This is the English version of Patricia Gagné’s undergraduate essay, “Comment naissent les héros?”, as translated by Morgan Mills. The original French version is also on the site.
A translator’s introduction of his work must always consist of an apology and a word of gratitude. To Patricia, therefore, I say: je m’excuse d’avoir tué vos mots; et merci pour le sacrifice. To such readers as I may have: several issues peculiar to translation arose during the composition of this piece, but of all the crimes against Patricia’s wit that I was obliged to perpetrate, there are two I especially regret. The first is her excellent use of the word fils to mean both ‘son’ and ‘threads’-and thus doubly ‘legacy,’ in the extended metaphor of the Tapestry. The second is her play on near-homophones in dessin and dessein, which both mean ‘design,’ but in the different senses of ‘pattern’ and ‘purpose.’ Such things are difficult to render in a second language. But tortuous as my rendition may be (and I am certain that the subtler injustices are not the least), I trust that some measure of Patricia’s insight and originality will shine through in my English. In any case, I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to work with her ideas.
How are Heroes Born?
by Patricia Gagné, translated from French by Morgon Mills
In the beginning, there was nothing. Then came the Weaver, taking his place at the Loom where he wove Fionavar, the first of all the worlds. He created the gods, the lios alfar, the Dalrei, and the other beings and creatures whose threads make up the Tapestry today. He wove our world as well, an imperfect reflection of this original. Then from the nothingness came Rakoth Maugrim, called the Unraveller, who had no thread in the Tapestry and who would take Fionavar in slavery, for himself. Therefore came war, the Bael Rangat, against the Unraveller, who was defeated and imprisoned beneath the Mountain, Rangat, where he was to wait for a thousand years…
The ‘Weaver’ of Fionavar is Guy Gavriel Kay. Born in a small Saskatchewan town in 1954, he later enrolled in law school, which he would finish in England by the end of the seventies. During his final year of law1, he worked with Christopher Tolkien on The Silmarillion: the unfinished work of J.R.R. Tolkien (Christopher’s father), beyond doubt the best-known author of fantasy. Kay then wrote for the radio series The Scales of Justice for ten years2, and between seasons, which took eight months to produce, he took time to write for himself. In 1984, he gave us his first novel, The Summer Tree (L’Arbre de l’été, translated into French by Élisabeth Vonarburg in 1994), followed by The Wandering Fire in 1986 (Le Feu vagabond, 1994) and The Darkest Road, also in 1986 (La Route obscure, 1995).
The Fionavar Tapestry (the trilogy’s collective title) was welcomed by some fantasy critics as the greatest work in the genre since Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. In light of Kay’s collaboration with Tolkien’s son, moreover, many critics and readers took pains to remark on similarities between the two works. In Loren Silvercloak, for example, we see Tolkien’s Gandalf the Grey; the lios alfar resemble elves; Rakoth Maugrim’s severed hand recalls Sauron’s maiming; and Rakoth’s stronghold of Starkadh resembles Barad Dûr, Sauron’s fortress in Mordor. In an interview published in Solaris magazine, G.G. Kay says of these borrowings from Tolkien’s work: ‘It was a conscious effort to use those elements and see if something new could be done with them’ (Trudel, 23).
We will elaborate upon this effort, beginning with the Fionavar Tapestry itself. The question we will attempt to answer is: can one assert that Simone Vierne’s model of the formative quest is at work within Guy Gavriel Kay’s trilogy? Concentrating on three of the Tapestry’s five heroes, Paul, Kimberly and Jennifer, we will analyse the three stages Simone Vierne identifies in her book Rite, roman, initiation (Ritual, Novel, Initiation); that is to say: preparation, symbolic death, and rebirth.
