Illustration by Seabright in Woman's Journal (Fleetway Publications Ltd), August 1962 p10
Illustration by Seabright in Woman’s Journal (© Fleetway Publications Ltd), August 1962 p10

Welcome to today’s Mary Stewart quotation, taken from The Moonspinners, her 1962 novel set on the island of Crete. This quote is from chapter 4, and it offers the reader an explanation of the book’s title as the narrator Nicola Ferris recounts a Greek legend in an attempt to help injured, feverishly ill, worried Mark Langley sleep.

 ‘Did you ever hear the legend of the moonspinners?’

‘The what?’

‘Moonspinners. They’re naiads — you know, water-nymphs. Sometimes, when you’re deep in the countryside, you meet three girls, walking along the hill tracks in the dusk, spinning. They each have a spindle, and onto these they are spinning their wool, milk-white, like the moonlight. In fact, it is the moonlight, the moon itself, which is why they don’t carry a distaff. They’re not Fates, or anything terrible; they don’t affect the lives of men; all they have to do is to see that the world gets its hours of darkness, and they do this by spinning the moon down out of the sky. Night after night, you can see the moon getting less and less, the ball of light waning, while it grows on the spindles of the maidens. Then, at length, the moon is gone, and the world has darkness, and rest, and the creatures of the hillsides are safe from the hunter and the tides are still . . .’

Mark’s body had slackened against me, and his breathing came more deeply. I made my voice as soft and monotonous as I could.

‘Then, on the darkest night, the maidens take their spindles down to the sea, to wash their wool. And the wool slips from the spindles, into the water, and unravels in long ripples of light from the shore to the horizon, and there is the moon again, rising from the sea, just a thin curved thread, reappearing in the sky. Only when all the wool is washed, and wound again into a white ball in the sky, can the moonspinners start their work once more, to make the night safe for hunted things . . .’

Beyond the entrance of the hut, the moonlight was faint, a mere grayness, a lifting of the dark… not enough for prying eyes to see the place where Mark and I lay, close together, in the dark little hut. The moonspinners were there, out on the track, walking the mountains of Crete, making the night safe, spinning the light away.

Here Mark is a hunted thing himself for having been in the wrong place at the wrong time. He has to hide away even although he is potentially seriously ill and in need of medical attention. Later on in the novel, we are reminded of the legend when Nicola watches Sofia spinning wool:

The soft, furry mass of white wool on the distaff, the brown fingers pulling it out like candy floss to loop across the front of the black dress, the whirling ball of woollen thread on the spindle – these made a pattern that it would have been hard not to appreciate.

I have not spun wool myself but it is certainly hypnotic to watch. Are any (moon)spinners reading this post? I’d love to hear any comments you have on the quotes, the novel, or on your experience of spinning wool.

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