The Music on the Hill by Saki: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Erica Schimmel

Erica has taught college English writing and literature courses and has a master's degree in children's literature.

A move to the country goes awry for a newlywed woman. What did she do and what happens? And what deeper meaning might there be in her cautionary tale? Find out in this lesson, which offers a summary of Saki's 'The Music on the Hill'.

Moving To The Country

Most of us think living in the country sounds a lot more peaceful than a bustling town. That's certainly what Sylvia Seltoun expects in Saki's ''The Music on the Hill.'' After battling the ''cold hostility of his family'' and his own resistance to commitment, Sylvia managed to tie Mortimer down in matrimony. Her even bigger accomplishmet is that she succeeded in ''settling him down'' by getting him to move to his country house at Yessney.

She may not have fully thought this plan through, though. Sylvia herself is a city girl, and has always thought of country life as ''something excellent and wholesome'' in an abstract way. Basically, Sylvia only started to ''distrust'' living in town once she got married. On the other hand, Mortimer is just as drawn to Yessney as to town. While Sylvia appreciates the beauty of the country, there is something ''very wild'' about it that makes her a little wary.

In fact, Sylvia tells Mortimer that in the wildness of their surroundings ''one could almost think that in such a place the worship of Pan had never quite died out.'' She's pretty surprised when he responds that worship of the ''Nature-God'' is in fact still strong. She's even more surprised when he says he's ''not such a fool as not to believe in Pan when I'm down here'' and advises she not make a big deal out of being a nonbeliever.

Exploring

After a week of living there Sylvia feels she's walked all the woodsy paths she can and decides it's time she check out the farmyard. Every animal seems to run from her. Until, that is, she comes across a giant sow that not only doesn't run from her, but scares Sylvia off. What makes this experience creepier is when she hears ''the echo of a boy's laughter, golden and equivocal'' that couldn't possibly have come from the one boy who works on the farm.

If part of her plan was growing closer with her husband, let's just say that part backfires. Mortimer is barely around, preferring to spend all day farming and fishing. Sylvia watches which path he chooses when he leaves one morning, and follows later. She quickly finds herself in a clearing with a ''stone pedestal surmounted by a small bronze figure of a youthful Pan.'' Even more surprising is the fresh bunch of grapes ''placed as an offering at its feet.''

Sylvia's pretty irritated about what she views as a waste of good fruit and grabs them. She's lost in her thoughts walking home, so she's pretty startled when she sees ''a boy's face was scowling at her, brown and beautiful, with unutterably evil eyes.'' It gives her such a start that she hurries home, only realizing once she gets there that she dropped the grapes.

Warning

When she shares what happened with Mortimer, she admits she not only found the grapes but took them away. He doesn't seem annoyed, but he tells her he thinks it wasn't a smart move on her part - the ''Wood Gods are rather horrible to those who molest them.'' Sylvia tries to shrug this off as only applicable to people who believe in those gods, but Mortimer advises she stay away from the woods, orchards, and any ''horned beasts.'' Total nonsense, of course, but Sylvia still feels a little off. Maybe they'll go back to town soon. Except Mortimer, when she announces this plan, responds that he doesn't think that will happen.

Sylvia is a bit irritated the next day when she realizes she's subconsciously stayed away from the woods. Staying away from the cattle isn't a problem - she's never liked them anyway - and she chooses to steer clear of the ram, too. What's really odd is that she can hear a ''low, fitful piping, as of some reedy flute'' coming from somewhere nearby, but she can't place where. As she climbs up some nearby hills, the flute sound fades away and is replaced by the sound of a deer hunt. She watches as a giant deer with full antlers approaches, surprised that it is heading toward her.

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