The Double-Edged Gift: Power and Moral Choice in The Fionavar Tapestry

by Dena Taylor, University of Toronto

The central image sustaining The Fionavar Tapestry is that of the Weaver at the Worldloom and the Tapestry he weaves, an image which represents time and the fate or destiny of all the characters and of the prime world Fionavar itself. Like a tapestry, with its balance of warp and weft, the trilogy depends upon an intricate weaving of thematic and imagistic symmetries: Light and Dark; past and present; free will and fate, or wild and woven; the God and the Goddess; and double-edged gifts or powers which deliver great benefits at an equally great cost. The deftly-handled tension between opposites in the trilogy does allow in the end for a series of symmetrical resolutions in the comic, romance tradition of literature. But it recognizes that, as William Blake said, “Without Contraries is no progression.” In other words, the resolutions are not static. A sense of tension and conflict remains, a sense that although Eden is temporarily re-established, the basic dialectic of the Tapestry is eternal.

Fionavar, like Roger Zelazny’s Amber, is the true Earth: the first, the ‘real’ world of which all others, including our own, are only shadows. Its fate, therefore, is the fate of all the worlds, and everything that happens on Fionavar, for good or ill, is reflected through-out the cosmos or, in the terms of the trilogy, in all the Weaver’s worlds.

Much of the first book of the trilogy, The Summer Tree, is devoted to developing a tension between two different levels of reality. We begin with the reality of Earth, in which the five protagonists–Kimberly Ford, Paul Schafer, Kevin Laine, Jennifer Lowell, and Dave Martyniuk–are students or recent graduates of the University of Toronto. There is nothing particularly unusual about them. We sense that they are all intelligent; we have hints of something unusual about Kim, Paul and Jennifer, but these hints are best appreciated with hind-sight. We certainly sense that they have their problems–Paul is closed in on himself neurotically, almost suicidally; Dave has profound family problems; Kevin is a bit too glib and flashy. When the five “cross” through the timeless spaces between the worlds to Fionavar, they experience at first only the ordinary, surface reality of Fionavar, in which they are guests involved in the celebrations, escapades and politics of court life.

But reality soon becomes much more complex as the archetypal or mythic identities of the characters overtake them, and for all but Dave the process is a painful one. Henceforth, the five protagonists must exist on two levels of reality simultaneously, and although they reap certain benefits and powers from the situation, the cost, particularly in terms of the moral choices which they are then required to make, is almost too high to bear. They are the unwitting recipients of a very double-edged gift.

Kimberly Ford and Paul Schafer are the first to be overtaken by their archetypes. Kim’s identity as the Wise Woman, the Seer of the High Kingdom of Brennin, is thrust upon her when the previous Seer, Ysanne, kills herself with the dagger Lokdal, thereby making of her soul and all her knowledge as Seer a gift to Kim. Kim, however, is profoundly uncomfortable with the knowledge of Ysanne’s ultimate sacrifice, and she is uncomfortable with the tremendous burden of duty and responsibility which must be borne by the Seer of Brennin. The fate of all the worlds hangs on her dreams and visions, and her ability to advise and guide.

Paul becomes, on the level of archetypal reality, the Hanged God. By surviving hanging three nights on the Summer Tree, Fionavar’s World Tree, he mirrors Odin’s hanging on Yggdrasil, and the ravens of thought and memory who ever after accompany Paul mirror the ravens of Odin. The Fisher King myth is also related, since Paul is substituting for the High King Ailell, whose age and ill-health are mirrored in the drought destroying the land. Like all the rest except for Dave, Paul’s power, once it comes to him, is a difficult one to bear. It sets him apart from everyone and everything, and it fails him when he wants to use it, to defeat his sworn enemy, Galadan, or to help in battle.

Ailell’s acceptance of Paul as his substitute is, in fact, the first instance in the trilogy of moral duplicity, of power accepted without a willingness to pay the price for that power. Ailell seized the throne of Brennin as a young man, and enjoyed the power of ruling it for fifty years. But when the time comes for him to sacrifice himself for the health of the land, he cannot bring himself to do it and is thankful to accept Paul’s offer. Paul himself is trying to avoid another moral issue, the guilt he feels at having been, nine months earlier, the driver of the car which spun out of control, killing his lover, who had told him only seconds before that she intended to marry another.

