(Maureen) Mollie Hunter (McIlwraith) Robert Nye - Essay

Robert Nye

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

In Wales, you have the Tylwyth Teg, a strange and beautiful supernatural race, unfortunately much given to the stealing of children. In Scotland, a similar reputation attaches to what they call the Sidhe (pronounced "shee")….

Mollie Hunter's "The Haunted Mountain" takes the Sidhe very seriously, as you would expect of an author who makes her home in a remote Highland cottage. The story is a powerful synthesis of legend and actuality. MacAllister, a young farmer living in the shadow of Ben MacDui (a haunted mountain) disobeys the taboo that leaves a field of every farm be unworked in case the Sidhe want it. He is stubborn and ambitious, driven partly by his love for his Peigi-Ann and partly by a deep feeling that it is up to him to make a stand for the land which is his life. He ploughs and sows the forbidden patch and reaps a whirlwind of trouble. (p. 5)

This is an uncommonly well-written tale of suspense with an unforced moral basis. Miss Hunter, while admirably matter-of-fact in the way she treats of wonders and perils, is more concerned at root to find significance in the human necessity of her hero's struggle to outwit dark forces. She achieves this by contrasting a sense of the vast and mysterious with a strict attention to what is small and close. (pp. 5, 24)

"There are rules to magic as there are rules to everything." Mollie Hunter keeps to them, and the result is an authentic spell-binder of a book, an allegory of modified good overcoming a sometimes pitiable evil. It is worth mentioning also that "The Haunted Mountain" is very much a told tale, full of the accent of burn and brae, its prose sweet with the speech-rhythms of the Scottish Highlands, elusive as the sting of peat-smoke on the wind. (p. 24)

Robert Nye, "Children's Books: 'The Haunted Mountain'," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1972 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 7, 1972, pp. 5, 24.