Before embarking on this problem, however, let us begin with the heroes’ births. In Greco-Roman myth, the births of heroes are often foretold by higher powers: dreams, prophecies, and oracles are just a few examples of ways in which they can be preannounced. The five heroes of the Fionavar Tapestry are foretold not from their births, but from their arrival in Fionavar. Loren, among others, has dreamed of them. Paul is the subject of a prophecy announcing him as the Stranger who will return alive from the Summer Tree. Loren knows that each of ‘the Five’ will have a role to play in the Tapestry, although these roles may not yet be well-defined. Kimberly is the only hero whose actual birth is foreseen. In fact, Ysanne, the Seer of Brennin, dreamed Kimberly’s parents’ meeting, her birth, and the Warstone on her finger. For Jennifer, things are more complicated: Loren has dreamed of her, but he does not know the part which she must play. Nevertheless, when he meets her, he feels that she will suffer: ‘It is not known whether Loren Silvercloak had a vision then of what the future held for Jennifer, but he bestowed upon her a look as tender as he could give […]’ (The Fionavar Tapestry, 24).
According to Vierne, the ‘preparation’ stage of the formative quest comprises three steps: first, the site of the trial must be prepared; secondly, the subject must be purified; and thirdly, he must be separated from the worldly. This final step marks the end of the preparation stage and the beginning of the formative process proper.
For Paul Schafer, preparation seems to begin in our universe, when he is still in Toronto with the other four heroes, even before their encounter with Loren Silvercloak. As the goal of the preparation stage is to ‘bring the novice into a state of religious anguish, in order to prepare his heart for holy revelations,’ (Vierne, 13), we may posit the probe Loren works upon Paul as his preparation. In fact, immediately following this contact, even before the Five remove from the conference to a meeting with ‘Lorenzo Marcus’ and Matt, Paul realizes that there is more to Marcus’ story than is immediately clear. It is the probe which prompts Paul to ask his questions and to take note of what is unfolding around this ‘Lorenzo Marcus,’ and which enables him to realize that the party is being followed by a svart alfar. Perhaps we would be right in supposing that, without this probe, Paul would not have been so open to what Loren was about to tell them.
In The Summer Tree Paul, befriended by the king over the course of a chess game, and having heard Kevin sing ‘Rachel’s song,’ decides to ask whether the king might accept Paul’s sacrifice upon the Summer Tree in his place. Thus begins Paul’s Fionavaran preparation. The site of his trial is a holy place located well away from the everyday living places we might consider ‘profane.’ It is a place inhabited by forces uncontrollable by man, a place of power, a place invested by divine might. These are the holy powers with which the hero must be in contact throughout his initiation, for one thing is clear: desire cannot make an initiate, and only deities or their representatives (shamans, sorcerers, prophets, etc.) can effect the initiation of novices.
The site of Paul’s trial is the Godwood, and more precisely the Summer Tree. He must exit the city and follow a winding path westward through the Godwood, to the very glade wherein the oak looms. Along the path, the characters feel the wind like the breath of the God, a presence at once distant and near, for ‘there was a power in that place beyond the telling’ (115). The Summer Tree is holy, for it is dedicated t
o Mörnir and to it the High Kings of Brennin are called for sacrifice when the kingdom is in need. The site of trial, here the Summer Tree, serves as a liaison between the human world and the divine, and it is this which confers holiness. We may see this link between the worlds in the relationship that exists between the High King (or sacrifice) and the God.
Before being able to enter a sacred place, the hero must be purified or prepared to receive the revelation, to present himself before the divine. In Paul’s case, purification begins with the ritual words which, when pronounced by the High King, identify him as the object of sacrifice: ‘”Now I give you to Mörnir. For three nights and forever,” […]’ (114). Next Paul is stripped naked before the Tree and hung upon it. This laying bare is necessary in order to depart from the worldly and come before the holy. One offers oneself without clothing, in humility, to welcome the divine.
The third step of initiation, the separation of the hero from the worldly plane, combines the first two stages. Accordingly, since the hero has come to an isolated place and been purified, one might already consider him separate from the wider world. We see that in leaving his former life, Paul also leaves the latent state in which he has been languishing for a state of truer ‘being.’ This separation from the everyday isolates him because he will become ‘other,’ which is indeed the goal of initiation into the divine: to shed one’s original state, the state of latency in which one has awaited the revelation, and to achieve one’s true being as revealed by divine intercession. The hero must actually die to be reborn as other. Paul believes that he will die on the Tree, as all other sacrifices have died: it is the price Mörnir exacts for his favour. But already, in presenting himself before the Tree Paul has begun to become other, because he has presented himself of his own accord. His is a true sacrifice, a joy to leave a world in which there has been music. The music he hears is the Brahms movement played for him by the woman he loved, Rachel Kincaid. Shortly after her recital, she was killed in a car accident, with Paul at the wheel.
