Towards the beginning of Storm Hound by Claire Fayers, the powerful(ish) protagonist, Storm of Odin, (a dog somewhat fallen from grace) is confronted by a flock of sheep, who rather hilariously, mock his seemingly inflated ego.
“If you’re a storm hound,” one says to him, “then I’m Aries, the Ram – get it?”
and they fall about laughing.
Sheep and cats and dogs play a large comic role in Fayer’s new humorous magical and mythological book about identity and companionship. This storming novel, for readers aged 8 and over, is about learning where we fit in, and how home can be anywhere, as long we’re rooted within ourselves.
Storm of Odin is the youngest hound of Odin’s Wild Hunt in the mythological skies. But on his first hunt, he gets lost, falling to earth from the Otherworld and ending up on the A40 about 5 miles from Abergavenny, near a flock of sheep. And in falling, he seems to have transformed from powerful horse-sized hunting dog to loveable cute little puppy. In time, he’s adopted by 12-year-old Jessica, a girl who also feels that her real home doesn’t lie in Abergavenny.
Together, facing a magical world that they don’t quite understand, they slowly learn who to trust, and they form a strong bond that enables them to overcome the fiercest of challenges.
Fayers throws a myriad of hilarious creatures into her novel, with cats and dogs and sheep given not only a voice but also comic interior monologues, incorporating extra depth to an ordinary Abergavenny day.
Here, Claire Fayers highlights the power of sheep in mythology, and why they’re such intriguing characters to insert into a novel:
Hey! Sheep! the stormhound shouted.
The sheep gazed blankly at him, chewing grass.
Eventually, one of them wandered closer. You talking to us?
Wales has a lot of sheep: just under 10 million at the last count, so it won’t surprise anyone that a book set in Wales is going to feature sheep. They form a woolly Greek chorus, standing about the hillsides, watching and commenting on the action, and occasionally leaping out of bushes at people, like the velociraptors in Jurassic Park.
Writing Storm Hound, I learned a few things about sheep that surprised me. (Disclaimer: these things may not necessarily be true). They have a really bad sense of humour, and make the most atrocious puns. Storm finds that out straight away. They always seem to know more about the world than they’re letting on, and they can give quite good advice sometimes if you know how to ask them.
One thing I had to cut from the book, however, was the secret link between sheep and fate. There wasn’t quite space to include it, and it’s a bit of a side-step out of Norse and Welsh mythology and into Greek.
According to Greek legend, Fate takes the form of three women: Clotho, Lachesis and Atropis. Clotho spins the thread of human fate, Lachesis measures it and Atropos cuts it.
The Fates also appear in Roman myth, where they are called Nona, Decuma and Morta. They are often depicted as old women, inflexible and implacable. You cannot, after all negotiate with fate.
What has this got to do with sheep, I hear you ask.
Well, the Fates spin and measure and cut the thread of life, but what do you think that thread is made of?
My money is on wool. It’s as likely as anything else and, in fact, it makes a lot of sense. Sheep are raised all over the world. They stand about in fields and on hills, staring at anyone who happens by. Watching and waiting. Because life is interesting and someone has to pay attention to what’s going on.
Next time you see a field of sheep, don’t try to engage them in conversation. They’re not allowed to talk to humans, and if they did you’d get tangled up in woolly puns before you knew it. Just give them a wave and say hello. It always pays to be polite to Fate.
Some sheep facts
- Sheep have four stomachs. (One for starters, one for main course and two for puddings!)
- A sheep’s wool never stops growing.
- One pound of sheep’s wool can make up to 10 miles of yarn.
- Sheep have rectangular pupils and nearly 360 degree vision, meaning they can see behind without turning their heads. (Further proof that they are the watchers of the world.)
- Sheep can recognise up to 50 other sheep faces. AND they can recognise human faces.
- The world’s most expensive sheep sold for £231,000 at a sale in Lanark, Scotland.
- Sheep feel emotions and prefer smiling human faces to angry ones.
- If you put a sheep on its back, it won’t be able to get up again. (Do not do this!)
- It is estimated that there are over 1,000 different breeds of sheep worldwide.
- A lamb can walk within minutes of being born.
With thanks to Claire Fayers for this guest post about sheep! To buy Storm Hound, click here.