Kevin is the Beloved Son/Lover/Sacrifice of the Mother Goddess. It is his destiny, and a number of things in his life have always pointed toward the role he will one day play, most notably his lovemaking and the song he wrote after the death of Rachel Kincaid, Paul’s lover. Though he wrote the song months before he came to Fionavar, he says in it:

Love, do you remember
My name? I was lost
In summer turned winter
Made bitter by frost.
But when June comes December
The heart pays the cost.

When we first hear these words, in The Summer Tree, they have no meaning, except that they drive Paul to attempt suicide by taking Ailell’s place on the Summer Tree. It is only in the second book of the trilogy, The Wandering Fire, on Maidaladan or Midsummer’s Eve, when June has indeed become December because of the unnaturally prolonged winter created by the evil Rakoth Maugrim, that Kevin becomes in a very real sense the heart that pays the cost. By making love with the Goddess and sacrificing his life willingly to her, he pays the price that enables the Goddess to intercede, to break the winter and bring summer once again. And he answers his own question, when he remembers that his true, archetypal name is Liadon, the Beloved Son.

There are, in fact, a number of significant symmetries in the sacrifices Kevin and Paul make of themselves. Neither acts for particularly noble reasons–this is indeed one of the ways in which Kay intentionally diverges from the standard devices of epic fantasy. Paul acts out of a sense of frustrated guilt; Kevin has been plagued throughout the first book and half of the second by a sense of frustration that he, so powerful and effective a person in his own world, is apparently an ineffectual fifth wheel in this one. Kevin’s is a physical rebirth, achieved through sexuality; Paul’s is a completely spiritual rebirth, totally asexual. Cavall, the archetypal Companion dog who appears periodically in the trilogy to reinforce particular thematic patterns, leads Kevin to his death, but saves Paul when Galadan comes to kill him as he hangs helpless on the Tree. And finally, both reflect myths of redemption: Paul, who redeems the earth through water, saving it from the droughts of summer, reflects the northern myths of the Fisher King and the Hanged God; while Kevin, who saves the earth through blood from the snows of winter, reflects the southern myths of Attis, Osiris or Adonis.

Jennifer Lowell is Guinevere, the Doomed Queen. Of all the five Earth characters, we know least about her. Beyond the facts that she is Catholic and that her father’s name is James, we really know nothing about her life before the action of the novels begins. Her Earth reality is the most shadowy of all, and her archetypal reality most replete with history, meaning, and consequence.

Dave Martyniuk is the Hunter/Warrior, and in assuming this identity he comes at last into his own. Of the five, he was the most ill-suited to his life in the reality of Earth and is the best-suited to life on Fionavar. On Earth, his size makes him feel clumsy and awkward. The only standard by which he is judged by his irascible father is the high academic one set by his elder brother Vincent. But, by the workings of his destiny, he pulls away from the other four at the instant of crossing between the worlds to Fionavar and so does not come with them to Paras Derval, capital of the High Kingdom of Brennin. Instead, he appears right at the outskirts of the camp of the Dalrei, the Plains people whose nomadic, hunting life puts a premium on just the characteristics in which Dave excels: physical endurance and speed; a rigorous code of honesty and ethics; a way of life that values appropriate action over words.

While the five are learning to deal with their own dual natures, with the difficulties of living in two different realities at once, they are also confronted by the very present reality of history and myth in Fionavar. Every event in the current conflict with Rakoth Maugrim the Unraveller hearkens back either to the first war with him, the Bael Rangat, a thousand years earlier, or to the very earliest period when the Wild Hunt (warlike aggressors) and the Paraiko (complete pacifists) were virtually the only inhabitants of a balanced world. Even on this earliest level of time and reality in Fionavar we see a dialectic between woven and wild–that is, between those things which are bound into time and fate by the Tapestry and those elements which are completely free to act and are not constrained by time. At that time, the giant Paraiko walked by day, naming what they saw–that is, binding them into time and fate–while the Wild Hunt flew by night in the sky, hunting and killing what they saw–releasing them from time and fate.

One half of the equation, the woven element, the tie to time and fate, is connected to the inclusiveness of the Tapestry, to the fact that past, present and future are woven together and that the entire conflict between the forces of Light and Dark is also embodied within the Tapestry. Only Rakoth Maugrim, who comes from outside of death and outside of time, is not part of the Tapestry, at least not until he binds himself to it by raping Jennifer and engendering a child, Darien.