Before one can be reborn, one must die; yet once one has left worldly life behind, it is impossible to return. For Paul, death seems inevitable, even desirable, for it was in the very hope of dying, or at least of escaping the music, that he accepted Loren’s invitation to come to Fionavar. His death becomes all the more important when it provides a means to end the drought ravaging Brennin. Besides, a true hero is distinguished by his willingness to sacrifice himself [and not merely his willingness to die]. What Paul doesn’t know is that his death will be only symbolic, and that he will return among the living. This leads us to the second stage: symbolic death.
Symbolic death may comprise many ordeals. Generally speaking, these are divided into three categories: ritual killings; the return to an embryonic state (regressus ad uterum); and descent into hell and/or ascent into heaven. We may find two categories in an initiation, or even all three, as easily as we may find but one, yet the goal is always the same: a crossing-over into death. Ritual killing and the return to the embryonic state are closely related, since during regressus ad uterum the hero exists in a state before birth, and thus is not alive. In the category of ritual killing, we find such ascetic practices as fasting and vigil.
For Paul, the ordeals are fasting, vigil, and heat. Once hung upon the Tree, Paul can neither drink nor eat. Moreover, a blazing sun tortures him: ‘he was honest enough to realize that the exposure and the brutal heat, the thirst and immobility were themselves enough to kill him […]’ (Fionavar, 124). Representing a prenatal state, fasting also serves as a test of endurance and opens the hero’s spirit to the forthcoming revelation, just as sleeplessness transports him into a temporal space apart from the earthly time he must leave behind. The heat, the immobility, and the thirst are purificatory ordeals for Paul, who must stand before Mörnir divested of his earthly ties. Paul comes another step closer to the divine when he keeps time by the absence and presence of light. The more time advances, the more Paul feels the God advance and the Tree take possession of his body. In fact, he hears the thunder which begins to rumble as if it came from the Tree and therefore from his own blood, as the Tree absorbs him layer by layer and makes him its own.
Another ordeal awaits Paul before he plunges into that which will prove the most difficult of all to overcome: confrontation with the monstrous. In Paul’s case, the confrontation is unusual, as it takes place through another figure [Cavall]. Theoretically, the hero must be devoured by the monster in order to then re-emerge, living, to combat it. Paul, as he hangs upon the Tree which has begun to possess him, sees the approach of a man he believes to be Loren. In fact it is Galadan, the Wolflord of the andain, who has come to take Paul’s life in order that Mörnir will not come to claim him, for Paul may be too powerful and might intervene in the war against Maugrim. Cavall, Arthur’s dog companion, arrives in the Godwood before Galadan can kill Paul, and the two engage in the battle foretold by Macha and Nemain, the goddesses of war. If Cavall had not come, Paul would have died upon the Summer Tree [regardless of Galadan’s intercession], but during the battle Paul swears a vow to hold out upon the Tree if the dog can win the fight against the Wolflord. He projects all of his spirit, hope, and will onto the dog, since if Cavall is defeated, then Paul’s sacrifice will be made vain.
The final step of Paul’s stripping and symbolic death is the descent into hell. This descent is what enables Paul to rediscover his ‘centre,’ for revelation gives us our ‘self,’ our centre, that which we fundamentally are. The way is hard: it confronts us with our ghosts, our fears, our failures. The image of Paul’s ordeal suggests a labyrinth: tests within tests, leading toward the centre, to the final test but also to the prize, to revelation; bit by bit Paul leaves the world behind to enter into the holy. He is the only one of the three heroes we shall consider in this paper who begins having already started upon his descent-at Rachel’s death. For him, nothing remains but to open the gates to hell and face his demon: Rachel herself.
