A timeless fable about love and courage, well told and beautifully illustrated.
In this illustrated tale, a young stag makes a dangerous journey to a legendary garden to get help when his herd is attacked by wolves.
Buckan, a young stag, is charged by his father to find the Great King Stag after their herd is attacked by wolves and the lions, their former allies, turn on them: “The King will know what to do. He is our only hope.” Buckan leaves behind the beech woods of home for a peril-filled climb to the Mountain Garden, where the Great King Stag lives. He dodges snarling wolves, his own panic and fear, and other dangers while meeting creatures like Bat, Crocodile and Salmon. The King appears to Buckan and willingly surrenders himself to Lion; just before his spirit leaves his body, the King tells the younger stag, “My brave friend, follow your heart with love and valour.” A black stallion tells Buckan: “You are ready to realize your destiny….When you connect to Mountain Garden, you remain strongly rooted in love. This will overcome fear.” Returning home, Buckan rallies the stags for a last desperate battle. In his debut book, Ottley presents a swiftly moving, muscular fable with evocative descriptions of the natural world: “[T]he bats began to rise up in the dawn sky, a magnificent cloud of fluttering silhouettes.” In a story that can be equally appreciated by adults and children, he makes tangible Buckan’s pain, fear and hope, helped by excellent use of traditional elements from fables and fairy tales, such as animal helpers and the journey motif. Holt’s black-and-white illustrations, with the active, brushy but serene feel of Japanese ink paintings, match the story well. There’s a downside, though, to the book’s philosophy, as expressed by Salmon: “I began to realise that my outer world reflected my inner thinking.” This comes dangerously close to blaming the oppressed for their oppression; besides, surely the outer world has agency, too.
A timeless fable about love and courage, well-told and beautifully illustrated.
Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2014
Page Count: 108
Publisher: Perpetualaum Books
Review Posted Online: Dec. 10, 2014
Review Program: KIRKUS INDIE
Categories: CHILDREN'S GENERAL CHILDREN'S
Project Muse: American Book Review - Misty Mountain Top
While recalling the holy grail of the archaic fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, this fable dangles not one but twin rewards.
A well-endowed cervid on a mission to save his kindred from wolves confronts enemies while making friends on the earth, in the sky, and throughout the water. Who is this antlered stag?
Or, what is this deer: red deer, white-tailed deer, black-tailed deer, fallow deer, elk, reindeer, caribou, moose? Yet, does it matter? Were the story concerning the now extinct Irish elk and was set back 10,000 years rather than in a fabled timeless cosmos, the outcome would have been different, possibly more nuanced, even more tragic, or at least less comic! Interspersed with the text we do have black-and-white graphic images for crib notes, from the pen and brush of Chloë Holt; these illustrations eliminate as contenders some of the species and, certainly, the Irish elk. They also do justice to the stag’s interlocutors, red in tooth, claw, fang, and jaw.
We also can infer from the protagonist’s description as a white stag, the White Stag, or White Stag, and from his given name of Buckan, that we are dealing with a significantly masculine male of whatever species, “buck” for a male deer also saturated with associations with striving, resisting, vaulting. It’s also clear this Buckan comes of a noble lineage—his father leading the mobilization against the marauding wolves. Furthermore, it is his father who dispatches Buckan on his quest.
Allowing the temporal period to be left magically suspended, we still ponder where Buckan finds himself on the globe, in what sort of landscape, or is that also irrelevant? From the book’s title, Mountain Garden, we expect elevations in topography with some temperature gradient, yet a moderate clime at the summit to allow for a garden—verdant, we assume, not frozen. Along with altitude comes a gradient for water, as well, and with relief, water seems to flow downhill and entertain a waterfall. Could this be anywhere, anywhere there are mountains or at least hills, strewn with chestnut trees, copper beech, oak, a copse of fir, a tinge of pine?
In this tale of adventure, Buckan sets out with this mandate from his high-status father to first seek the Great King Stag, who in turn passes the buck, as it were, instructing Buckan to continue in pursuit of the Mountain Garden upon which goal Buckan’s natal pack of deer should be forever released from the threats of the wolves, the first other animals on the scene in this narrative.
One after one, or several after several, Buckan encounters creatures, besides the wolves, in scrambled fashion including lions, pheasants, bats, stallions, salmon, crocodiles, serpents, geese, mountain goats, and beetles. Many of these animals have speaking roles, either as individuals or as representatives of their kind. The serpent lisps, and the trees do not speak, except to indicate by their presence.
Three lions, thought first to be allies against the menacing wolves, take down Buckan’s only two lieutenants. After an exhausting battle, Buckan awakens from nested nightmares, his stiff joints souvenirs of some other reality, uncertain about his next steps. Enter the Great King Stag or Great King Stag with the next clue: proceed through the Dark Forest to Mountain Garden. Even Mountain Garden is but a way-station for the exhausted White-Stag-in-making, as the grail moves ever forward with waves of intemperate contraspecific challengers in this otherwise clearly temperate zone.
Each encounter is a test of Buckan’s strength and endurance, his belief and faith, while providing a teachable moment: should each pair of eyes be embraced as a friend? Can his helping hand or hoof solve all the inequities in the land? The reader shares Buckan’s disorientation, as the ordeals challenge the reader as well. Sometimes Buckan suffers from trances, mirages, flashbacks, nightmares, and wandering in circles only to recover his analytic self with a start. The reader staggers between articles and capitalisations, attached to singular, plural and collective nouns. Often, though not always, speaking creatures are singular, capitalised, and article-free, representing their natural kind. The serpent, for instance is singular and capitalised: Serpent lisps.