But all the other immortals, despite their apparent but in many ways illusory freedom from the constraints of time, must act according to the limitations of their own natures and attributes, and they must abide by the dictates of the Weaver, one of which is that they may not intercede in the wars with Maugrim. In the current conflict, it is only because of the sacrifices Paul and Kevin make of themselves that Dana, the Mother Goddess, is able to intercede. Again, when Paul calls Liranan, the god of the sea, to try to enlist his aid in reaching Cader Sedat, the god warns him that he, like all the gods, is barred from acting on the Tapestry.

On the other hand, when Dave blows Owein’s Horn at the battle of the river Adein and unleashes the Wild Hunt, not realizing that they will kill the forces of both light and dark in-discriminately, wildly, as is their nature, the goddess Ceinwen knows that she will pay for interceding and stopping the Hunt. The sea god, Liranan, also intercedes when he knows he should not. Just before the ship crashes onto the rocks of the bay of the Anor Lisen, Paul summons the sea god, who stills the water and saves their lives: “I will pay for this,” he says to Paul, “and pay, and be made to pay again, before the weaving of time is done. But I owe you, brother . . . . This is not binding; this is a gift” (DR 130). The immortals must always maintain the balance within the Tapestry. Though powerful far beyond the comprehension of any mortal save Paul, they too are woven on the Loom and subject to time and fate. All choices must be paid for.

Just as there are different levels of reality in the trilogy, there are at least three different senses of time. There is the ordinary stream of time in which we all imagine we live. There is also the extended time stream of the immortals and the long-lived lios alfar, the elves of light. Ra-Tenniel, Lord of the lios alfar, makes the distinction: “All men are impatient. It is woven into the way time runs for you, into the shortness of your threads on the Loom. In Daniloth [land of the lios alfar] we say it is a curse and a blessing, both” (DR 34). Most important, there is the eternal present of the Tapestry in which past, present and future are all woven together. It is this sense of time in which the workings of destiny and fate operate. Thus Kevin writes a song which foreshadows his own death months before he comes to Fionavar, and Kim dreams of calling up the Warrior, King Arthur, on the night before she crosses to Fionavar for the first time.

The link between the eternal present of the Tapestry and the ordinary stream of time is frequently formed by dreams. Ysanne, for example, dreamt of Kim for the first time twenty-five years before Kim came “to meet her own destiny” (ST 82) on Fionavar, on the very night that Kim’s parents first met. And the meeting of Kim’s parents had in its turn been presaged by the dreams of her mother’s grandmother, who was well known to have the Sight (ST 82). As Ysanne tells Kim, “Our gift as Seers is to walk the twists that lie in the weave of time and bring their secrets back” (ST 135). And as Kim herself realizes later, “The Seers walked in their dreams along loops spun invisibly in the Weaver’s threading through the Loom” (WF 27).

The ability to walk in dreamtime is also understood and valued by the Dalrei, the Plains people among whom Dave arrives in Fionavar. Each tribe of the Dalrei has a shaman, a wounded healer who gains the Sight to see the workings of the Tapestry and the dreamworld–to see “into the souls of men and down the dark avenues of time” (WF 59)–by having his physical eyes put out, a concept to which Kay returns, in a far more highly politicized context, in A Song for Arbonne. It is also in the dreamtime that the gods and goddesses communicate with mortals. Dave first meets Ceinwen in Faelinn Grove, in a small clearing that did not exist until he stepped into it. He meets her again on the mound she has created to hold the dead of Celidon, while time stops for the survivors of the battle itself.

All of the gifts of the immortals are double-edged. In other words, for every gift there is a price and, to make the situation even more difficult, the price must usually be paid by someone close to the recipient, but not by the recipient him or herself. Ailell, for example, explains to Paul that the anchoring law of the skylore, given a thousand years earlier to Amairgen Whitebranch by the god Mornir, determines that a mage’s power is drawn directly from the source to whom he is bonded, so that a mage can do no more than his source can sustain: “Whatever a mage does, someone else pays the price” (ST 72).

Though the gods are generally aware of the double-edged nature of the gifts they give, the gifts of the gods sometimes act in ways that they have not and could not have foreseen. The beauty of Lisen–the gift of the goddesses–and the shining exaltation of Amairgen–the result of the god’s gift to him of the skylore–cause them to fall in love. The ultimate result, however, is that Lisen dies, Amairgen is condemned to a millenium of ghostly wandering, and the andain wolflord Galadan swears vengeance on all of Fionavar for the loss of Lisen. Thus, from the well-meant actions of the immortals comes a millenium-long tragedy of ill-fated love that mirrors the tragedy of Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot and nearly destroys Fionavar.

