You know how Alice gets lost down the rabbit hole? Well, friends, last week, I went down my own particular rabbit hole. I had the honor and the privilege of reviewing Hilary Mantel’s stunning new novel, The Mirror and the Light (more on that later). But to do that on deadline meant reading (and analyzing and absorbing and then writing about) 764 pages in less than a week. I love Mantel – and was amazed by this book – but I can tell you that was still difficult. Not being able to read the Sunday papers was a particular hardship.

How I roll.

You’d think that with an assignment like that, I’d just straight-out read. But with a book as rich as this one, there are too many distractions. I thought I understood “dotty poll” (p. 100) in context, but did I have it right? What about “megrim” (p. 473) (which, yes, is a precursor of “migraine”)? But what really tripped me up was a reference to the “mouldwarp” – and the “Mouldwarp King” (on pages 327 and 438) Huh? That led me from a Google search to essays on the Pilgrimage of Faith, a mass protest of Henry VIII’s disconnect from the Catholic Church (among other things). A few hours were lost down there… but so much more was found.

Therefore, I am taking the liberty of sharing these excerpts on “The Mouldwarp King” from the Invisible Works UK blog. (You can see my review in this Sunday’s Boston Globe or here.)


Guest post: Martyn Hudson

Like badgers in channels of hypocausts devoid of fire,

The Mouldwarps scatter the cairns of our mothers,

And the bogs hold our fathers pinned to wicker.[1]

The mole is an ‘earth-thrower’ – a mouldywarp, molywarppe, moudiwarp, mouldwarp, moldwarp. The collision between the mole and folklore has often been to the detriment of the mole. In lore a severed paw of the mole, if worn in a bag around the neck could cure toothache and scrofula – the ‘King’s Evil’. Moles won’t touch earth stained by blood, if moles dig deep a dark winter is coming, moles are blind. The blind or hardly-seeing mole is a recurrent motif in folklore and literature but although the mole does have anatomical regression of its eyes due to its burrowing below ground they can see. Their lives are about the conquest and consumption of earthworms in the dark.

But the mouldwarp is also a recurrent feature of political prophecies throughout the medieval period and up to our own.

the local folklore of the Mouldwarp, linked as it was to both witches and prophecy, would move beyond these moors and dales to affect the course of the realm above – leading many of the proponents of the prophecy themselves to the lands of the dead. The so-called Mouldwarp prophecies recurred time and time again (in their extant forms without an original source) in the medieval period as part of the Book of Merlin. They were used as coded assaults on kingship and certain specific kings like Henry IV but found their epitome during the Pilgrimage of Grace and the northern rebellion against Henry VIII. As A.G. Dickens has said – the Pilgrimage ‘was riddled with rumour, fable, folklore and prophecy, particularly by those prophecies concerning the rise and fall of kings which are traceable to the writings of Geoffrey of Monmouth and which had appeared in former occasions, for example in the days of Hotspur and Henry IV’.[10] The predominantly Catholic uprising used the Mouldwarp prophecies as its ideological ballast in its contest with Henry but the Mouldwarp motifs had previously been used by the Lollards and early protestant reformers. 

Again, you can read more here: