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The Hound of Ulster

Synopsis |  Review by Juan F. Lara |  Review by Todd Jensen


Overview

History

by Jim Cannon

Cuchulainn was born Setanta, a son of Lugh - one of the Tuath de Danaan, the gods of early Irish myth. Setanta was a born warrior, and soon he was living at the court of Cannacht Mac Nessa (sp), king of Ulster. Setanta joined the boys troop, and started learning about the ways of the warrior. At one point, he was practicing late, and almsot missed a feast at the smith Culann's house. Setanta ran to the house, but was denied entry by Culann's hound. Angry, Setanta killed the beast and went into the feats. Culann was pretty annoyed, and Setanta vowed to protect Culann's home until the smith could raise a new guard dog. He became known as Cuchulainn, or Culann's Hound. Unlike in the cartoon, there never was a real hound; Cuchulainn himself was the hound.

Later on, Cuchulainn learned how to use the Gae Bolga (a barbed spear -- maybe a trident) from the Scottish warrior woman Scathach. He became Ulster's greatest hero, an Irish Achilles. A lot of other myths interweave with Cuchulainn's story, but the most important one is the Tain Bo Culaing (sp), in English, the Cattle Raid of Cooley. A rival Queen invaded Ulster and stole the king's prize bull, but due to a curse, the fighting men of Ulster were crippled at their most desperate hour. Only Cuchulainn, immune due to his divine heritage, was able to battle the raiders. This proved to be his last and greatest adventure, as the hero died at the end of it. If you're really interested, take a look at Morgan Llewellyn's book Red Branch. It's a decent account of the myth.

Interestingly, Cuchulainn's father Lugh is the god of light -- which may explain why the cartoon version's Gae Bolga is a spear of light.

Banshee is a corruption of the term Baen Sidhe. The Sidhe were the Faerie of Irish legend; the form the Tuath de Danaan took as Christianity took over the isles, and the worship of the old gods died off. Eventually, the Sidhe would become leprechauns et al, but when they were known as the Sidhe they were still considered powerful, and most importantly, frightening. Iron was deadly to them (witness Oberon and Titania's vulnerability to that metal), and supposedly humans drove the Faerie underground with iron weapons. (Which may be a referance to the Celt's superiority over other barbarians who did not have iron). I'm not really sure what "Baen" means, whether its a reference to the Sidhe's keening or the barrows that the Sidhe lived in.

About the Banshee

by Leigh Ann Hussey

The Banshee isn't traditionally evil. She is, however, a harbinger of death. Certain Irish families have a banshee associated with them, and folklore tells that when prominent members of these families die or are near death, the banshee is seen keening for them. She's in the Tain Bo Cuailgne as well, as the Washer at the Ford -- before the great battle, a woman is seen washing bloody garments at the ford where Cuchulain will eventually be forced to kill his friend Fergus. So her association with death has, because of people's fear of death, bled over into a general association with Bad Things. Disney hasn't helped any; "Darby O'Gill" was about the first vehicle to bring popular American attention to the banshee, and in it she was an evil being. Few people know any better nowadays.


Synopsis

[Missing]


Review

by Juan F. Lara

I felt very neutral about this episode.

Certain World Tour episodes have become formulaic: The Travellers encounter a protagonist who feels discouraged about certain responsibilities that they have and somehow inspire that person to take up one's duties by the end. How well this formula works depends on how interesting the protagonist is. But personally I'd rather see WT eps that continue the current threads instead.

Rory Dugan was the star of this episode. (Goliath, Elisa, and Angela spent most of ther time imprisoned, and even Bronx played a secondary character to Rory.) I felt so-so about him. His slacker-grousing at the start seemed too expository and cliched, and so I thought that he was going to bore me. But Rory became more appealing as he learned more about his fate. I liked his natural interaction with Bronx, and his perserverence to find out the truth.

The plotting seemed clumsy, though. I went "Huh" when Rory suddenly had his vision of Charron O'Chullain ( spelling? ), and when he turned into Cu Chullain. The Banshee had to note then and there that Rory was Chullain reincarnated. I didn't like how characters had monologues crammed with the information the audience needed to understand what was going on, all of them given in Act 3. The story should've had a smoother buildup to the climax.

WD-Japan did the animation, but not as well as usual. Character movement seemed particularly jerky. But I did like the character design for the Banshee. (I knew that only magic could explain Molly's hairstyle. :-)

Miscellaneous

Significant Plot Point: The Banshee alludes to an upcoming "time of the Great Gathering". I'll wager that the Travellers will finally return to NYC in a multi-parter wherein the Faeries all return to Avalon.

Colm Meaney (Miles O'Brien in "Deep Space Nine") played Rory's father. I suspect that he knew about Rory's gift beforehand. Heck, he might even be a Child of Oberon, as his hair always covered his ears. :-)

Other casting notes: Sheena Easton returned, playing the Banshee. Scott Cleverdon played Rory.

Is the Banshee dead then?

Can someone please post some background on Cu Chullain and the Banshee? Also, how accurate was the Irish slang?

Mr. Dugan: Hmm...Molly.

Rory: So you're the terrible hound. Ugly as the back of a bus you are.

Overall, this episode had nothing especially good or bad about it.


Commentary/Review

by Todd Jensen

"The Hound of Ulster" is the third and last of the three "holiday episodes" of "Gargoyles" (the first two being "Eye of the Beholder" and "Sanctuary"). This one I watch each St. Patrick's Day, for obvious reasons.

