Sunday, March 29, 2009

"Will you take the longest road?"

Since finishing my re-read of The Fionavar Tapestry a week ago, I've been trying to think of something new to say about the trilogy. I re-read this series just three years ago, and many of those observations still hold. This is also the work of GGK's with which I am most familiar over the years, so it doesn't hold much for me by way of outright surprise. Still, I found myself throughout rooting for the characters, feeling a bit of the sense of betrayal when it turns out that Metran has turned against the Light, and the deep sorrow when Kevin Laine sacrifices himself in order to break the winter.

What I did notice anew this time was the character of Dave Martyniuk.

At the very end of The Darkest Road, Kim Ford reflects that of all five of the "real world" characters who have gone to Fionavar, Dave has changed the most, and on this re-read I got more, much more, of that sense. Previously I've tended to see Dave at first as something of a selfish jerk, but this time, I saw him probably more for what GGK intended: a nervous and tense man, driven to succeed but also very wary of not merely expressing his emotions but actually feeling them in the first place. Dave is reluctant to go to Fionavar at all, and he tries to break away in the transit, ending up alone on the northern plain, where he meets the Dalrei. His trials there lead him to make his own resolution with the internal conflicts he is fighting, most of which spring from his strained relationship with his father, a relationship that is emotionally, and possibly physically, abusive.

I further noticed that Dave Martyniuk, alone of all the major characters, is never really called upon to make a choice of self-sacrifice or self-denial. Instead, he becomes something else: a man who would be willing, if called upon, to make that choice when presented. Dave comes to terms with himself in a powerful way that I'd never noticed as strongly before.

Choice is really what drives this series, an endless series of choices presented to characters who can't possibly be expected to know what it is they are choosing, and yet the choices are made each time; what's more, the crisis that forms the spine of the series -- the freeing of Rakoth Maugrim -- is also depicted as the result of a series of choices made by many people in many places, over many years. The Fionavar Tapestry is not one of those fantasies where it seems as though everything that happens is in accordance with some ancient prophecy; there's no sense that anything is truly fated to happen. In fact, the one group of characters who are tortured by the fact that they are trapped in a series of sad fates -- Arthur, Lancelot, and Guinevere -- are finally allowed the choices they've never been allowed before. The story of Fionavar derives enormous tension from the way characters make choices that may, or may not, turn out disastrous, and the moments of highest tension come from situations in which the choices the characters have are basically between "dying horribly now" and "dying horribly in a little while".

So there we have it: Fionavar in 2009. I suppose I'm good for this series until 2013.

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