Similarly, Ceinwen, the Goddess in her Huntress form, falls in love with Dave and gives him a gift, Owein’s Horn which, when blown, g
ives forth a glorious sound of Light. It is not truly hers to give, and she intends only that he should blow it and discover this heartening quality of it. However, “it is a part of the design of the Tapestry that not even a goddess may shape exactly what she wills” (ST 275) and she cannot know that Levon, who travels with Dave, will know its other, vastly more important trait–it can be used to release the Wild Hunt.

The Fionavar Tapestry makes use of magical objects which, however, are not unlimited in their power. In the tradition of folk and fairy tale, there are strict limits to the nature of the power and strict conditions on their use. Here as well, the condition is invariably that a heavy price must be paid for their possession. At the beginning of the trilogy, the three most important objects of power are all in the possession of Ysanne the Seer, and they become the responsibility of Kim when she assumes Ysanne’s role. These are Lokdal’s dagger, the Circlet of Lisen, and the Baelrath, the red Warstone which is set in a ring. Like the other two, the dagger is a double-edged gift. It can be used to give one’s soul to another person, but the price is one’s place after death at the side of the Weaver. This price Ysanne willingly pays, even though it means she will never be reunited with her beloved husband, and ultimately Darien, Jennifer’s son, pays the same price in order to destroy Rakoth Maugrim.

In addition to guarding the dagger and then watching helplessly as Darien takes it to bring as a gift to his father, Kim must also deal with the other two double-edged gifts in Ysanne’s cellar. She is compelled to wear and act as the instrument of the Baelrath, the Warstone of the war goddesses Macha and Nemain, summoning to war all whom it names. She must first, for example, drag the Warrior, King Arthur, from his grave. This is difficult enough, but she realizes at least that she is only fulfilling his doom. Since that was shaped long ago, she neither creates nor changes anything.

Far more difficult for her is the realization that she must destroy the Paraiko, the obstinately pacifist giants, by forcing them to take part in the war against Rakoth Maugrim. Here too, however, there is a mitigating factor which, though it makes her feel no less guilty, at least allows her to proceed with the summoning: the Paraiko have acted with a certain degree of moral duplicity in clinging to their pacifism in the face of the tremendous threat represented by Maugrim. They had, as their leader Ruana admits to Kim when he comes to bind the Wild Hunt, clung too long to their sanctity, very nearly at the expense of all the forces of Light (DR 381), and though the method Kim uses to summon them–showing them the rape of Jennifer–is almost unbearably harsh, it is the only way to sting them out of their moral complacency and into appropriate action. As she warns the Dwarves whom she will also be compelled to bind to the cause of light, “whatever blessing I carry will not be unmixed.” But she is compelled by the Baelrath to summon the Dragon of the Dwarves to battle the Dragon of Rakoth Maugrim, she refuses, knowing it will be destroyed and with the spirit of the Dwarves. What she doesn’t know yet is that others, the young boy Tabor and his unicorn, will have to fight the Dragon–they, not her, must pay the price for her refusal. She must, in sum, cause enormous pain and sacrifice to others, while herself remaining untouched.

The final double-edged gift in Ysanne’s cellar is the Circlet of Lisen, of which it is said that who wears it next after Lisen will have “the darkest road to walk of any child of earth or stars” (ST 134). Knowing this, Kim must still obey her instincts as Seer and give it to Darien–again, causing pain while herself remaining untouched.

The most painful part of the price Kim must pay is the awareness that though the Baelrath may summon, it is she who must act:

The Baelrath was her power, wild and merciless, but hers was the will and the knowledge, the Seer’s wisdom needed to turn the power to work. It might seem as if the stone were compelling her, but she knew that was not truly so. It was responding–to need to war, to the half-glimpsed intuitions of her dreams–but it needed her will to unleash its power. (DR 70)

She, who was a doctor, a healer in her own world, is compelled in this one to be the agent of immense suffering.

Not only objects can be double-edged gifts. The unicorn Imraith-Nimphais, too, is “the double-edged gift of Dana” (WF 49), as Ivor, chieftain of the Dalrei, realizes when he sees that riding her destroys the link between his son Tabor and the world:

Every gift the Goddess gave was double-edged. He tried, not very successfully, not to feel bitter about it. The glorious winged creature with its shining silver horn was as mighty a weapon of war as anything they had, but the price of using it, he now saw, was going to be losing his youngest child. (WF 246-7)

Paul’s sacrifice of himself on the Summer Tree is the price which allows the God to intercede and end the drought that is destroying the High Kingdom, and it also allows the Mother Goddess, Dana, to intercede. Kevin also pays the ultimate price. He sacrifices himself so that Dana can intercede to end the unnatural winter caused by the traitor mage Metran who has used the Cauldron of Khath Meigol, which itself is double-edged, partaking of both life and death. The morning after his sacrifice, Kim stands at the window watching the snow melt: “There had been a victory, a showing forth of Dana’s power to balk the designs of the Dark. The power had been paid for, though, bought with blood, and more. . . . Was everything the Goddess did double-edged?” (WF 218).

