I’ve just finished Kathryn Lynn Davis‘ Child of Awe written in 1980. The book was a gift to my daughter from her classmate at their school Christmas party. She showed it to me along with the other presents she received. Seeing the book was for adults I told her if I could read it first. Is it SPG, she asked. I think so, I said. OK, she said.
It does indeed contain “SPG” scenes. Just a few but still it isn’t recommended for reading by a sixth grader. Otherwise the book is a compelling read, an intriguing and bittersweet story somewhat similar to Romeo and Juliet. For that, it is a gift.
It centers on Davis’ reimagination of the incredible events in 14th century Scotland leading to the merger, or should I say acquisition, of the Calder Clan‘s Cawdor thanedom or barony by the powerful and cunning Campbell Clan of Argyll.
Local history has it that Muriel Calder, sole heir to the Cawdor barony, an infant at the death of her father the last of the Calders, was put under the guardianship of her maternal grandfather Hugh Rose of Kilvarock and Archibald Campbell Second Earl of Argyll. The arrangement was decreed by none other than King James IV. Later, however, on learning that Hugh Rose was planning to marry Muriel off to his grandson, her second cousin, the Earl had her kidnapped. The undertaking succeeded, not without great loss of Campbell lives, and Muriel promptly taken to the Campbell lair, Inveraray Castle, where she was brought up. When she turned eleven, she was married off to John Campbell the Earl’s third son. Muriel and John went on to found the Campbell of Cawdor bloodline.
Child of Awe, because in Davis’ re-telling, Inveraray Castle is envisioned as the Kilchurn Castle another Campbell (of Glenorchy) holding now in splendorous ruins sited on Loch Awe. In the story, Muriel feels a special bond with the legendary Loch like it was a human friend offering comfort. She sough the Loch in one of her distressed moments and heard its waters beckoning her to jump in which helplessly she did. Luckily, she was saved by John’s squire who’s ever watchful of his master’s wife. The incident however was whispered about the household that she had intended to commit suicide. John’s sister confronted him about it, asking if he would go tell the Bishop. “No”, he said, “I love her”.
In any case, confessing the sin would only put the couple in jeopardy perhaps even getting themselves divested of Cawdor. If it’s true that an unconfessed attempt of suicide is a mortal sin, then John and Muriel are paying for it in the afterlife. Visitors to Cawdor Castle have purportedly seen the ghosts of John and Muriel in its halls. This perhaps inspired Davis to justify in her book the alleged ghostly presence by weaving the tale of the young heiress’ attempted suicide.
The book though ends happily, on the young couple’s arrival, finally, at Cawdor Castle. For Muriel especially, in light of her kidnapping, it was a bittersweet homecoming. I guess their story is about the triumph of love and honor above personal and inter-clan recriminations. In this, I guess, it could be said that the arranged marriage, primarily meant to acquire greater wealth and power, eventually worked out on a personal level. No longer were they pawns of their clans, but in freeing themselves from it were about to forge their own foothold in Scotland’s history. The real John and Muriel Campbell were also said to have a happy marriage – inspite of it all – that produced several children.
As to Cawdor Castle, it is also well-known for being the site of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. But as with Davis’ Child of Awe, the legend of this Scottish king was a liberal take on the great Highland clans and their feuds in medieval Scotland.