Laurinda’s Rating: 2.5/5
In The White Stag, 1938 Newbery Winner, Kate Seredy retells the mythological origin story of the Hun-Magyar people. Seredy wrote it in response to a history book, full of “FACTS, FACTS, FACTS as irrefutable, logical and as hard as the learned pens of learned historians could make them”, but with differing conclusions on the origin of the Hungarians than the author held. She wished to preserve the mythology which taught that the Hungarians descended from the Horde.
The plot is typical for a myth: it begins a few generations before the characters of most interest. Nimrod, Mighty Hunter before the Lord, expelled from Babel with the rest, searched for a home for his people. After his sons Hunor and Magyar followed a white stag, they became the new tribal leaders, taking Moonmaidens (fairies) as wives. Hunor begat Bendeguz, nicknamed the White Eagle. He in turn married a Cimmerian (Sumerian, probably) princess. She died birthing Attila, the Red Eagle. The grieving Bendeguz takes as his mission to make Attila into a weapon, riding with him into battle before Attila could even walk. Wreaking havoc as they rode, Attila’s Horde ravaged Europe until they reach the Promised Land between two rivers.
Like most creation myths, this one involves divine guidance, retribution from the deity for doubting him, and a healthy dose of symbolism (White Stag, White Eagle, Red Eagle, etc.). However, the author does her best to humanize the characters. Bendeguz, particularly, is a multi-dimensional character. His grief and guilt over his wife’s death prevents him from showing Attila love and drive Bendeguz to hone his son into a weapon. Later in the narrative, however, Bendeguz tenderly covers Attila with a cloak. He also agonizes over Attila’s bloodshed, asking his god Hadur if Attila will ever wash himself clean of the death he causes. Although there’s little scope for character development in such a short multi-generational story, Seredy manages to insert some poignant moments.
Basically, pick this book up for the pictures. They are vividly drawn, in a mix of realism and fantasy. I loved them all and put a few more on our Tumblr. The plot is standard mythology. Not great, not terrible, but blessedly short – the entire book is 94 pages and images take up a quarter to a third of the page count.