There is a certain freedom attendant to writing about The Once and Future King with the knowledge that I cannot possibly do it justice. I can write without the pressure to reach an unattainable goal. Now, if young Wart — Arthur — had commenced with such foreknowledge of inevitable failure, he’d never have bothered tugging the sword from the stone.
The leaves are dropping, exposing the bare wooden scaffolding of the trees. The rain is either a constant or an intermittent irritant. Moments of warmth are welcome rarities. Yes, the dismal season is upon us until Spring comes to our relief.
And so, we party. There’s a reason we call it the holiday season. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve in rapid sequence. Why? Because the days are short, gray, and miserable and remind us of our mortality. When faced with thoughts of death what do we do? We gather up our friends and family and we eat and drink, deliberately focusing on the positives. Each beer, each glass of wassail is a middle finger to the skeletal fellow with the black cloak and sickle.
Bernard Cornwell is one of the foremost historical novelists working today. He is best known for his “Sharpe’s” novels (“Sharpe’s Company”, “Sharpe’s Tiger”, et. al.,) chronicling the military exploits of the fictional Richard Sharpe during (and prior to) the Napoleonic Wars.
“Why then, Ken,” you may ask, “are you writing about Bernard Cornwell in a web log geared more to discussion of speculative fiction?” Or, you may not. Probably not. But let’s pretend you do. And here’s the answer: “The Warlord Chronicles.” Cornwell wrote an excellent Arthurian trilogy. Once you start writing about King Arthur (a ‘historical’ personage notable mostly for his apparent non-existence), no matter how meticulous your historical research, you’ve stuck your foot into the fantasy pool. Often you’ll find “The Warlord Chronicles” shelved in the fantasy section of the bookstore.
I’ve been thinking about what books to purchase for Victoria Valentina. With what titles shall I stock her library? Honestly I’ve been pondering this since before she was born. Look, that’s just how I am. Don’t judge me.
I’ve already picked up a paperback copy of Tbe Wind in the Willows. She may be about a decade from appreciating that one. I read it aloud to my wife. It’s been more than thirty years since I’d last read it. It held up, though it is more ponderous and somewhat less whimsical than I remember.
A boxed set of of A.A. Milne is probably at the head of the list. Winnie-the-Pooh, When We Were Young, etc. Maybe Beatrix Potter. These are likely the foundations, the talking animals, stuffed or otherwise. We can move on to Charlotte’s Web later.
I’ll probably want a nice hardcover, illustrated fairy-tale collection. And a Hans Christian Anderson collection. I’ve already got The Hobbit, copies in English and Spanish. But this might be an excuse to buy another edition.
Looking at this selection I see a decided predilection toward the fantastic. Is it any wonder I write fantasy and science-fiction? I suppose I’ll want to pick up a Laura Ingalls Wilder set as well. Establish some historical grounding. I’ve got editions of Robin Hood and King Arthur tales, but those hardly qualify as historical.
Some might say that the books I’ve selected are written for more advanced readers, that contemporary children’s books are more age-appropriate. Some would say that the concepts and vocabulary in my selections will prove challenging for little Victoria, that the language is outmoded, the morals old-fashioned, that I’m attempting to impose my own childhood on my daughter.
You know what? I don’t see a problem with any of that.
Of course, she won’t even turn one until November. So I’ve got some time.
No, not William Shakespeare. I’m writing today about “Bard” by Keith Taylor. A hat tip to Black Gate http://www.blackgate.com/ for the recommendation. “Bard” was exactly what I needed, fast paced, well-written, humorous, cover-to-cover action and magic.
“Bard” is an exemplar of 1980’s fantasy. Back then I could head to the mall with a five dollar bill, hit the Waldenbooks or B. Daltons, buy a paperback and still have enough for a sandwich at the food court, and maybe a few quarters left over for the arcade. For my book-buying dollar I’d get two or three hundred pages of story. The page counts grew during the ‘80s. It wasn’t uncommon for ‘70’s paperbacks to weigh in at 175 pages. The ‘80s were a stepping stone on the way to the current paradigm: book one of an endless cycle. I’m not opposed to cinder block-sized epics, but sometimes I don’t want to commit to 8,000 words and ten plus volumes that won’t be completed for the next fifteen years. Sometimes I just want a self-contained tale. Not that all novels from the ‘80s were stand alone stories. “Bard” has sequels, but there is no cliff-hanger ending compelling continued reading, no “to be continued” or “Book One of the Bard Saga.”
Instead we get an episodic tale of Felimid mac Fal, a bard, natch. He’s traveling through Britain, from his native Ireland, during the Saxon invasions subsequent to the Roman exodus – the era of the King Arthur legendarium. Arthur doesn’t make a personal appearance in “Bard” but references pop up here and there. Felimid is an atypical sword and sorcery hero. He can fight, and ends up doing a fair amount of it. But he’d rather avoid it, rather lie his way out of a conflict, use his wits and music and magic.
“Bard” is steeped in Irish folklore. That’s another reason the book is an exemplar of ‘80s fantasy. Celtic myth enjoyed a vogue in the fiction of the decade. Seemed like every book you picked up involved the Sidhe, or Tuatha de Danann, or the Fomorians. Not that I minded. If that vogue comes around again I won’t complain.
Pick up a copy of “Bard.” I think you’ll enjoy it.
In any given bookstore or library you are likely to find historical fiction shelved in with the fantasy and science fiction: e.g., Harold Lamb ends up near Fritz Leiber. This is an understandable mistake. There is a certain amount of overlap involved in the content.