Next comes the second stripping of Paul, this time a figurative one. The journey into the realm of the dead can be made in three distinct directions: horizontally, for example toward a mythical island; downward toward hell-here, critically, ‘hell’ means of a stay among the dead or among shades, and not necessarily a descent proper, as made by Orpheus-; or, finally, upward toward heaven and the divine. By his symbolic death, the hero gains a part of the learning for which he was chosen, even if only an essential abolishment of prior consciousness. For Paul, the descent is made downward, toward hell. As time passes, the Tree removes the layers of Paul’s consciousness one by one, and purifies him. In the end, nothing remains to him but his true hell, that which pushed him to come to Fionavar and the very reason he offered himself as a sacrifice to the Summer Tree: Rachel.
During his last day on the Tree, when he is near the end of his travail, Paul hears the bells ringing in Paras Derval, knelling the death of the High King. Nevertheless, having come to the final day, Paul must confront Rachel’s death. He therefore returns to the past, to his recollection, so that he falls virtually unconscious and can see Rachel once more. He understands then he must come here, because his road since the very beginning has led toward this end. The night now fallen, he must relive Rachel’s accident, for one must come to Mörnir fully nude: ‘He was naked there, skin to bark; naked in all the ways there were
[…] And he understood then, finally: understood that it had to be naked, truly so, that one went to the God. It was the Tree that was stripping him, layer by layer, down to what he was hiding from’ (150-1). The purpose of the symbolic descent into hell is to have the hero discover his way out, find his centre, his answer, his redemption-and emerge exalted. Paul recalls and even seems to relieve the accident which ended Rachel’s life: an accident for which he felt responsible, because she had just announced that she would marry another man. He relives the questioning and the guilt, believing he may have deliberately chosen to wait before passing to the left of the car that would strike them. Rachel is killed, and Paul tells himself that he had no right to cry, since he believes he wanted her to die: ‘So she had left him and he had killed her, and you weren’t allowed to weep when you have done that. You pay the price, so. So he had come to Fionavar. To the Summer Tree. Class dismissed. Time to die’ (154).
Then the voice of the Goddess Dana is heard, and shows the way out, the centre, to Paul: he did not kill Rachel. He hesitated, but he did so because he is human and not because he was driven by a desire for vengeance or murder. Tears are therefore permitted; there is nothing to forgive… And the rain comes. Paul has succeeded in reaching the centre of his labyrinth to find grief, and a way out through tears. It is Paul’s tears that release rain over the desiccated fields of Brennin: rain to echo the tears which run at last for Rachel Kincaid, the woman he loved. A final element demonstrating his symbolic death is his fainting, and the subsequent vision of Mörnir and Dana. Indeed, Paul’s loss of consciousness here signifies death, and therefore the end of the worldly life he led. When he returns to himself, he will be changed.
Paul has come to understand that he is human, and so he can be reborn among humans and take up his new place. For him, the new birth is double, since he was to die on the Tree in offering himself to the God, but Mörnir sent him back into a changed world. Among the signs of Paul’s rebirth, there is first of all his new mission: he is the Arrow of the God, the response of Mörnir to the thunder at the breaking-free of Rakoth Maugrim. His new power, granted by Mörnir, is not one of destruction, but of defence against evil. It is thanks to Mörnir, among other graces, that Paul is saved with Jennifer when Galadan pursues them in our own universe; that he is able to summon Liranan, the god of the sea, to combat the Soulmonger; and that he can bring Galadan back to the side of good at their third and final meeting. However, perhaps we cannot deem Paul’s rebirth complete until the moment in which he returns Galadan to his father, Cernan of the Beasts, and frees Arthur, Lancelot, and Guinevere from their cycle of resurrection and suffering, for it is not until this moment that he understands his power.
