Last night we had a storm. Storms don’t frighten me, never have. I have always loved watching the lightning and listening to thunder growling. Jumping at a crash right overhead is the nearest I ever get to enjoying the thrill of fear. My dad was like that too, though my mother was terrified of storms and if ever we were out when one broke she would insist that we hide somewhere until it was over. Only now, forty years later, can I begin to understand her terror when our flight home from a childhood holiday in Rome was delayed because of a terrific electric storm.
The storm last night was a pretty feeble affair, and no doubt wouldn’t have even stirred me from my deep four in the morning sleep. What did wake me though was a very large, very frightened dog bursting into our bedroom looking for reassurance and somewhere to hide.
My husband started humming ‘My favourite things’ from The Sound of Music and joked about the possibility of the children appearing one after the other in the doorway. No chance. An earthquake wouldn’t wake any of them. Dog though was terrified and had to be hugged very tight for the duration. During a storm the cats disappear into their hiding places, as cats do, but Finbar needs physical contact to reassure him that the world isn’t coming to an end.
As I lay awake playing mother to a trembling hound, I thought about the relationship of early people with the power of nature, and whether what was going on in Finbar’s head was in any way similar: with the proviso that human fear was modified by reverence and awe, which I don’t think play much of a part in Finbar’s psyche.
In my current WIP veneration of the forces of nature, especially the destructive ones, is central to the antagonists’ mindset. The Scyldings are based on early northern European people; they don’t have our scientific knowledge, or our modern scepticism. Most of their reactions are pretty basic and brutal, but they fear what they don’t understand and seek guidance, albeit grudgingly, from an adept of the occult.
Sometimes an intelligent animal’s reaction to a phenomenon can be taken as an indication that early people may have interpreted it the same way. The need to hole up somewhere at night, the relief when the light comes back in the morning, the reluctance to go out in the cold or great heat, the fear of thunder, hail and torrential rain, heaving seas and strong winds, all of these seem credible reactions for my Scyldings as well as my fearful dog.
The ancient Celts, if the Romans are to be believed, feared only one thing: the sky falling on their heads. Is that what Finbar fears too? And don’t even we, modern, sophisticated sceptics, feel something similar when we hear about asteroids, or another rogue state installing nuclear missiles?