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Tuesday, July 24

Review: 'Smoky and the Feast of Mabon'

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Introduction

Smoky and the Feast of Mabon is a children's book aimed at Wiccan and Pagan families.  It was published by the wonderful ‘Magical Child Books’ company in Missouri, USA.  It’s a hardback book with 30 pages.  I know that sounds like a lot for a children’s book, but half of the pages are illustrations.  


The author, Catherynne M. Valente, is an old hand in the publishing world.  She has a claim on multiple awards and has been around the globe.  Fiction and fairytales seem to dominate her creative sphere, but poetry is liberally sprinkled in there.  

W. Lyon Martin illustrates this book, which is no surprise to fans of Magical Child Books.  This book is full of mildly abstract watercolor and color pencil imagery.  The palette is based in warm browns and greens, perfect for a Mabon fairytale.  

The Story

One day Smoky is with her mother, preparing the garden for winter.  She is concerned for the dying flowers in the garden and goes for a walk in the woods.  She is drawn to the light of a great feast being held in the darkness.  It is filled with icons of Mabon for most Pagans: corn, bread, stew and pumpkin pie.  The feast is attended by a horde of animals, an elderly god and a vibrant goddess rocking an infant.  The characters begin to feast and dance and hint at the meanings behind the Mabon holiday.  Eventually a stag breaks everything down for Smoky, telling her that “The end of things is really only the beginning!”  The feast ends and Smoky walks home to hug her mother and wish her a happy Mabon.  

Ideology

This book centers on a tale spun by Robert Graves, in the mid-1900’s, wherein the divine masculine energies of the world are divided between the Lord of Winter and the Lord of Summer.  TheFarrars incorporated this idea into the mythology of the Wiccan branch of Paganism in the early 1980’s, referring to the Lord of Winter as the ‘Holly King’ and the Lord of Summer as the ‘Oak King’. 


Although the characters in this children's book are never mentioned by these specific names, the exchange happening between the ‘Old Year’ and the ‘New Year’ at the equinox is identical. 

What I Loved

  • My copy came as a hardbound book with library stitching.  Very durable.  This will take a few generation’s wear and tear.   
  • Smoky and her mother are loosely colored so that ethnicity is hard to pin down from page to page, making this family easy for just about anybody to identify with.  
  • I LOVE that Smoky’s mother is portrayed as a heavy-set woman.  She comes across as real in the artwork, and not as a typical slender, prettily haired filler character.  Smoky’s mother is working in the garden complete with knee-worn blue jeans.  An earthy goddess woman!

  • I also loved that the stag in the story has a giant mane of rainbow striped fur.  Inspired!


What Could Have Been Better

  • The stag’s explanation of the equinox is bundled into a huge paragraph towards the end of what had been a light story up until that point.  It seems random and he rambles, ending a pretty serious load of information with, “This pumpkin pie is so delicious!”
  • The illustration of the 'Old Year' could have been posed a bit differently.  On first glance, it looked to me like the elderly gentleman was aroused instead of mid-stride down the path.  LOL

  • I noticed a single typo [an omitted word on page 22], but no other clerical type errors.
  • There is a foreword on the opening page of the story, a letter written by a community elder from the Memphis, TN area.  She points out an origin of the word ‘Mabon’, which is great for the adults, but then goes on to completely summarize the story and gives away the ending on the very first page!  I feel that this should have been tacked onto the end of the book, not the very beginning. 

Summary

My children love this book.  It is read aloud every year at Mabon, during our annual cabin trip for the holiday.  I know that this is a story that will continue to live happily in the House of Mama Stacey for many years.

Have you read 'Smoky and the Feast of Mabon'?  What did your family think of it?  Feel free to comment below.

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