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Mary Alice Downie
Illustrated by Jillian Hulme Gilliland

Kingston (Ont.), Quarry Press, 1991. 32pp, galley, ISBN 1-55082-008-7 (cloth) $12.95, ISBN 1-55082-009-5 (paper) $7.95. CIP

Grades 3 and up/Ages 8 and up
Reviewed by Theo Hersh.

Volume 19 Number 5
1991 October

A lesser known story from the Scottish Highland tradition, Cathal the Giant Killer and the Dun Shaggy Filly, the fourth book in the "Silhouette Folktales for Children" series, has all the elements of a great folk-tale: life-and-death challenge, fast pace, direct action, animal helpers, formidable giant, clever wife, and victorious hero. Cathal O'Cruachan competes with the Herd of the Stud and wins the Dun Shaggy Filly for his wife. His wife, in the meantime, has been stolen by the Giant of Hunting Hill. Cathal vows to get her back or die trying. On his way, Cathal stays at the house of the Dog of the Great Mull, the Falcon of the Rock of the Ledge, and the Brown Wren of the Stream of the Flowing. They, in their turn, pledge their support to Cathal.

At last Cathal finds the castle of the Giant of Hunting Hill. His wife quickly hides him. That evening she learns how the giant might be killed: "Not by attacking me face to face," he boasts. The next day Cathal, with the help of the Dog, the Falcon, the Wren and, lastly, the Dun Shaggy Filly, vanquishes the Giant.

Downie has remained true to the original tale, found in Folk Tales & Fairy Lore in Gaelic and English, collected by the Reverend James MacDougall (Ayer Co. Pubs, 1977 (1910)), with one excep­tion. The Filly in the original does not wield the final blow to the giant. Cathal does it himself, but this revision, while not necessary, does not harm the story.

While updating some of the more archaic expressions, Downie has essentially maintained the style of traditional story-telling. The language is simple and direct and yet it has a lovely lilt, especially in the repeated phrases, which carry the story forward. It is a romantic tale told romantically.

Gilliland's black-and-white silhouette illustrations are expressive and beauti­ful. They reflect the romantic tone of the story. The book's design is exquisite. Each double page is laid out as precisely and poetically as the text. There is uniformity between text and illustration. Hills slope and printed lines repeat the design. The pictures move from left to right, like the text, compelling the reader to turn the page.

Cathal the Giant Killer and the Dun Shaggy Filly is a beautiful book in every way and a great story.

Theo Hersh, Toronto Public Library, Toronto, Ont.
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