The Fionavar Tapestry Afterword

This afterword first appeared in the HarperPerennial Canada 20th anniversary edition of The Tapestry, published in 2004. It is reprinted here with kind permission of the publishers.
On the occasion of an anniversary edition, there are many things that might be said. At the same time, I have to confess to a desire (a strong one) to say nothing at all, to let the work continue to speak for itself. Real as this feeling is, I’m aware that the idea of a book standing alone, unmediated, becomes an illusion long before its 20th anniversary edition. There are, for Fionavar, reviews, scholarship, commentary, novels inspired by it. There’s a remarkable variety of music, art, internet forums, even trivia contests and online casting couches.

So the notion of the Tapestry existing in some pure space of its own is long gone. As a result, it would feel unduly ascetic for me to decline my publisher’s request to offer a comment for this edition. For one thing, I’m deeply honoured. Every author dreams of writing something that might last, have an impact. It can’t be more than a dream at the outset, though it is a necessary one. Lacking at least the ambition to do something that will endure, we limit our horizons. But there are so many books, and so few of them survive.

By one measure, twenty years is a blink, especially in the context of a novel that deals with motifs of myth and legend. By another, in our rapid-transit, disposable-object, high-turnover age, it is a very long time for something to remain in the culture. Who can ever assume or rely upon such a thing? What author can help but be grateful when it happens? And how then resist the invitation to look back?

At times over the years I have teased interviewers by saying that the style and structure of Fionavar were created with only one thing in mind: to create a work on a scale that would allow me, when Paul is on the Summer Tree, to write the sentence, “Rain, rain, rain, rain, rain.” And live to tell the tale.

The line’s flippant, an easy joke, but as is often the case with a throwaway there’s truth embedded in it. The principal reason the language of the trilogy differs from my later books is that this was my mythic endeavour. The others track a movement (not a consistent one) towards history. It seemed proper to me, back then, to pursue a way of telling the story of Fionavar that would fit that mythic dimension. I imagined the arc of the narrative in operatic terms, moving from aria to aria: Paul on the Tree, Galadan and Cavall, Tabor meeting Imraith-Nimphaïs in the wood, Jennifer in Starkadh, Kevin at Dun Maura, Owein and the Hunt, Cader Sedat, Lancelot in the Grove … others, obviously, to the end, with Diarmuid and then Darien. Language was guided by that context: this is a book that involves a god imprisoned under a mountain and a wolf and dog battling beneath a sacrificial tree.

I also remember wanting to spin out, as best I could, the implications of naming a particular world as the “first” one, that others reflect (imperfectly). What flows from such an idea? Well, if one wishes to be wry, one could say an over-the-top panoply of legends from a myriad of cultures. Wry or not, that seemed right to me: the diverse folklore of our world shakily echoing the “true” versions. The sword in the stone of Arthurian legend here, set against the “real” idea of the king spear in the mountain in Fionavar. I wanted to bring in as much as I could: shamanistic tradition, Norse myth, Celtic legend, Maori motifs, the Arthurian triangle and the Welsh figures that come into it, including Taliesin, the Wild Hunt and a dog named Cavall. And, in the figure of Darien, a playing out of a fairly vivid Oedipal drama – which was another way of drawing upon myth, of course.

Joseph Campbell and Robert Graves were by my desk in this. Graves’s maddening, absurd, quite wonderful The White Goddess gave me a great deal, including Paul’s defeat of Fordaetha with the naming of her name. (Read the Welsh Cad Goddu, the “Battle of the Trees.”) I think my fascination with the power of names, which came to fuller development in Tigana, likely began here.

I also set myself the task, quixotic or otherwise, of trying to shape a narrative large enough in scope that the figures of the Arthurian triangle could come in without overwhelming it: that they might be a component of the story but not the story. I was driven to this, in part, by a deep dissatisfaction with most treatments in literature of the figure of Guinevere and also (I confess) by the creative force that came from the middle-of-one-night idea of Arthur as “Childslayer” … using his early transgression to invert the “once and future king” legend, making it a burden not a blessing.

I still like that. And I feel the same way about using the Wild Hunt to offer a mythic explanation for the philosophical “problem of evil” … how an omnipotent, benevolent deity allows so much suffering into his worlds. Linking Diarmuid’s anarchic nature to the Hunt pretty much compelled his ending, much as I (and a great many readers, it seems, over the years) wished for a way to avoid it.

At a certain point, as many writers have said, the shape of a story and the emerging nature of its characters begin to assert a hold on the author, not the other way around. This happened early and often in Fionavar. Sharra was not, in the inception, a major figure. She was conceived of as a way of playing against the romantic image of the wastrel prince. I wanted to show Diarmuid doing something indefensible in that night garden, undercutting the rose-tinted image of such Prince Hal figures (he has his Falstaff, too).

I learned a major lesson here – two of them, actually. One is that when you play with archetypes you had best be aware of their power: very few readers have ever held that garden scene against Diar to the degree that I thought they would. Glamorous princes have more leeway than one might imagine. Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, in Into the Woods have their feckless prince say, indignantly, “I was raised to be charming, not sincere!” A word to the wise. But once the garden scene was written – from Sharra’s point of view – there was no possible way that particular woman would allow an author not to bring her back to do … what she was so obviously going to do, in retaliation. It took no time at all for her to assert a claim of prominence, and the narrative adjusted to make room.

Oh. That elicits an admission. One of the most common laments from readers over two decades has been their wish to know exactly what happens to Sharra at the end. Now, I don’t believe in saying exactly what happens to characters after a novel closes – the ending of every book I’ve written makes this point. The future is open-ended, the end of the novel does not demand the tying down of all lives that passed through it, we don’t always know what happens next, in life or fiction. But in the case of Sharra, I had a notebook entry to write a conversation between her and Kim towards the end. And I thought: “This is so unnecessary. Everyone will know that she’s going back to Cathal and will take up the duties of her position and carry on, as she must.”

I didn’t write it. The scene felt static, flat, in the book only to tie up a thread I didn’t think was really loose. The author still feels that way, but with so many readers asking after her, I confess to some regret I didn’t do a variant of it.

Not too many other regrets. I think if there had been more I’d have found it harder to stay faithful to the inner voice that told me that the Tapestry was complete. That to respond to requests that I write what I jokingly called “volume four of a trilogy” would be a mistake that would subvert and undermine the u
nity of a book that was conceived of as three volumes, complete with a “solution” to the well-known middle-book problem. I did, as most people reading this will know, move on to other parts of the forest, never have done a sequel. There are grace notes in later books, small nods back to Fionavar, but that is all they are, and all they are meant to be.

The tapestry felt done to me, offering whatever degree of pleasure and reward I was capable of giving readers in that vein. The pleasure for me today, and the reward, is that so many people seem to have looked upon it as something that matters in their lives.

Twenty years later, this is a thank you.

Guy Gavriel Kay
December 2003


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