Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Pangur Ban

"I and Pangur Ban my cat,
Tis a like task we are at.
Hunting mice is his delight.
Hunting words I sit all night..."

So starts a poem written in the margin of an early medieval Irish manuscript, with the monk comparing himself to his white cat - Pangur Ban means the white fulled one, fulling being a process in the making of woollen cloth. Any Welsh place with Pandy in the name once had a fulling mill.
I was footling about on Goodreads last night, and came across the children's series about Pangur Ban by Fay Sampson - and realised that I'd read almost all of them, years ago when I worked at the Children's Bookshop.
Pangur Ban and his monk Niall team up with pony-mad Princess Finnglas, and have several adventures in a fantasy version of medieval Ireland.
There are a lot of things to like about these stories, like the way Niall sings hymns loudly when in dire peril, and the dolphin Arthmael who helps them - or possibly the Son of God in the form of a dolphin (and sometimes, when they are away from the sea, a dog which is prepared to sacrifice himself to save them).
Her story about the naming of Pangur Ban, when he was still a kitten in a witch's cave, reminded me of another childhood favourite, Gobbolino the Witch's Cat, by Ursula Moray Williams - in that story, Gobbolino spends the whole book trying different ways of being an ordinary house cat, but is always discovered and chased away. His sister, who takes up the life of a witch's cat with enthusiasm, has the glorious name of Sootica.

Fay Sampson is a very good writer indeed, and for adults she has also written a re-telling of the myth of Inanna, the Mesopotamian goddess of Love and War, and her descent into the underworld, as well as a series of Arthurian novels, among other things. I liked Star Dancer, the Inanna story, a lot - it's not often that Mesopotamian myths are made into novels, but there are any number of versions of the Arthurian myth.
She also wrote a stand alone novel for older children called A Free Man on Sunday, about the Mass Trespass of Kinder Scout in the Lake District in the 1930s - back when the Ramblers' Association was considered to be a bunch of radical Communists, just for wanting the freedom to walk out on the moors that surrounded the Northern mill towns where they lived! That story includes the folk song written by Ewan McColl - The Manchester Rambler - which is also about the Mass Trespass. Part of the chorus is "I may be a wage slave on Monday, but I am a free man on Sunday".
She has a website - with lots more books that I haven't read yet - at www.faysampson.co.uk

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