Saturday, April 25, 2009

"Let it be done with love."

After finishing my recent re-read of The Fionavar Tapestry a month or so back, I found myself not having a whole lot new to say about it, mainly because of all of Guy Gavriel Kay's books, Fionavar is the one with which I am the most familiar, having re-read it more frequently than any other. But I did have a couple of new ruminations of late (Spoilers follow):

:: GGK has noted that in this trilogy he wanted to play with the standard tropes of epic fantasy a bit, stand them on their head a bit. His model, most clearly, as Tolkien's mighty Lord of the Rings. How does it compare directly, though?

Well, Fionavar is more of a "trilogy" than LotR is. LotR is, at its heart, a single book chopped for editorial reasons into three parts, where the three contituent volumes of Fionavar are more of a trilogy with three distinct parts that still tell a single story. Each book has its own part of the tale to tell.

GGK has openly discussed the "middle book" problem with trilogies -- i.e., that Book Two can often suffer by the fact that it neither begins nor finishes the story. GGK solves this by creating a specific task that must be accomplished (in Book Two) before the BIG challenge, the confrontation with Rakoth Maugrim, can be addressed. It's not dissimilar from what transpires in The Two Towers (although more in the movie version than the book version): Saruman must be dealt with before they can turn their attention to Sauron. There's a similar motivation at work here, but it's a bit more sharply drawn.

:: As a world, Fionavar somehow feels smaller than Middle Earth. I'm not sure why that is. It's a similar fault I found with the LotR movies, as opposed to the books; Tolkien is able to convey that Middle Earth is pretty vast, where the movies sometimes make it seem as though all locations are within a day's ride of each other. Tolkien refers, if memory serves, to the lengths of time involved in the journeys from one place to another, where GGK doesn't do this as much; more than that, a look at the maps of the respective worlds shows something important. In GGK's books, we visit virtually every single location named on the map. This isn't true of Middle Earth; a look at Tolkien's map reveals that in the tale of LotR the reader actually sees a relatively small portion of Middle Earth. Tolkien is stronger at suggesting the huge amounts of story that take place outside the peripheries of the one he's telling at once.

:: Paul Schaefer and Galadan are presented as "two sides of a coin": both are tortured by the deaths of their beloveds, and both are angry at the world. Paul's anger is directed inward, though, while Galadan's is directed outward, which is what makes Paul's redemption and triumph over his anger more believable, or satisfying, than Galadan's. Galadan takes his rage out on the world, which leads to him allying himself with evil for a time, and when his redemption comes, it comes almost completely out of the blue. To this day, Galadan's redemption is the part of the book that troubles me the most.

:: Kevin Laine's act of self-sacrifice -- giving up his own life so he can end the unnatural winter -- is still one of the most memorable episodes of the book, but I do wish it had been set up a little better. The problem, I think, is that there is little sense of what "Liadon" means until we are on the very cusp of that part of the story.

:: That said, Kevin's motivation -- his feeling of nearly complete impotence in the face of a war that could determine the fate of all the worlds -- stood out for me a lot more upon this re-read than it ever did before. I'm not sure why, but it did. Especially his vow to "make answer" to Rakoth Maugrim's crushing of Jennifer Lowell, a vow which seems fated to be useless until Kevin finally discovers his way to make it true.

And that should about do it.

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