The Walrus Mutterer Explores the Power of Women in Celtic Culture

Guest post by Mandy Haggith

wm2The first of a trilogy of historical novels, The Walrus Mutterer is set in the Iron Age and inspired by a real person, Pytheas of Massalia, who is credited with being the first Mediterranean to discover Britain.

In 320 BC he undertook an extraordinary voyage, circumnavigating Britain and travelling north to the polar ice and across to the Baltic before returning to report on his findings to the Greek empire in a book (now lost) called On the Ocean. We know that he came to Assynt, the part of north-west Scotland where I live. My novels spring from my wondering about who he would have encountered here and how he would have fared coming from the patriarchal Greek culture to a much more matriarchal Celtic society.

In order to embody the power of the feminine Celtic culture, both the main point-of-view character and the primary villain of The Stone Stories trilogy are female. The story is told through the eyes of a young woman, Rian, who becomes entangled in Pytheas’ journey. It is implausible that Pytheas travelled in his own vessel, as Mediterranean boats would not have been able to cope with the northern ocean, so I have presumed that he was hitching a ride as a passenger on a trading boat.

The main villain of the novels is the trader who owns the boat, a woman called Ussa, whose obsession with a particular stone head creates the driving momentum for much of the travel in the story. Ussa trades mostly in metals and gems, but she also buys, sells, and captures slaves. At the start of the book, Rian is gambled away by her foster father, who uses her as a stake for a sword, and she is enslaved, becoming Ussa’s possession.

Despite being a slave and suffering hardships, Rian spirit remains unbent. Even when her life seems intolerable, she remains the maker of her own destiny. There are many powerful men in the story and love plays a part, but it was important to me that the male characters were not setting Rain’s agenda and that she did not become passive. I achieved this by giving her practical skills, in particular an ability to light and maintain a fire, even in extreme circumstances, and a knowledge of herbs and healing plants.

Rian is astute, intelligent, brave, and determined to chase after opportunities for freedom – a role model, I hope, for women still struggling with oppression today.

MHMandy Haggith writes from a croft in the Scottish Highlands and teaches literature and creative writing at the University of the Highlands and Islands. Her first novel, The Last Bear, set a thousand years ago, won the Robin Jenkins Literary Award. As well as novelist, she is also a widely published poet and non-fiction author. Her latest book is The Walrus Mutterer, the first of a trilogy of novels set in the Iron Age. You can visit her at www.mandyhaggith.net

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