Goliath, Elisa, and Angela have only a small role here, spending most of the episode imprisoned by the Banshee (who believes that they've been sent by Oberon to haul her back to Avalon, and who, in the time-honored style of the stereotypical inquisitor, won't consider the possibility that they might be telling the truth when they protest their innocence - though she might be deliberately overlooking that possibility out of a simple enjoyment in tormenting her captives). Bronx gets a larger role in this episode for a change, but the real focus is on Rory Dugan, another "hero-to-be" like Natsilane and Max Loew, who discovers his true nature with some help from the gargoyle beast.

The episode opens with Rory in a discouraged mood; he's finished school but can't find a job, and has reached the point where he and his girl-friend Molly are stealing things, simply for something to do - and even that doesn't excite him any longer. He's in a state of near-despair, much to his father's disgust. That changes, however, when he first encounters Bronx (whom he initially identifies as the terrible Hound of local legend, but soon warms to as he gets to know the gargoyle beast better) and begins seeing visions of monstrous serpent-like creatures and ancient burial mounds. Rory realizes that something strange is going on, and develops a strong sense of resolution in getting to the bottom of it - leading to his discovery, at Cairn na Culainn, that he is the reincarnated Cuchulain, one of the leading heroes of ancient Ireland, and that Molly is more than she appears to be as well.

The revelation of Molly's true identity is carefully handled. She starts off appearing to be an ordinary Irish girl, and it is not until near the end of Act II that the two of them are even given an explicit link when Molly shape-shifts into the Banshee in front of Rory. Even then, the episode leaves it uncertain in that scene as to whether Molly was the Banshee in disguise all along, or whether the Banshee was simply impersonating her for that moment only. It is not until Act III that we learn the truth; Molly and the Banshee were indeed one and the same, and the Banshee had adopted this human alter ego from the start in the hopes of subtly leading Rory away from discovering his true identity. (Many viewers have noticed how the Banshee began with this tactic of subterfuge as opposed to outright confrontation, and wondered if there might be some deeper significance in this choice - could she have unexpressed feelings for Rory/Cuchulain? Greg Weisman has indicated, in response to that question, that this is certainly a well-founded suspicion.)

While focusing on its guest stars, "The Hound of Ulster" continues to develop the overall story. We learn of Oberon's plans for the Gathering for the first time - plans that will be significant some episodes later. And the response that both Rory and the Banshee have to Bronx, connecting him to a creature of Ireland's mythical past, indicates that gargoyle beasts may have left a very strong legacy in the legends of the British Isles (see Tidbits below, for more information).

As I mentioned at the beginning, "The Hound of Ulster" focuses more on Rory and Molly (and their alter egos from Irish legend) than on the protagonists, in such a way that it feels almost like a back-door pilot to a spin-off (see Tidbits below) than a regular episode of "Gargoyles". But I still find it fairly enjoyable, and it certainly gives Bronx a big moment of glory.

Tidbits

A working title for this episode was "A Bronx Tail", a title later on used for an episode of "The Goliath Chronicles".

Greg Weisman briefly considered the possibility of a spin-off about Rory and Molly, though evidently so briefly that it never even made the list of projected spin-offs in his MasterPlan document.

The episode strongly suggests that gargoyle beasts are the original for the "black dogs" of British and Irish folklore. The accounts of these creatures vary from one region of the British Isles to the next, but are generally portrayed as great doglike animals, usually seen at night, formidable and fearsome to behold, but often (though not always) protective beings - a description that certainly applies to gargoyle beasts. On a related matter, Greg at first thought of entitling the episode "The Barghest"; "barghest" being a name for one variety of "black dog", though found in the folklore of Yorkshire rather than Ireland (which makes it just as well that he later dropped it).

"The Hound of Ulster" takes some liberties with Irish legend in its interpretation of Cuchulain and the Banshee. Not only is the account of Cuchulain defeating the Banshee an invention of the series, but so is the notion of his being allied to a "great hound", whether a gargoyle beast or otherwise. In the actual Cuchulain legend, the "Hound of Ulster" was Cuchulain himself, who had, as a boy, slain the great guard-dog of Culainn the Smith in self-defense and afterwards, to appease the angry Culainn, offered to take over the dog's duties (hence his name, "Cuchulain" or "the Hound of Culainn"). Also, the Banshee is portrayed as a malevolent faerie whose wailing causes death; in the original Irish folk-tales, banshees are death-omens whose cries foretell death, but do not actually cause it.

The Banshee's monstrous form, Crom-Cruach the Death-Worm, also stems from Irish legend, if with some liberties taken from the original. Crom-Cruach was one of the ancient gods of Ireland, a particularly fearsome and malevolent figure who was finally overthrown by St. Patrick. (His name, incidentally, was taken up by Robert E. Howard in his Conan stories, making Crom the god worshipped by Conan's people, the Cimmerians.) The notion of Crom-Cruach being equated with the Banshee and looking something like a cross between a great serpent and an overgrown insect larva is the invention of "Gargoyles" again, however.

Rory/Cuchulain bears a striking resemblance to the Marvel Comics take on Thor, incidentally. In Marvel Comics, a lame doctor named Donald Blake, visiting Norway, discovers a cane in a hidden cave which turns out to be Thor's hammer Mjolnir in disguise and transforms Donald Blake into Thor when he picks it up (it turns out much later on that Blake actually was Thor all along, temporarily banished to Earth and imprisoned in a human body by Odin to teach him humility). The similarity is unmistakable; in each case, a modern-day person discovers an old stick or cane underground which turns out to be the disguised weapon of a "real" mythical hero or god ("real" in the sense of existing in actual legends rather than being an invention of the writer), which transforms him into that same hero or god. Greg has openly regretted this similarity, and hopes to, if he ever produces further stories about Rory, tone down his resemblance to Thor/Donald Blake in them.


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