Friday, March 11, 2011

The White Stag (original edition), by Kate Seredy (1937)

I know it's hardly a forgotten book, given that it won a Newberry in 1937 and was in print as recently as 1979 (and still available from major booksellers), but we didn't know that when we picked it up at Caliban Books in Pittsburgh a few months ago and read it as a preparation for our trip to Vienna (thinking we might get a chance to visit Budapest, which sadly didn't happen). Today I'm sharing scans of the illustrations from the large first-edition of the book, which just don't look the same in recent paperback editions. Seredy created the incredibly beautiful illustrations as well as the text. And who doesn't love a good hero with a winged helmet?

The book tells stories from mythology of the ancient Magyar migration to the Hungarian plains. The Huns and the Magyars followed the prophecy of the wise Nimrod, traveling from his tomb in Asia to the land they settled in Eastern Europe as the Roman Empire was collapsing. Seredy tells of both the heroism of the men who led them on this journey as well as the magical white stag who protected the Magyar people throughout their migration.

The story is filled with gods and moonmaidens and magical birds. There are epic battles and auspicious comets.

Near the end of the book we meet the powerful Attila, "who from the moment of his tragic birth had been deprived of love, tenderness, and comfort. . .he learned not to cry when he was but a few days old. . .the only lullabies he had ever known were rousing war songs, battle-cries, and the whine of flying arrows."