- Thanks to Sepiternity for the clues on the ancient origins of the
name Aiken Drum. In fact, it opens one of several large cans of worms
put forward by JM rather fiendish puzzles, such as what drove
Felice's ancestors, the landowners for hundreds of years of highly
productive farms near Loudun in France, to the relative discomfort of
the Acadian settlement in Canada (quite possibly a land grab from a
Landry nobleman who was a lackey of Cardinal Richelieu).
Here is JM's entry for Aiken Drum in A Pliocene Companion:
"Drum, Aiken, also called Aiken-Lugonn (AY-ken loo-GAH'n), or The
Shining One, a juvenile delinquent native to the planet Dalriada ....
Another Aiken Drum is a figure in Scottish folklore, the subject of
droll verses by William Nicholson in 'Poetical Works'. Nicholson
equates Aiken Drum with the Brownie of Blednoch; a familiar Scottish
nursery rhyme gives him a gentler aspect, wearing clothing composed
entirely of food. The name Aiken Drum means "oak ridge" and may even
have druidical connotations."
Wait a minute here: Druidical connections? Ancient religion, now
called mythology, possibly legend which is all that remains to us of
ancient Celtic (or possibly pre-Celtic) history? JM has stared at
least briefly into same dim mists that beckon to all of us who want
to find the original Aiken Drum, not the one who wore haggis pants
and a roast beef coat, though ALL the Aiken Drums offer us certain
dark elements if we look closely (e.g. the subsumption of Mercy and
Nodonn and the edibility theme of the nursery rhyme, one version of
which offers another character which does eat the edible one, a
fellow named Willie Wood).
In changing the names of Celtic legend and mythology to produce those
of the Exile books, JM frequently plays with sound: The Tuatha del
Danaan become the Tanu, the Fir-Bolg are called Firvulag. By
association, Aiken is equated with figures of legend and mythology
named Aengus, including the hero of what must be one of the very
earliest versions of the story known as "Swan Lake," in which Aengus
Og instantly recognizes his love-at-first sight, though she is
compelled through some unnamed and unbreakable spell to spend a year,
with other maidens, in the form of a swan. In general, the more
animistic the myth/legend, the more ancient the origins. And there's
the question of Pictish origins raised by Sepiternity: the Picts are
generally considered as NOT Celtic, more specifically as PRE-Celtic,
which leaves staring into even more distant and dimmer mists,
possibly for both Aiken and the MacGregors. We are told by current
anthropology that the Picts have long disappeared as a separate
cultural or genetic entity, though experts in Celtic art are quick to
point out that much of what is considered Celtic in the folk art of
the British Isles (for lack of a more geo-politically correct term),
is actually not Celtic but Pictish in origin.
So, possibly, Aiken is Aengus. And take another look at name Nodonn:
The "Donn" name element is fairly common in certain families of some
ancient tribes of Celtic legend and mythology, as either a joined or
separate suffix. Instead of Aiken Drum, let us posit Aengus Donn. We
are then immediately faced with a compelling inversion, Dun Aengus,
the ancient and important seaside Celtic fort whose massive ruins
still stand, but our invented name is still a possibility. We are
also left with the same compelling rhythm that shows up not in the
nursery rhymes, but in one of the older traditional military songs in
which Aiken Drum appears, not as a proper (i.e., capitalized) name,
but as a short rhythmic line ending written "aikendrum, aikendrum".
It is in form a nonsense syllable used for its strong sound and
rhythm. It suggests a corruption of something much older, not unlike
the call "dosido" (from the French "dos a dos") of American square
dancing. It is also a strong marching rhthym, and certainly an easy
possibility here is a long association with fighting history; indeed,
the ancient "Swan Lake" story includes a long march to wreak revenge
on the swan maiden's father, who at first refused her hand outright
to Aengus' father, a Celtic monarch.
The Aiken of the Exiles novels is certainly also a construct from
Celtic legend (not only Lugh the trickster, but also Aengus the
master of all trades, and the Apollo-like Aengus Og the Shining,
symbolized by his flamboyant golden jumpsuit). Does anyone know the
legends associated with Dalriada? This might prove interesting.
It is not only JM's choice of the name Aiken Drum we are after here,
but its actual origins in ancient Celtic or pre-Celtic myth and
legend (and possibly history?). It is one of the most fascinating and
challenging puzzles JM has presented us with.
Comment? Tear this one to bits with my goodwill, especially if you
have a better answer.