________________ CM . . . . Volume VIII Number 6 . . . . November 16, 2001.

cover The Wolves of Woden.

Alison Baird.
Toronto, ON: Penguin Canada, 2001.
352 pp., pbk., $19.95.
ISBN 0-14-100067-8.

Subject Headings:
World War, 1939-1945-Newfoundland and Labrador-Juvenile fiction.
Magic-Juvenile fiction.
Fairies-Juvenile fiction.
Mythology, Celtic-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 6 and up / Ages 11 and up.

Review by Darleen Golke.

*** /4


..."You have returned to Annwn!"

"Annwn?" [Jean] repeated.

"The name of this world. You stand in the great dun of Temair, in the Isle of Avalon."

She looked at the dancing couples, the evergreen wreathes that were mounted on the stone walls. "This really is a different world, isn't it not just another time? It's Christmas for you too."

"It is. And in a few days, we celebrate the new year, Anno Domini nineteen hundred and forty-one."

"So do we." She looked at him and was glad; glad that he and the rose-gowned princess and everyone in the hall was alive in this moment as she was, and not mere phantoms of some bygone era. "So there are two worlds, right alongside one another?"

"There are three," the Druid told her as he led her up the hall, moving alongside the dancers. "See the shadows there on the wall, of the people dancing to and fro. For a shadow to exist, one must have two things: an object to cast it, and a light to shine upon that object. Think of your world as a shadow of ours, like it and unlike as those shadows on the wall are like but not like the people who cast them. Above both worlds, on a higher plane, is a realm of divine Light. That higher world burns with the power and beauty of its divinity; this lower world of Annwn shines in its reflected glory; and the third, the Shadow-world, is like a dim copy of Annwn."

In this prequel, Baird focuses on Jean MacDougall, grandmother of the 1999's The Hidden World heroine, Maeve. The story begins during the summer of 1940 with the people of Newfoundland sharing in the world's anxiety as Hitler draws Europe and Canada into an escalating conflict. Serious 15-year-old Jean worries about how vulnerable her island is -"how desirable to the enemy. A safe haven for British cargo ships and military vessels, a base from which Nazi warplanes could launch air attacks on North America. How many U-boats were growling beneath that blue sea? Was Newfoundland already surrounded?" Her anxiety worsens when her brother and Jim, her special friend, enlist, actively bringing the war into her personal and immediate environment. To her amazement and confusion, Jean finds herself transported to the parallel world of Annwn (Avalon) and gets caught up in its struggles with the Lochlannach. On four different occasions when her anxiety about the war and her future consumes her, she finds herself passing through the portal from her "Shadow World" into the world of Annwn. There she encounters many fascinating and captivating characters, including a Druid who works closely with Christians, a princess who marries her king and becomes queen, a powerful sorceress, Northmen (Norsemen), supernatural creatures like Selkies and Seelies and mythical beings like Valkyries. The Druid tells her their worlds are closely linked. "If your world suffers then so will ours," he explains. "A wind age, a wolf age"shall bring "with it evil and strife. But that means we are fellow warriors" and "your struggle shall be ours as well." With each passage, Jean finds the plight of her Annwn friends intensifying, and she realizes they look to her for help in locating the magical Spear of Lugh to defeat the enemy. She has only a brooch and a piece of bread the Druid tells her is a "potent charm against all forms of dark magic" to fight the forcews that challenge her. Because in her won world she cannot fight in the war, in Annwn she "might be able to make a difference. I know the three worlds are really one, part of one universe, and it might help my own world id this one is saved" she reasons. "Our enemies, the Nazis, are like the Lochlannach; they want to take other people's lands for their own."

     Baird weaves an intricate tale of the battle between good and evil, combining historical fiction with fantasy. Although some of the characters she creates are charming and all too human (including those form the supernatural ranks), many of the numerous characters of both worlds are not fleshed out and emerge as types. Baird's description of Annwn resonates with intricately formulated detail, linking the land to the people and providing a strong sense of Newfoundland. Jean spends much of the story in this carefully crafted world and accepts the quest assigned her gracefully, albeit hesitantly. Baird has created an appealing and believable protagonist who is a worthy candidate to execute a complex quest.

     The Wolves of Woden is not for the faint of heart; keeping the worlds and the characters straight demands a considerable level of sophistication and a working knowledge of Celtic legend as well as Norse mythology. The length and density of the text likewise may present a challenge to all but the most persevering reader. Nevertheless, Baird does create an imaginary and inventive story encompassing universal themes and admirable characters. Fans of fantasy may lose themselves in Annwn and its struggles and anticipate another installment in the saga.


A former high school teacher-librarian, Darleen Golke lives in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364