10 April 2024

Rites of Spring

Rites of Spring (Seasonal Quartet, #4)

Rites of Spring by Anders de la Motte
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Scandinavian whodunit with a difference -- the protagonist isn't a boozy detective drinking himself to divorce and death.

Instead the protagonist is a doctor, Thea Lind, who goes to the small town in southern Sweden where her husband David had grown up. He goes back to start a restaurant, while Thea starts working at the local clinic. She soon discovers that there is a secret in the village that affects her husband David, something that happened on Walpurgis Night several years before. She gradually learns that the events back then had affected her husband when he was a child, and a young girl had been killed in a ceremony to mark the night.

The story moves back and forth between past and present, in a manner reminiscent of the books of Robert Goddard, and the past events are written in the past tense, which those in the story present are written in the present tense.

St Walpurgis Night (strictly St Walburga's Eve) is celebrated in Sweden and several other northern European countries to celebrate the canonisation of St Walburga, an 8th-century English missionary nun who worked in Germany. It took place on the night of 30 April, and her feast day was 1 May, which also marked the beginning of summer in Sweden. 

In the story some elements of English folklore have also been incorporated into the celebration, including the Green Man. The "green man" folklore has grown up around the foliate heads that appear in the decoration of churches in various parts of Europe, and in the story the Green Man is treated as a person who appeared on St Walpurgis Night, and the girl who was killed was enacting a rite of sacrifice to the Green Man.

The more Thea discovers about those past events, the more opposition she encounters from those who want to keep the secret, but Thea has secrets in her own past as well.

It's a gripping story and well written.

It also interested me in ways that go beyond this particular story, and that is the incorporation of motifs from folklore into the story, even quite recent folklore, such as that of the Green Man. I like writing such stories myself, and so I find it interesting to see how other writers do it.

The "Green Man" legend goes back about 85 years or so, and was originally applied to the names of pubs, which was then linked to the foliate heads found in churches, and a quite extensive folklore has developed around the linked symbols. 

The legend has been used and developed in several novels. I recently reviewed another novel, Wildwood, that also incorporated it. That was a so-called "young adult" (teenage) story, and each such story adds to the legend. A Facebook friend, who was a fellow student at university with me, recently posted an interesting article on Facebook linking it to the Arthurian story of the Green Knight and the Green Chapel.

While I haven't used this particular story in books I've written, one of my children's stories, The Enchanted Grove, incorporates creatures from Zulu folklore, while another, Cross Purposes has them from Russian and Mongolian folklore.

Rites of Spring doesn't incorporate anything from the life of St Walburga, but I looked it up anyway, and found that German Christians asked her to protect them from various diseases and witchcraft. That didn't seem to form any part of the Swedish celebrations, but then neither, apart from in this story, did the Green Man.

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