The Ferrymen of Souls: Background information when reading Once Upon a River

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Once Upon a River

by Diane Setterfield

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield X
Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield
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  • First Published:
    Dec 2018, 480 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2019, 496 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Dean Muscat
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About this Book

The Ferrymen of Souls

This article relates to Once Upon a River

Alexander Litovchenko's depiction of Charon ferrying souls across the StyxQuietly the ferryman is a recurring character in Once Upon a River, a spectral presence that exists somewhere in between truth and fantasy. Radcot's denizens, many of whom believe they have spotted Quietly on the Thames, have constructed dozens of versions of his story, but in essence he is described as "a man who comes and goes without warning, sometimes bringing life, sometimes death." While Setterfield's apparition appears to be plucked from her own imagination, Quietly does draw from legends and folktales of soul-carrying ferrymen throughout the ages.

In Egyptian lore, the figure of Mahaf is sometimes depicted as the celestial ferryman who carries the dead to the underworld. This mythical character is heavily featured in the Pyramid Texts, the oldest known religious writing, transcribed on the walls of sarcophagi and pyramids to honor the passing of pharaohs. In one reference, a deceased person asks Mahaf to "ferry me across in this ferry-boat in which you ferry the Gods." In ...

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