The Wild Hunt Discussion Guide
- Grades: 6–8
About this book
"A fantasy novel is more than an adventure or a quest "A fantasy novel is more than an adventure or a quest. Rather it is a series of image-repeating glasses, a hall of mirrors that brings past and future into focus and calls it the present." (Jane Yolen in Touch Magic, p. 63)
To the Teacher
The Wild Hunt not only takes readers into the world of myths and legends, of parallel universes and parallel lives, of light and dark, and of good and evil but also carries readers into a novel rich in figurative language, haunting images, complicated plot structure, and multi-layered themes. Quickly readers will find themselves on a wild hunt as they uncover the connections among the intriguing chapter format (Chapter One, Chapter One — Sort of, Chapter One — Almost, Chapter Two, etc.), determine the relationship between Jerold and Gerund, two boys living in parallel universes, and pursue the association between Lord Herne and the cat. This seemingly simple story is actually a haunting and complicated look at manipulation, power, control, and choice. As Yolen reveals the ongoing battle between the cat and Lord Herne, she provides readers with a new explanation of why the seasons exist. The Wild Hunt offers readers many opportunities to make connections to other myths especially from Norse and Greek mythology, to study plot structure, to analyze symbolism, and to debate what makes a protagonist and antagonist, what causes conflict, and what makes theme. Deceptively simple in format, this story demands close reading.
The Wild Hunt is the story of two boys, Jerold and Gerund, who live in the same great house but in parallel times. Brought there by a magical, talking white cat that is the Summer Queen, neither boy remembers life outside the great house that is surrounded by rowan trees. Plus, neither understands that he has been brought there to fight cat's battle. Other characters in this myth-based fantasy include Mully, a talking dog whose insatiable appetite leads to her death; Lord Herne, cat's husband who is the evil huntsman and Master of Winter; and Moss-man, a part tree, part man character who acts as spy for Lord Herne.
Lord Herne, also known as the Horned King, leads the Wild Hunt which spreads darkness, cold, and desolation and brings the cat to his dwelling for their ritual battle that determines which season will rule the world for another six months, summer or winter. As the battle between summer and winter approaches, Gerund ventures out into the winter storm where he is captured by Moss-man and taken to Lord Herne. Using Gerund to lure the cat to battle, the white cat forces Jerold to assume a hero role he neither wants nor feels compelled to accept. However, unaware that he could refuse to be her pawn, Jerold does cat's bidding and follows her through the corridor that leads to Gerund and Lord Herne. There, Lord Herne attempts to win the battle by naming Jerold. Thinking he knows the boy's name (and names hold the power), Lord Herne calls him "dloreJ" as that was the name Moss-man saw written on the frost on a windowpane. Reading it backwards, the spy gave his master the wrong name. In failing to name Jerold, Gerund is freed and summer returns, the battle costs Mully her life. Upon returning to cat's house, Gerund and Jerold realize they have been cat's pawn; they are angry that Mully died at cat's whim and decide to exert a power stronger than names, the power of choice. They choose to leave cat, choose to leave the magical house surrounded by rowan trees, and choose to venture out into the world of the real.
- Before students read The Wild Hunt, ask students to review the front cover. Ask students to brainstorm answers to the following questions. Keep a record of the students' responses and revisit their responses after the book has been competed. If students' responses have changed, let them discuss what in the book caused those changes.
- What is the importance of the winter season depicted in the front cover picture?
- Why is the world "Hunt" in the phrase "Let the Hunt begin…" capitalized?
- Is the statement "Where there are hunters, there is prey" on the back cover true?
- By the end of section 2, readers understand the pattern for the three chapter titles within each section: Chapter One, Chapter One — Sort of, Chapter One — Almost. Chapter Two, Chapter Two — Sort of, Chapter Two — Almost. This pattern continues throughout the book. Ask students to explain why they believe Yolen used such a structure. What was Yolen trying to accomplish with this structure? Would the book be stronger or weaker if each chapter had carried its own number so that the final chapter would be Chapter 45 rather than Chapter 15 — Almost?