After his ‘death’ a rift seems cut between Paul and other human beings. Indeed, because he has known all forms of death upon the Tree (314), the winter Metran creates with the Cauldron has no effect upon him. Paul is also set apart from others by what he represents. His new name is above all a sign of his new birth: Pwyll Twiceborn, Lord of the Summer Tree. The title alone distances him from the rest of the world as the symbol of the God, the representative of his power; and it is through Paul that Mörnir intervenes in the war against Maugrim despite not normally being permitted to involve himself in human affairs, unless compelled. But can one compel Mörnir? And is it not the Goddess who ultimately forces Paul to cry for Rachel?
Another powerful symbolism here surrounds our hero: that of the tree and of oak, which Paul will carry with him throughout the remainder of the Tapestry. The tree is considered the axis of the world, the link between heaven and earth, the divine and the human, as in the relationship between the initiate and his initiation-which is to leave the worldly life, represented literally by the earth, and to attain the divine at the crown of the tree. One can even incorporate the cyclic symbol of death and resurrection, since the tree loses its leaves, dies, and is reborn each spring. Here we see the link to the death and rebirth of Paul on the Summer Tree. The tree is also a symbol of strength, power, and authority: all qualities one associates with the God, Mörnir of the Thunder. The oak symbolism is relevant for Paul, because the Summer Tree is an oak. In some cultures the oak, being often struck by lightning, is held consecrate to a lightning god, and it is by this tree that the god is thought to express his will. Paul, while he hangs upon the Tree, perceives more strongly with each moment the thunder which rumbles in his body and which announces the arrival of Mörnir among men. Therefore the God is named ‘Mörnir of the Thunder.’ Thought to possess indescribable strength because of the hardness of its wood, the oak represents supreme divinity and immortality: both characteristics we might well attribute to the God of the Summer Tree, for he is the father of the gods of Fionavar.
‘The Dreamer of the Dream’
Just like Paul’s, Kimberly Ford’s preparation begins when she is still in Toronto. After hearing Loren’s story, the five heroes return home separately. That night, Kim has a strange dream: she is on a plain to force a dead man to arise and reveal a secret. She also sees a jewelled ring on her finger, and the ring shines red like Mars-the planet thus invoked as much for its reference to the Roman god of war as for its colour. This event contributes to Kim’s preparation in the same way as Paul’s probe does to his, since it prompts her to ask Matt and Loren questions about Fionavar, just like Paul. She already knows things about this world: things she has seen in dreams, and which cause her not to doubt the truthfulness of the mage and his source: thus she agrees to go with them. Unlike Paul, Kimberly undergoes two initiations, though the second is less marked than the first, since it occurs in stages. She arrives in Fionavar after acting as a ‘hook’ for Loren and Matt’s crossing between universes. After their arrival at the royal palace, she meets Ysanne, the Seer of Brennin, who says: ‘”I have awaited you for so long now, my dear”‘ (54). Ysanne invites Kim to visit her home, where her initiation will begin.
Ysanne lives in a small cottage by a lake, near the border of the Godwood outside Paras Derval. To get there, one must ride [sic]: ‘The path to the lake where Ysanne lived twisted north and west through a valley flanked by gentle hills […]’ (66). Only the Seer and her servant Tyrth live there. It is an isolated place, far from the road. We may consider Ysanne’s cottage the general site of Kim’s initiation, since the two stages of her initiation both take place there. Kim’s first initiation takes place at the edge of the lake near Ysanne’s cottage. The lake is invested with a holy power, for a water spirit, Eilathen, is hidden within. This is the same place where Ysanne herself was initiated at the age of seventeen, and Eilathen acted as mentor for the then young Seer. Thus is demonstrated the link between the human world and the divine that exists within the lake.
Kimberly’s purification is not as obvious as Paul’s. Purification is effected by a laying bare of the initiate before the holy, which for our heroine is made clear by, among other things, the fact that Ysanne knows things about Kim’s life because she has Dreamed them. Kim therefore does not really have to open herself [to Ysanne], since she has already been chosen by the Seer’s dreams. However, she must open herself to inspection by Eilathen, who has answered the flowerfire which compels him to appear before mortals: ‘The stab of Eilathen’s eyes was like ice cutting into her. […] She held the gaze as best she could, held it until it was Eilathen who turned away’ (76). It
is in this moment that Kim is purified: when the spirit recognizes that she is truly Fionavar’s next Seer.
