The nearest I can come to describe this book is a “concept album”. It’s not a piece of fiction, although some of the prose pieces could stand alone as short stories. It’s not a collection of poetry, although it is interspersed by different poetic forms. From a pagan perspective, it reads like a series of journeys, into the past, and into other realms, and into other states of mind; sometimes divine, sometimes Other.
The author, Lorna Smithers, appears to have a link with Gwyn ap Nudd, for she says that he “challenged me to ride with him through the war-torn centuries to recover his forgotten mythos. This book is a record of that journey.”
According to this mythos, Arthur and Gwyn are opposites, with Arthur becoming the mainstream, Christianised version of the mythology of the ancient Celts. The book is laid out in a prologue, followed by six sections that contain this narrative from earliest times “After the ice age” up to “The brink of time”.
Landscape and flora and fauna feature largely in the imagery, along with war and battle motifs.
I read it straight through from beginning to end, but once the reader has established the terrain, I felt invited back in to dip in and out of periods. Its prose has a mysterious Tarot-like quality, oracular and hymnal.
This version of Arthur is one I haven’t personally encountered before. For example, here is the tone of her rhetoric with regards to The Once and Future King:
The Once and Future King has Returned with his promises to make our country great again. He’s reassembled his Knights of the Round Table with their hawkish eyes and pockets filled with pickings from the underworld.
He’s won over the masses with charismatic bravado bragging about his domination of an age when the nation was one.
Ezra Pound once said that a book should be like a “ball of light” in your hands. I was very much reminded of that when I read through the various and varied manifestations of voice in this book.
Although it contains nods to shamanism, wicca and nature-paths, and Celticism and Arthuriana, it doesn’t read as an eclectic hodge-podge. Instead, it reads like a katana blade of silken steel, hammered so firmly from disparate bands until it too acquires the soul of the smith, the voice of the poet.
I would urge you to read this book. If it confirms your own instincts about the path you have chosen, then that is good. If, however, it challenges your path, then that too can only be a good thing, for it will make you return to your own roots and examine them for integrity. Trees bend in the wind to be strengthened when they meet a storm-wind.
I can think of no better way to finish off than to quote the last words of the text:
I light a fire beneath the cauldron to rekindle our magic and celebrate with Orddu and the witches of Annwn until the sun rises to fill our sacred valley with a new dawn.
[T J O’Hare is the author of Amnesiak: Blood Divinity (Spero Publishing).]