Review & Author Content: Stone by Finbar Hawkins

Stone by Finbar Hawkins

Today is my turn to celebrate the incredible book that is Stone by Finbar Hawkins, and I’m lucky enough to be hosting a reflection by Finbar himself on grief. I would recommend making a nice drink and maybe a biscuit before settling down, as I had a lot of thoughts and of course, please note for those who may struggle, this blog post talks about loss and behaviour in grief.

You can imagine this book called out to me on several levels with its weaving of Norse mythology into the English landscape, along with the heritage of Irish folklore and the tools of the tarot. 

Rich in symbolism if you walk the paths, but not in a ‘woo-woo’ way, this book appeals across many hearts and minds with its ‘ordinary’ boy going through an extraordinarily painful experience and by serendipity brought into the orbits of a range of people he needs, with an overarching hand from a supernatural source, whatever or whomever you want to call it, channelled through the imagery of the Norse Odin. 

possible triggering content:

Death of Parent, Killed in Action context, Tour of Duty in Afghanistan, Bullying, Assault by a group, Car Chase and near accident, Fall from Horse, Psychotherapy sessions, Death of Spouse, Hospitalisation for fall, joyriding, police cautioning.
Stone by Finbar Hawkins
Artwork by Edward Bettison

Sam is in turmoil, he has regrets that he can’t take back, and now his soldier father has died in action in Afghanistan. Torn between his need to roam the White Horse he walked regularly with his father, and to pretend everything is ok- when his attitude and behaviour clearly indicate otherwise, and then Sam tumbles into world between worlds waking dreamstates and visions of his father and the Norse god Odin after discovering a curious magical stone.

As he makes mistake after mistake, he is ordered to therapy, but he cannot quite voice his darkest regrets, but will a new friendship with elderly widower Bill, a romance with witchy Oona, reconciling with his best friend Chad and messages through the stone help him find a new path, a new way of being, not forgetting or shedding his father, but finding a new state to move forward.

As a lover of mythology but particularly those of these islands and mainland European stories, I was delighted to see the acceptance and nonchalance given to teenagers seeking out such books when they are not directly related to an examination. 

So often a love of mythology in state educated children is only encouraged in primary school when ‘doing’ Greeks and Romans, or in UK regional areas to maintain cultural identity, whereas I think we ALL need some myths and folklore.

Especially the ordinary people of England, we have been robbed culturally by our rulers and overlords, and shamefully the methods honed on us applied with sharper claws to other subjugated nations in the act of colonisation. Our mythology, our folk-embroidered yarns of meaning, hope and wonder have been erased, silenced or sanitised by those in power over two millennia leaving us bereft of these stories of belonging and heritage usurped and pasted over with the activities of rich, often morally questionable men. 

This can create something rather dark and dividing when we observe what we are missing whether the missing within us or the existence of it in others; some will have a deep longing to fill it whether with research or embracing of other mythology, but more often it fosters a state where many are cynical and dismissive of those interested in mythology as childish, ridiculous or dreamers, or worse; deeply suspicious and scathing of those peoples who still have these tales that link through time, space and intention an attitude that fuels xenophobic attitudes. Perhaps it is our unacknowledged grief, being reminded of a gap within us that fuels this and manifests much like Sam’s loss of his father; in denial and scornful attitudes rather than the courage to say we feel the loss at a soul level. 

For those wondering what place Odin has on an Oxfordshire landscape, it is the case that Norse and what remains of British mythology has many borrowings and crossovers much like they did historically in trade, marriage and migration, but of course Odin is much more recognisable to the general reader than Wodin/Wotan/Wayland as was variably used here, so this interweaving of Norse stories into a very English setting makes fine sense. 

I’m alone in the labyrinth and I know my way, passing book on the local region, histories, legends and maps. I browsed here so many times digging for gold.

But indeed whilst it was a joy to see a working class boy unashamed to read mythology, it is Oona that truly delighted and resonated with me. 

Her immersion and hunger for the metaphysical, in both stories and practice from tales of Norse Gods to divination, scrying and even dowsing for water, she could have been a manic pixie dream girl if not for her firm hand and choices to seek out Sam and see through his pain. 

 Peril or injury to her is not the catalyst for his enlightenment, she is like the Old Wise one of mythology cycles, the hand that guides our hero through the quest and so beautifully cast as a young girl instead of the usual Old Man, whereas in our novel Bill, the actual old man is the New Friend archetype. Bill is a fellow traveller in grief, brought into the path of our hero so they can find new clarity and purpose by the sharing of experience. This gender and age switching is truly excellent if you know the theory of the Hero with a Thousand Faces.

