It turns out that I’m that sort of American who holds a fascination with the old Pagan religions of Europe where the majority of my ancestors came from, and particularly for the Celtic traditions of Britain and Ireland. This has resulted in an affinity for Celtic music (especially from Scotland and Ireland) and a wonderful trip through England, Wales and Scotland that included stops at places like Stonehenge and Avebury. Over time I’ve come to realize that this goes beyond fascination to some sort of deeper connection that the rational, scientific part of my brain cannot explain. I feel an honest emotional connection the ancient land and lore of Britain.
I’m not the sort of guy to go out of my way to explore such a connection, but I do naturally gravitate toward SFF fiction that utilizes Celtic traditions as inspiration. While I’ve found that Arthurian fiction typically does nothing for me, some books such as Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock (review) bring this connection to life. The Age of Misrule book 1, World’s End, by Mark Chadbourn (US, UK, Canada, IndieBound) almost perfectly resonates – actually it may be the book that has had the strongest impact to my Celtic longings of any that I’ve read to date.
Jack, ‘Church’ Churchill aimlessly tolerates life as he mourns the years earlier loss of a special relationship. On an early morning walk through the streets of London he witnesses something that his mind simply can’t handle, leading him and another witness on a quest to figure out exactly what happened while opening them up to the truth that reality as they know it is ending. The old Celtic legends seem to be coming alive – the magic and wonder as well as horrifying beasts from the Otherworld. Church finds himself the leader of a motley band of survivors tied the ancient magic of the land who inherit a quest to find lost talismans of great power in an attempt to save the world as they know it.
The US is generally rootless. The ground we walk on simply doesn’t have the long-time habitation of places like Europe. If I dig down in my yard, I’ll only find dirt and rock – maybe some sign of Native Americans, but those generally have limited longevity and it isn’t something of ‘my’ people (though I do have a splash Native American ancestry). In places like Britain, the works of ancestors are under every foot and all around to see in every day life. A 13th century abbey next to a modern building, old Roman walls visible in central London, the castle on the hill, standing stones, or even the simple rock wall that has divided a field for countless generations. These things are a novelty to me, yet presumably are largely taken for granted by those who see them every day. In World’s End, Chadbourn uses this largely dormant connection to prehistory and lore and literally brings it to life. Rather than and idealized land of plenty, the world that Chadbourn brings back is one of nightmares acting as a mirror turned on our modern sensibilities while questioning the human condition.
Chadbourn takes the reader on a wild ride through lands where modern Britain connects with the ancient past. While it’s both a tour and nightmare come to life, the quest engaged becomes equally internal. The five modern saviors under Church’s reluctant leadership with a mysterious hippie guide are a far cry from an expected group of champions. Each person is haunted by their past and fundamentally flawed. The quest becomes internalized for each as they face their past and wrestle with the present. This powerful struggle for each adds an extra dimension to Chadbourn’s story, however, this aspect in inconsistently addressed with the six people at the center of the book. Some are well presented while others lack adequate screen time and development.
Originally published in 1999 in the UK, World’s End by Mark Chadbourn begins the Age of Misrule trilogy and a series of books that follow. Simply put: it completely blew me away. I was sucked into the fascinating tale of Celtic magic in conflict the modern world, where evil seeks the end of the world, where ‘good’ may be little better, and those charged with saving us all have their own problems to deal with. Highly recommended. 8.5/10
Related Post: Interview with Mark Chadbourn