Saturday, February 15, 2020
Wylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand
Even though I no longer buy the whole argument of CS Lewis’s essay The Weight of Glory, I love the way it’s written to evoke a sense of awe and wonder, “Do you think I’m trying to weave a spell?” he asks before saying he’s trying to use the spell to shatter the enchantment of “worldliness.” Wylding Hall does not share Lewis’s purpose, but it is purposely weaving a spell. Its wonder is more pagan and wild, but it is as full of wonder. Julian Blake, whose disappearance forms the central mystery of the novel/novella, talks at one point of wanting his music to “ensorcell” its listeners, and clearly Hand wants to do the same with the book. I don’t usually like to quote the blurbs on a book, but speculiction.blogspot.co.uk got it right when they said the “pagan elements [are] utilized for their creepy and mythopoeic presence than for outright horror.” That mythopoeic presence is one of the things I love in fiction, and it is on full display here. Wylding Hall was the first Elizabeth Hand novel I read (about a year ago), and now that I’ve read five other of her books, I wanted to circle around and revisit this. This mythopoeic feeling is present in all of her work I’ve read, even the ones that were not strictly speaking fantasy or horror. It is likely the primary thing among the many that draw me to her work.
Wylding Hall is folk horror, both in the sense that it has serious Wicker Man vibes, and in that the action of the story happens during the recording of a classic (fictional) folk album in the 1970’s. The band is Windhollow Faire. In the wake of their first album and the suicide of their original female vocalist their manager rents a remote crumbling mansion in the British countryside for them to get away and write and record their next album. That eventual album was named for the mansion, Wylding Hall.
Another of my favorite things in fiction is the mosaic novel. Letters from various characters, or interrelated novellas, story suites or other interwoven texts that comment on each other and add up to a picture of what happened. The oral history is a perfect vehicle for this type of storytelling. In the 2010’s Wylding Hall has taken on near mythical status, both because major musicians cite it as an influence, and that the primary songwriter and guitarist disappeared while it was recorded. The band is brought together for an oral history of the making of the album. It seems as if it will be both a documentary and a written piece of some kind. As the members of the band, their manager, a rock critic and a girlfriend alternate telling their memories of what happened. The mansion was built over many years, and there are secrets and horrors there. There’s a library full of grimoires and ancient texts. There’s a room full of dead birds. There’s a dark forest, and there’s the mystery woman, if she is a woman, who seems to be the one who stole Julian away. To avoid spoilers I won’t say more except that coming back to this after reading the others only enhanced my enjoyment of it. I can’t recommend this highly enough. Subtle, beautiful, and eerie.
Library Books, Rereads Etc. 2020 2/35