Hunter’s Moon by Sophie Masson

In the Australian Fairy Tale Society’s annual conference, Australian fairy tale author Sophie Masson launched her Snow White spin-off, Hunter’s Moon (Random House Australia) on 21st June at the NSW Writers Centre, Sydney. Her heroine’s name is Bianca, which means Snow White.

The faery hue “green-gold” shines prominently in Sophie’s novel, notably on pages 51 and 107, featuring in the passage that she read aloud from Hunter’s Moon at the launch, befitting our conference theme, “Transformations: Spinning Straw into Green and Gold”.

Until reading Hunter’s Moon, it had never occurred to me that the name “Snow White” echoes the two-syllabic rhythm and rhyme as “moonlight”. Sophie highlights this in the novel’s opening, by describing garments in lunar hues invoking pearl, mist, silver, rain and wisps of cloud. She sustains this metaphor throughout the novel.

If descriptive detail defies the popular maxim “show don’t tell”, Sophie artfully channels it through Snow White’s memory, for the tale is narrated in the first person. Not that abundant description need worry us one twiddle. Action and dialogue have ample space in our extroverted era. It can be just as enjoyable to experience language as a dance between sound and image: between such musical devices as alliteration or assonance (on the musical side) and similes or other metaphors (on the visual side), with words forging a sensual alchemy of both.

Of particular note is the seventh chapter. It is here that the book’s title, Hunter’s Moon, is most overtly established as a metaphor. This is the turning point in Bianca’s coming of age, from passive girl to woman of action, determined to survive and avenge her father’s death. Ironically, she must recognise her role as hunted prey, before she can truly leave victimhood behind to become a hunter.

Numerically, this chapter mirrors the seven rescuers – healers, fellow outcasts – who are neither all male nor all dwarfs. As an underground musician I relate to this motif of outsiders, having often explored them in lyrics, from Holderlin’s novel Hyperion, to the poetry of Cavafy, who lived in exile in Alexandria; also in the myth of The Golden Fleece, not only in Jason’s banishment, secret tuition under a centaur, or dangers confronting the Argonauts, but also the Otherness of the witch Medea. Fortunately there’s not simply one dwarfish den, but a vast network of caves or warrens; havens for freaks, like sets in the TV series’ The X-Files or Carnivale.

Sophie’s Prince of Outlaws reminds me of Robin Hood, a tale my Welsh Dad told with verve. To me Bianca’s prince also personifies Hermes / Mercury (ref: Karl Kerenyi’s book Hermes, Guide of Souls), in the god’s guise as protector of exiles, granting disguise to those who flee persecution. Hermes personifies paradox. He may guard homes from robbery, classically appearing as a garden statue, or a sentry of stone, as in Peter Greenaway’s great film The Draughtsman’s Contract, yet is also Patron of Thieves! Who better to protect us from deceit, than the trickster himself? Such contradictions are relevant to a young person in danger, who is learning how to hunt.

The stereotype of Snow White as a blank sheet of innocence, calls for such rounding or deepening. After all, the moon’s gleaming brightness is transitory, and bears a dark side. Thus the psychological landscape of this tale is both the lunar world of Artemis / Diana, and the riddling world of Hermes / Mercury. In this lunarscape of disguise, dreams, revenge, curses and mirrors, we remember a lesson from Shakespeare: that things are not always what they seem. Surprises ride on the narrative device of giving readers a head-start in dramatic irony. We suspect that something is wrong, ahead of the protagonist, for whom romance weaves its own self-deception. One suspects that moonlight may be involved in enchantment, as in Romeo and Juliet; or that spirits of nature, from witches to fairies, may be implicated, as in Macbeth, or A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The theme of double-dealing, of echoes and mirrors – not only as literal glass but as a newspaper (The Mirror) that flashes reality back at celebrities; and as automatons that simulate life – highlights the nature of moonlight. The latter at once reveals and deludes; illuminates or conceals; delights or haunts us. In the final demonstration of witches in Macbeth, a king within a vision holds up a mirror or magic glass to the audience, at which moment Shakespeare’s punters surely wondered, what did their own king, James I,  really see? Did he catch himself in that reflection, and contemplate his own heritage or future legacy? His predecessor, Shakespeare’s other great royal patron, Queen Elizabeth I, Gloriana, the Virgin Queen, emanating her own kind of snow-white purity, and was acutely conscious of image. So a queen in a timeless fairy tale wonders how people see her. So we, too, wonder if our lives might find an echo. What impression do we make? How many will remember us? For how long? And how so?

Admirers of Marina Warner’s book Women who Run with the Wolves, or fans of the television series Once Upon a Time, will surely appreciate Sophie’s interpretation of wolves, appearing in various guises. It’s not possible to be more specific without dropping spoilers. So I’ll just speculate about the similarity of adjectives “lunar” and “lupine”; moonlight and wolflike. Somehow these images and sounds belong together.

Publishing over 60 books, Sophie has mentored many writers. Snow White moves through an intercultural landscape whose inhabitants hail from many origins, bringing an array of myths and customs to the tale. The author herself was born in Indonesia, of French parents, and speaks many languages. After our conference Sophie flew to Europe to research The Pied Piper.

I highly recommend this crepuscular pearl and look forward to reading more of Sophie’s oeuvre.