Virginia author Sharyn McCrumb serves as cultural
ambassador for Appalachia with her Ballad series. Drawing on family history, folklore and legends, Ms. McCrumb
captures the pioneer spirit of America.
In The Songcatcher, she weaves the present day story of Lark
McCourry with that of her maternal ancestor Malcolm McCourry.
As Malcolm’s story works its way through generations to the
present time, characteristics of the family carry over as well as the song
he brought to this country.
Malcolm McCourry is born on a Scottish island as the
midwife prophesizes that “the sea will take him.” His parents try to protect Malcolm from drowning by
giving him a magic stone. His
mother then insults the midwife, who curses the family with: “No
McCourry from this day forth shall ever love best his firstborn child.
Another will always supplant it.”
As a young boy, sailors of a British ship kidnap Malcolm, and the
sea takes him away. Feeling
unloved by his parents, he accepts his life as a cabin boy, and never
returns home. From Malcolm to
Lark’s father, the curse between parent and firstborn child continues.
While on the ship, Malcolm is given a song to pass on.
Following oral tradition, Malcolm learns the haunting melody of
“The Rowan Stave” and passes it on through his family.
Country singer Lark McCourry is flying home to east
Tennessee to see her dying father. She
remembers only one line from “The Rowan Stave” and hopes to find the
entire song for her upcoming album. Her
small plane crashes in the mountains, and finding the song becomes her
reason for living.
Sharyn McCrumb once again has created a powerful ballad
story with The Songcatcher. There
is an intense emotional haste in the novel to find the song, preserve the
Appalachia heritage, and connect with family.
The reader, like each generation of McCourrys, will find their
truth in the lyric -- “And when he’s
come back home, he will be changed – oh!”
© 2001 Southern Scribe Reviews, All Rights Reserved