— VOTF03 In the Drownings

General Remarks

  • Yet again, our narrator has no proper name, so will be referred to as Stilts.
  • The date given is “Post AD 43”, thus about 2,500 years have passed since The Cremation Fields.
  • The significance of this date is that Roman occupation of (part of) Britain has begun.
  • Since much of this chapter is split into parallel timelines, the sections will be labeled with letters as well as numbers. A is the narrator’s “present”, B relates his earlier life.
  • The indicated map location looks like it’s meant to be Beasthill, which is at least near Stilts’s village.
  • No name for Northampton is given in this chapter.

Section 1(A): “The plaiting of the rushes…

  • plaiting” – Braiding.
  • A hollow beak that spits out darts” – A blowgun.
  • “Salka” – The name Salka may mean “princess” or “peace“.
    • It may also be a reference to rusalka, a female water nymph of Slavic mythology. (Thanks to Tess Caiter for this observation.)

Section 2(B): “I had a different wife once…”

  • “a great round hill camp high above a burning ground” – The “burning ground” is the Beasthill (confirmed by details later in this section); the “hill camp” has been settled since last chapter.
  • “Garn-smith’s Forge” – Garn’s name has lasted through millenia, though the stones of his forge are now “grassed over”.
  • “our willage Hob-man” – Folk continue to use the word “willage”. And the tradition of the Hob-man continues, despite Olun’s lack of direct heirs. Perhaps after Olun’s death, they had a new Hob-man trained by the shaman of another settlement.
  • “mistle-rod” – Presumably a wand of mistletoe.
  • “where the river-siders had their settlement” – This is the descendant of “Bridge-in-Valley”, from last chapter.

Section 3(A): “As I stilt through the water now…”

Section 4(B): “I reached my favorite hunting-place…”

  • “great slow steps that left the river’s surface undisturbed” – Well, much less disturbed than it would be without the stilts. The goal here is to be able to get into a position to observe prey (both fish and fowl) without scaring it all away. Once he stops moving, the stilts in the water become indistinguishable from ordinary tree limbs.

Section 5(A): “Standing a-straddle of the shallows…”

  • “They are too dull to understand that I am of a higher kind” – Again we see the theme of what is revealed from differing perspectives, important throughout this book and Jerusalem.
  • “when these subtle monsters feel the need to feast and glut themselves” – Which may be what Stilts thinks happened in his own history.

Section 6(B): “I hunted all that day…”

  • “Old Track Song” – This is the song composed by Hob and his fellow shamans in chapter one, “Hob’s Hog”.

Section 7(A): “Now I sit upon the bank…”

  • A modern recreation of a Roman standard
    A modern recreation of a Roman standard

    “a strange device of gold: there is a snake […] a fat man walking” – These are the letters SPQR, a classical Roman slogan, though Stilts doubtless is unfamiliar with this alphabet.

Section 8(B): “That day, when I walked home…”

  • “the Hobfields, which they say is haunted by a murdered boy” – Perhaps a folk memory of Boy’s fate in chapter one.
  • “Once I told Salka that I’d seen him, standing on the mound there with his throat all cut, his hair all burned. She knew I’d made it up, and yet she made as if she thought it true” – Indeed, although Stilts has “made up” this vision, it is a true vision of Boy. The permeability between fact and fiction is a recurring theme with Moore. See for example, From Hell“I made it all up, and it all came true anyway. That’s the funny part.”
  • “breeks” – Archaic word for “pants”.
  • “I throw the slick white fishbones…” – This paragraph is in present tense, but did not receive a section break.
  • “A set of ochred antlers” – Last seen on the head of the Hob-man, in S2. Ochre was one of the earliest forms of artificial pigmentation, and thus often associated with early forms of art and shamanism.
  • “Corn querns” – Corn, in pre-modern English, referred to any edible grain, not specifically to New World maize, as it usually does now. Querns are simple stone tools for grinding grain.
  • “jakes” – Archaic word for toilet.
  • “Washerwomen’s rocks” – Primitive clothes washing was often done by beating or scrubbing the clothes against rocks.
  • “sick” – In British English, this is a colloquialism for “vomit”.
  • “men-in-kind” – Dolls. (Or, by late twentieth century gendered nomenclature,  “action figures”.)
  • “I thought perhaps a wolf” – Or, perhaps, a shagfoal.
  • “I decided that he must be scolded” – Stilts has not yet realized (or, at least, not yet consciously accepted) what has happened here.
  • “she was nothing but a pile of furs that for a moment had seemed to hold her shape” – Just as pigs became logs, for Boy in chapter one.

Section 9(A): “Crane-legged, I step downstream …”

  • No notes.

Section 10(B): “I sat there in the ring of pebbles…”

  • What exactly happened to the other inhabitants of Stilts’s settlement? There are a few signs of struggle, but not many. He mentions neither blood nor corpses. The nearby “riversiders” seem entirely unconcerned. It’s almost a primitive version of the Mary Celeste mystery.

Section 11(A): “I’ve lived here in the Drownings…”

  • “nor maddened” – Well, that’s arguable…

Closing Remarks

  • Stilts’s new “wife”, Salka, and her children, do receive a bit of description, but not very much. She has black eyes; she and the children like to play in the water (S1). In S8, we learn that his first wife was also named Salka. It is only in the final sentence of the chapter that this “family” literally flies away, revealing that they are not human, but water birds (ducks?) whom he has named after his first family. Presumably, he fed and (mostly) tamed them over time.
  • References in chapter 12 suggest that Moore based the sudden, mysterious disappearance of Stilts’s village on an actual archaeological mystery, but I have not yet been able to corroborate this.
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