But even more so because Oona’s unashamed witchiness will resonate in so many, she is me at that age, I myself spread oracle cards across car bonnets and duvets for friends, seeking out the path that I didn’t know had a name until I found I wasn’t alone. Oona will ignite another lost soul in answering a wondering and wandering within them and that is a beautiful thing, 

Hoof and Horn, Hoof and Horn All that dies shall be reborn,

Corn and grain, Corn and Grain All that falls shall rise again 

Chorus from We All Come from the Goddess a neopagan chant

There’s a chant in neopaganism about death and the harvest festivals that fits beautifully within the story of Stone.

We All Come from the Goddess is about the intertwined nature of all things and that death is a natural part of the cycle of all things, and whilst it brings pain there is also the promise of new beginnings. As Oona tells Sam about the true meaning of the Death card in the Tarot and how rather than dressing up for Halloween, the festival of Samhain is the Last Harvest and to shed what we don’t need anymore, sometimes the shock of death or similarly traumatic change gives us the awakening to pause, reflect, slough off and surrender what we no longer need and take forward what we truly value, have earned and gained. 

But it is a challenging and emotional process that takes courage and more than often support in one form or another, whether in belief, counselling or medication through the initial period, however, many people end up stuck or stagnant partly because it’s too painful to go through and who willing puts their hand into a fire, let alone their heart? And partly because we have a culture of ‘stiff upper lip’ and avoiding provoking pain in others leading us to stuff our feelings in the metaphorical cupboard in order to appease the comfort of others.

I recognise the former, a childhood wounding that has a lot to do with how I still mask and struggle with today. So books that can help children with this pain avoid becoming something they are not to avoid confronting or admitting that to others, for others comfort then it is doing incredible things.

Sam has what is often called a ‘dark night of the soul’ across the book, his grief is wrapped up in guilt, anger and resentment. Most of it aimed at himself for his sullen behaviour and anger towards his father’s absence on tours of duty, and regrets of spiteful words that cannot be taken back. This guilt paralyses him, and blocks him from reaching for joy or comfort, instead lashing out at his mum, sister and best friend. 

But across the book, the scrying stone from Witch in hand with a loving parent, supportive friends old and new, and professional therapy means Sam works through his issues around his fathers death- he’s not ‘cured’ of his loss, but he is no longer haunting himself with regret. 

Dealing with death by Finbar Hawkins.

When I was only a few years older than Sam, the main character in Stone, I was suddenly confronted by the death of a friend and mentor. It was an utter shock, the repercussions of which I couldn’t simply shake off. The experience forced me to think about things that I had never previously encountered. After all, why would I? I was young, seemingly indestructible; death simply didn’t happen then – it was something for the old, something that was a hundred miles away from where I was in life. But deal with it I very much had to. 

I had no solace in a religion, or any form of spirituality so I found myself in bereavement counselling. And it was hard. Really hard. The utter brutal blankness of death, the silence of it, the meaninglessness of it, was something I had to construct my own answers for, slowly, through the discussion, and quite a few tears. This bruising experience with finality seemed to touch all corners of my life. Everywhere I turned, it lurked, or at least seemed to. This was all a projection of course – I was still in shock and didn’t know it. Time was needed in order for my sense of the world to adjust, to accommodate and come to terms with the presence of death in my life.

Talking about death is something we don’t do enough. It is still a taboo subject, still something to shuffle away from, drop behind the sofa. But it is such a huge part of life that I worry we don’t prepare ourselves for it properly, and we make it into more of a bogey than it already is. We must understand and come to terms with death in order to make sense of our lives. Good life, good death.

For me, like Sam in Stone, psychotherapy provided the means and the space to face things I didn’t know were there. I understand better now that people who are religious often have a healthier way of dealing with the inevitable. It is not simply something that can be dismissed just because I didn’t believe in God. And perhaps, because we are a less religious society now, we have lost this balance, this dialogue with death. But whatever means we have, I believe such a dialogue is essential. Talk to people, talk about it, evaluate what death means and so live a fuller life.

Thank you Finbar.

Please check out the other stops on the tour for this beautiful book and if you haven’t already read Witch, I thoroughly recommend it.

Stone by Finbar Hawkins

STONE by Finbar Hawkins is out now in hardback (£14.99, Zephyr)

Thank you for my copy 💜

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