for hours. Krantz takes the bait and leaves his hut to give chase to her. As he comes a stone’s throw away from her, though, and is about to shoot, the beast suddenly vanishes. A few minutes later, a huntsman appears followed by his young daughter.

Krantz offers his hospitality to the pair of  strangers and not much time has lapsed when he decides to marry Christina, the huntsman’s daughter, first having sworn by a peculiar oath imposed by his new father in law.

 “I swear by all the spirits of the Hartz mountains, by all their power for good or for evil, that I take Christina for my wedded wife; that I will ever protect her, cherish her, and love her; that my hand shall never be raised against her to harm her. And if I fail in this my vow, may all the vengeance of the spirits fall upon me and upon my children; may they perish by the vulture, by the wolf, or other beasts of the forest; may their flesh be torn from their limbs, and their bones blanch in the wilderness: all this I swear.”

Thus, married life starts, but it is far from a blissful one as the menacing oath foreshadows. Christina turns out to be far from the loving and caring ideal of the woman as the Victorians conceived her. Instead, she abuses her stepchildren and abandons her marital bed at night in order to prowl in the forest in the form of a vicious she-wolf.

The Victorians held fast to strict rules regarding women. The female was supposed to exhibit traits of docility and sexual submission, recognizing the power and absolute dominance of the male. Women displaying traits that flouted such notions such as strong sexual urges and passionate appetites were deemed a disgrace and an abomination who had to either be excluded from polite society or to forcibly jump on the bandwagon of meekness.

In the tale, Krantz’s first wife is described as ”more beautiful than virtuous”, a phrase that denotes her vast carnality, something which makes her deserving of her tragic fate. Similarly, Christina conceals a carnal nature, for beneath her beauty a fierce longing for the flesh is concealed. However, Christina takes this carnality to a whole other level, her behaviour even more appalling than the first wife’s. She doesn’t seek for a lover, but devours the little bodies of her husband’s children, her hunger for the flesh acquiring a literal meaning.

Plato had talked of the wandering uterus claiming that ”when remaining unfruitful long beyond its proper time, it gets discontented and angry, and wandering in every direction through the body causes all varieties of disease.” The fact that Christina wanders at night by rejecting her conjugal state and that of motherhood can be interpreted by Plato’s theory as a symptom of hysteria caused by her empty womb. A common belief in the Victorian culture as women not bearing children frequently were thought to suffer from anxiety, nerves and agitation.

Christina’s abhorence to motherhood and her domestic responsibilities incite her to not only beat her stepchildren but to eventually devour them alive. Hearing the howl one night, the oldest son, Ceasar, rushes outside. Later, his mutilated body is found. Christina comments that he must have been hunting the white she-wolf and couldn’t fight off the powerful beast. The male legacy is threatened as the family’s oldest heir lies dead.

It is only after the youngest child, Marcella, is killed that Christina’s bestial nature is disclosed. Seeing his stepmother abandon her bed, Hermann, the only surviving offspring, stalks after her only to see her devouring the remains of Marcella at the little girl’s grave. He dashes inside the house to call his father who, with horror, sees “his wife in her nightdress, on her hands and knees, crouched by the body of Marcella, tearing off large pieces of the flesh, and devouring them with all the avidity of a wolf.”

Struck by the dreadful scene of cannibalism, Krantz drops his gun, the phallic symbol of male dominance. Hermann, as the surviving male heir picks it up and gives it back to his father, forcing the patriarch to come to his senses and assert his authority over his wife, by shooting at the beast.

In the end, a surprising reversal of the werewolf trope takes place. Dead, instead of returning to her human form as it usually happens in the werewolf lore, Christina  remains in the semblance of the white she-wolf. Perhaps a reminder that beneath the glossy camouflage of gentleness and sweet domestication that women present, the voracious beast is always ready to leap to the surface.

Having read this tale multiple times, I found myself conflicted because one could, also, interpret it as going to the entirely opposite direction. Instead of being a story of expression of male Victorian fear and obsession regarding the untamed nature of women and the need for their suppression, it could be viewed as a cautionary tale that warns readers about the dangers of such a catastrophic suppression.

Nothing is known about the first wife. Nor about the second. Their background and character history is a blank canvas. However, a few things are known about Krantz that don’t help the reader picture him in a particularly flattering light. We read that he’s moody, brusque in his manner and violent towards his youngest child. Nothing is mentioned openly, but there lurks throughout the tale an unspoken implication that perhaps it’s Krantz’s male dominance that caused both his wives to disregard their domestic duties and abandon their passive respectability in order to answer their undeniable call to freedom. A freedom gone awry after so much brutal suffocation.

The reader is left wondering: if Krantz didn’t act as a swinish symbol of male power and brutish control, would his first wife seek a liaison outside marriage and would Christina abandon her marital bed at night and sadistically murder his children? Marryat perhaps might be suggesting here that a system of female subjugation to male authority leads to monstrosities and deeply unnatural consequences that can only end in tragedy for everybody involved.

