The Faraway Lurs
|Cover artist||Milton Charles|
|Media type||Print (hardback and paperback)|
||This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (September 2010)|
The Faraway Lurs is a story by the American children's author Harry Behn, published in 1963. It is a romantic tragedy along the lines of Romeo and Juliet.
The word "lurs" in the title is the plural of the word "lur", which is a borrowing from Danish and/or Swedish and refers to a type of musical instrument. There are two kinds of lurs. The kind referred to in this book is a Bronze-Age musical instrument in the form of a conical tube that is roughly S-shaped, without finger holes. It is end blown, like a trumpet, and sounds something like a trombone. Lurs often come in pairs, so they are often referred to in the plural.
The story takes place in Denmark during the Bronze Age. The main character is an 18 year-old girl named Heather, and she is a member of the tribe called the Forest People that lives in a village called Oakwood. They worship a sacred tree and a spring.
At the beginning of the story Heather is gathering honey from a beehive high in a tree. She is being helped by her slave Buzz, who is able to hum ("buzz") in a special way that keeps the bees from stinging. Buzz had been captured by Heather's father Goodshade from a different tribe called the Sun People, who are called this because they worship the sun and are known for making bronze tools and weapons. Although Buzz was originally one the Sun People, she is now afraid of them because they had tried to sacrifice her. While Heather is high in the tree, Buzz stops humming, allowing the bees to sting Heather. Heather asks Buzz why she stopped humming, and she replies that she can hear a sound. Heather looks in the direction of the sound, and sees the Sun People in the distance driving their cattle toward a nearby lake. The Sun People also make a bronze musical instrument called the lurs. The faraway sound that the girls hear is the lurs.
Heather is curious about the Sun People, however she knows that in the past the Sun People have attacked the Forest People, so she runs back home to tell what she has seen. She meets Blue Wing, her presumed future husband, and they both go to Heather's father Goodshade, the village chief, but he is not worried about the Sun People. Later, Buzz tells Heather and Blue Wing that Goodshade had already known about the Sun People before they told him, and that he had sent messengers to warn other villages.
The next day, Heather realizes that in her excitement about seeing the Sun People she had left her honey up in the tree, and she goes back to the tree to get it. When Heather comes down from the tree, she sees a handsome young stranger standing near the tree. His name is Wolf Stone, and he is one of the Sun People. Heather is wary but intrigued by the young man. She asks him whether the Sun People plan to attack the Forest People to rob them. He says they will if they want, but does not sound as if he is serious.
Heather returns to her village, but does not tell anyone about her meeting with Wolf Stone. She has trouble forgetting about him. In the evening she is sitting on a mound near the village, and Wolf Stone sneaks up to her to talk. He tells her that he has come to warn the Forest People to take all their animals and hide in the forest for several days. She asks him why, and he explains that the chief Great Elk, who is his father, wants to build a ship from the wood of the tree of power, which he knows grows in Oakwood. He believes that a ship built from the wood of this tree can never be sunk. Wolf Stone tells Heather that if the Forest People hide, he will lead the Sun People away from the Forest People's sacred tree. Heather asks him how he knows about the sacred tree, but he makes evasive answers. As he is leaving, Heather asks Wolf Stone why he came to tell her this, and he tells her that she is unlike any girl he has ever known.
Heather returns to her village to warn everyone. She tells her mother that Wolf Stone had told her to have everyone hide in the forest from the Sun People. However, she does not tell anyone about their plan to cut down the sacred tree to build a ship. Heather's mother consults the sacred tree, which tells her that Wolf Stone could never deceive his father, and asks who will protect the tree from the Sun People if all the Forest People hide in the forest.
Heather asks Buzz to go to the village herbalist Swampwife to get medicine to soothe the bee stings, but Buzz refuses. Buzz then tells Heather that the Swampwife has treasures including bronze bracelets, which she could only have gotten from the Sun People. This prompts Heather to wonder whether it might have been the Swampwife who told the Sun People about the sacred tree. But Goodshade tells Heather that he thinks it was not the Swampwife, but rather she herself (Heather), and that she had accidentally told Wolf Stone. Goodshade decides not to have the Forest People hide in the forest, but to have the sacred tree guarded by archers. Later, Heather goes to see Blue Wing, who tells her that he has asked Goodshade for her hand. She confesses to him that she loves Wolf Stone instead of him.
