6 thoughts on ““The Sound of Salt and Sea” by Kat Howard”

  1. I like this one. It is based on respect for ritual; even if you imagined something like it without the fantastic elements (say, a ritual involving a village ringing bells continuously for three days, and at the end of that time a designated representative riding a living red-bridled horse all over the island) you could see the relationship between that and respect for death and for the place of the dead in the community.

    Rowan’s dutiful attitude toward protecting her neighbors, and her interest in their lives, is contrasted with Conor who cares about nothing except his own power. He does not want to keep the delicate balance that the villagers have worked out with the bone horses but only conquer them, and thus has deluded himself he can even conquer death itself. (And as for the idea that this sort of attitude is likely to endanger the whole community, I can only agree.)

    This story depicts one way that a culture found of integrating death with life and seeing them as balanced. Real life examples abound. A lot of them involve the role of a professional mediator, be it priest or shaman or even a skilled undertaker. (I wonder if the fact that Rowan is a bit lonely is common to such professions? How many people wouldn’t mention that they’re an undertaker or specialize in writing obituaries in case people drift away from them?)

    Greg Hullender noted that red is the color of blood — good point. We say that blood symbolizes life and also a bond. Again in this story symbolism is made magically active when Rowan sheds her own blood to maintain the pact with the bone horses.

    1. I found this online: "Many traditions have evolved from the belief common among many Celtic people that the rowan tree could offer protection from evil spirits. On Beltane (the night before May Day, which in some places was called Rowan Tree Day), sprigs of rowan were often tied with string dyed red from the rowan berries to cows’ tails and horses’ halters to protect them, and sheep were made to jump through hoops made from rowan. Crossed branches of rowan were often placed in cowsheds and stables for the same purpose, and milking stools and pails were sometimes made of rowan wood. Rowan trees were commonly planted near the doors of houses, or rowan twigs placed over the door or under a bed, to ward off evil spirits. Necklaces of rowan berries with red thread were often worn for protection by Highland women. Rowan trees were often planted in churchyards to send away evil spirits and to keep the unquiet dead from leaving their graves. In Wales, it was common for people to wear a cross carved from rowan. Corpses prior to burial and coffins in transit to graveyards were often placed under rowan trees to protect the souls from evil spirits."

  2. I like Levana’s point about this being a story of duty and adherence to ritual; that’s a very STANDARD story in some ways, but I suddenly realize it’s a type of story that’s grown *awfully* rare. Staying within the lines doesn’t mean what it used to. There’s something refreshing about that.

    That being said, no part of the story really grabbed me. I feel like most of the focus is on vividly painting the ghost mounts… and their significance is almost entirely ritualistic, so I hardly *care* about seeing their specifics brought to life.

    This was enjoyable, and had potential to be vivid. Ghosts returning every year, and ghost mounts selecting a rider at the end of it! That’s a lot of cool stuff – but that resonance doesn’t get used, *except* in the context of examining who is and who isn’t following the rules and the rituals correctly. Conor isn’t merely trying to take over the ritual, *he’s coming back from the dead* to do so. Rowan isn’t merely the virtuous individual trying to do the ritual right, he was *chosen by the ghost mounts* to do so. Which is fine, I guess, but it doesn’t really afford any thought to the kind of society or the kind of people that may emerge from an upbringing like that.

    One interesting point is that there *isn’t* much difference between Rowan and Conor; they both have the same aim and they both see themselves as worthy and capable. The difference is, well, that Rowan’s right (and that Conor is willing to resort to violence to gain his own place). Is this pride? Faith? Joy? It could be something very sympathetic; yet it’s deadly, deadly wrong.

    1. You have a point that the ghost mounts kind of have to be made to seem glamorous in order to explain why people would fight over being the one to ride them! That’s one reason why my comparison to funeral professionals is a bit off base. But, if religious practices are a powerful center of community life as in this case, then being the focal point could be seen as very desirable. More than that, riding the bone horse is a glorious experience for Rowan, and that, at least, is something she shares with Conor.

      I think you are right about the similarities between them — they both are attracted to this intense experience that is interaction with the otherworldly power, which most people are uneasy about. But they come at it from different emotional directions. We don’t, unfortunately, know anything about either Rowan’s or Conor’s lives outside this. It could be a highly interesting story as a novella with a more developed cast of characters, how both of them came to acquire their personalities, how the town functions and the "kind of society".

      Yeah, it is quite good in sharply delineating the theme that does (what it is like to fulfill an unusual, difficult role in community ritual) but it could be even better.

    2. This reminds me of a piece I read a while back, saying how nobody likes a hero who’s self-appointed. Taking on responsibility without being *forced* to, often feels like pride and power-grabbing.

      This story certainly feels in line with that observation 🙂

    3. Ziv Wities Yes — you could see the power in playing a part in the rites as *personal* power, that aggrandizes you. I think that what Rowan has is some understanding of how the return of the dead functions with the whole community. She keeps talking about "we".

      The certainty of the return of the dead gives a sort of rhythm to life: "That is what we do here, on Near Island. We give our dead to the waters, and once a year, the waters bring them back."

      It’s also about closure. The final visit of the deceased, and then having to wrap things up by dismissing the ghosts. Conor didn’t accept that endings were written right into the rites.

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