The Celtic God of Dreamsby Alexander McCall Smith
“Elegant . . . Spare, polished . . . Smith fluidly weaves in contemporary vignettes.” —Publishers Weekly
The latest addition to the Myths series from Canongate, now available in paperback, is a beguiling tale from the beloved author of the best-selling No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.
Angus is one of the earliest Celtic deities and one of the most cherished to this day. Like an even more handsome combination of Apollo and Eros, he is the god of love, youth, and beauty. Just the sight of him has made people fall in love, and he has the power to reveal a person’s true love in a dream, if asked politely. Alexander McCall Smith has turned his renowned storytelling talents to crafting irresistible stories from this ancient myth. Five exquisite contemporary fables of love lost and found unfold alongside Angus’s search for the beautiful Caer, the swan maiden he met in his dreams. McCall Smith unites reality and dreams, today and the ancient past, mesmerizingly, leaving the reader to wonder: what is life but the pursuit of dreams?
“Canongate’s laudable series . . . is a wonderful exercise for authors and readers. . . . ‘Is There a Place for Pigs There?’ and ‘I Dream of You’ are indeed worth losing sleep over. B+” —Rebecca Ascher-Walsh, Entertainment Weekly
“Elegant . . . Smith fluidly weaves in contemporary vignettes . . . Spare, polished.” —Publishers Weekly
“Lyrical . . . This slim, elegant volume is further evidence of his consummate ability to blend wit, wisdom, and heart.” —Booklist
“Dream Angus consists of five fables that tell of Angus’ quest, penned with insight, wonder, eros, and the mesmerizing rapture of dreams that connect with reality. A buoyant and sensuously enjoyable fantasy.” —Internet Bookwatch
“Each story is compelling.” —The Columbus Dispatch
Praise for Alexander McCall Smith:
“McCall Smith’s generous writing and dry humor, his gentleness and humanity, and his ability to evoke a place and a set of characters without caricature or condescension have endeared his books . . . to readers.” —The New York Times
“Pure joy. It’s about the mysteries of human nature. The writing is accessible and the prose is so beautiful, you can read this in one sitting.” —Amy Tan
“One of the most entrancing literary treats of many a year . . . A tapestry of extraordinary nuance and richness.” —The Wall Street Journal
“McCall Smith’s assessments of fellow humans are piercing and profound.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“[McCall Smith’s] accomplished novels . . . [are] dependent on small gestures redolent with meaning and main characters blessed with pleasing personalities. . . . These novels are gentle probes into the mysteries of human nature.” —Newsday
“Get your hands on one of the mysteries from the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. . . . Each book is a thinly disguised love letter . . . to the people and culture of Southern Africa. A great escape.” —Elle
“The best, most charming, honest, hilarious, and life-affirming books to appear in years.” —The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) on Blue Shoes and Happiness
“McCall Smith renders brisk, seamless tales that are both wry and profound. Amidst the mayhem . . . are eloquent descriptions of the serene African country that holds a special place in his heart.” —Booklist (starred review) on Blue Shoes and Happiness
“Beguiling, lyrical . . . Blessed with McCall Smith’s richly detailed portraits of life in Africa and his flair for storytelling with an engaging cast of fully realized characters.” —Los Angeles Times Book Review on Blue Shoes and Happiness
“[A] consistently delightful series . . . McCall Smith . . . renders colorful characters. . . . Amid the hilarious scenarios and quiet revelations are luminous descriptions of Botswana, land of wide-open spaces and endless blue skies.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review) on In the Company of Cheerful Ladies
“Put on the teakettle, find your place in the sun and settle in for a genteel journey. . . . McCall Smith has brewed up a gem of a story as rich as . . . red bush tea.” —Rocky Mountain News on In the Company of Cheerful Ladies
“Reader, be warned: This is not your ordinary detective novel. . . . The Kalahari Typing School for Men maintains the breezy-to-read, gentle tone of Smith’s previous work, and leaves us wanting more adventures ASAP.” —The Globe and Mail
“The Kalahari Typing School for Men [is] simply charming in the extreme. . . . This series’ huge appeal lies in its mannerly folk wisdom and wry, gentle humor, full of wit, nuance and caring. It’s an oasis in a genre that too often seems a desert of violence and inhumanity.” —Chicago Sun-Times
“This loosely woven novel is as beguiling as Alexander McCall Smith’s earlier books about the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. His prose is deceptively simple, with a gift for evoking the earth and sky of Africa.” —The Seattle Times on The Kalahari Typing School for Men
There Was Water
This happened in Ireland, but the memory of it is in Scotland too. The precise location of things was not so important then, as there was just the land and the sea between them, and people came and went between the lands, and they were brothers and sisters. The land itself was beautiful, with hills that ran down to the sea, and there were cold green waves that broke on the rocks that marked the edge of the land. There were islands, too, with stretches of white sand, and behind the white sand there was the machair, which was made up of meadows on which grew yellow and blue flowers, tiny flowers.
