White Stag Cover

 

In a high-fantasy style, 1938 Newbery winner The White Stag, written by author and illustrator Kate Seredy, lays out the mythology of the ancestors of and prophecy surrounding Attila the Hun and his epic journey into his European promised land. In a tale that seems both like a tiny Wagner opera and Norse-Eastern take on Moses, this slim book is the first time I’ve ever run into something approximating a sympathetic look at Attila, usually just a byword for destruction and evil. But Seredy, while not down- playing the blood thirstiness of Attila, also sets him in a lineage and (somewhat dysfunctional) family-line which has been chasing the ghost White Stag westward for generations.

 

White Stag with moon 

 

What I liked. This book had much more of a fairytale quality than most of the previous Newbery winners. The prose was sweeping, and there were omens, sacrificial fires, prophecies, and my personal favorite, two moon fairies who are captured at dawn and happily become Attila’s grandmother and great-Aunt.

 

White Stag Attila triumphant 

 

What was interesting. I think what was interesting to me was how Hungarian born Seredy was retelling a myth in Norse-style to reclaim a Hungarian figure at the same time that the Nazis in Germany were doing similar things with the German story. I wonder if there were other European countries in the 30s who were fascinated with creating a National mythology. Also, I found the account of how Attila’s mother dying at his birth and his father’s subsequent hard-heartedness was given as the reason that Attila never knew any love, and thus was so violent a warrior. I know there are other accounts of Attila, but I think that this might have been Seredy’s modern explanation based in childhood trauma. I certainly found that it made Attila considerably more sympathetic to me as a reader.

 

 White Stag Nimrod

 

What were some limitations. I think one of the challenges of a book that traces four generations is that we don’t have relationships that stretch throughout the whole book. There are a string of father-son relationships, but we don’t really get a set of characters growing and learning from their mistakes and ultimately overcoming them together. Perhaps that is just outside the epic legend genre.

 

 White Stag Nimrod sacrifices horse

 

Why I think it’s a Newbery. Well, it’s very pretty. It has pretty illustrations, and pretty prose. It’s a sweeping book set in Western Asia and Eastern Europe about an important historical figure.

 

 White Stag Attila in Battle

 

Similarity to other Newbery winners. It’s our third Eastern European set book alongside Trumpeter of Krakow & Dobry. Interestingly, Trumpeter opens with a description of later invaders from the east, “The Tartars came through the world like a horde of wild beasts,” which falls in line with the usual Western tendency to look at Eastern invaders as wild barbarians wreaking havoc compared to Western expansion which was some sort of birth right. But White Stag takes a different perspective, siding with the eastern invaders and painting the western inhabitants as needing to assimilate or get out of the way
 White Stag Moon Maidens

 

What it teaches me as a writer. This book was a fun reminder of why I love to write and include some mythology in my writings, moon fairies and all. Mythology can be a great way to explain the origins of ancient heroes and villains alike. But ultimately, I think the reason that we really love books is because of relationships that grow and need more room than mythologies can give them to be real to readers.

 

White Stag Eagles and Herons

 

Have you read The White Stag? What are your favorite mythology collections?

 

White Stag Atilla's Mom

 

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