This is a paper written by Joshua Fontanna for a grade 12 high school English class in 2009.
Why are you reading this? Do you honestly think it will be worth your time? You don’t have to do this you know. No one is forcing you to. Look, you are still reading. Why do you continue? Are you fated to carry on, or is it simply out of choice that you do so? It is this very question that The Fionavar Tapestry answers again and again. No one is destined to one path in life because of the idea of freedom of individual will. The trilogy revolves around the idea of a “Weaver”, the head of a pantheistic world. This central divine figure creates a world that is constantly described as a tapestry that it is woven together with preconceived thought, binding the universe to fate; however there is a random thread on the tapestry, a group of shadowy riders called Owein’s Hunt. Even though these shadowy riders represent the randomness of the world, they still bind a child to them, who is fated to become the leader of the hunt. Yet by free will, this child manages to fight his fate, and leave the Hunt. Kay’s inclusion of Arthurian legend also plays a role in the theme of free will. Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot are fated to live and relive, again and again, forever. It is by free will that they overcome this fate, detaching themselves from the metaphorical tapestry. Finally, the power of free will is most evident in every character of the world of Fionavar. Due to their unusual roles in this world, Kim and Darien find themselves fighting fate more often than others. Throughout The Fionavar Tapestry, the idea of free will triumphing over a universe bound by fate is effectively shown through Owein and the Wild Hunt, the inclusion of Arthurian legend, and the defining choices of Kim and Darien.
Owein’s Hunt starts out as a simple myth in The Fionavar Tapestrybut it is later seen as an elaborate symbol that shows the power of free will. The hunt represents the randomness of the world of Fionavar. The ancient giants called the Paraiko walk across the whole world, naming what they saw, “binding them to the tapestry”. The shadowy riders referred to as Owein’s Hunt attack them, severing their ties to the tapestry by destroying their defined fate. It is “free will and what Kay calls ‘wild magic’ [that] oppose the forces of fate” (Penfield III), giving the people of Fionavar “some freedom to shape their own destinies” (Kay, 558). Flidais, a wood spirit, ends up revealing the nature of the freedom-driven Hunt to Guinevere.
The Weaver wove the Hunt and set them free on the Loom, that we, in our turn, might have a freedom of our own because of them. Good and evil, Light and Dark, they are in all the worlds of the Tapestry because Owein and the kings are here, following the child on Iselen, threading across the sky. (558)
The “wild magic” of the Hunt represents free will itself, and is the reason Fionavar can have some freedom beyond their “woven” fate. But even so, the Hunt still binds a child to them who is destined to be their leader. A young boy named Finn who is called to the “longest road” knows his destiny, and willingly becomes one of the Hunt. It is not until the final, climactic battle of the trilogy that he finally realizes that he too has a freedom of choice.
So went her thoughts in the moment Finn pulled his white horse away from the others in the sky and began to guide her south…Finn was fighting his horse, which had reacted to Owein’s cry. The horse was thrashing and buckling in the high reaches of the air, lashing out with her hooves. But Finn held firm…then the wailing changed, everything changed…and Finn dan Shahar, flung free from a great height, shadow and smoke no longer, becoming a boy again, mortal even as he fell, regaining his shape, recaptured by it. (743-44)
In this world bound by fate, even the very essence of free will still had to unite Finn with his destiny to lead them. He became one of the hunt in order to fulfill a prophesy, but it is his refusal of the longest road that shows how the freedom of choice will always triumph over fate.
The doomed Arthurian love triangle is a new twist that reveals a bit more about the power of freedom of choice over fate. Kimberly Ford, now a summoning seer empowered by the Baelrath, is sent to summon King Arthur from the dead to aid in the battle for Fionavar. We learn that in his first life, Arthur had “ordered the children slain” and “when the babies died the Weaver had marked him down for a long unwinding doom. A cycle of war and expiation under many names, and in many worlds, that redress be made for the children and for love” (Kay, 285). It is not revealed why he killed the children in his first life, but it is known for sure that the Weaver binds Arthur to the fate of having to relive his terrible life over and over again for what he did. When he is called to help Fionavar, he sails with an army to Cader Sedat, the small island carrying the magic responsible for an endless winter. Arthur sacrifices himself to destroy the magic, but when he survives the swift encounter, he still thinks his world is bound by fate. After he finds the chamber of the dead on the island, he is given the choice to awaken Lancelot, who also loved Guinevere, and allow more grief into his life, or leave him at his rest. same way over again, he chooses to awaken Lancelot, this time out of free will. Arthur’s cursed fate includes Guinevere and Lancelot, but it is by Flidais’ story of the Wild Hunt that Guinevere trusts that their fate is not always set in stone. Nevertheless, Arthur refuses to believe this, and when he finds out that the final battle will be fought at a place called Camlann, he remembers the name and knows he will die in this battle because he “never sees the end in any case” (460). Arthur embraces his fate for the second time when he moves to take the challenge of the general of Rakoth’s army, Uathach. But when Guinevere refuses because of her newfound faith in the idea of freewill, Diarmuid, the prince of Brennin, decides to take this challenge for himself.
