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Lord of the Dead, Fairy Cavalcade, Psychopomp: The Mysterious Origins of the Wild Hunt & Its Many Faces in Popular Culture

By Romany Reagan

They both turned to stare as the clouds directly above them parted. A shadow grew in the air, darkening as it neared them: the figure of a man, massive and bound in armour, bareback on a red-eyed, foaming brindle horse—black and gray, like the storm clouds overhead. The horse came to a neighing, pawing stop at the foot of the Institute steps. The man looked up at them. His eyes were two different colours, blue and black. His face was terrifyingly familiar. It was Gwyn ap Nudd, the lord and leader of the Wild Hunt. And he did not look pleased.

Lord of Shadows, The Dark Artifices, Cassandra Clare 

Wild Hunt. It crosses our path at scarily unpredictable intervals, often through the sky and nearly always at night. It is very numinous and also doom-laden. Otherwise, no one knows quite what to make of it.

— Diana Wynne Jones, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland

Numinous & Doom-Laden

I have a guilty secret. At least, that’s what I’m supposed to say before such an admission: I love young adult fantasy novels. Someone with a PhD isn’t supposed to admit that, but what does ‘supposed to’ even mean? According to whom? One of the joys of getting a PhD—I kid you not—was feeling I could finally proclaim my love of pop novels and no one could make fun of me! But then you get this degree and you feel you have to Uphold the Code, or something… 

Well, no more. Hello world, I love young adult and magical fantasy novels! I’ve been known to take a break from my high-brow bookshelf to devour Cassandra Clare’s six-book Mortal Instruments AND Dark Artifices series in a go. I even loved all four Twilight books. I know, it’s madness. It’s like having an industrial goth fiancé who likes Dire Straits. 

But I’m not the only one. These books are international best-selling series, so there must be something they’re doing right. Some sort of cultural zeitgeist they capture or inner thrill they ignite in many people. 

In this post I focus my academic eye on analysing one aspect of the pop novel trope—the repurposing of the Wild Hunt myth for new generations. This piece investigates the evolution of the Wild Hunt myth (which features prominently in Clare’s Mortal Instruments and Dark Artifices series, led by Gwyn ap Nudd) from its mysterious multiple origins and how it has evolved over time to stay with us, re-emerging with new relevance in pop novels and video games.

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