Kim’s separation from the worldly began before she was born, since Ysanne Dreamed her parents’ meeting. Since the Seer has dreamt of her, we can conclude that Kim was already set apart from ordinary people by the role she was destined to play. But Kim’ true separation takes place in steps, bringing her nearer and nearer her centre: her first Dream after meeting Loren and Matt; the help she lent Loren in the crossing by serving as a hook; Ysanne’s recognition of her at the palace as the one Ysanne had been waiting for; the suffering of the earth under a drought which afflicts Kim equally; and finally Eilathen’s seeing in her a future Seer of Brennin. All these events serve to make Kimberly ready to receive her new role.
Next comes Kim’s crucial step, and once this ordeal is past, there can be no question of returning. Kim’s symbolic death comes from Eilathen: Ysanne summons him to weave the Tapestry for the future Seer, enabling Kim to live with the knowledge of Fionavar necessary for her to fulfil her role as Seer. There is not the same mortal danger for Kim as for Paul, Ysanne’s and Eilathen’s intent not being to kill her. Eilathen causes her to see the whole Tapestry just to ensure that Kim will know all she needs to fulfil her new role. It is only the old Kimberly who dies during her experience under the spirit’s spell. For our new Seer, there is no descent into hell, no ascent into heaven, but only the confrontation of the monstrous as represented by the past, and thus akin to regressus ad uterum and the crossing into death. Unlike Paul, Kim is devoured by the monster: ‘And then he was inside her, deeper than any lover had ever gone, more completely, and Kimberly was given the Tapestry. She saw the shaping of the worlds […] Kimberly, though, was oblivious to time and place […] locked like a spell into the images Eilathen’s eyes imposed’ (77).
Fortunately for her, Kim has only to face Eilathen and wait until all is finished. There is no real combat, unless it is against the visions of Rakoth Maugrim and the Bael Rangat; and there is no wound, unless it is all the suffering borne by such a universe as Fionavar. We may perhaps suggest that the new Seer undergoes regressus ad uterum before her rebirth: she is a witness to the weaving of the Tapestry, to the creation of the world, and to the cosmology of the universes from Chaos to today. This idea is synonymous with journey, and that’s exactly what Kim does: she journeys through the Weaver’s grand purpose and design. After seeing the Tapestry, Kim loses consciousness: this is her crossing into death. Thus the death of the old Kimberly brings her to her first new birth.
Changes take place in our heroine when she regains consciousness at sundown a night and a day later, in Ysanne’s cottage. At Kim’s awakening, the old Seer ‘watched as a brutal surge of knowledge came flooding into the grey eyes’ (97). Kim returns into the world transformed, since she carries within herself memories of Fionavar; by these images she has become the most ‘Fionavaran’ of the three characters we will discuss. This new state, this new awareness of the universe into which she has brought them all, marks Kim’s separation not only from the four other heroes, but from all of Fionavar, for now she is its Seer. From now on, she will carry the titles ‘Seer of Brennin’ and ‘Dreamer of the Dream:’ the most apparent symbols of her transformation. Her new power will be primarily to dream of events which have been woven through the loops of time to come; this is also one of her principal responsibilities. The second is to wear the Warstone, the ring which both she and Ysanne have Dreamed on her finger: with it, Kim will wake the dead, bind gods to her command, transport the Five between universes, and even dive deep into the designs of Rakoth Maugrim.
But alas for Kim, her initiation does not stop there. The second stage takes place in Ysanne’s cottage. Under the cottage floor are two magical items: a circlet and a dagger, both awaiting the dreams that will give them their roles in the Tapestry. Kim learns that the awaited dream will likely come to her, and that the responsibility of determining who must bear the circlet is hers. She does not accept this role: not being from Fionavar and having no roots there, but only memories, she could never presume to decide the fate of this universe simply by virtue of having Dreamed.
