The Song of Hild

Written by Gaye Kynoch (trans.) Vibeke Vasbo
Review by Alan Fisk

Originally published in Denmark in 1991, this is the life of the Deiran princess Hild and her many changes of fortune until she becomes the august Abbess of Whitby, as we now call what she knew as Streonæshalch.

We begin in 633 AD. with a harrowing episode of multiple births and deaths. It is not disparaging to say that births, marriages, and deaths form the framework on which the story is hung.

The picture of life in 7th-century Britain is thoroughly convincing, and full of details of life and its rigours, even for royalty. The complex interactions among the British and English peoples are shown by the ways in which they affect the multitude of historical and fictitious characters in the story.

The English kingdoms are in the early stages of conversion to Christianity, not without resistance and backsliding, but Hild is always working to ensure that the new faith firmly beds in. She eventually plays a major role at what history remembers as the Synod of Whitby in 664 AD, which established uniform observance of the date for celebrating Easter.

There are a couple of places where the author’s modern political positions cause Hild to evince attitudes that are most implausible in a 7th-century abbess, and the number of characters, often with similar of identical names, can make the story difficult to follow. The passage of time is also not very clearly marked; I kept wondering when (not where) we were.

Highly recommended, although an accompanying “Student’s Notes” might have been helpful!