The only gifts which are not double-edged–or not intended to be so at any rate–are the three given to Dave by Ceinwen. The first time he sees her, she tells him that no man of Fionavar may see her and live. He refuses to take the easy way out; instead, offers to pay whatever price is called for. She spares him, but the price is that he may not stay in Fionavar once Rakoth Maugrim is defeated. He realizes at the end that in this way, the goddess is trapped by her own nature–having decreed that “No man of Fionavar may see Ceinwen hunt,” she must send Dave back to his own world, though she has come to love him. Her second gift to him is Owein’s Horn, which she does not know will eventually be used to release the Wild Hunt. But her third gift to Dave is herself, “to reaffirm the absolute presence of the living in a world so beleaguered by the Dark” (DR 28). Here at last there is no price to be paid, and the result is the conception of an andain child who will bear Kevin’s name. As he has been throughout the entire trilogy, Dave is again more fortunate in the results of assuming his archetypal identity than his four friends.

Despite all the apparent limitations on power and action, however, this is not a totally predetermined, fatalistic universe. There is the other half of the equation of woven and wild, fate and free will, which is expressed in the presence of a random factor within the Tapestry, those forces which cannot, by or in spite of his own design, be controlled by the Weaver. These are the Baelrath, the Wild Hunt, Rakoth Maugrim, and Darien, the son of Maugrim and Jennifer. If we look at the structuring of the Tapestry, we see that in the first book, The Summer Tree, the sense of destiny, the interrelationships among the different levels of reality and time, and the archetypal identities of the characters are all introduced. In other words, the fixed elements, the ones linked to the weaving of the Tapestry by the Weaver, are established. In The Wandering Fire, however, the emphasis is on the workings of the random elements. And indeed, even the titles of the two books reveal the difference: the Summer Tree belongs to the God and is rooted in the Tapestry; the Wandering Fire refers to the Baelrath, which is of the wild magic and which cannot be controlled even by the Weaver. The Baelrath, or Warstone, is the first great force of the wild magic. It is “found, not made, and very wild” (WF 30). The power of the Baelrath is not subtle or mild or beautiful–it is a coercive, summoning force, powerful, harsh, demanding, and unrelenting. When Kim comes to the lake of the Crystal Dragon of the Dwarves, the Baelrath responds immediately to the power of the place, compelling her to call the Dragon into the war. She refuses: “There is a point beyond which the quest for Light becomes a serving of the Dark” (DR 291).

In doing this, she believes that she understands the consequences of her action and the intricate balance between Light and Dark. She believes that “We have a choice. . . . We are not slaves, even to our gifts. I chose to use the ring another way” (DR 296). In fact, she cannot know the consequences of her action until the final battle, when Rakoth Maugrim unleashes his dark Dragon and there is no Dragon of Light to fight against it. Tabor, who must fight the Dragon, must pay the price for what Kim has done, and he is very nearly killed. (Indeed, we expect that he will be killed, since that is the fate of the other two boys with whom he is consistently linked, Finn and Darien.)

The second random element is the Wild Hunt. The Weaver spun their killing into the Tapestry:

. . . to be wild in the truest sense, to lay down an uncontrolled thread for the freedom of the Children who came after. And so did the Weaver lay a constraint upon himself, that not even he, shuttling at the Loom of Worlds, may preordain and shape exactly what is to be. . . . We have such choices as we have, some freedom to shape our own destinies, because of that wild thread of Owein and the Hunt slipping across the Loom, warp and then weft, in turn and at times. They are there, Cernan told me one night long ago, precisely to be wild, to cut across the Weaver’s measured will. To be random, and so enable us to be. . . . 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. (DR 113-4)

The implications of this are profound and far-reaching. It means, first of all, that the apparently eternal doom of Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot is not irrevocable, since there are limits on the Weaver’s shaping of human destinies. Unfortunately, it also means that, as with so many other things in the trilogy, a price must be paid. For the gift of freedom of choice offered by the existence of the Wild Hunt, the price, Flidais says, was Rakoth Maugrim, who was able to come from outside of time into Fionavar yet remain free of both time and fate.