- Have students read about the following mythological places or characters and find their counterparts in The Wild Hunt:
- Niflheim (This is the world of ice, mist, and darkness in Norse mythology.)
- Hel (He is the ruler of Niflheim in Norse mythology.)
- Garm (This is the savage dog that guards the entrance to Niflheim.)
- The story of Demeter, Persephone, and Hades (This story explains seasons in Greek mythology.)
- Styx (This is the name of the river that surrounds the Underworld in Greek mythology.)
- Gaia (This is the name of the Earth and the first being in Greek mythology.)
- Skidbladnir (This is a magic ship in Norse mythology that is big enough to carry all the gods, yet can be folded up so small that is fits into a pocket.)
- Authors create flat and round characters. Flat characters show little growth in their personalities throughout the novel, while round characters do change. Which characters in this novel are flat? Which characters are round? Who is the protagonist in The Wild Hunt? Is that character round or flat?
- On page 24, the cat tells Jerold that she has a name but chooses "not to reveal it." She also tells him "Names have power." Ask students to think about that comment in terms of the power of names in this culture. How important are first names? Last names? Nicknames? Brand names? Most young children know the saying "Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me." Would the cat agree with that statement? Do you agree? What gives names their power?
- After Mully eats the mouse, the cat tells him "Oh, dog…your appetite has undone you. You have eaten a piece of winter, a piece of night, a piece of the dark" (p.84). Two more times Mully eats or drinks what he shouldn't. Finally, the cat tells Jerold "One's appetites must be controlled" (p.108). Have students find other myth stories that explain what happens when people let their appetites guide them. Let students read the story of Persephone from Greek mythology to discover what happened to her after she ate the pomegranate. Also let them consider what types of appetite other than an appetite for food people can have. Ask students if the comment is still true if they substitute greed, selfishness, and curiosity for the word appetite. Finally, let students read the story of Pandora from Greek mythology. What type of appetite undid Pandora?
- At one point, the cat says to read more often to discover the truth in books. What are the truths in this book?
- Who are Gerund and Jerold? Are they related to one another? How did either or both boys come to be in the house? On page 58, Gerund remembers "someone with a large flexible stick using it to leap over a high wall." Then on page 78 he recalls "a familiar man on his street taking him by the hand and leading him into a dark unfamiliar place." What is Gerund remembering? Why does Yolen show readers bits of Gerund's memory?
- Why is Jerold's house the "kind of house that encouraged silences" (p. 9) while Gerund's house is the ding in which "silence was a scarce commodity"? (p.14)
- On page 9, Yolen tells readers that this is a story about choices. Later, on page 115, Jerold chooses a path to follow. Still later, on page 133, Jerold thinks about his choices: "He thought a long time about the difference between quiet and silence, between words and noise. Then he thought about the Queen of Light and the Hunter of Dark, how they professed to be so different and yet were the same. Finally, he thought about choosing — and being chosen." Have students plot the choices made throughout this book. Which characters have power over their own choices? Which characters make intelligent choices? Which characters have power but make poor choices? Did Jerold choose to be a hero? Can a person be a hero if that role is forced rather than chosen? Have students explain whether they agree or disagree with the following statements:
- The power to make choices is the most important type of power.
- Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
- Throughout The Wild Hunt Yolen uses language that creates powerful images. For example she writes "…Jerold felt the water lap his ankles like some sort of house pet" (p. 99) and "Far off he thought he saw a river like a dark serpent, coiling and uncoiling" (p.101). Have students look for other examples of figurative language.
- Ask students to explain why Yolen began this book with a poem "To Juan at the Winter Solstice." In the poem, the poet writes, "There is one story and one story only." Have students discuss if the story Yolen creates in The Wild Hunt makes that line from the poem true or false.