In this illustrated tale, a young stag makes a dangerous journey to a legendary garden to get help when his herd is attacked by wolves.
Buckan, a young stag, is charged by his father to find the Great King Stag after their herd is attacked by wolves and the lions, their former allies, turn on them: “The King will know what to do. He is our only hope.” Buckan leaves behind the beech woods of home for a peril-filled climb to the Mountain Garden, where the Great King Stag lives. He dodges snarling wolves, his own panic and fear, and other dangers while meeting creatures like Bat, Crocodile and Salmon. The King appears to Buckan and willingly surrenders himself to Lion; just before his spirit leaves his body, the King tells the younger stag, “My brave friend, follow your heart with love and valour.” A black stallion tells Buckan: “You are ready to realize your destiny….When you connect to Mountain Garden, you remain strongly rooted in love. This will overcome fear.” Returning home, Buckan rallies the stags for a last desperate battle. In his debut book, Ottley presents a swiftly moving, muscular fable with evocative descriptions of the natural world: “[T]he bats began to rise up in the dawn sky, a magnificent cloud of fluttering silhouettes.” In a story that can be equally appreciated by adults and children, he makes tangible Buckan’s pain, fear and hope, helped by excellent use of traditional elements from fables and fairy tales, such as animal helpers and the journey motif. Holt’s black-and-white illustrations, with the active, brushy but serene feel of Japanese ink paintings, match the story well. There’s a downside, though, to the book’s philosophy, as expressed by Salmon: “I began to realise that my outer world reflected my inner thinking.” This comes dangerously close to blaming the oppressed for their oppression; besides, surely the outer world has agency, too.
A timeless fable about love and courage, well-told and beautifully illustrated.