The gods lived everywhere then, and they moved among the people. But there were some gods who had their own place, and they were sometimes very powerful, as Dagda was. He was one of the great gods, and his people lived on islands at the very edge of the world, where there is just the blue of the sea and the west beyond the blue. They came to Ireland on a cloud, and lived there.
Dagda was one of them, the good one, and he had great power, with his cauldron in which there was limitless food, and his great club, with which he could slay many men with a single blow. But he was often kind to men, and he could bring them back to life with the other end of the club. He also had fecund fruit trees which never stopped bearing fruit, and two remarkable pigs, one of which was always being cooked while the other was always growing.
There are many stories of Dagda and his doings. This one is about how he came to father a boy called Angus, and how Angus delighted all who came across him. In many ways, this was Dagda’s greatest achievement, that he gave us this fine boy, who brought dreams to people, and who was loved by birds and people equally and who still is. For Dream Angus still comes at night and gives you dreams. You do not see him do this, but you may spot him skipping across the heather, his bag of dreams by his side, and the sight of him, just the sight, may be enough to make you fall in love. For he is also a dispenser of love, an Eros.
How was it that Dagda, a great and powerful god, a leader of warriors, should have had such a son? One might have thought, surely, that a god like that would have a son who was skilled in military matters, rather than a dreamer who fell in love and who was a charmer of birds. For an explanation of the gentleness of Angus, we must turn to his mother. She was a water spirit called Boann. Water spirits are gentle; their sons are handsome and have a sense of fun; they sparkle and dart about, just like water, which is the most playful of the elements.
Boann lived in a river. This was one of those rivers which was both great and small. There were places where its bed grew quite broad, and at such places one might walk across the river without getting even one’s ankles wet. At other places there were pools, deep and dark, with water the colour of peat, and in these pools swam trout who lived for many years and had a great wisdom of matters pertaining to water and fish. Then there were places where the river was in-between—not deep, but not shallow. These were good places for water spirits to live.
Boann lived in one of these places. She was shy, as water spirits often are, and it was possible to walk right past the place where she was and not see her at all. All that you might see would be a ripple in the surface of the water, or a splash, perhaps, of the sort made by an otter or some other small creature slipping into the water, not enough to make you turn your head or think of investigating further.
Boann was gentle, and if, after rain, the river ran high, it was still always calm when it came to the place where she lived, as she would smooth the surface with her breath, which was like a soft, warm breeze. She was kind, too, and when a holy man came to the river’s edge and asked whether he could lie down in the water, she readily agreed. She brought him some honey which she had and let him suck on the comb until it was drained of sweetness and all that was left were the wax cells of the bees.
That holy man was tired; he lay back in the water after he had sucked on the honey and he soon fell asleep. His head dropped beneath the surface, but he did not drown, as it is well known that holy men can live under a river even if ordinary men cannot. She watched over him, and saw that he was breathing peacefully, even though he was underwater.
This holy man was still there when morning came. Boann looked down through the water and saw that his eyes were open, and that he was staring up at her. She called to him, and he surfaced, coming up slowly through the clear water and breaking out into the air with a great shaking of his locks. She gave him another honeycomb, which again he sucked dry. Then he sank back beneath the water once more.
Sometimes the holy man spent all day under the river; on other occasions he would emerge from the water and walk off along one of the paths. He would talk to the people who were working in the fields and give them his blessings. They would give him food in return. They all knew that he lived under the river, but they were respectful of him, and they did not come to see him there. They knew, too, that Boann was looking after him and that they did not need to do anything for him other than listen politely when he spoke to them about things that they did not really understand.