You do not have to do this. It is neither written nor compelled. And Paul glimpsed then, with a shiver of primal recognition, the thread that led from that moment to this. Because it was for Arthur and Lancelot, and for Guinevere, that Diarmuid, in all the wild anarchy of his nature, has claimed this dance as his own…that Arthur and Lancelot, both, might go forward past this day. (705)
“Diarmuid represents the ‘possibility of human free will in the person of an anarchic spirit” (McLennan) because it is by his act of self sacrifice, driven by free will, that Arthur is able to survive the battle and live on to see the end. It is here that Arthur’s curse has been lifted and his fate defeated. It is the choice of sacrifice that shows how free will triumphs over fate yet again.
Although the power of free will is subtly inserted into every character in Fionavar, Kim and Darien stand out the most because of the importance of their choices. Kimberly Ford, one of the five from earth who became the seer of Fionavar, believes strongly that her life is bound by fate. But this time the fate comes packaged in the form of a red ring called the Baelrath, or warstone. This ring shines when it wants Kim to summon someone or something for the better of Fionavar. “The power of the Baelrath is not subtle or mild or beautiful- it is a coercive, summoning force, powerful, harsh, demanding, and unrelenting” (Taylor) and Kim realizes by the third book that all of her summons so far have caused relentless pain to those around her even though it was always for the good of Fionavar. When Matt Soren is named the King of the Dwarves by the crystal dragon of Calor Diman, the Baelrath shines on Kim’s finger, ordering her to bind it to her summons to aid in the final battle. But after a long fight inside, she refuses fate.
‘No’, said Kimberly Ford quietly, with absolute finality. ‘I have come this far and have done this much. I will go no farther on this path. There is a point beyond which the quest for light becomes a serving of the dark…we have a choice Matt. We are not slaves, even to our own gifts’. (Kay, 683,7)
The fate bound ring demands that she bind the dragon to aid in the final battle, but after Kim sees how important the crystal dragon is to the society of dwarves and remembers how the Baelrath always causes ruthless pain, she refuses it. She even goes so far as to suggest that even if fate ends in the triumph of good, there is a point where yielding to fate can be evil. Kim finds this out almost right before the final confrontation between good and evil. But it is her best friend Jennifer, who has been reawakened as Guinevere, that knows this fact all along. By knowing that fate should not dictate their lives, she was able to protect her son Darien’s neutrality by keeping him from his fate as the son of Rakoth Maugrim. No one else seems to understand this, and when they try to force him to a life on the side of light, it only draws him to the dark side. From the very beginning of his journey alone, it seems as if he is destined to become a servant of the dark. But when he finally confronts his father, he realizes that Guinevere is the only one who trusts him to make his own choice, and uses the power of Lokdal to defeat Rakoth once and for all. “He wondered if anyone would ever understand what had happened. He hoped so. So that someone might come, in time, to his mother and tell her of the choice he’d made. The choice of Light, and of love.” (737) When the side of light attempts to bind Darien to themselves, they alter his randomness and ultimately fate him to side with the dark. But once again, the power of free will triumphs and “in the end it is that gift of freedom of choice that decides his fate” (Marcus). So if ‘fate’ is decided by free will, then it is no longer real fate. Every character has a choice.
Guy Kay himself said, “I have changed the message of the story to one in which even the most apparently inexorable fate, the most preordained doom, is not and need not be forever fated and doomed. There are outlets and escapes where joy can infuse itself into tragedy.” (McLennan) His intention was clearly that in Fionavar, freedom of choice will trump fate every single time. This can be seen predominantly through Owein’s Wild Hunt, the inclusion of Arthurian legend, and the individual characters. The wild magic of Owein’s Hunt is the very definition of choice in the world of Fionavar, so when they bind a child to lead their shadowy steeds through the stars, it is his freedom of choice that keeps him from this eternal destiny. Another never ending cycle of doom is Arthur’s reliving over and over. Because of this curse, he believes fate will never be lifted from his shoulders, but it is the sacrifice of Diarmuid that enables him too, to have free will. Finally, Kim Ford, the powerful seer of Fionavar, and Darien, the son of Rakoth Maurgim and Guinevere both exhibit attributes of preordained doom. But in the end, it is their choice for the true quest for light that they manage to triumph over their destinies and shape their futures on their own. In the end, “the balance between wild and woven, free will and fate, has been restored and the soul-rending choices are done with for the time being.” (Taylor) But if The Fionavar Tapestry demonstrates one thing, it is that when the fate of the universe starts to turn, it can always be changed by the powerful force of free will.
Kay, Guy. The Fionavar Tapestry. United States: Canadian Cataloguing in Publication Data, 1995.
Penfield, Wilder. Author! Author!. Toronto Sun, 09 Apr 1989: S15
Taylor, Dena. The Double-Edged Gift: Power and Moral Choice in The Fionavar Tapestry. Bright Weavings. Deborah Meghnagi. 11 Feb 2002
Marcus, Richard. Book Review: The Fionavar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay. September 25, 2005
McLennan, Shelley. The Themes of Fate and Free-will in the Fionavar Tapestry. 2002. Bright Weavings. Deborah Meghnagi. 11 Feb 2002.