Ysanne, who has dreamed of this eventually, knows what she must do: die and leave her place to Kim. Kim, by her location and by the power with which she has been invested, is already set apart from the world. With regard to purification, we can say that the pattern traced by the old Seer’s finger upon Kim’s face prepares her to receive a new power. And the symbolic death will not be directly experienced by her, but by Ysanne. In order that Kim may have roots in Fionavar and feel at home therein, the old Seer kills herself with the dagger. With this comes magic, for ‘Who dies with love may make of his soul a gift to the one marked with the pattern on the dagger’s haft’ (138). In killing herself with the dagger, Ysanne, having traced the pattern upon Kim’s face, and by her love for her, gives her soul to Fionavar’s new Seer. Thus Kim comes to possess not only memories of Fionavar, but the memories, dreams, and consciousness of Ysanne.
This gift enables our Seer to gain something more than mere knowledge of this new universe: ‘[T]he Seer had given all she could to Kim, had given all. No longer could Kim say she was not of Fionavar, for within her now pulsed an intuitive understanding of this world more deep even than the knowledge of her own […]’ (139). Kim is therefore born again once more, with new understanding, and as an outward sign of the old Seer within her, her hair has turned white. She is now wholly ready to take her place in the Tapestry, wholly ready to suffer and to make those she loves suffer for the part she must play…
‘Saddest story of all the long tales told.’ (366)
Jennifer Lowell is the character who, of the three we shall study, has the most difficult initiation to define, since hers takes far more time than the two others’ and there are a few variations in the three steps. But let’s look first at her preparation. Jen is what one might consider a passive character, as she does not take real action throughout the trilogy except to protect her child. She arrives in Fionavar and does not seem to want to root herself as do Paul and Kim. She lets herself be carried by the current and submits to what must be without trying to take part, or even really to understand what is happening.
Be that as it may, one evening she finds herself outside the palace of Paras Derval among the lios alfar (wondrous creatures not unlike elves), and she spends the night listening to their beautiful music under the stars. They are ambushed by Galadan and his wolves, and Jennifer is taken captive. Galadan takes her north to where Avaia the Black, a gigantic swan, awaits to take her to Maugrim’s fortress, Starkadh. Maugrim’s fortress is the site of Jennifer’s initiation. Located in Fionavar’s north-west, near Mount Rangat, it is ‘huge, piled slabs of windowless stone, lightless, unyielding. Fortress of a god’ (240). Up in Fionavar’s far north, Starkadh is a universe unto itself. Not only is it far from the rest of the world, but it is far from the benevolent powers which oversee the rest of the world. Jennifer travels not toward the holy, but toward the profane: toward the Darkness of the Unraveller.
For an initiation, one must stand purified before the God who will impart the revelation, but for Jennifer, no purification can be possible, only sullying, for she comes before Maugrim already pure, and he destroys her. Rakoth reveals himself to Jennifer in this ‘deepest place of his power’ (242), so that she believes she can descend no further into
horror and fear, and he takes her by force. ‘”You will have nothing of me that you do not take,”‘ is her response to the Unraveller (ibid). Thus her rape will be double, for he must take her both physically and mentally. Her stripping is also double, for her clothing is torn away and Rakoth also takes possession of her spirit and her memories. In this place of Darkness so great that it swallows the Light, Maugrim tears away Jennifer’s Light.
When one suffers a traumatic event, the spirit may project itself defensively into a place of peace and love, but Rakoth pursues Jennifer all throughout her soul and takes the forms of her loved ones, the better to break her down. This is Jennifer’s descent into hell: being forced to every man she has ever loved taking her by force and ruining her, even to faces from prior lives she cannot recall. She never leaves the worldly plane, but for her the worldly is the holy world: the world before Rakoth Maugrim. She confronts all of these monsters, and does nothing but suffer and lose, bit by bit, her humanity and her light. She does not find her centre, she does not vanquish the beast, and she does not emerge exalted. Hell stays with her for a long time, and she remains there for months, unable to find the strength to climb back to the surface.