Littleman, who is one of the oldest of the Forest People, allows himself to be captured by the Sun People in order to spy on them. He learns that they do not have bows and arrows, only swords, and confirms that they are interested in the tree. They release him and try to follow him home to find the tree, but he is too clever and they unable to follow him.
In the camp of the Sun People, Eagle is anxious to build a ship. The chief Great Elk, Eagle, and the Sun Priest Troll Tamer argue about whether the ship must be built from the tree of power or merely from any tree. They also discuss whether the tree of power should be destroyed if it is not used. We learn that it really was Swampwife who told the Sun People about the tree of power, and that that night she has promised to lead two other priests Longfire and Knife to the tree. Many of the Sun People want to kill Troll Tamer, but they believe in a curse that if Troll Tamer dies, so will chief Great Elk. Some of the Sun People want to kill Troll Tamer even if it means that Great Elk will die. Wolf Stone had promised Heather to lead the Sun People away from the Forest People's sacred tree, but now he realizes that he cannot lie to his father Great Elk, who tells him his plan to take the sacred tree without a fight. Wolf Stone decides to warn Heather again.
Meanwhile, Heather discovers that the village dogs have been fed a poison rabbit to kill them. She knows that the Swampwife had the ability to do this, and suspects her of doing it to keep the dogs quiet at night, when an attack might occur. Heather and Buzz go to confront the Swampwife with their suspicions. When they get there, they find that the two priests Longfire and Knife have come to see the Swampwife, who had promised to lead them to the sacred tree. The Swampwife tricks Knife into drowning by walking into the swamp, where he sinks because of the armor he is wearing. The Swampwife laughs, and Buzz makes her special humming noise, which paralyzes the Swampwife, causing her to drown as well. The other priest Longfire catches Buzz and Heather, and is ready to kill them when Stone Wolf arrives. Stone Wolf stops Longfire from killing them and sends him back to the Sun People. After Longfire has left, Stone Wolf tells Heather that the Forest People must guard the wrong tree to deceive the Sun People about which tree is the sacred tree. She asks him to meet with her father to convince him. They go to him and Stone Wolf tells him his plan, but Goodshade does not believe it will work. Stone Wolf warns Goodshade that if Great Elk failed to win the tree of power, then the Sun Priest Troll Tamer would burn down the forest. Then Stone Wolf leaves and returns to the Sun People.
The next day, the Forest People ask the sacred tree what they should do, and it tells them to be brave and to find their greatest treasure and give it to their god. As the people ponder what this might mean, Heather and Buzz are talking and Buzz tells Heather that she wants Stone Wolf to kill his father. Heather disagrees, but Buzz says that someone must do this. That night Elfstream, one of the oldest chieftains, says that he thinks the tree is calling on them to sacrifice one of their own lives to the tree. Goodshade says that never before has a god asked for this, and that time will tell what their greatest treasure is.
That night, Eagle sneaks to the Oakwood and finds where Buzz is sleeping. He convinces her to help him kill Great Elk to keep him from burning down the forest. Eagle does not want this, because he wants to build a ship. He asks Buzz to bring him poison, a stone axe, and a few bows and arrows, and she agrees. Blue Wing sees Buzz delivering these items to Eagle, and confronts Eagle. Blue Wing says that Eagle has no right to these things and that Eagle cannot even shoot a bow. Eagle tells Blue Wing that one arrow could defeat Great Elk, suggesting that Blue Wing could do this himself. Blue Wing wonders why Eagle wants to kill the chief of his own people, and Eagle tells him that it is because Great Elk wants to burn the forest, while Eagle only wants a tree, and he does not want the tree of power, but another tree. Eagle tells Blue Wing that once Great Elk is dead, Troll Tamer would die because of the curse, and Wolf Stone would become the chief of the Sun People, and that he would not burn down the forest. Blue Wing says that he does not think that Wolf Stone is so timid, and Eagle says that in that case Wolf Stone would be killed, too. Blue Wing wants to save the forest, and is also excited about the possibility of killing Wolf Stone, whom Heather loves, since he (Blue Wing) wants to marry Heather himself. So he goes with Eagle to the Sun People. Goodshade and Littleman see them leave together, and Buzz, who overheard their conversation, tells Goodshade and Littleman that Eagle and Blue Wing are planning to kill Wolf Stone. Littleman suggests that Buzz run to the camp of the Sun People to warn them.
