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Dream Angus: The Celtic God of Dreams

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From the beloved, bestselling author of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series comes a delightful addition to the Myths series.

Dream Angus is one of the earliest of the Celtic deities, and one of the most beloved. Angus comes bounding over the heather with his bag of dreams to dispense to those who want them. He is lithe of foot and beautiful – as befits one who is also the Celtic Eros, the god of love, youth and beauty.

Angus is a playful ...

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Overview

From the beloved, bestselling author of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series comes a delightful addition to the Myths series.

Dream Angus is one of the earliest of the Celtic deities, and one of the most beloved. Angus comes bounding over the heather with his bag of dreams to dispense to those who want them. He is lithe of foot and beautiful – as befits one who is also the Celtic Eros, the god of love, youth and beauty.

Angus is a playful trickster, given to frightening people and cattle. He will reveal to you in a dream your true love, if asked, and if in the mood. He is a romantic, and one of the main stories associated with him is his search for the young woman who had appeared to him in his dreams. Eventually he finds her, but she is under a spell which makes her assume the shape of a bird for a year. Angus changes himself into a swan and the two lovers fly off together.

In McCall Smith’s inimitable retelling of the myth, the setting is twentieth century Scotland. Angus is a psychotherapist who helps people understand their dreams, but there are limits to what he can reveal. Mesmerically weaving the modern day with the tales of the Celtic god, Alexander McCall Smith unites dream and reality, leaving us to wonder: what is life, but the pursuit of our dreams?

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
This addition to Canongate's The Myths series is penned by No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency creator Alexander McCall Smith. His retelling of the Dream Angus saga reflects both the story and the spirit of this ancient Celtic tale. In legend, Angus is a trickster and dispenser of dreams, capable of startling even slumbering bovines; but he is also a romantic who draws himself closer to his love by transforming himself into a swan. In Smith's artful confabulation, Angus returns to 20th-century Scotland as a psychotherapist specializing in dream readings. Pursuing dreams and dream-catchers through time.
From the Publisher
“Lyrical. . . . This slim, elegant volume is further evidence of [McCall Smith’s] consummate ability to blend wit, wisdom and heart.”
Booklist (USA)

“May well be the most enjoyable of the [Myths] series to date. . . . McCall Smith brings to the Angus story a sly and deceptive simplicity, combined with a charm that has a line of tight, sharp wire running all the way through it.”
The Guardian (UK)

“[A] gem-like piece of work, slim and polished.”
National Post

Publishers Weekly
The bestselling author of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency novels and the 44 Scotland Street novels has always included one-offs and detours in his oeuvre (including The Criminal Law of Botswana). Here, he turns in an elegant contemporary reworking of the ancient Celtic myth of the dream-giver god, Angus, familiar from Yeats's poetry. Lovely, fair Angus is the son of the terrible club-wielding god, Dagda, who sired the boy by ravishing the lovely water nymph Boann. The young boy who charms birds and inspires marvelous dreams is soon snatched from his mother and raised by Dagda's other son, the grown Midir. After some trials, Angus eventually learns who his true father is and tricks Dagda into relinquishing power. Smith fluidly weaves in contemporary vignettes of the dream god's benevolent influence, touching the lives of honeymooners on a windswept northern island; of a teenage boy sent away to boarding school in Scotland who tricks his mother into revealing who his true father is; and of a Toronto woman bereft at the discovery that her husband is having an affair. Angus, who presides over love and youth is also, it turns out, kindly to pigs. He is nicely reimagined in this spare, polished work. (Oct.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780676978742
  • Publisher: Random House of Canada, Limited
  • Publication date: 8/14/2007
  • Series: Myths Series
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 5.21 (w) x 6.58 (h) x 0.53 (d)

Meet the Author

Alexander McCall Smith
Alexander McCall Smith is best known for The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, beloved New York Times and international best sellers. A practicing professor of medical law and the author of over fifty books, ranging from children's fiction to folktales to The Criminal Law of Botswana, he lives in Edinburgh.

Biography

Alexander McCall Smith was born in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) and went to school in Bulawayo, near the Botswana border. Although he moved to Scotland to attend college and eventually settled in Edinburgh, he always felt drawn to southern Africa and taught law for a while at the University of Botswana. He has written a book on the criminal law of Botswana, and among his successful children's books is a collection of African folk tales, Children of Wax.

Eventually, Smith had an urge to write a novel about a woman who would embody the qualities he admired in the people of Botswana, and the result, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, was a surprise hit, receiving two special Booker citations and a place on the Times Literary Supplement's International Books of the Year and the Millennium list. "The author's prose has the merits of simplicity, euphony and precision," Anthony Daniels wrote in the Sunday Telegraph. "His descriptions leave one as if standing in the Botswanan landscape. This is art that conceals art. I haven't read anything with such unalloyed pleasure for a long time."

Despite the book's success in the U.K., American publishers were slow to take an interest, and by the time The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency was picked up by Pantheon Books, Smith had already written two sequels. The books went from underground hits to national phenomena in the United States, spawning fan clubs and inspiring celebratory reviews. Smith is also the author of a detective series featuring the insatiably curious philosopher Isabel Dalhousie and the 44 Scotland Street novels, which present a witty portrait of Edinburgh society

In an interview on the publisher's web site, Smith says he thinks the country of Botswana "particularly chimes with many of the values which Americans feel very strongly about -- respect for the rule of law and for individual freedom. I hope that readers will also see in these portrayals of Botswana some of the great traditional virtues in Africa -- in particular, courtesy and a striking natural dignity."