With his heritage, Bucken could be excused for an attitude of entitlement, but, in fact, he shows himself humble and more than occasionally gullible. He is the obedient son and the naive trekker. He anticipates only the best of natures from each creature, even as one after one they betray his trust, to ridicule, taunt, trick and tackle. Buckan stumbles through all that would test him, sometimes saved by a glimpse of a Golden Doe. The doe provides consistent, gentle and subtle guidance, and returns for a reprise on the final page of the tale.
Meanwhile, somehow circling back from Mountain Garden, some of the nasty tricksters have had a change of disposition and intervene to assist Buckan in the ultimate battle with the wolves - not Wolf, not Wolves, not the Wolves, not virtual wolves, but real ones. The wolves are glued to their stereotype as antagonists, menacing but for their nameless instinct-driven horde.
One never knows which creature will relax to allow trust and discover friendship, or why or how or when. Too often Buckan's guard was down when he should have been suspicious. His evidently protected youth led him to assume the best of others, assuming them to be either friends or acquaintances whom he might help with their feigned problems that always turned out to be traps. After coming through these ordeals some of these creatures do convert and come to his aid, as proper friends. Lion returns to back up White Stag in combat and Mountain Goat scatters the wolves while bat returns in plural to darken the sky.
While recalling the holy grail of the archaic fairytales of the Brothers Grimm, this fable dangles not one but twin rewards. On the one hand, Buckan-now-White-Stag-and-Lord strides through the looking glass to safe his kindred while making more friends than enemies along the way. On the other hand, even though his interest in Golden Doe remains unrequited, White Stag has learned as much about himself as he has about the world- and more than he could have mastered without embracing risk. Bottom moral line: respect elders but follow your bliss; stay positive but not into gullibility, and explicitly expressed- love dissolves fear.
Reviewer Bio: : Myrdene Anderson is an anthropologist, linguist and semiotician at Pardue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. She has extensive fieldwork experience in Norwegian Lapland and is widely published.
104Pages; Print, $7.99
MOUNTAIN GARDEN - An Appreciation By ROBIN DUTT
It takes the reader on a vital journey through danger, right, wrong, faith but most of all - love.
Mountain Garden is written in and as a classic picaresque narrative. It contains time-honoured, favourite writing styles including elements of the morality tale, fairy tale, epic and of course, the instructive fable. The pace is measured very deliberately, the words, spare. The stateliness of the actual pace links directly with the tale’s protagonist, Buckan, a creature who bears all the hallmarks of loyalty, spirituality, steadfastness, unselfishness and loyalty – in fact the perfect ‘gentil knight’ as Chaucer has it or the mediaeval knight chevalier based on earlier Arthurian legends.
Buckan is instantly recognisable as an Aslan-type figure and the stag itself is of course particularly linked to royalty – and especially depicted in heraldry the stag is often pure white in colour (with its attendant symbolism) and also depicted with a simple but impressive crown around its lower neck.
The tale is certainly atmospheric.
There seems also in Mountain Garden an undeniable folkloric element set at no particular time. It could be just as plausible to understand that the story is set in the long and distant past or indeed, so far into the future as to be positively post-apocalyptical. The odds are on the former but the latter cannot be eschewed either. In either case, the creatures have come to possess sophisticated human traits such as concepts of rivalry, hierarchy, treachery, position and power and of course, forging or switching alliances.
At times, Mountain Garden has the feel of a mediaeval romance itself based on, however lightly – say, Chaucer’s characterization of birds and animals such as ‘Parliament of Fowles’ or the arrogant farmyard cock Chanticleer in the Canterbury Tales. Tristan and Isolde too, perhaps?
The inclusion of rich, visual description, used strategically makes the text especially magnetic and enjoyable in places.
A spiritual journey, legendary quest, a fauna epic, betrayal versus heroism – Mountain Garden’s strength in the main lies in the fact that it has a familiar structure that resonates and reminds with childhood moments. It takes the reader on a vital journey through danger, right, wrong, faith but most of all – love.
Reviewer Bio: Robin Dutt has been art critic, curator and adviser for over a decade, working for BBC radio, The Independent, London Evening Standard and Galleries Magazine amongst others. He has written many catalogues including those for the Musée Rimbaud in France and the Academia Italiana.
Mountain Garden: Publishers Weekly
Readers (esp. adult ones) seeking a dose of spiritual affrirmation can take heart from its message.
When marauding wolves and once-friendly lions threaten the deer realm, a young stag named Buckan is dispatched to ask the Great King Stag for help. The elder stag instructs Buckan to find the Mountain Garden, “a magical pace that he had heard mentioned in the fairy tales of his fawnhood,” and to “embrace the power” he finds there. The king’s warnings that Buckan’s greatest challenges lie ahead and that things “are not always as they seem” prove true as Buckan journeys through the perilous Dark Forest, encountering a conniving bat, a treacherous crocodile, and a hostile mountain goat. Ottley’s first novel is less an animal adventure aimed at children than an allegorical tale about summoning inner strength in order to triumph over dark, threatening forces. Holt’s bold, inky b&w illustrations, which have the feel of violently stroked watercolors, accent Buckan’s journey with dramatic and ominous notes. Though this fable of trust, forgiveness, redemption, and the strength-giving power of love occasionally gets caught up in its own portentousness, readers (especially adult ones) seeking a dose of spiritual affirmation can take heart in its message. All ages. (BookLife)
Will Ottley, illus. by Chloë Holt. Perpetualaum Books (www.mountaingarden.co.uk), $7.99 paper (104p) ISBN 978-0-9927763-1-2