Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Fionavar Tapestry

Original Cover of Summer Tree
Someday, I hope to make a long list of the books that changed me. And on that list, taking its turn at the top, would be The Fionavar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay.

I remember it like it was yesterday, though the year was 1985. My graduation year. All the usual teenage things happened. The bad hair. The parties. The awkwardness. The awesome heavy metal.

One of the highlights of that year shines through quite clearly: buying The Summer Tree at a bookstore in Swift Current. I was a constant loiterer in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section and the cover caught my eye. Then, when I picked up the book, the words caught my eye. I didn't know the writer. Had no idea he was Canadian or even that he had connections to Saskatchewan. No, I knew, almost instantly that he could write. "After the war was over, they bound him under the mountain." That's the first line. And who would be so powerful that he'd have to be bound under a mountain? I had to read on.

I won't go blow by blow through my reactions. I know I was a kid looking graduation in the eye and contemplating four years at university. This story that involved five university students visiting a fantastical realm rang perfectly true with me. I was also a kid with Tolkien and Lloyd Alexander running through my veins. Fionavar was the next step. The transition story. A series with depth and, somehow, it was more real than any other fantasy I'd yet read. Yes, Gandalf was amazing. So was Frodo (even if he did have hairy feet). But I could never BE one of them. But Dave Martyniuk or Kevin Laine or Paul Schafer. I could BE them. The three books in this series are burned into my memory. There are several scenes that burn bright all these years later (gee, I sound old when I say that--just imagine me with a cane and a derby hat). The story lifted my spirit, taught me about humanity. Surprised me. Also the books broke my heart, damn them. But a good book can break your heart and still get you to keep reading. To find hope again. And to believe in the power of story.

 I haven't read the series for several years. Not because of a fear that somehow they won't measure up to the joy I felt when I was reading them as a youth. No, I keep waiting for that time when I can sit down and read them all in a row without interruption. In other words I want a deserted island and a comfy chair. Time to buck up and go back to them again.

I think the highest compliment I can pay these books and the author is this: I decided to only buy Guy Gavriel Kay's work in hardcover from that point on. He is one of the authors whose work deserved--no demanded to be read, preserved and treasured

I did get to meet Guy Kay years later at a festival in Moose Jaw. I nearly brought all of my copies of his books to be signed, but didn't want to appear too fanboyish. But I do cherish the first book in the series that he signed:

All of his novels sit on a shelf in my office as inspiration. As examples of what is possible with fantastical literature.

Art

P.S. Being a hoarder, I now also have the books in softcover (and love the new covers--forgive me, I'm a book cover hoarder, too). These are the brand sparkling new covers from HarperCollins. Feast your eyes.




13 comments:

Jim said...

Fionvar Tapestry was such an amazing series. I remember LOVING the layers, loving how it was able to surprise me, loving even the tragedy of it. . . all so . . . "epic". I was hooked. The only disappointment I've ever found in ANY of his books (I think the only one I've not read is Ysabel) is when they're done and there's no more to read.

Good call.

Errant Knave said...

I was blown away that the protagonists were from Toronto. The place I lived in was connected to a fantasy world! I can't go to the ROM without thinking of Paul and Jennifer's battle, or walk by Convocation Hall without wondering where a svart alfar could hide.

Then there are the characters, and the rich story, and the use of Arthurian legends (and Arthur!) that are all elements of an amazing tale. And I guarantee you I'd still tear up during Diarmuid's last battle.

Errant Knave said...

I was blown away that the protagonists were from Toronto. The place I lived in was connected to a fantasy world! I can't go to the ROM without thinking of Paul and Jennifer's battle, or walk by Convocation Hall without wondering where a svart alfar could hide.

Then there are the characters, and the rich story, and the use of Arthurian legends (and Arthur!) that are all elements of an amazing tale. And I guarantee you I'd still tear up during Diarmuid's last battle.

Joanne Levy said...

I loved these books and read them over and over as a teen. I really need to revisit them-thanks for the reminder!

Arthur Slade said...

Jim, same thing. Always feel sad when I get to the end...

Errant Knave; yeah it made it doubly special to have a Canadian setting. Sniff. Diarmuid. Sniff.

Joanne...I need to reread them, too.

jessicaschafer said...

I recently got to meet GGK too and also had to restrain myself from bringing ALL of my books to sign!

So well said: "The story lifted my spirit, taught me about humanity. Surprised me. Also the books broke my heart, damn them. But a good book can break your heart and still get you to keep reading. To find hope again. And to believe in the power of story."

Kay is on the list of my life changing authors for exactly that reason: teaching about humanity, breaking my heart and believing in the power of story.

davidjfuller said...

I loved these books too, and remember being shocked at how none of the characters was "untouchable" -- hadn't seen a fantasy written for modern adults like that since the Thomas Covenant Books. I always found Lancelot's epic battle riveting. And as for a local connection, I found out later Kay had lived in Winnipeg, which was cool enough, and then later I learned he'd worked on The Silmarillion, which is just about the coolest way to start a career in fantasy I can imagine. Great post, thanks for sharing!

Arthur Slade said...

It sounds like we've had the same experience, Jessica. A great book sticks with you for your life. A great trilogy...well, that's a short list of the truly great ones.

Yeah, David. I hear you. Winnipeg. Silmarillion. Pretty cool to think he was in both places at once.

Oh, and go Jets...

J. E. Medrick said...

I'm a fantasy devourer. I remember feeling very similar to what you mentioned about the "Thomas Covenant: The Unbeliever" series. They touched me deeply. I can't believe I've never heard of these books. I will be scouring my local bookstores for them immediately!

J. E. Medrick said...

Oh I just finished reading the comments and saw David mentioned the same series as me. White gold, wild magic!

Lynda R Young said...

I read the full series in the 80s as well, but they didn't impact me as much as they seem to have impacted you. I remember that too many bad things happened to the characters for me to want to be any of them. ;)

Arthur Slade said...

They do go through quite a bit! I'm re-reading it now. Had forgotten so much. Ah, they're Canucks. They can take it.

Catherine Stine said...

What incredibly beautiful covers! Thanks for turning us all onto this series.