This is a guide to the references and stories hidden within The Hiding Places, and if you’d rather puzzle them out yourself, then I’d suggest you bookmark this page and come back to it later.
Knights and faeries and men with antlered heads
I admit to a lifelong obsession with myths and legends:
The Arthurian legends, so brilliantly and poignantly captured in my particular favourites, TH White’s The Once and Future King, and Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising series;
The Welsh Mabinogion: brought to me first through Alan Garner’s The Owl Service, and Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydain;
The myriad creatures of folklore from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales: I treasure my childhood copy of Brian Froud and Alan Lee’s beautifully illustrated Faeries, and highly recommend Geraldine McCaughrean’s mad rush of a tale, The Stones are Hatching;
The Greek myths: The Heroes by Charles Kingsley (of The Water-babies fame) is a bit stodgily Victorian but a good read. The 1963 Jason and the Argonauts movie with effects by the great Ray Harryhausen is pretty cracking, too.
Herne the Hunter with his head of antlers: those of you of a certain age will remember he had a recurring role in the 1980s TV show Robin of Sherwood (remember, theme song by Clannad?). He also drives the forces of the Dark across the sky with his Wild Hunt in The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper.
The Wild Hunt was also led by Odin, and by Gwyn ap Nudd from the Mabinogion, and the dogs, whose appearances differ but who usually have red ears, are called Gabriel Hounds in Northern England, the Devil’s Dandy Dogs in Cornwall, and in Wales they are the Hounds of Annwn, which is the realm of the dead.
The seasonal celebrations: the Gaelic Beltane, like the English May Day, Welsh Calan Mai and German Walpurgis Night, is full of symbols of death and rebirth, sacrifice of the old and welcome of the new.
The Green Man figure is a May Day symbol, and he is linked to Herne, the Greek god Pan, Jack O’Green also known as Jack in the Green, The Green Knight (who challenged Sir Gawain of King Arthur’s Round Table) and possibly even Robin Hood – and so our tales begin to loop in on one another…
Dante and his Divine Comedy (so called because it ends happily, not because it’s funny)
I wanted a thematic link between April’s journey and James’s, and found it in The Divine Comedy by Durante degli Alighieri, aka Dante. I knew April would start in a dark place and rise upwards, whereas James would descend, so I allied their stories to Dante’s own – his descent into Hell in Inferno, and his ascent through Purgatorium to Paradiso.
The Greek term for a journey downwards is known as katabasis and one upwards as anabasis (literally it means a journey from the interior of a country to the coast, where perhaps the light was brighter?).
In The Divine Comedy, Dante’s guide through hell was the ancient Roman poet, Virgil. Virgil leads Dante down through nine circles, all holding various flavours of sinner whose sins worsen the further we descend. The order was Dante’s own, and he also created the idea of contrapasso, a punishment that fits the crime, a sort of poetic justice. Dante’s punishments are most inventive and possibly more off-putting than the straightforward fate of being roasted in eternal flame.
In the ninth circle are the worst sinners of all, the traitors, including Satan, whom Dante portrays as a giant beast imprisoned up to his waist in ice, his three faces, one red, one black, one yellow, each chewing on another traitor, namely Judas, Brutus and Cassius. Satan is weeping and beating his wings, which only creates more freezing air and ensures he is forever trapped there in the ice.
Chapter 40 of The Hiding Places is my re-telling of Dante’s Inferno. James starts in Limbo and travels the first eight circles on his walk through Italy, reaching the ninth when he arrives home. (I used the Longfellow translation as reference, but if you’re short on time, there’s a good summary on Wikipedia.) The end of the chapter makes obvious what I’ve been hinting at all along, namely whom Lewis Potts represents – a prideful man with misshapen feet, who drives a red sports car and makes pacts that the other party tends to later regret. Who could that be?
April starts in her own self-created purgatory and is encouraged out and up until she reaches her own version of paradise, a place where she can let go of the past and forgive herself.
As a pagan, Virgil was not entitled to enter heaven, and so it is Dante’s great love, the perfect Beatrice, who escorts him through the various levels of paradise to the highest point, the dwelling place of God, where celestial beings are composed only of the purest light. The name given to this place was Empyrean, a Medieval Latin adaptation of the classical Greek word, empyrus, which means in or on the fire.
In my book, Edward plays the role of Virgil (the big clue is when he tells April what his middle initial, V, stands for), and Sunny is very much a re-purposed Beatrice, more Queen Bee than perfect woman, but sharing with Dante’s version the same purpose in life: ‘Love is my mover’ says Beatrice, and it is Sunny’s too.
Jack and Oran are there to help bring April back to life – Jack through the garden (in The Divine Comedy, nature is the wealth created by God), and Oran through the house and his dedication to his music, which is his art (the wealth created by man).
Jack, of course, could be a combination of all the green men figures listed above. Or he could be real – I’ll leave that up to you.
The hidden myths
Oran features in one of two hidden stories I put in purely for my own pleasure and did not expect anyone but the most vigilant reader to pick up on. Again the clue is in the name – Oran Feares, Or-Feares, Orpheus, the great musician, who could calm the beasts and charm the birds down from the trees. And Oran’s wife is Cee-Cee, Eurydice, who stood on a nest of vipers and died, and was transported to Hades. Grief-stricken, Orpheus went down to the underworld (the only human do to so) to beg the god Hades for Eurydice to be returned. He played such sweet music that Hades was beguiled into agreeing – with one condition, that Orpheus did not look at this wife until they were once more on the earth’s surface. And Orpheus managed it, until the moment he was out, when, forgetting they both needed to be safely in the upper world, he turned back to offer his wife his hand, and had to watch her slip away from him, his last chance gone.
When Orpheus played to Hades, he also beguiled Hade’s wife Persephone – and that is my second hidden story, its characters played by Sunny’s mother Dimity, and James’s mother, Cora. In Greek myth, Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, was the mother of Persephone, with whom Hades fell in love and proceeded to abduct (not big on subtlety, the Greek gods). Demeter demanded Hades release her daughter but Hades refused and, crazed by grief and rage, Demeter blighted the earth with an eternal winter. The ruckus this created led to an intervention by Zeus, and a compromise was reached: Persephone would spend half the year on earth with her mother and half in the underworld with her husband. When she is on earth, we have spring and summer, and when she’s not it’s cold. Oh, and by the way, Hades tricked Persephone into eating a pomegranate, and once you’ve eaten the food of the underworld, you’re stuck there. Persephone was also known as Kore, the maiden. My Cora is married to Lewis Potts, and you now know who he’s supposed to be.
PS: TS, I owe you one
Again, you’d have to be super-vigilant to pick this up, but I have included quite a few references to TS Eliot’s poems. To find them, look in Chapter 15, which is almost entirely a shameless re-fit of ideas and lines from the first few stanzas of The Wasteland, and the second half of Chapter 32, which borrows equally shamelessly from The Four Quartets. I used to live near the small but chi-chi town of Marlow, in Buckinghamshire, where The Hiding Places is set and where TS Eliot once worked in a bank, a job he hated. And so our tales loop in on one another…