“Duncton Found” is the final volume in the Duncton Chronicles trilogy. A trilogy which started with a group of moles in one location (Duncton Wood) has expanded to become a Christian allegory about the fight between light and darkness, and the sacrifice of the ‘Stone Mole’ a Christ-like figure, in order to teach moles that violence and hate are not the answer. The themes in this book include love versus hate, the intolerance of fundamentalism, revenge and forgiveness, and the possibility of redemption. While I found the allegorical aspect a little unwieldy, the themes are treated with a surprisingly realistic tone for a fantasy about animals, and that’s what most impressed me about this book. (Spoilers to follow).
The followers of the Stone are matched against the followers of the Word, who have taken over ‘moledom’ with violence and hold onto it through fear. This is where I believe the author was making a comment about the dangers of fundamentalism, in whatever religion. What is The Word? What does it teach? What are the beliefs? This is never made clear. There is a form of priestly hierarchy (the sideem, keepers, masters) but all we really know about it is that it must be obeyed, it is seen as the only right way and anyone who doesn’t follow the Word is a pagan. Conversion must be done by force and under threat. Sound familiar? Christianity and Islam have both been guilty of this flaw. It seems that the general Word followers don’t even know what they’re supposed to be following – they’ve been indoctrinated to just blindly obey, or threatened into doing as they are told. Anyone who is found to not be doing the right thing needs to ‘atone’, in which case they may be allowed to live. There is torture, imprisonment, starvation, and death for anyone who doesn’t follow the rules. I suggest this may be the author’s point – fundamentalists don’t have the understanding of their faith that they think they do, just a shortened and twisted version of it.
A pall of suspicion and prayer fell on the new sideem after this, and everymole was careful to observe the Word to every last scrivening of its rituals. Not a worm was eaten but a grace was said over it first; not a new sideem went to sleep but that he spoke the grace of the protection of the Word, and made sure that others knew it; and made even surer that if another lapsed then it was reported.
Can love triumph over hate, and can peace win over violence? That is a matter of argument to this day. Horwood is surprisingly even-handed about this subject. Not all the followers of the Stone (the ‘good guys’ of the story) are in agreement about whether they should respond to the attacks of the Word by fighting back. There is a juxtaposition of two groups – the moles of Duncton Wood and the moles of Siabod.
Duncton Wood has been guarded for a long time, and only sick or injured moles were allowed there. So, when the Word followers, under their Master Lucerne, mount their attack, they find a small amount of elderly frail moles. Some of the moles who were left there were of the Word previously, and had been sent to Duncton Wood because they were diseased and therefore expendable. Every mole, including those previously of the Word, refuses to accept the Word, and every single one of them is killed by Lucerne and his followers, except for the hero of the previous story, Tryfan, who is blinded and left to die. What do they achieve by their death? Well, more than you might think. Of the Word followers who witness this, many were very uneasy about what they had seen, and one in particular, decides to take action, leaving the group and warning others that the Word army (the grikes) are coming and they are not taking prisoners.
Meanwhile in Wales, the followers of the Stone have never been overrun, but have kept the grikes at bay for a very long time. So, they have fought, and killed. They come to a point where they have heard about breakdown among the Word’s leadership and they believe they can muster a real fight and win against the grikes. It could be said that the Word destroys itself and the Welsh army just finish them off. They achieve their aim, and certainly their actions form part of the resolution of the conflict, ie it needed to be done. So, you could argue that this was a fight that needed to happen, a fight against evil. I am impressed by the author not categorically coming down on one side or another, but giving both points of view their due.
Beechen, the ‘stone mole’, is the Christ figure I previously mentioned. Though he does preach non-violence and heals the sick, though he is captured and eventually murdered, he lacks the divinity of Christ in the sense that there is no resurrection as such (though there are hints of it in the fact that no body is found and so on). His parents are of this world (Feverfew and Boswell), and as such he is ‘but mole’ (his own words). He’s not really the main character in the book – there are many characters in different areas, and much of the book is not about Beechen. He is central in the fact that he is the epitome of what following the Stone means – being true to yourself, living in peace with yourself and all others. He is also important is that he is held up in juxtaposition to the main antagonist of the story, Lucerne. We know Lucerne has been twisted from the moment of his birth, first by his mother and then by the keeper Terce, who has been playing a deep game in loyalty to the long-dead Rune (main antagonist of the first two books.) Ultimately, though Lucerne is what he was made, it is very hard to feel any sympathy for him. He delights in murder, and even his father Tryfan cannot deal with him:
“Oh Stone, I cannot love him!”
It is not very surprising that Lucerne eventually goes mad.
Lucerne is the epitome of the Word, as Beechen is the epitome of the Stone. They are the culmination of what has gone before, the struggle between the two sides encapsulated in two individuals.
There is a lot of talk about revenge and forgiveness. As the Word system starts to fall apart, there are (naturally) many who have lost families, friends, and homes due to the violence of the Word, who would very much like to get their own back. As the Welsh moles prepare to attack the Word’s forces, one of their number says:
Remember ‘tis for the Stone you fight; if you and Gareg never forget that, your moles will not, either.
They remember this when they are about to launch their final assault on the main system of Cannock.
Victory is a heady thing, and freedom to kill across these vales may become more alluring than the rough Welsh hills.
They succeed in keeping control of their forces and preventing a general bloodbath, however this doesn’t stop it happening in smaller ways:
Such things make moles harbour hate, and though they may live for years without their masters knowing what they feel, the hatred thrives with each fresh injustice. Take away restraint and the evil pus of that hatred spews out and vile killing starts.
Of course it does. History tells us time and again that hate breeds hate, and conflict can go on down the generations. People tell themselves that those who were on the other side don’t deserve to live, and kill them. Then the survivors on the other side say the first lot don’t deserve to live, and kill them. And so it goes. Horwood doesn’t whitewash this. It happens, and it’s aspects like this in the story that make it more compelling, because the emotions and motives are very real.
The story does show that forgiveness and redemption is possible. In Duncton Wood, where a massacre took place, newcomers are welcome without enquiry of who they were before. If they settle down, and be good neighbours, they are welcome. They don’t have to care about the Stone if they don’t want to. Duncton Wood is something of a utopia here, and perhaps too good to be true, but I think on a thematic level the author is demonstrating what can be done, if everyone just keeps teeth and claws to themselves and minds their own business.
The character whose redemption arc is the greatest is Henbane, former Mistress of the Word. At the beginning of the book she is in charge, but Lucerne, who she intends to succeed her, is growing up and looks more and more likely to oust her in the same way she ousted her father Rune. At the same time, she starts to think about her life and all the evil she has done, and starts to regret. She avoids Lucerne’s attempted murder and escapes from Whern, disappearing out of the story for a good chunk of it. She takes care of her daughter Harebell’s pup after Harebell dies, raising him in love instead of hate, and finally, when the now crazy Lucerne catches up with them, she kills him, dying in the process, to save her grandson. She is finally redeemed at her death.
Mother to son, mole to mole, they were caught in a tearing, bloody embrace of death.
“Duncton Found” is an epic journey and an in-depth look into good and evil, and how circumstances play so much part in how individuals turn out. As a finale to the trilogy I found it very compelling. It is very dark and violent in places, occasionally slow in places, so the reader should be prepared for that. Fans of the Duncton Chronicles will find this a very worthy ending to the story.