Peregrine: Primus, Philosophy and Picaresque
I’ve written before about Avram Davidson. Might he not have graced the list of an alternate Appendix N? If I recall correctly, Gary Gygax was a Christian. Whether observant or not. But it is possible that he might find Avram Davidson’s rather acid and frequent criticism of religion distasteful and thus did not consider him an influence upon D&D. Pure speculation on my part.
The point is, I’m writing about Avram Davidson again. I just finished “Peregrine: Primus,” a short novel by Davidson, published in 1971. It is an interesting and entertaining read. It is in part a bildungsroman and in part a picaresque. A picaresque as composed by James Branch Cabell and John Myers Myers writing in tandem, if that gives you an idea of the style and quality. Funny stuff, droll, learned, rife with wordplay and bawdy innuendo.
It is set during the decline of the Roman Empire, yet it must be classified as fantasy rather than historical fiction due to the occasional magical and mystical elements. It tells the journey of Peregrine, a bastard son of the petty king of the last pagan kingdom in the tattered remains of the Roman Empire. Peregrine has come of age, and by law and custom must quit the kingdom. He’s accompanied by the expected wizardly advisor and the expected smarter-than-he-first-appears servant. But this being Davidson, these stock characters are far from stock. Nothing follows the standard fantasy script, including the encounter with a fire-breathing dragon.
This being Davidson, the narrative spends a great deal of the word count poking fun at religion. I don’t have an ox to gore here, so I found the descriptions of the various heresies, orthodoxies, and non-christian religions amusing. This is also a book of its time. Davidson’s depiction of the Huns and of women would not likely have survived the PC sniff test of publishers today. So there’s plenty in here to offend just about anyone. Unsurprisingly – walrus-hided curmudgeon that I am – I was chuckling through most of it.
The end, now, there’s something to chew on. You might hate it. You might consider it a fitting end for an unconventional book that frequently trafficked in the troubling side of fervent religious belief. You might wonder if there is a sequel. And there apparently are two. I’ll have to track them down.