It is a warm Summer night in the country. A full moon rises over the hills to the east. You sit by your campfire watching the moon rise. The night is pierced by distant hunting horns and the baying of hounds. A man runs across the face of the moon along the ridge of a hill. He disappears into the night, but is soon followed by a pack of hounds. Riders on horses follow the pack, led by a figure with antlers on his head. Your heart pounds in your ears and a shiver runs down your spine. You have seen the Wild Hunt, which is a part of many Fantasy novels and stories.
Used by many authors, the “Wild Hunt” has its origins in mythology. In Germanic mythology it was known as the “Furious Host,” a group of tortured ghosts that swept through the night and attacked people. Later, the myths shifted with the addition of a hunting motif from Celtic mythology with the antlered leader ruling the Hunt. Scholars believe this stems from peasant fear of aristocratic hunting parties in the past. Whichever the case, the Wild Hunt was a dangerous thing to confront or try to escape. It was symbolic of wild, uncontrollable magic and creatures. Fantasy authors incorporate this mythical creation into many of their novels.
Guy Gavriel Kay had the Wild Hunt appear in his Fionavar Tapestry books of The Summer Tree, The Wandering Fire and The Darkest Road. The Hunt represents a wild thread of chaos that destroys good and evil indiscriminately. Characters summon it only as a last resort because of this. The Hunt is not under control of the Creator of this universe where all others obey rules, providing a dangerous, unpredictable element to the books.
The Wild Hunt plays a central role in Dragon Moon by Chris Claremont and . This small trade paperback tells the story of a woman that takes part in a Renaissance Faire. One of the other fair attendees summons the Hunt for his won purpose of revenge. She must fight against the Hunt and her growing attraction the leader of the Hunt. This short book has an interesting plot, strong characters and an exciting ending. Dreamseeker’s Road by Tom Dietz is a Contemporary Fantasy set in rural Georgia. Another story in the David Sullivan sequence, this one involves a struggle between Fairy and the real world. David and his friends draw the unwanted attention of the Hunt. They are pursued through several worlds in trying to elude the Hunt with the help of the Morrigan. The book is full of a lot of action.
Author Jocelin Foxe uses the idea of the Hunt, but set in her own Fantasy world. In her creation, the Wild Hunt consists of men that committed crime against a goddess. These men wait in a limbo until summoned by a woman for help. They have one month to complete their mission or burn to death into oblivion. Each one has a chance at salvation if the love of a woman can keep them from returning to the limbo. The Wild Hunt: Vengeance Moon and The Wild Hunt: Child of Fire are both good books (see previous reviews on this site).
The Wild Hunt finds its way into Young Adult Fantasy books too. It plays a role in the book The Moon of Gomrath by Alan Garner. A young girl gets caught up in a battle over magic. Her brother must save her from the dark forces and the Hunt. Mistress of Fantasy Jane Yolen tells a mythic tale in her book The Wild Hunt. It is the story of two boys, Jerold and Gerund, who get caught up in the battle between the King of
Winter (leader of the Hunt) and his wife Queen Summer. This is a deeply mythical tale for all ages.
A fear of wildness and the unknown is part of human nature. The mythical Wild Hunt is a symbol of this fear throughout history. Fantasy authors have used the Hunt in various ways in their books. Its presence brings suspense, danger and chaos to these books. There are many other Fantasy books with the Hunt in them. So, if on a dark night you find yourself alone in the country, listen carefully. Should you hear the baying of hounds and hunting horns, beware. Happy reading.