- Misty Mountain Top
104Pages; Print, $7.99
A well-endowed cervid on a mission to save his kindred from wolves confronts enemies while making friends on the earth, in the sky, and throughout the water. Who is this antlered stag?
Or, what is this deer: red deer, white-tailed deer, black-tailed deer, fallow deer, elk, reindeer, caribou, moose? Yet, does it matter? Were the story concerning the now extinct Irish elk and was set back 10,000 years rather than in a fabled timeless cosmos, the outcome would have been different, possibly more nuanced, even more tragic, or at least less comic! Interspersed with the text we do have black-and-white graphic images for crib notes, from the pen and brush of Chloë Holt; these illustrations eliminate as contenders some of the species and, certainly, the Irish elk. They also do justice to the stag’s interlocutors, red in tooth, claw, fang, and jaw.
We also can infer from the protagonist’s description as a white stag, the White Stag, or White Stag, and from his given name of Buckan, that we are dealing with a significantly masculine male of whatever species, “buck” for a male deer also saturated with associations with striving, resisting, vaulting. It’s also clear this Buckan comes of a noble lineage—his father leading the mobilization against the marauding wolves. Furthermore, it is his father who dispatches Buckan on his quest.
Allowing the temporal period to be left magically suspended, we still ponder where Buckan finds himself on the globe, in what sort of landscape, or is that also irrelevant? From the book’s title, Mountain Garden, we expect elevations in topography with some temperature gradient, yet a moderate clime at the summit to allow for a garden—verdant, we assume, not frozen. Along with altitude comes a gradient for water, as well, and with relief, water seems to flow downhill and entertain a waterfall. Could this be anywhere, anywhere there are mountains or at least hills, strewn with chestnut trees, copper beech, oak, a copse of fir, a tinge of pine?
In this tale of adventure, Buckan sets out with this mandate from his high-status father to first seek the Great King Stag, who in turn passes the buck, as it were, instructing Buckan to continue in pursuit of the Mountain Garden upon which goal Buckan’s natal pack of deer should be forever released from the threats of the wolves, the first other animals on the scene in this narrative.
One after one, or several after several, Buckan encounters creatures, besides the wolves, in scrambled fashion including lions, pheasants, bats, stallions, salmon, crocodiles, serpents, geese, mountain goats, and beetles. Many of these animals have speaking roles, either as individuals or as representatives of their kind. The serpent lisps, and the trees do not speak, except to indicate by their presence.
Three lions, thought first to be allies against the menacing wolves, take down Buckan’s only two lieutenants. After an exhausting battle, Buckan awakens from nested nightmares, his stiff joints souvenirs of some other reality, uncertain about his next steps. Enter the Great King Stag or Great King Stag with the next clue: proceed through the Dark Forest to Mountain Garden. Even Mountain Garden is but a way-station for the exhausted White-Stag-in-making, as the grail moves ever forward with waves of intemperate contraspecific challengers in this otherwise clearly temperate zone.
Each encounter is a test of Buckan’s strength and endurance, his belief and faith, while providing a teachable moment: should each pair of eyes be embraced as a friend? Can his helping hand or hoof solve all the inequities in the land? The reader shares Buckan’s disorientation, as the ordeals challenge the reader as well. Sometimes Buckan suffers from trances, mirages, flashbacks, nightmares, and wandering in circles only to recover his analytic self with a start. The reader staggers between articles and capitalizations, attached to singular, plural and collective nouns. Often, though not always, speaking creatures are singular, capitalized, and article-free, representing their natural kind. The serpent, for instance is singular...