The holy man told Boann many stories. For the most part these stories were about his boyhood and about the white dog which he had. This white dog had a brave heart, and did many fine deeds. Then he went away, and the holy man never saw him again, although he sometimes heard him barking in the distance. There were many stories of this sort, which Boann listened to, and each time the holy man told them they were different in some small detail. Sometimes the dog wore a collar of gold and sometimes it was a collar of leather. Sometimes the dog caught a hare, and sometimes he would pursue and capture a deer. Boann listened patiently to all these stories and occasionally at night she dreamed about a white dog, which she was convinced was the dog of the holy man’s boyhood.
Boann was pleased that the holy man had come to live under her river. She knew that the local people had seen him, and she knew that he was safe with them, but she did not want any gods to hear about him. It was not unknown for gods to become jealous of holy men, or to be possessive of them, and she did not want anybody to kill her holy man or take him away from her place in the river. So if ever any god came into that part of the country, Boann would tell the holy man to stay underwater until she called to him that it was safe to come out. She also acquired a bell which she would ring if she spotted a god. This was to be the warning signal to the holy man to get back into the water if he was sitting on the bank or walking in the fields.
Boann was, of course, very beautiful, although very few men had seen her face. Eventually word reached Dagda that there was a graceful water spirit living in that river and he decided that he would see whether her beauty was as striking as was reported. He picked up his club and set off towards the river. The sun was high in the sky and his shadow was short. Nobody would know that Dagda was coming, because he was the wind and the rain and the clouds in the sky. Dagda was Ireland, and Ireland was all about. He was Scotland too, and lands beyond that.
When he came to the river he saw Boann sitting upon a rock. She was singing to the holy man, who had come up out of the water and was drying his hair in the sun. Dagda stopped and listened to the song that Boann was singing. It was very beautiful—like the sound of running water. He was, of course, immensely jealous, and he decided that he would kill the holy man as soon as the opportunity presented itself.
Boann had to go to another place to see her husband, Elcmar. She had not thought of gods who might be watching; she had not thought of Dagda. Dagda saw Boann set off, and he puffed out his cheeks and blew a wind which would help her on her journey. Then he waited. Now there was nobody about, nobody who would see him on his murderous errand. Laying down his great club, he strode across to the edge of the river and looked down into the water. There was the holy man, staring up at him, wondering who it was who had seen fit to disturb his retreat.
Dagda laughed. A holy man was no match for him, and he reached down into the water, his great forearm making small waves, his blunt fingers snatching at the holy man below. Then he pulled him out of the water, shook him, and held him high up in the sky, as one would hold up a fish one had caught so that others might admire it. The holy man could not breathe up there. All about him was sky and more sky, and he struggled and gasped, his thin cries lost in the rushing wind that was Dagda’s breath. It was to no avail; he drowned in the sky, and after he died, as a fish will die in the air, his eyes were wide, as the eyes of a fish will be, and his skin turned to scales. The light was silver on these scales—silver and gold, like the scales of a trout when it is taken from sweet water. Dagda then tossed the body of the holy man away, and it cartwheeled across the sky before it fell.
Dagda now put on the holy man’s clothes, which had slipped off him when he died. Then, entering the water, he sank below the surface, making his face and his hair look like the face and hair of the holy man. There he waited for Boann to come back from her journey.
At sunset the next day she returned. Dagda lay quite still as she settled for the night, but when the stars were out and all was quiet he called to her from under the river, and he called her in the voice of the holy man. Boann arose from her bed of reeds and crossed the river in the darkness, going to the place where the holy man lived. Dagda, now revealed, was waiting for her and he held her in his arms and she immediately conceived of a child. Boann was secretly pleased by this, as she had been in love with Dagda but had been frightened by what her husband would think if she were to be seen in the company of the powerful god. Fortunately, her husband had been sent off on an errand by Dagda, who had also made time stand still for him for a period of nine months—the time during which Boann would be bearing Dagda’s child.
Dagda, however, did not intend to stay with Boann. He was already married and had to return to his own wife. He went away, laughing so loudly that people woke up and thought that there had been thunder, and were frightened.