H Is for Hawk

by Helen Macdonald

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Chapters 25–26 Summary

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Chapter 25: Magical Places

Winter arrives ten days later, and Macdonald and Mabel go out flying on the hill. The hawk is supremely happy, attempting unsuccessfully to catch a pheasant in the heavy winds but appearing to enjoy the case.

Although the SSRIs have been making Macdonald tired, something has changed, just a little; she is taking pleasure in small things in the world, calling friends, and making plans for the future.

Macdonald begins to raise Mabel’s weight and allow her to fly further away. This isn’t good falconry, but it is hard to resist. One rainy day, Macdonald loses sight of Mabel in the trees and follows the hawk across other peoples’ properties, calling to her. Mabel has flown directly into a field full of pheasants, privately owned ones; there is no stopping her from catching and eating one. Embarrassed and shaken, Macdonald hides the pheasant in her coat and brings Mabel home.

The landscape is changing, too—spring is coming, and Macdonald takes pleasure in noticing the beauty around her. She has come to know the hill so well while flying Mabel that it has begun to feel like home; together, she and the hawk have built a “landscape of magical places” and memories there, a “shared history” and shared map that has made the hill their own.

Chapter 26: The Flight of Time

It has become very cold, and the days are short. Macdonald takes Mabel out to fly, even though the hawk is “too high,” or overweight, from eating too much rich food. This has put Mabel in a dangerously restless mood, but when the hawk sights something in a hedge, Macdonald lets her fly after it and promptly loses sight of her. After forcing her way through the hedge, Macdonald takes out the telemetry system for the first time but is unable to locate a signal. She walks on through an unfamiliar field, hears a gunshot, and spots Mabel eyeing a pheasant—one that, because it is not on their land, it would be illegal to hunt. Macdonald calls to Mabel with a quail perched on her first, and the hawk eventually returns, leaving Macdonald shaking with relief.

When one reads The Sword in the Stone after reading The Goshawk, Macdonald says, the real forest where White lived with Gos begins to merge with the mythical forest of King Arthur and Merlyn: each is a “refuge for outlaws, hawks and wicked men.” White wrote the vast and varied collection of objects and animals he kept in his cottage into Merlyn’s, and Macdonald suggests that Merlyn’s cottage can in fact be read as White’s own. White was familiar with Alfred Adler’s theory that homosexuals are “desirous of interfering with the flight of time,” an idea that can be seen in White’s portrayal of Merlyn. The wizard can be read as White’s “imagined future self”: a former schoolteacher who becomes wise by living “backwards in time,” just as White wished to do after emerging “reborn” from the grave-like hide where he watched for hawks after losing Gos. As Merlyn, White could not only bring back his lost hawk, but, by educating the young King Arthur in the value of “Might over Right,” prevent the violence he himself had already suffered.

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Chapters 23–24 Summary


Chapters 27–28 Summary