The Bull and the Spear

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The first novel in the Corum series - The Prince with the Silver Hand trilogy

Publishing History (UK)

  • Hardcover, Allison & Busby, 168pp., ISBN: 0-85031-087-3, 16 April 1973, Cover by Keith Roberts
  • Mass Market Paperback, Quartet Books, 160pp., ISBN: 0-7043-1058-9, 22 Sep 1973, Cover by Patrick Woodroffe
  • Mass Market Paperback, Orbit (Quartet), 160pp., ISBN: 0-7043-1058-9, 1976, Cover by Chris Achilleos
  • Mass Market Paperback, Granada, 160pp., ISBN: 0-583-12984-6, 22 Nov 1979, Cover by Rodney Matthews, reprinted 1983
  • Mass Market Paperback, Grafton, 160pp., ISBN: 0-586-20717-1, 30 Mar 1989, Cover by Paul Damon
  • ebook, SF Gateway, ISBN: 978-0575105164, 19 Dec 2013

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Omnibus Publication

Publishing History (US)

  • Mass Market Paperback, Berkley Medallion, ISBN: 0-425-02508-03, 1974, Cover by David McCall Johnson
  • Mass Market Paperback, Berkley, ISBN: 0-425-09359-X, 1986, Cover by Robert Gould

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  • Dramatic Audiobook, GraphicAudio, ISBN: 978-1-62851-264-9, Release Date: Aug 8, 2016, Approximate Running Time: 5 Hours, Cover by Gel Jamlang

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Omnibus Publication

Synopsis

* * The following section may contain spoilers * *

Eighty years have passed since Corum Jhaelen Irsei, last of the Vadhagh, fought the Sword Rulers and in the intervening years, ensconced in his ancient family home Castle Erorn, he has seen his Mabden bride, Rhalina grew old, die and himself become a legend - even a god - amongst the Mabden who dwell in Lwym-an-Esh. Corum is plagued by voices that come to him at night, which he is unable to banish, fearing his solitary existence has conjured up the voices as a form of madness. He is visited by his old friend Jhary-a-Conel, who tells Corum he must heed the voices and answer their summons. Passing to the other world, Corum finds himself far into his own future where Rhalina's descendants, the Tuha-na-Cremm Croich - who know him as Corum Llew Ereint - face extinction from the Fhoi Myore, seven giants whose conquest of the land has resulted in eternal winter. At King Mannach's fort, Caer Mahlod, Corum meets the king's daughter Medhbh who, reminding him of Rhalina, he falls in love with.

King Mannach asks Corum to recover the spear Bryionak, with which he may tame the Black Bull of Crinanass, believing the beast will help the Tuha-na-Cremm Croich against the Cold Folk. Following an assault on Caer Mahlod by the Hounds of Kerenos (chief of the Fhoi Myore), Corum first visits the now-ruined Castle Erorn, called Castle Owyn by the Mabden, before setting out to find Hy-Breasail, an enchanted island where Bryionak is said to be found. As he travels east, Corum encounters first a frozen army and then Ieveen the Seeress, who tells him the army were frozen by the Fhoi Myore. Ieveen warns him to beware three things: a brother (who will slay him), a harp and beauty; Corum would dismiss her words - since he has no kin - had he not previously heard a ghostly harp at Caer Mahlod and Castle Owyn. In the Forest of Laahr, Corum is attacked by more of Kerenos' Hounds led by a Ghoolegh, one of the Fhoi Myore's undead servants, but they are destroyed by the wizard Calatin and his horn, who takes Corum to his home atop Moidel's Mount, Rhalina's former home. Calatin warns Corum that none who visit Hy-Breasail ever return, that even the Fhoi Myore avoid it, but agrees to help Corum by lending him the horn in return for some spittle for the Sidhi smith Goffanon, who forged Bryionak. Corum reaches the island and finds it a paradise, but when he sleeps he dreams of Medhbh with a face "full of fury" directing a shadowy figure to kill him. Upon waking he theorises that the island's defence is to turn men's minds in on themselves. Corum hears the Hounds again, this time chasing a man across the island, and uses the horn to call them off. After an initial misunderstanding where the man - a giant - mistakes Corum for the Hound-master he introduces himself as the dwarf Goffanon. Discovering that the Vadhagh and the Sidhi are related, Goffanon welcomes Corum into his home but refuses to give up the spear unless Corum gives him the horn. Corum argues the horn is not his to give, but eventually relents realising he must make a new bargain with the wizard.

Returning to Moidel's Mount, Corum gives Calatin Goffanon's spittle, but the wizard demands Corum's scarlet Name-robe in recompense for the lost horn. On route back to Caer Mahlod, Corum encounters another Fhoi Myore servant, Hew Argech, in whose veins flows not blood but the sap of the pines, and although he uses the spear to defeat Hew, the cold almost claims him as well until a party of Tuha-na-Ana refugees rescue him. Travelling together to Caer Mahlod, the party is attacked by Ice Phantoms, who pick off the weaker refugees before fleeing. Corum is reunited with Medhbh at the fort but his rest is short-lived when the Fhoi Myore launch a full-force assault, although the Fhoi Myore conceal themselves in ethereal mists which sustain them in the Mabden world. Medhbh takes Corum to the Sidhi Rock where they summon the Black Bull of Crinanass, but when they return with the Bull, Corum discovers an old foe has sided with the Fhoi Myore: Prince Gaynor the Damned, another incarnation of the Champion Eternal but one pledged wholly to evil. Gaynor boasts that only thirty Mabden remain alive in Caer Mahlod before leaving the battlefield, but the arrival of the Black Bull turns the tide and what mortal blade could not slay is killed by the beast. Corum casts Bryionak into the mist and strikes one of the giants, realising from the resulting bestial honk that the Cold Folk are insensate, that they can not be bargained with or reasoned with, yet fear might halt them. Balahr the One-eyed opens his eye against the defenders of Caer Mahlod but Corum casts Bryionak at the eye and drives Balahr away. The Black Bull, grown much larger, reappears and slays one of the Fhoi Myore, causing the rest to flee in panic along with Prince Gaynor. Afterwards, the Bull speaks to Corum instructing him to slay it with Bryionak. As the dying Bull, with Bryionak embedded in its side, runs across the land its spilled blood causes it to become green again, before the Bull reaches Castle Erorn and throws itself into the sea. Summer comes to Caer Mahlod, then harvest and it seems to the Tuha-na-Cremm Croich that they are secure against the Fhoi Myore, but sometimes at night Corum hears the sound of a harp and is not happy.

Analysis

The second Corum trilogy - The Chronicles of Corum - draws heavily on Celtic mythology for its inspiration.

  • Fhoi Myore is a corruption of 'Fomorian', the semi-divine race said to inhabit Ireland in ancient times.
  • The Fhoi Myore giant Balahr the One-eyed is probably a variation on the Fomorian Balor, whose single eye was said to kill anyone who looked on it.
  • Hy-Breasail is based on the mythical island 'Hy-Brazil' (or 'Hy-Brasil') which appears in many Irish myths.
  • Tuha-na is similar to the Irish 'Tuatha' meaning 'people'.
  • Cremm Croich may be a version of 'Crom Cruach', a deity of pre-Christian Ireland, and which can be translated as 'head of the mound'. (The Tuha-na-Cremm Croich are said to be "the people of the mound".)
  • Medhbh (pronouced "Maeve") is a traditional Irish name.
  • Caer is a Welsh word, having particular royal associations, meaning 'castle' or 'fort'.

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