The third random element, and the most important, is Darien, who is born right at the beginning of The Wandering Fire. When Rakoth Maugrim rapes Jennifer at the end of The Summer Tree, he leaves specific instructions that she must be killed. The fact that she does survive shows, as Paul says at the beginning of WF, “that he cannot shape the pattern exactly to his desire” (WF 8). Jennifer agrees with Paul: “I will bear this child because I am alive when he wished me dead–the child is random, it is outside his purposes” (WF 8). Darien is “her own response to what had been done to her, her one random weft of thread laid across the warp” (WF 63). Jennifer acts with great determination and courage to ensure that Darien remains random; that no one tries to use him for their own purposes, however noble; and that no one tries to influence him in his choice between the Light and the Dark. As Paul says to Jennifer, none of them can know whether Rakoth wanted to ensure that no child was born to Jennifer because the child would be good or because the child would be a rival to his father (WF 100). But as he also points out, Darien is in the Tapestry. Paul speaks truer than he can know. Darien does indeed become the last hope of the forces of Light, the one who destroys Rakoth Maugrim. And the fact that Darien is a thread in the Tapestry means that he binds his father to it as well, rendering him susceptible to time and death.

No one but Darien has such a pure choice of Light or Dark, no one stands like him so perfectly poised between the two, and he is the only one who is not bound to any destiny (WF 210).

Ultimately, Jennifer is the only one who loves Darien enough to trust him to make his own choice, and he realizes it at last when he confronts his father, the Unraveller, and makes his choice for the Light. Darien’s very last act, the final manifestation of the choice he has made, is to step forward and impale himself upon the dagger Lokdal which his father holds, while his father is momentarily blinded by the sudden blazing of the Circlet of Lisen. Because his father is bound into time by the fact of having engendered a child and has killed without love in his heart, he dies, and Fionavar is saved.

Another factor ensuring free will and a loosening of the ties of fate is the fact that although the Weaver weaves the strands, he is dependent on the actions of mortals. Though the Weaver may sit poised with a new thread in hand, it may be introduced onto the cosmic loom only when human action has been taken which brings it into play. Similarly, human action can alter the weaving of threads long woven into the Tapestry, as when Diarmuid defeats the doom of Arthur by taking his place in fighting the urgach, Uathach, at the battle of Camlann. In fact, in a number of ways, mortals, who appear most bound by the limits of time and fate, have more freedom of choice and action than do the immortals. It is always possible, as Arthur and Guinevere do, to rise above time and fate, if someone else is willing to pay the price.

The subplot of Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot is the one in which fate and free will are most intricately involved. The three are caught in an ancient tale of guilt, sorrow, love and punishment, and each of the three has a role to play. On the one hand, it seems as though everything that happens to them is predestined–the summoning of Arthur, the presence of Jennifer and the dog Cavall, the Companion, on Fionavar; Arthur’s journey to Cader Sedat on the ship Prydwen, the finding of Lancelot, their return to the Anor Lisen where Jennifer waits, Kim’s revealing of the summoning name of Arthur to Flidais, by which the curse is perpetuated; the battle at Camlann that is clearly intended to be Arthur’s destruction. Yet against this, and ultimately defeating it, are ranged the freely taken actions of the characters: Kevin’s sacrifice, which gives Jennifer the ability to “cross over” and love Arthur again, and finally, Diarmuid’s taking of Arthur’s death.

It is Arthur’s doom, the thing laid upon him because of his slaughter of the children, to re-enact the tragedy of his first life eternally. But his destiny, the goal for which he was born, is to be the Warrior, to fight the power Rakoth Maugrim is the greatest (but not the last) manifestation of in all the worlds. When the price is paid and he is released from his doom, he is at last able to fulfill his destiny and take decisive part in the final battle. Having reminded us several times that he never sees the end, he finally does. The brief hours at the palace in which he and Guinevere “rose for an afternoon above their doom” are consummated in the twilight through which they, with Lancelot, Cavall and Taliesin/Flidais, travel to the Blessed Isles of the West.

The Fionavar Tapestry ends on a positive note–though certainly not unreservedly so. 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. Eden is temporarily re-established in the prime world. In the comic tradition, we end with a stabilized society, marriages, and celebrations that nonetheless elicit a complex emotional response.

© Dena Taylor

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