I bought the third part of the Hyddenworld saga by William Horwood when it appeared in paperback, which was almost one whole year after the publication of the book. I’ll admit, having devoured the first two parts, it took some effort not to give in to buying the hardcover. But I prevailed because I have about 200 books left to read, and because I find a hardcover book very clumsy to read. In the end Harvest easily exceeded my high expectations. It deserves an extensive 'leeservaring'.
In the prologue the author mentions the Mirror-of-All, in which the hydden believe:
“There are surely very few gatherings at harvest time that do not give thanks to the Mirror-of-All, in which hydden live their lives as reflections – living, moving, loving, dying as if they are real but knowing in truth that life itself is as insubstantial as a passing mist.”
Welcome to the world of William Horwood. A world in which nothing is what it seems, but where everything has meaning and in which nobody doubts all that exists between heaven and earth. In Awakening the story of Judith was told. She is the daugher of Katherine (a human) and Jack (a hydden). They are part of the prophecy that says they have an important role to play in preventing the world from going under (“the Mirror-of-All will crack”).
But first let me give you some background. In the sixth century Beornamund, a craftsman with exceptional skill, crafted more or less by accident four gems. Each one is bound with one of the seasons. Through the ages the very powerful stones vanished, which caused unbalance to the earth. Only the recovery of the four lost stones and resetting them in the golden pendant which Beornamund had once forged for this purpose, only then can the end of the world be prevented. The prophecy states that the Shield Maiden owns the pendant. For long the hydden believed Katherine to be the Shield Maiden, but in Awakening it becomes clear that it is Judith.
In a way she is the embodiment of the suffering of Mother Earth. Her childhood consisted almost exclusively of terrible pains, because her body ages much faster than that of a normal person. One day in the normal world means one whole season for Judith. So in four days she really ages one year. That is her suffering. Judith doesn’t go after the lost gems herself. That task is appointed to the most beautiful character in this series: Bedwyn Stort. Even though he and Judith live in different dimensions, they love each other. It is like all the best loves in literature, a love that cannot be. However, Stort is not willing to abide by that.
In Harvest the quest of Bedwyn Stort (“scrivener, scholar and seer”) continues, with Jack and Katherine by his side, as well as several other remarkable characters. Their quest is the finding of the gems of the seasons, so that the Shield Maiden can bring them together. Only, Stort doesn’t have a clue as to where he can find them. Happily the gems of spring and of summer have already been retrieved. And now the search for the gem of harvest commences. But that is not the only story line.
Brum, the centre of the free hyddenworld, lies below Birmingham in the country that the hydden call Englalond. Brum is under threat by the hydden of The Empire, called The Fyrd. They represent the dictatorship that has spread from the German hyddentown of Bochum with brute force. Slaeke Sinistral, whom we get to know well in Awakening, has been Emperor for a very long time. Now he has retreated in one of the deepest chambers in Bochum, to surrender willingly and fully to the musica universalis that can be heard there.
“A combination of falling water and draughts, which sometimes whispered and occasionally raged, produced a miracle of sound.”
For years he remains there in some kind of trance.
“The empire he built from the base of a ruined business (…) became to him no more than a pastime. His real work lay in learning how to meld his spirit and body, his mind and soul, with the musica and through that with the Universe.”
All day-to-day affairs are carried over to his most loyal companion, Niklas Blut. Once a prisoner on death roll, but now for years true to his promise to Sinistral: to always and everywhere be honest to him in what he thinks, finds and sees.
Sinistral has lost faith in The Empire.
“Like an eastern mystic, or one who has dwelt in the desert and seen the truth, Sinistral had seen the truth of things.
All is illusion.
All is but a reflection which, for the hydden, is made in that infinitesimally thin Mirror-of-All, that fragile shifting plane, on whose near-non-existent surface all things seem to be, yet nothing is at all.”
One of Blut’s strongest generals, Quatremaine, is preparing the invasion on Brum. This story line is a familiar one within the work of William Horwood. The struggle against the powers that forcefully try to restrain freedom. Or in the writer’s own words:
“that which all true hydden love and fight for – freedom of the spirit and liberty of the individual.”
Harvest, like the other books in this series, contains too many unique story lines and events than can be captured in one ‘leeservaring’. One that needs mentioning however is that of 'The Scythe of Time'. The company of Stort, Katherine and Jack encounters this scythe of time and understand that this marks the beginning of the End of Days. This natural phenomenon is hard to describe. It sucks up all and everything which then sort of explodes into tiny fragments, like a mirror that falls into pieces. They barely survive.
