The Black Bull of Norroway
Sibylla always wanted adventure, but she didn't know it would come in the form of a giant, magical bull. Is he a man or a monster? And who knew a prophecy could be so literal?
Based on the classic Scottish fairy tale, this is the first title in a new series co-created by sibling writer/artist team CAT SEATON and KIT SEATON, begins the adventure of a lifetime.
Genre: Graphic Novel
Authors: Kit & Cat Seaton
Paperback, 224 pages
Published: November 13th, 2018
Publishing House: Image Comics
I stumbled upon this gorgeous graphic novel at the BookCon in NYC earlier this year… and how glad I am that I did. As it mingled mid-way down in my soon to read section of my tbr with other treasures the entire rest of the year, it sort of was lost out of sight - out of mind until I unearthed it again during the holidays.
This is a different kind of review for me as I usually don’t begin them with a personal note and then a brief overview of the novel, but the other way around. But as I was getting into this novel, I could not shake the feeling of familiarity of this story. It had such fairy tale characteristics that I ended up looking this up. And as my suspicions were correct, there does exist an original ‘The Black Bull of Norroway’ and it is a Scotish fairy tale. It first appeared in print in the 1870 edition of ‘Popular Rhymes of Scotland’ and was reprinted in an Anglicised version by Joseph Jacobs in his 1894 book ‘More English Fairy Tales’. There actually is a predecessor of this tale, ‘The Red Bull of Norroway’ printed in 1842. So somewhere along my childhood, I may have heard of this tale and it has rested dormant in my mind for many years until I recognized it in this gem of a graphic novel.
There are some differences to the actual tale, but here is the synapsis of the original as I found it on Wikipedia.
A washerwoman's three daughters each in succession ask her to cook them some food to take with them on a journey to seek their fortune. Along their way, they consult a witch on how to seek the fortune. The woman advised them to look out her back door. On the third day, the eldest sees a coach-and-six come for her and leaves with it, delighted; the second daughter finds a coach-and-four and leaves; but the third and youngest finds only a black bull, which the witch tells her she must accompany.
The daughter is terrified but goes off with the bull, who surprises her by being kind and gentle. When she grows hungry, he tells her to eat out of his right ear, and drink out of his left. The first night of their journey, they arrive at a castle, which, the bull tells the girl, belongs to his eldest brother. The daughter is welcomed and treated lavishly. As a parting gift, she is given a beautiful apple and told to never use it until she comes to the first great need of her life, and then it would help her. The second night of the journey, they once more stay at a castle, this one belonging to the bull's second brother. Once more the daughter receives a parting gift: a beautiful pear that she is not to use until the second great need of her life; the third night, they are hosted at the youngest brother's castle, and the daughter is given a final gift of a beautiful plum, not to be used until the third great need of her life. At last, the girl and the bull arrive at a valley of glass.
"You must wait here," the bull tells the girl, "and whatever you do, do not move, even an inch, or I will not be able to find you". He goes on to explain that he is to fight the devil who rules the valley so that they may exit. If the sky turns blue, then she will know that the bull has won; but if the sky turns red, then he has lost. The black bull leaves the girl there, and after some time she sees the sky turn blue. Overjoyed, the girl shifts her position slightly... and so the black bull does not return for her.
Unable to climb out of the valley on her own, the girl wanders alone until she finds a blacksmith. He tells her that if she serves him for seven years, he will repay her by making her a pair of shoes. When seven years have gone by, the blacksmith, true to his word, makes the girl—now a young woman—a pair of iron shoes, and nails them to her feet. With the shoes, the young woman is able to climb out of the glass valley.
The young woman eventually wanders back to the home of the witch, who offers her shelter if she will wash some bloody shirts that both she and her daughter have been unable to clean. Whoever could clean the shirts would marry the gallant young knight staying at the witch's home, whom the shirts belong to. Despite the failure of those before her, no sooner has the young woman touched the soap to the shirts than the bloodstains vanish, and the young woman's feet heal perfectly, as if they had never been bloodied or injured. Delighted, the witch brings the knight his shirts and convinces him that it was her daughter who cleaned them. Thus, the knight and the daughter are to be married.
Desperate, the young woman realizes that she is in the first great need of her life. She breaks open the apple, and finds it full of rich jewelry. She offers the jewelry to the witch's daughter, in exchange for being allowed to sing outside the knight's room at night. But the witch gives her daughter a sleeping-drink to offer the knight, so the young woman cannot wake him, though she sobs and sings:
"Seven long years I served for thee,
The glassy hill I clamb for thee,
Thy bloody clothes I wrang for thee;
And wilt thou not waken and turn to me?"
She is in the second great need of her life, so she tries the pear, and finds it full of jewelry richer than that of the apple, but the second night goes as before. Finally, the young woman is in the third great need of her life, and breaks the plum to find the richest jewelry yet. This time, though the sleeping-drink is brought again, the knight accidentally knocks it over, so, when the young woman buys her third and final chance, the knight is awake to hear her song. In this way he learns the truth.
The young woman marries the knight, who had been her black bull all along. He has the witch and her daughter burned, and the knight and the washerwoman's youngest daughter live happily ever after.
The graphic novel by Kit & Cat Seaton that I read is BOOK 1 and I am not certain how many books there will be to come forth in this series, but I am definitely staying tuned.
Now, not all of the details in the graphic novel resemble an exact telling, so don’t miss out on this gem. It is beautifully illustrated and worth your reading time. Coming in at 224 pages, it is surprisingly meaty and satisfying for a graphic novel. An enchanting tale to get lost in, in one sitting or two, with a feeling of accomplishment. In other words, it isn’t empty squiggle, but has a nice plot.
Among some of the pics I took from my copy, I found this promo video for you to check out.