BY Jacek Dukaj
Yet another fantasy trilogy, I thought, picking up The Summer Tree, the first tome of The Fionavar Tapestry, by Guy Gavriel Kay, an author completely unknown to me. The note about the author said he is a professional Tolkienist – that gave me goosebumps! However, several dozen pages were enough for GGK to grab me by the throat.
It is very difficult to do something original in fantasy if you don’t want to be immediately excluded from the genre for not following the canon well enough; the only field, then, which allows a certain freedom, is language and style. It would seem that the Tapestry’s creator chose to follow this road. Even though the story takes place amidst classic scenery (medieval castles, mysterious forests, wild mountains, elfish meadows) and with a classic cast (kings old and wise, princes young and brash, mages, warriors, demons, gods, demigods, dwarves, etc), it is told in a way characteristic of modern day social novels. The rhythm of narration brings to mind Hemingway’s behaviorism rather than Tolkien’s fairy tale. The reason for this is surely not the origin of the main characters, five students brought from twentieth century Canada by the power of Fionavarian magic. Soon it becomes evident that the rules of truly Freudian psychology also completely bind the characters. Style begins to influence plot; language transforms the described setting; I also happen to know that GGK wrote the Tapestry without a rigid plan, that he invented the plot successively.
Very incredible things happen in The Wandering Fire. One of the main characters dies in the middle of the trilogy (were it in battle, but no! – he commits suicide). A heroine , kidnapped and raped by The Evil One is saved but is terribly psychologically scarred, and does not want an abortion; a demigod is born, Darien, inside of whom Light and Darkness coexist. Darien makes his choices not between some higher ideals, as fairy tale logic would indicate, but between mother and father, for such is the psychology of a lost child. I find this theme to be the most interesting of the trilogy. Many other themes are interesting as well.
The main plot structure is classical: the time of Evil’s invasion of the southern lands approaches. Five friends are brought from our world to fulfill a prophecy and aid the meager forces of the defenders. They are quickly endowed with the roles of tragic and/or heroic heroes; they take part in expeditions to faraway places to attain specific goals, which aren’t always ancient artifacts. But the Tapestry is still fantasy, and luckily thrifty with words, for the whole trilogy could easily fit into one tome of a Jordan epic.
GGK undoubtedly possesses the faculty to manipulate the distance that separates the reader from the story spelled out before him. In spite of the impressive quantity of mythological characters, possessing superhuman powers and surpassing humans in every possible way – not once does the author cross the line of over-exaggeration, behind which lurks, fatal in this kind of case, grotesquerie.
In several places GGK – quite unnecessarily- gets carried away by postmodernism and, for example, brings Lancelot and King Arthur into his world. Certain awkwardness, purely technical, can also be found in the author’s beloved multi-layered retrospectives in which he gets mixed up between past and past-past tenses – however this could be the effect of too literal a translation. These are just details, which I probably shouldn’t complain about, since I have finally found fantasy that I can recommend to anyone with a clear conscience.