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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Bending the Boyne: A Novel of Ancient Ireland » User review

Not my view of history, but interesting story.

  • Jun 7, 2011
  • by
Rating:
+4
  To be honest I had a hard time getting into this book because of how different the author's view of prehistoric/megalithic Ireland was and my own. I recognize however that the point of historical fiction is not to be accurate, and therefore I do not deduct stars for this. 

I don't like to make too much in the way of historical nitpicking to such works because they are literary, communicative works, but having said the above I will list a few disagreements I have: 

1) Given what we know of historical maternal mortality rates, it is unlikely that twice as many men as women reached the age of 25. The high rates of death during childbirth of the 18th and 19th centuries turned out to be caused by doctors not washing hands after performing autopsies and historical rates are probably lose to one maternal death per 100 live births (still high by today's standards). The only reason you could possibly have for such a difference would be inadequate nutrition for women but not for men..... However even in cultures where this has been the case, mortality rates for women haven't been that high. 

2) If this is pre-Celtic, what is everyone doing with Old Irish names? 

3) It's almost certain that detecting the precession of the equinoxes required some substantial internalization of writing. Given of what is known about societies that rely on oral-formulaic methods for preserving knowledge instead of written methods, it is unlikely that this was the case. Instead oral-formulaic myths are used which are both homeostatic and multi-varied in application. I think the author has an extremely simplistic sense of the function of mythology. 

Ok, so none of the above really matter. This is not a scholarly book but is rather an attempt to tell a story. However if those are the kinds of things that jump out and bother you to the point it would get in the way of appreciating the story, be warned (or better yet, avoid historical fiction altogether). 

On to the substantive part of the review..... 

Ok, so we have all seen this story before, from movies like Avatar and Dances with Wolves through books like this. The narrative goes something like utopian society gets invaded by technologial, greedy, earth-destroying society, fights back. This functions as a pretty standard, perhaps even formulaic critique of our current society but perhaps one we should heed. Is this historical? I don't think so. Is it an interesting critique of today? Yes. Does he add anything new? Yes. 

This book attempts to take a specific Irish myth (Cath Maige Tuired) and turn it on its head, weaving in some elements of folklore, and aligning it over the formulaic narrative mentioned above, and adding an unusual twist, where the Starwatchers (the name he gives the megalithic peoples) are scientifically advanced and the invaders, while technologically advanced, scientifically naive. Here I think the author is trying to critique the insensitivity towards scientific understandings of the damage we are causing our environment today, and therefore he reverses one element here which is that he seems to see that technocracy (i.e. policy-making in accordance with scientific evidence) is what is needed in order to address the environmental damage we are causing. 

This deference to science is perhaps why he specifically, in his Author's Note, disclaims any support for Neopaganism in his book. This note really rubbed me the the wrong way (as a Neopagan!) and I would far preferred him to have said he neither endorsed nor opposed Neopaganism instead of just expressing tacit hostility towards it. However, I suppose this needs to be understood in the overall message of the book which is that we must listen to what science tells us about what we are doing that damages the environment. A return to a spirituality which affirms the older ways perhaps has no place in such a view. That is a pity, but falls under reasonable disagreement territory. 

It's also quite possible that his emphasis on science here causes him to assume that maternal mortality (and other female-specific death rates) must have been high, just because they were high among women in the 18th and 19th centuries whose childbirth was assisted by a physician as opposed to a midwife. Consequently this inaccuracy may also flow from the author's faith that science will allow us to triumph over adversity generally, whether that is regarding health ourselves or the environment. 

Historical fiction is effective to the extent it carries to us a commentary on the contemporary world around us. In this regard I think this work is effective. It also necessitates at least some artistic license with the historical facts, and therefore this genre is not a place to go to learn history. At the same time the author's web site has directed me to some (fascinating) archeological finds I was not aware of prior. In this regard, also it is of interest. 

In the end, judging the work by the criteria I have given it above, as an interesting commentary on our times, I would say recommend it.

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More Bending the Boyne: A Novel of ... reviews
review by . April 21, 2011
This retells and expands the coming of those who engendered their own myths about ancient Ireland, and those whom they met. The Invaders here turn antagonists, unlike their counterparts in Celtic origin myths. Dunn shows us from the view of the Starwatchers, those already settled in the island, what this first of many incursions means for the oldest settlers. The figures of Boann, Aengus, Daghda, and Elcmar appear in legend, and many more whom Dunn introduces, embellishes, and imagines as full of …
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Wiki

Circa 2200 BCE: Changes rocking the Continent reach Eire with the dawning Bronze Age. Well before any Celts, marauders invade the island seeking copper and gold. The young astronomer Boann and the enigmatic Cian need all their wits and courage to save their people and their great Boyne mounds, when long bronze knives challenge the peaceful native starwatchers. Banished to far coasts, Cian discovers how to outwit the invaders at their own game. Tensions on Eire between new and old cultures and between Boann, Elcmar, and her son Aengus, ultimately explode. What emerges from the rubble of battle are the legends of Ireland s beginnings in a totally new light.

Bending The Boyne draws on 21st century archaeology to show the lasting impact when early metal mining and trade take hold along north Atlantic coasts. Carved megaliths and stunning gold artifacts, from the Pyrenees up to the Boyne, come to life in this researched historical fiction.

...A useful fleshing of the bones of an interesting archaeological story.
William O Brien, PhD, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland.

...Bang-on with the latest archaeological debates.
Peter Clark, MIFA, Director, The Canterbury Archaeological Trust, Canterbury, Kent, UK.

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Tags

Books, Religion, Js Dunn

Details

ISBN-10: 0983155410
ISBN-13: 978-0983155416
Author: J. S. Dunn
Publisher: Seriously Good Books

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