Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Medieval Fiction: The Hallows of Ireland & Britain

In my reviews of Bernard Cornwell’s The Winter King and Enemy of God, I noted how the character of Merlin is obsessed with recovering the Thirteen Treasures of Britain, which he believes can restore the power of the old Celtic gods. These treasures, which are sometimes called the Thirteen Hallows, feature prominently throughout Cornwell’s The Warlord Chronicles, some more than others.

The Cauldron of Clyddno Eiddyn, for example, plays the role of the Holy Grail in Cornwell’s magnificent retelling of Arthurian legend, and the Sword of Hael, another of the hallows, turns out to be Excalibur. The other treasures, which include a horn, a chariot, and a knife, among other things, also make an appearance, but none are as important to the story as the sword and the cauldron. The Thirteen Treasures are also the subject of a dark/urban fantasy novel aptly titled The Thirteen Hallows. I’ve never read it (and the reviews warn that it’s quite dark), but it does have an eerily beautiful cover!

Ireland has its own mythical treasures, known as the Four Hallows of Ireland or the Four Treasures of the Tuatha Dé Danann. These items, which are referenced a number of times in my own novel, Enoch’s Device, are the Stone of Fál, the Spear of Lug, the Sword of Núada, and the Cauldron of Dagda. The Four Hallows are also mentioned in Morgan Llywelyn’s novel about the Tuatha Dé Danann – Bard: The Odyssey of the Irish – and the Stone of Fál plays a role in Llywelyn’s Lion of Ireland. The Stone of Fál (also known as the Tara Stone and the Stone of Destiny) was said to roar when the rightful High King of Ireland sits on it – and it does so when touched by Brian Boru, one of Ireland’s greatest high kings. (I’ll have more on him when my series moves on to the Tenth Century!)

The Thirteen Hallows of Britain and the Four Hallows of Ireland almost certainly helped inspire the most familiar “hallows” in recent fiction: the Elder Wand, the Resurrection Stone, and the Cloak of Invisibility from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The “legendary” origins of these items even harkens back to the myths that surround the famous treasures from Ms. Rowling’s homeland.

The above-mentioned books cover a lot of the landscape when it comes to these mythical treasures, but I am curious to know: Do you have a favorite story about the legendary Hallows of Ireland or Britain?

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