One other story line that I want to mention, is that of the human Arthur Foale. He and his late wife Margereth, raised Katherine. She was a little girl when a car accident took away her father. Jack, who was in the human world at the time, rescued her and her mother from the burning wreckage. This story is beautifully told in the first part, Spring. Katherine’s mother never quite recovers and withers away. When she has died Arthur and Margareth adopt Katherine.
Arthur is a professor in seismology and he is the only human who knows about the hyddenworld. He discovers a way to travel in between the human world and the hyddenworld, by performing some sort of dance inside a henge, a natural circle. One of his most brilliant students, Erich Bohr, suspects something. As the inexplicable natural phenomenons increase in the human world as well, the authorities have hired him to investigate its origins. He visits Arthur, but gets nothing out of him. Bohr takes Arthur to a distant accommodation, as his guest, but Arthur realizes that he really is Bohr’s prisoner. Just outside the facility lies a natural henge. Arthur manages to escape and to perform the dance inside the henge. In front of his guards he vanished into thin air.
Arthur then finds himself in the hyddenworld in a sewer system from where he barely escapes drowning. He is captured by the Fyrd and looks upon a grim and probably short future. Out of the frying pan, into the fire. But fate, or the wyrd (more about that later on), brings him before Niklas Blut, the new Emperor. Blut has just arrived in Englalond in the company of Quatremaine, for the invasion on Brum. But Blut doesn’t believe in it. He would preferably cancel the whole operation, but his authority is fragile. Staying in Bochum would have aided Quatremaine in his evil intentions, so Blut had no other choice but to come along. But in Englalond he is more Quatremaine’s prisoner than his commanding officer. Arthur quickly becomes his true companion, in a way that Blut himself was to Sinistral. With the remainder of his authority he frees Arthur from the dungeons and appoints him as his personal assistant.
Judith’s part as the Shield Maiden is not restricted to suffering and the receiving of the gems of the seasons. On the white horse of Uffington – a mythological horse that has been carved on a hill nearby Uffington and can be seen from the sky – she travels in a different dimension and reality towards people who need her help. If they are in trouble, or stuck on their quest for her cause, the Shield Maiden gives them a little nudge into the right direction, and sometimes the nudge is replaced by a firm kick in the… Like when she awakens Sinistral from his slumber, because he still has a task to fulfil. For many years Sinistral possessed the gem of Spring, which he repeatedly used to renew his life strength. After Judith has urged him to come fully awake again, Sinistral finds a new kind of peace:
“He had finally learnt the lesson that eternal beauty is not found by clinging to a false eternal mortal life, but in the graceful acceptance of inevitable death, without fear and in a spirit of compassion for self and all others.
Sinistral had grown wise.”
Stort and his travel companions finally arrive at Brum, where Stort locks himself up with the mysterious embroidery of ã Faroün, a legendary hydden. In this tapestry lies the answer of the whereabouts of the gem of autumn, or so Stort believes. The mind journeys that Stort embarks upon are strongly surrealistic, and he just barely survives them. They do bring him closer to the mystery of the gem of autumn, though.
In the meantime Blut and Arthur have managed to escape their prison and also reach Brum. There they inform everyone about the oncoming invasion. Blut has stored the blueprints of Quatremains plans into his eidetic memory. How this invasion will proceed, and if or how the gem of autumn is found, I will not disclose here.
The term ‘wyrd’ is often used by Horwood’s characters in this series. The wyrd is the unnameable urge to do something. It is the sense that you simply have to be somewhere at a certain time without knowing why. It is the course that events have to take.
“Naturally Blut had heard of wyrd, and it had never made sense to him to think that things happened for no reason. There was an order to the Universe, a harmony to its musica. Things didn’t just happen. Wyrd was the Mirror’s purpose which, often, was beyond the hearts and minds of mortal kind to understand.”
I am forced to leave many story lines and characters unmentioned. It is the amount of characters, who are miraculously connected to each other in terms of blood and of destiny, and it is the amount of intertwining story lines that make this series so extraordinary. The stories moved me emotionally, and in many characters of mythical proportions I recognized the presence of deep wisdom.
William Horwood has the ability to bring tears to my eyes within half a page. I admire him as a writer for his language, his timing and his many insights. Admire with a capital A, mind you.
Read: December 2013