Help A Bitch Out

HaBO: YA from the 80’s

Katrina writes:

I read this YA book somewhere between 1981 to ‘83 when I was in fifth or sixth grade after the school librarian recommended it. I believe it was a recent publication at that time, so it would have been published circa ‘79 to ‘83. An adolescent Celtic girl during the heyday of the Druids romps around the ancient forest, climbing oak trees and partaking in mystical Druid rituals and such. The cover depicted her wearing a simple tunic and sitting high up in a tree. I swear the cover also featured a silver medal seal, meaning it would have been a Newberry Honor Book (which means it received an honorable mention rather than the golden Newberry Award seal) but none of the titles listed for Honor Books published during that time ring a bell.

The young heroine may have also been the Druid chieftain’s daughter or was in some way related to a Druid VIP. I think she was a bit of a tomboy and liked to go hunting but I may be confusing that element with another story. While hunting (?) in the mystical magical woods, she spends time with a boy from either her village or the neighboring one and falls in love with him. The relationship was not forbidden or anything, but there was some other type of conflict/controversy centered around her. I believe she ended up being blamed after the crops died or the rain didn’t come or the mistletoe shriveled up or some crap like that, though I can’t remember what she did that was deemed so bad.

At the end of the story, she marries the boy she loves, then at the end of the wedding she drinks mead or some other exotic Druid-sounding beverage from a ceremonial cup. The mead/whatever tastes of almonds or some other ominous substance, thus revealing that the young heroine has willingly drunk poison and sacrificed her own life to restore order and fix whatever it was that she screwed up. I believe the groom may have imbibed too but not sure—he might have voluntarily died with her, or he might have just stood by and watched his love valiantly die and then gone on to woo the next bored Celtic girl.

And people wonder why I read and write “dark romance”, when this was the morbid fare my school librarian recommended to impressionable young readers—not to mention that to this day, I can directly trace my interest in Pagan belief systems to this book. (Perhaps my fundamentalist mother was onto something with her fears of those evil, secular humanists invading the public school system…) Anyone else remember this book, or did I dream all this up?

Sounds like this book rocked someone’s world. Anyone remember this one?


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  1. 1
    Lita says:

    It could have been “Shadow on the Stones” – the third book in the Tall Stones trilogy by Moyra Caldecott – the timing’s right, the story seems right – but it’s been twenty+ years since I read it, and it was my least favorite of the trilogy.

  2. 2
    DS says:

    I thought of this author but she has a web site and the discription of the books in that series don’t sound right.  I also thought of Mollie Hunter.

  3. 3
    DS says:

    Throwing out another title The Far Away Lurs by Henry Behn.  I think it was reprinted 1883 in a new hardcover edition but was orginally pub 1963.  It was set in Iron age Denmark but was inspired by the discovery of two bog bodies.  Lurs are the big curved horns (musical instruments) that occur in some deorative work of the period. They can see them played in some Corvus Corax performances on Youtube.

  4. 4
    Karen says:

    This is a long shot, based primarily on the remembrance of a Newbery Honor Seal: Perhaps The Tombs of Atuan, by Ursula K. LeGuin?  It was a Newbery Honor in 1972 and, although the world in which it takes place is imaginary, there are similarities to the world of ancient Celts.

    From the Amazon description:
    When young Tenar is chosen as high priestess to the ancient and nameless Powers of the Earth, everything is taken away from her-home, family, possessions, even her name. She is now known only as Arha, the Eaten One, guardian of the labyrinthine Tombs of Atuan, shrouded in darkness. When a young wizard, Ged Sparrowhawk, comes to steal the Tombs’ greatest hidden treasure, the Ring of Erreth-Akbe, Tenar’s rightful duty is to protect the Tombs. But Ged also brings with him the light of magic and tales of a brighter world Tenar has never known. Will Tenar risk everything to escape the darkness that has become her domain?

  5. 5
    AbbyT says:

    Hmmm—I would suggest a Morgan Llwellyn or a Diana L. Paxson, but I don’t think either one of them ever won a Newberry.  This is a toughie!

  6. 6
    Beadgirl says:

    It’s definitely not the Tombs of Atuan, I know that book well and there are no similarities. 

    I can’t help you otherwise, sorry.  But a YA book where the heroine willingly commits ritual suicide to undo an unjust accusation of ruining crops or whatever?  I’d have been pissed AND depressed had I read that.

  7. 7

    It’s The Far Away Lurs by Harry Behn, DS is correct.  I read this when I was a teen, many decades ago.  I remember it because of its relationship to the Egtved Girl:

    The Egtved Girl (c. 1390–1370 BC) was a Nordic Bronze Age girl whose well-preserved remains were found at Egtved ( 55°37′N, 9°18′E), Denmark in 1921. Aged 16–18 at death, she was slim, 160 cm tall (about 5ft 2in), had long blonde hair and well-trimmed nails. Her burial has been dated by dendrochronology to 1370 BC.

    From this website.

  8. 8

    Wow, that was fast! The Far Away Lurs FTW! Thanks so much!

    That original ’63 publication date definitely threw my search off. The copy I read was a shiny new hardback, and I was the first person to check it out from the public library after someone else snatched up the school copy. (God, remember stamped due date cards?) So that explains why my senile brain remembered the book as “new”. Not sure why I’m remembering an award seal, though. I was quite the studious bookworm back then and devoured a few titles per week, so perhaps I also checked out a Newberry winner that day.

  9. 9
    AgTigress says:

    What I find interesting about Katrina’s otherwise presumably quite accurate recollection of this novel is that the Scandinavian Bronze Age setting has become transmuted into the very different one of Celts and Druids – much later period (about 1000 years later), different area.  :-)

    Not that I necessarily remember books read long ago at all well, and I am really impressed by the way that so many of you can remember plot and character details, but I have the impression that ‘Celts’ are written about in fantasy terms so often these days that people forget that the Central/Northern European Iron Age actually existed!

  10. 10


    My brain definitely played tricks on that point, but as you’ve duly noted, the common collective consciousness seems to confuse Nordic/Scandanavian beliefs in with those of the Western European Druids.

    Word is “nature42”… how cosmic given the discussion…

  11. 11
    Chrissy says:

    I am so going out to find this book!

  12. 12
    Kalen Hughes says:

    Reminds of some of the Rosemary Sutcliff books I was addicted to as a child . . .

  13. 13
    Susan/DC says:

    Kalen beat me to it.  This definitely reminds me of some of Rosemary Sutcliffe’s stories.  There was one with a young girl and a slightly older boy who, IIRC, was from over the sea (today’s Ireland).  He was blamed for the fact that the village’s sacred spring had dried up, and was therefore condemned to be sacrificed in hopes of appeasing the gods and bringing the water back.  She helps him escape, and he inadvertently discovers why the spring didn’t flow.  The story sounds simplistic, but Sutcliffe was wonderful at putting you in the center of a time and place and making you feel as if that life was flowing all around you—she was great at setting and tone.  She’s also got one set in Bronze Age Britain about the artist who created the huge drawing of the horse, and she’s wonderful at writing about battles.  I adored her books.

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