William Mayne’s The Battlefield

William Mayne’s The Battlefield, published in 1967, is an odd fantastic novel which is worth a read for curiosity.

The Battlefield in question is an area of land which generates its own myths about who fought there and when,  ranging from an ancient battle to a civil war to the Devil. Its centre piece is the Rock on which the Lookout, a keep,  stands. The local beck is also reputed to run red when danger is imminent. Debby and Lesley, the publican’s daughters, start exploring the Keep as the weather slowly turns for the worse.

The book develops the landscape of the Dales as an area where myth and reality entwine to create new stories. It depends on its inhabitants to enable them and to re-enact them. The shepherd who sleeps next to the fire during the day is acutely aware of the relationship and whenthe Rock comes crashing into the village due to subsidence caused by the constant heavy rain, he comments on the two versions of the story, preferring the rational one about the Rock moving when the cannon under it was fired.

In terms of A Grass Rope and Earthfasts, the Battlefield is a slight book but it elucidates Mayne’s core relationship with story changing the way the landscape is experienced.

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