Last, I believe there’s room for a third interpretation (if not for many more). Leaving aside for a moment both patriarchal and feminist perspectives, the story can be read as a narrative of justice. A justice that hovers between the human and the divine laws. Krantz, having caught wind of his wife’s unfaithfulness, ”surprised her in the company of her seducer! Carried away by the impetuosity of his feelings, he watched the opportunity of a meeting taking place between them, and murdered both his wife and her seducer.

”Conscious that, as a serf, not even the provocation which he had received would be allowed as a justification of his conduct, he hastily collected together what money he
could lay his hands upon, and, as we were then in the depth of winter, he put his horses to the sleigh, and taking his children with him, he set off in the middle of the night, and was far away before the tragical circumstance had transpired. Aware that he would be pursued, and that he had no chance of escape if he remained in any portion of his native country (in which the authorities could lay hold of him), he continued his flight without intermission until he had buried himself in the intricacies and seclusion of the Hartz
Mountains.”

Krantz flees the scene of the murder, dreading the consequences of his action. Secluded in the Hartz Mountains, he has escaped from the claws of the human law. However, punishment cannot be evaded, and Krantz has only managed to fool himself in thinking so. As it turns out, he cannot  avoid the punishment meted out by some higher forces residing in this world.

After Krantz kills Christina in the semblance of a white she-wolf, the huntsman returns to the hut and demands to see his daughter. When Krantz lashes out and tells him all that has happened, the huntsman replies, ”Mortal! We have power over those only who have committed murder. You have been guilty of a double murder: you shall pay the penalty attached to your marriage vow. Two of your children are gone, the third is yet to follow and follow them he will, for your oath is registered. Go.  It were kindness to kill thee.  Your punishment is that you live!”

Here it is important to remember that as Hermann, an adult now, narrates this tale to his friend, Philip, the second makes some philosophical and ethical remarks. We read, ”The great principle of all evil fulfils his work of evil; why, then, not the other minor spirits of the same class? What matters it to us, whether we are tried by, and have to suffer from, the enmity of our fellow−mortals, or whether we are persecuted by beings more powerful and more malevolent than ourselves? We know that we have to work out our salvation, and that we shall be judged according to our strength; if then there be evil spirits who delight to oppress man, there surely must be, as Amine asserts, good
spirits, whose delight is to do him service. Whether, then, we have to struggle against our passions only, or whether we have to struggle not only against our passions, but also the dire influence of unseen enemies, we ever struggle with the same odds in our favour, as the good are stronger than the evil which we combat. In either case we are on the ‘vantage ground, whether, as in the first, we fight the good cause single−handed, or
as in the second, although opposed, we have the host of Heaven ranged on our side. Thus are the scales of Divine justice evenly balanced, and man is still a free agent, as his own virtuous or vicious propensities must ever decide whether he shall gain or lose the victory.”

Could the hunstman’s final confrontation with Kratz reveal to us the story’s deeper meaning? If the supernatural forces are in league to deliver justice upon the mortal world and leave the innocent untouched, then the roles are suddenly reversed. Krantz is the villain and the destruction Christina wreaks is merely in the service of just punishment. Where the human law has failed, the law of a superior force is ultimately enacted.

Philip comments about the existence of evil spirits that delight to oppress man and good spirits that work in his favour. Having read the tale on the Hartz Mountains, it becomes evident that what Philip expresses takes on another meaning in the end. Horrific as Christina’s actions might seem to the reader, Marryat might be implying that justice is poetic and the guilty only suffer according to the proportion of the offense they have committed.

A strong case of no rest for the wicked.

 

 

 

 

The Arthurian Realm: The Romance of Tristan and Isolde

Under the influence!

884px-leighton-tristan_and_isolde-1902Tristan and Isolde by Edmund Leighton [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsThis article was first published on #FolkloreThursday.com as British Legends: The Tragic Romance of Tristan and Isolde on September 27, 2018 by zteve t evans.

The Romance of Tristan and Isolde

The tale of Tristan and Isolde became a popular Arthurian tale during the 12th century, though it is believed to go back much further, having connections to Celtic legends. It is a tragic romance that tells of the adulterous relationship between Tristan, and Isolde, the wife of Tristan’s uncle, King Mark of Cornwall, making a classic love triangle that sooner or later must be broken by death. In many ways it mirrors the love triangle of Lancelot, Guinevere and King Arthur, though it is believed to be older. The spelling of the names and the names of some characters vary and there are many different versions, but all…

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Book Review: Sir Orfeo

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Sir Orfeo is an anonymous middle English narrative poem that retells the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. The earliest Middle English version is found among other tales in the Auchinleck manuscript, which dates from about 1330-1340, Geoffrey Chaucer its possible owner. Sir Orfeo appears to have been written  during the second half of the 13th century, and its chief version consists of 602 short lines of rhyming couplets.

