In a brief foreword, Kate Seredy claims the inspiration for this tale came to her after reading a fact-based history of the Hungarian people. She closed her eyes, and instead of the dry information she'd been reading, she envisioned the Hun-Magyar myths, with their emphasis on the fantastical and larger-than-life heroes.
Maybe that's true and maybe it isn't. What's certainly true is that the story she wrote and illustrated (the illustrations are amazing) is excellent in its own right, though it isn't the least bit historical.The White Stag follows the adventures of Nimrod, Mighty Hunter Before the Lord, his sons Hunor and Magyar, Hunor's son Bendeguz, and the Scourge of God, Attila the Hun.
Readers familiar with actual history may be surprised to find this cast of characters acting as heroes. Nimrod of the Old Testament was a blasphemer, and Attila has been remembered as one of the most bloodthirsty leaders in all of history. Why does Kate Seredy portray them as great warriors and fathers to their people?
Well, because this is myth. There is no real history here: Hunor and Magyar marry Moonmaidens, a blind boy named Damos becomes the prophet of the tribes, Hadur the Powerful God sends visions of a White Stag to lead his people, and Attila learns to fight before he learns to walk or talk.
As myth, it closely mirrors the great true myth of God's work among his people. C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, J. R. R. Tolkien and others all viewed myth as a vast story that explains the world to those who live in it, and all agreed that the Bible contains the one true myth that all the others must borrow from to make sense.
Seredy's fanciful retelling of the origins of the Hungarian people isn't true myth in this sense, but it borrows heavily from the story of the Israelites. The Hun and Magyar tribes are displaced, looking for a blessed land that their god Hadur has promised them, and through a succession of rulers they wander the earth, fighting and conquering, until Attila leads them at last to their place of rest.
Why make Attila a good guy? To be fair, Seredy doesn't try to make him something he isn't. His life is mostly one of bloodshed and fierce warfare, and he is feared by everyone, including his own people. Only when the White Stag leads Attila to the promised land does he forsake violence and begin to rule his people with gentleness and care.
And here we have the transcendent beauty of the story—it is not Nimrod, Hunor, Magyar, Bendeguz, or Attila that save their people. Ultimately it is their god Hadur working through the agency of the mystical White Stag that brings the tribes to salvation, and it is only the coming of the promise that offers an opportunity for warfare to cease.
Attila in The White Stag isn't the terrible Hun of history. He's a tool of God, working on behalf of Providence, doing the hard work that must be done to save his people. And while this is a story of pagan warriors, it mirrors the story of the one true God and his people, and does so with a grace and glory rarely encountered in children's literature. Highly recommended!
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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