Good To Know

As a professor at Edinburgh Law School, Smith specializes in criminal law and medical law, and has written about the legal and ethical aspects of euthanasia, medical research, and medical practice.

When he isn't writing books or teaching, Smith finds time to play the bassoon in the candidly named amateur ensemble he co-founded, The Really Terrible Orchestra.

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Read an Excerpt

Introduction

This story is a retelling of the myth of Angus, a popular and attractive figure of the Celtic mythology of Ireland and Scotland. Angus is a giver of dreams, an Eros, a figure of youth. He comes down to us from Irish mythology, but he is encountered, too, in Celtic Scotland. He is a benign figure — handsome and playful — who in modern times has inspired not only the poem of W.B. Yeats, ‘The Song of Wandering Aengus’, but also the lilting Scottish lullaby, ‘Dream Angus’.

In this version of the story of Angus, although I have taken some liberties with the original, I have tried to maintain the central features of Angus’s life as these are revealed to us in the Irish mythological sources. These sources, though, do not provide much detail, and so I have imagined what his mother, Boann, might be like; I have interpreted the character of his father, the Dagda, in a particular way and have deprived him of the definite article that precedes his name; I have assumed that Bodb was rather overbearing. Purists may object to this, but myths live, and are there to be played with. At the same time, it is important to remind readers of the fact that if they want the medieval versions, unsullied by twenty-first-century interpolation, they still exist, and are accessible. We must bear in mind, however, that those earlier texts are themselves reworked versions of things passed from mouth to mouth, embroidered and mixed up in the process. Myth is a cloud based upon a shadow based upon the movement of the breeze.

Celtic mythology is a rich and entrancing world, peopled by both mortals and gods. It embraces the notion of parallel universes, the real world and the otherworld. There are signs of the otherworld in the real world — mounds, hills and loughs — and the location of mythical places is frequently tied to real geographical features. It is no respecter of chronology, though, even if the later Irish heroic tales claim to have happened at a particular time in history. Angus belongs to the early body of stories — stories of a time beyond concrete memory.

In retelling the story of Angus, I have brought him into the modern world in a series of connected stories which for the most part take place in modern Scotland. The part played by Angus, or the Angus figure, in each of these, may be elusive, but such a figure is present in each of them. Unlike some mythical figures, Angus does no particular moral or didactic work: he is really about dreams and about love — two things that have always had their mysteries for people. Angus puts us in touch with our dreams — those entities which Auden described so beautifully in his Freud poem as the creatures of the night that are waiting for us, that need our recognition. But Angus does more than that: he represents youth and the intense, passionate love that we might experience when we are young but which we might still try to remember as age creeps up. Age and experience might make us sombre and cautious, but there is always an Angus within us — Angus the dreamer.

Alexander McCall Smith, 2006

1
There was water

This happened in Ireland, but the memory of it is in Scotland too. The precise location of things was not so important then, as there was just the land and the sea between them, and people came and went between the lands, and they were brothers and sisters. The land itself was beautiful, with hills that ran down to the sea, and there were cold green waves that broke on the rocks that marked the edge of the land. There were islands, too, with stretches of white sand, and behind the white sand there was the machair, which was made up of meadows on which grew yellow and blue flowers, tiny flowers.

The gods lived everywhere then, and they moved among the people. But there were some gods who had their own place, and they were sometimes very powerful, as Dagda was. He was one of the great gods, and his people lived on islands at the very edge of the world, where there is just the blue of the sea and the west beyond the blue. They came to Ireland on a cloud, and lived there. Dagda was one of them, the good one, and he had great power, with his cauldron in which there was limitless food, and his great club, with which he could slay many men with a single blow. But he was often kind to men, and he could bring them back to life with the other end of the club. He also had fecund fruit trees which never stopped bearing fruit, and two remarkable pigs, one of which was always being cooked while the other was always growing.

There are many stories of Dagda and his doings. This one is about how he came to father a boy called Angus, and how Angus delighted all who came across him. In many ways, this was Dagda’s greatest achievement, that he gave us this fine boy, who brought dreams to people, and who was loved by birds and people equally and who still is. For Dream Angus still comes at night and gives you dreams. You do not see him do this, but you may spot him skipping across the heather, his bag of dreams by his side, and the sight of him, just the sight, may be enough to make you fall in love. For he is also a dispenser of love, an Eros.

How was it that Dagda, a great and powerful god, a leader of warriors, should have had such a son? One might have thought, surely, that a god like that would have a son who was skilled in military matters, rather than a dreamer who fell in love and who was a charmer of birds. For an explanation of the gentleness of Angus, we must turn to his mother. She was a water spirit called Boann. Water spirits are gentle; their sons are handsome and have a sense of fun; they sparkle and dart about, just like water, which is the most playful of the elements.

From the Hardcover edition.

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  • Posted April 6, 2009

    I love it!

    I thought it looked and sounded strange. But I've loved everything I've read by Alexander McCall Smith and so went for it. I was mesmerized within pages. His writing style and gentle characterizations are just so rich and satisfying. How he can flesh out a story and make you care about characters so quickly, with such a few brushstrokes (so to speak), continually amazes me.

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