In the poem, the reader is exposed to the romance of King Orfeo, a harp player without equal and his fair wife, Heurodis. At the beginning of May, King Orfeo’s wife falls into a deep sleep under an imp, or grafted, tree and dreams she is abducted by the fairy King, shown his fantastic kingdom, and told that, come tomorrow, she will be kept there forever. To thwart the realization of the dream, Orfeo has hundreds of knights guard Heurodis, but they prove ineffective as the fairy King uses enchantment to take her away effortlessly.

Distraught, Orfeo abandons his kingdom to the charge of his steward and takes to the woods barefoot, his only possessions his cloak and harp. Living off nuts, roots, and bark for more than ten years, Orfeo wanders aimlessly. His only respite from grief comes from playing his harp, which soothes him and enchants all the woodland creatures.  One day, he chances upon his wife among a group of ladies from the fairy kingdom. Although Orfeo’s appearance shows the effect of a decade in the wilderness, and his hair is rough and hangs to his waist, Heurodis recognizes him instantly. Overcome with emotion, neither can speak to the other.

Orfeo follows her through a rock and below ground to the fairy kingdom. He gains permission from the porter to enter the castle and, although the fairy King reproaches him for entering his domain without invitation, he listens to Orfeo as he plays his harp. Impressed by his skills, he offers Orfeo whatever his heart desires. Orfeo demands Heurodis and, although the fairy King hesitates to give her to him because the couple seem so mismatched, he honors his word and relinquishes her. Orfeo returns to his kingdom but does not reveal his identity until he tests his steward’s loyalty. The steward passes the test, Orfeo makes his true identity known, and Orfeo and Heurodis are newly crowned. They live and rule in peace until their deaths, upon which, the steward becomes king.

The story contains a mixture of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice with Celtic mythology. However, there are many notable differences between the two tales. In Sir Orfeo the main resolution occurs in Fairyland instead of Hades, and the ending is a happy one. But what truly sets Sir Orfeo apart is the fact that the poem is characterized by the complete abandonment of the ancient Greek spirit and worldview that coloured the original myth. Instead, it is steeped in the Celtic spirit and all its sublime beauty.

The Celtic imagined reality is haunted by the idea of the dreamy Otherworld, a parallel dimension where the fairies and the dead reside. In the poem, proof of that is the presence of the fairies who spirit Heroudis away. The fairy land is conceived as a parallel dimension to the everyday world rather than the Land of the Dead as in the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.

In contrast to the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, the underworld is not a world of the dead, but rather a world of people who have been taken away when on the point of death. In “The Faery World of Sir Orfeo“, Bruce Mitchell views the passage as an interpolation. On the other hand, in the article “The Dead and the Taken” D. Allen points out that the theme of another world of people who are taken at the point of death (while not dead yet) is a well-established element in folklore, and therefore shows the complete folklorisation of the Orpheus story.

Ruth Evans considers the lay of Sir Orfeo not merely a medieval retelling of Orpheus, but  a work heavily influenced by the politics of the time; Orfeo has been criticized as a rex inutilis. The medieval literary motif  of the useless king links Orfeo with several late thirteenth and early fourteenth-century sovereigns, including Edward II. Moreover,  in his role as a harpist, as a type of David, Orfeo becomes the royal figure upon whom many medieval kings modeled themselves.

As an outcast from society, Orfeo presents the figure of the king as an isolated man. He leaves his kingdom in the hands of his steward, upsetting the order of things. Orfeo himself is upset when his wife his taken, and Evans claims in her essay that the poem’s narrative syntax, by doubling social order with the classic romance structure of exile, risk and then reintegration suggests an emotional link to the loss and recovery of a wife with the loss and recovery of a kingdom. Therefore, the figure of the queen stands for political stability and prosperity of the kingdom and the land itself. 

In her essay Sparagmos: Orpheus Among the Christians, Patricia Vicari rejects the idea of the christianization of the myth. In Sir Orfeo the hero is very Celticized, and the fate of Queen Heurodis is similar to the fates of other Celtic heroines. Sir Orfeo remains faithful to a rather pantheistic view, where the fairy king of Celtic literature rules over the Otherworld as a force of nature, neither good nor bad – as opposed to J. Friedman, who argues that Christian undertones relate Heurodis to Eve taken away by Satan in the form of a fairy king. This Christian reading doesn’t hold much merit. The Otherworld is presented as both alluring and menacing and the fairy King is not cast in the role of the villain. What’s more Heurodis is not being punished for any kind of sin or transgression, nor is she necessarily the victim of a targeted attack, but was merely a hapless victim in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But beneath all the symbolism and ambiguity, Sir Orfeo reads as a tale of loyalty and devotion. An exemplary fruit of the Celtic worldview, the poem involves spells and enchantment, a King who loses everything only to regain it after years of suffering, fidelity to spouse and to lord, love, and the all-powerful, magical properties of music.

And so beguiling is the atmosphere that permeates the whole poem, that so many centuries after its composition it still has the ability to mesmerize the reader and invite many more interpretations, as is the case with all fine artistic creations.