For Jennifer right then, rebirth seems impossible. When Kimberly, aided by the power of the Baelrath (the Warstone), breaks Jennifer free of Maugrim’s prison and thrusts the Five into the crossing between worlds to bring them back to Toronto, they find among them a tattered young woman who has lost all desire for love, affection, even human contact. Her own body offends her, and she cannot bear to be touched by anyone: she is out of reach, she exists no more, her light is extinguished. She still bears the stink of the black swan who bore her to Starkadh, and she still feels the Darkness of Maugrim devouring the light around her. One cannot so easily heal from having one’s soul cut open. The only thing that keeps her alive is that Rakoth said before leaving her in the hands of a servant: ‘”[…] she must die. There is a reason” (243). Jennifer is pregnant by the Unraveller, and she is convinced that the child she bears is the reason she was to be killed, though she does not understand its significance.
The child comes into the world after a desperate crossing into Fionavar, when Jennifer prematurely gives birth to a boy, and gives him to a woman she met in Paras Derval when she was still active in the world. Once the child is born, everything becomes more bearable for Jennifer: without the invading blackness of Rakoth, she can be calm. There is still no light in her life, but she is no longer only a tortured body. Slowly, she opens herself to the outside world, and is helped by the man she loved most in all of her past lives: Arthur Pendragon.
Arthur is the Warrior awoken by Kimberly to help in the war against the Unraveller. Upon seeing Jennifer, he calls her Guinevere: his legendary wife. Arthur’s return into Jennifer’s life rekindles a flame of desire and love, but the memory of Starkadh imposes itself anew upon her, and because of it she cannot turn to this man whom she has loved so greatly in every world. This jolt of love for Arthur in itself demonstrates Jennifer’s progress toward the path of Light, though the Darkness remains strong. The hope of a return to normal is thus possible.
Yet a return must wait until the eve of Arthur’s departure for Cader Sedat, the island hiding place of Metran-former First Mage of Brennin, who has betrayed them by joining forces with Rakoth Maugrim-and the Cauldron with which he has caused Fionavar’s winter. Arthur visits Jennifer to announce his departure for the island, and when she sees him, the last remnants of Starkadh finally fall away:
‘”Oh Guinevere,” she head him say after a space of time, “My need is great.”
“And mine, she replied, feeling the last dark webs of Starkadh tear asunder so that she stood open to desire. […] she had spun free from Rakoth, and she was stronger for every single thing she had survived […]’ (420).
From this moment on, Jennifer becomes once more a woman capable of love and compassion, and of living in touch with others. She goes therefore to await Arthur’s return at the Anor Lisen, a tower built on the coast. But upon his return, another surprise is in store: the arrival of Lancelot. In the end, these three form the perfect triangle, and Jennifer becomes Guinevere forever. Her initiation has been difficult, and one might even say it isn’t a true initiation, but a reinitiation into the love she was once able to feel. Her new birth thus brings her to remember having been Guinevere, the queen and betrayer of Arthur, and the name change symbolizes a break with the past. Thus ends the longest and saddest story ever told…
If we return to the elements we began with, we can easily confirm that the model of the initiate’s quest is at work within Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry. We have been able to demonstrate, by analysis of Paul’s, Kimberly’s, and Jennifer’s initiations, that all of its steps are present, though sometimes with variation. But despite all that we have studied, it is difficult to say that rebirth does not take place outside these moments, as all three characters’ development continues throughout the entire Tapestry.
Paul learns to love again and falls in love with Jaelle, High Priestess of Dana; despite her best intentions, Kimberly causes much anguish and suffering before finally learning that she is not a thrall to her power; and Jennifer, by her sacrifice in giving life to the child of Maugrim, also weaves ruin, since it is this child who will destroy the Unraveller, and she herself will leave her friends to depart with Lancelot and Arthur. What these things allow us to say is that an initiation is never clear-cut, because characters never cease to evolve, humanity being ever capable of progress. After all, who can tell the Weaver’s design from the Tapestry’s?
1 In fact Kay was admitted to his degree by the University of Toronto in 1978, and worked on The Silmarillion from 1974-1975 [translator’s note].
2 Kay wrote for The Scales of Justice from 1982-1989 [translator’s note].
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