Wolf Stone goes to his father chief Great Elk and tells him of his love for Heather. He declares that he does not want the ship or to fight the Forest People or burn down their forest. Great Elk is receptive to his son's wishes, and says that he does not believe in the curse that he will die if Troll Tamer does. He decides to have Troll Tamer killed. Wolf Stone and several other sons of Great Elk begin planning how to do this, but know that Troll Tamer is powerful and has many spies among the slaves, and may already know of their plans.
Troll Tamer announces that the lurs will be played and then there will be games that evening, and that this is part of his plan to take the tree of power. He says that the Forest People will hear the lurs and will come to watch the games. While they are watching the games, the Sun People can take the tree. Eagle says that Blue Wing, the best archer of the Forest People, has been taken hostage and that they will trade him for the tree. Great Elk astonishes Eagle by announcing that he no longer wants the tree or even to build a ship. As Great Elk dismisses Eagle, Troll Tamer announces that the tree of power will be burned. Great Elk also rejects this plan, and asks to see Blue Wing's bow and arrows, and tells Blue Wing to teach them how to use a bow. He says that after the games Blue Wing will be allowed to return to the Forest People. While Blue Wing is giving his archery demonstration, Buzz comes to Wolf Stone to warn him that Blue Wing intends to kill him.
The next game involves Blue Wing trying to hit the Doves (girl warriors) with arrows as they ride in circles around him on horses. He is worried about hurting them, but they are so skilled that he does not hit even one of them, as hard as he tries. Every arrow he shoots misses. After the game ends, the Sun People discover that one of the stray arrows has killed Troll Tamer. When other sun priests come to Great Elk to tell him, Great Elk takes a drink from his cup and falls over dead: he has been poisoned. Eagle, who is nearby, picks up the cup that held the poison and takes it. Buzz is still at the camp of the Sun People, and now realizes that Great Elk must have been poisoned by the poison that she had given to Eagle. Now that Great Elk is dead, Wolf Stone is the chief of the Sun People. Wolf Stone gives Buzz a bronze sun-disk and tells her to take it to Heather and tell her that he will come for her after he has buried his father. He then orders that Blue Wing be tied up to prevent him from killing him. Buzz does go to Heather and takes the sun-disk to Heather, who begins to wear it, although the other Forest People disapprove. Then Heather discovers that the spring has dried up. She becomes afraid that everyone will want her to give her sun-disk to the spring as an offering, to make it flow again.
After Great Elk and Troll Tamer are buried, Wolf Stone tells his brothers and the priests of the changes that he will make, now that he is chief. While they are talking, Blue Wing frees himself from his fetters and finds his bow and an arrow. He manages to shoot an arrow at Wolf Stone before he is killed by Wolf Stone's warriors. Later, a messenger arrives at Oakwood with the news that Blue Wing has been killed because he killed Wolf Stone. Heather is stunned. She gives the sun-disk to her parents to be used as a sacrifice to the spring, and goes to bed as it begins to rain.
The next day, the spring has still not started flowing again, despite the rain. The Sun People organize a ritual sacrifice to their god. At the last minute Heather realizes that the intended sacrifice is she herself. She is given a poison to drink, and she willingly drinks it.
- Heather: The main character of The Faraway Lurs
- Buzz: Heather's slave, originally one of the Sun People
- Goodshade: Heather's father, chief of the Forest People
- Tree Woman: Heather's mother
- Reindeer: Tree Woman's slave
- Blue Wing: Heather's presumed future husband
- Swampwife: An herbalist, considered crazy or evil
- Gray Owl:
- Wolf Stone: The young man with whom Heather falls in love
- Great Elk: Wolf Stone's father, chief of the Sun People
- Oxenstar: Another son of Great Elk
- Eagle: A ship builder
- Troll Tamer: The Sun Priest
- Longfire: A priest
- Knife: A priest
When Harry Behn was a young man, he worked as a screenwriter and wrote or contributed to the screeplays for a number of films. This background is apparent in The Faraway Lurs, which could easily be adapted into a film. However, at the present time no films have been made of this story.
- Helbig, Alethea K. and Agnes Regan Perkins. 1986. Dictionary of American children's fiction, 1960-1984: recent books of recognized merit, p. 204. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, Inc.
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: The Faraway Lurs|