Thursday, 28 June 2018

'Willow Rawnie'

This tale from Tree Spirit... is an interesting example of the historical genre story - one with what Monty James calls 'the slight haze of distance'. There's also a fine example of the framing narrative that also distances the action and leaves us wondering just how reliable a narrator can ever be.

Michael Eisele begins with three young-ish veterans of the Great War on holiday in Wales. The men have just failed to climb a mountain, and are pestering locals in a pub for ghost stories. Eventually they settle on what they assume to be an elderly local, only to find that he is English and at least as well-educated as they.

The old man, Ambrose, tells the tale of a encounter when he unwisely set off into the mountains unaccompanied, had an accident, and by rights should have died. That he did not he attributes to the intervention of Willow Rawnie, a beautiful young woman of the Roma people. She heals his injured leg by a combination of folk remedy and what seems to be enchantment. Then the two part company, but not before Ambrose offers Willow a token of thanks in the form an ancient gold coin.

The story is one of the 'good' spirit, offering wonder and pathos instead of suspense and terror. It's not easy to pull off this kind of tale, but I think Eisle does it very well. He has an excellent feel for the rich texture of myth and word-of-mouth storytelling. I had never heard of Willow Rawnie before, but here she is, a truly memorable character who epitomises one of the marginal, overlooked aspects  of my own people's history.

So, another good one. More from this running review very soon.


michael eisele said...


Interesting, that last line. Myself descended from two families, Hill and Wood on my mother's side. The best part of any family's history is the part you have to discover for yourself.

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