‘Archie and the North Wind’ is a rare thing – a book in English by Gaelic writer Angus Peter Campbell. And it’s sure to be a real treat, for those who cannot read Gaelic, to have access to the work of this wonderful storyteller.
This is a work of magical realism, stuffed with traditional tales and laden with symbolism. It’s part (adult) fairytale and part parable.
The hero of the book – Archie – a bodach before his time – worn down by an unhappy home life, leaves his selfish wife and oblivious son behind, at his home in the Western Isles, and goes on a quest to find the source of the North Wind. The book is all about the journey – the places and the amazing characters Archie meets along the way. Archie forges (yes, he’s a blacksmith) wonderful friendships and is enchanted by the sights he sees.
The reader too is enchanted – by the beautiful prose – ‘He spread the curtains and looked out to the heavens. A large, white bear stood yards away, looking at him. An Arctic hare sat in the snow a little distance behind the bear. All the stars that ever existed blinked above. He thought he saw a row of penguins marching past till he remembered that was at the other end, to the south, at the different Arctic called the Antarctic. Just as they call South Uist one island and North Uist another.’
When Archie returns from his travels it’s as if he’s never been away – as far as his wife and son are concerned – and maybe he hasn’t travelled far in physical terms. But in Archie’s reality he has gone an infinite distance. He has been to Skye, to mainland Scotland, to London, he has sailed around the world and trekked to the north pole.
And his memories of his adventures and of the people he met sustain him in his old age. People like Olga, the Polish horsewoman who arrived on the day of ‘An Siababh Mor’ (the great shaking – a fiercely strong wind) and the splendidly named Gobhlachan (literally meaning ‘crotch-ridden), and John the Goblin, Brawn the sailor, Yukon Joe and Ted Hah.
This is a story very much of the 21st century – but it’s also timeless. For Archie, the old traditional, oral tales prove to be true. For the reader – even in the sophisticated, scientifically dominated modern world – these tales, and Archie’s journey, hold more than a grain of truth and a world of infinite possibilities.
Read this book whilst curled up in an armchair by the fire and a dram in your hand, with curtains drawn and the north wind howling outside – and be transported.
‘Archie and the North Wind’ is published by Luath Press.