Publish Date: January 8, 2015
Source: Free on Amazon
Pages: 51 pages
Synopsis: In a small hamlet in the Carpathian mountain’s Jakub lived much as his father and grandfather had done before him. A man of few words, he lived close to the earth, and close to the forests that provided for him. His world revolved around the seasons and the uncomplicated cycle that Nature, in Her wisdom, had set upon the land. That was until he had a visitor. Arriving unannounced, he came as a troubling reminder of the world outside; a world where Science and Religion were sweeping away the old ideas and bringing in the new. Jakub struggles between what his heart knows and what his reason tells him, yet despite his best efforts the Stranger will be heard…….even after he has gone. Jakub soon finds the Stranger was not all that he seemed, and continues to lead him towards a frightening revelation that tells of Mankind’s separation from the green, and of Natures desire to bring her children home. (Source: product description on Amazon.com)
Short version: A vivid, sensuous tale of joy, loss, and mankind’s communion with nature.
Longer version: Full disclosure – I read this in the last week of 2014, which means I must have read a different version to the one published on January 8. I’ve just given myself a refresher of the version on my Kindle, but any commentary on the mechanics of writing refers only to the version I’ve read.
What stayed with me, and is likely to stay with any reader even weeks and months after reading Jakub and the Green Man, is a profound and genuine sense of holy reverence for the subject matter. In European pagan tradition, the Green Man is associated with many natural deities that were believed to bring in the spring and regrowth and rebirth. Hanson takes these ideas seriously and gives them a weight and dignity equal to something like Donne’s Holy Sonnets.
The book doesn’t read as a religious text when Hanson is in full descriptive swing, and at its best is anything but dry. From the first paragraph the prose vividly describes the setting, a country both beautiful and wild and sometimes menacing:
The Carpathian hills were the great arc, the spine, of Europe and along its length the arteries of a continent ran. The Turks ploughed their way along its length burning, killing, and pillaging; they razed entire towns building shrines in human bones, they impaled the weak…
Summer was a time of plenty when fields burned yellow with wheat and rape, winter, however, came dark and cold, and was a time when plum brandy warmed the bones of old and young alike, and death took of these in equal measure.
Hanson’s turns of phrase are a delight even when he’s describing the sad fate of a shepherd mentioned in only one paragraph; he died “hung from a hempen cord and sad despair.” (My note here in my Kindle simply says: “wow.”)
Hanson’s Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar (SPaG, because I am classy like that), isn’t pristine, with faulty punctuation and multiple spelling errors. However, it’s about half to three-quarters of the way through the book before it becomes truly distracting: most notably, when the protagonist “Jakub” starts being referred to as “Jakob” and then “Jacob” interchangeably.
By contrast to Hanson’s revel in sensory description, the dialogue in Jakub and the Green Man seems stilted and forced. Part of the tale is set in 1599, and Hanson tends to get a little intrusive with the archaic (and sometimes incorrect) words and sentence structures. In an earlier conversation where Jakub speaks with a man called “The Traveller”, it’s almost as if the characters were not real people having a natural conversation, but two speakers debating in The House of Lords:
“I believe I do, yet to believe is not necessarily to understand. Is it not women’s tales you speak of, fancies for children and the like?” Jakub asked.
The Traveller smiled: “Any man born of woman has a knowing of such things, yet this knowing is misted by our fear of the truth… Through an infant’s eyes do we see verily, my friend.”
The upshot of this is a certain distance between the reader and characters like Jakub. Jakub and the Green Man is driven more by ideology than by character, but even so, the titular character comes across as strangely passive and barely there, as if he stood for a stance and not existed as a character. His now-dead wife, Anka, is the only named character who successfully “came to life” for me. She is Jakub’s spiritual teacher, a gentle, joyful child of nature… but sadly doomed.
With its emphasis on thick-set sensory imagery and deep, provocative ideology, Jakub and the Green Man lacks a strong plot. That said, the final section, The Green Man, has a beautifully written and genuinely tense action sequence where nature rebels against Jakub and his fellow villagers, and they are shown just how much they rely on the natural world around them:
And so death has come, Nature has turned her face away and hides herself in grief. The forests are still… cold, Jacob, so very cold will your future be without the Mothers [sic] grace. For Her grace is gone and the only mother you shall know will be of cold rationale, and science will be the new lore… such will be the greatness of man.
Considering especially that this raw, earnest, slightly-awkward tale is perfectly free, it’s worth having a look at.