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The Fionavar Tapestry

The Fionavar Tapestry is a trilogy of fantasy novels by Guy Gavriel Kay, set partly in our own contemporary world, but mostly in the fictional world of Fionavar. It is the story of five University of Toronto students, who are drawn into the 'first world of the Tapestry' by the mage Loren Silvercloak. Once there, each discovers his or her own role and destiny in the framework of an epic conflict. The books are illustrated by Martin Springett.

Characters

The Five

Drawn by magic from our world and thus strangers to Fionavar, each of them finds a new role and a new destiny during their adventures in Fionavar.

  • Kevin Laine (Liadon) - cheerful, outgoing, but the act of love has a strangely deep and intense effect on him
  • Paul Schafer (Pwyll Twiceborn) - highly intelligent, musical, haunted by the death of his girlfriend in a car accident that he believes was his fault
  • Dave Martyniuk (Davor) - a star basketball player, he carries emotional scars from his Eastern European immigrant father's rough treatment of him as a child and has difficulty accepting or offering friendship
  • Kimberly Ford - quiet, intelligent and sensitive, but with the strength to make difficult choices and do what must be done
  • Jennifer Lowell (Guinevere) - blonde haired, green eyed, beautiful but cool and reserved. She and Kevin were once lovers but parted on good terms.

The Deities

See Fionavar

The Dark

Galadan - Lord of the Andain (the andain refers to all those who are the offspring of a mating between god and mortal), a shapechanger who can take the shape of a black wolf with a silver splash on its head, he works with Maugrim but for his own ends.

Rakoth Maugrim, the Unraveller, Sathain, The Hooded One - renegade god, the enemy of the Weaver and of all that is good. Jealous of the Weaver's creation, he broke into Fionavar just as the Weaver had completed his work, bringing fear, pain, distress, and great evil. Since he came from outside the Loom, the Weaver has no control over his thread and he cannot be destroyed. A thousand years ago the combined might of all the races of Fionavar came against him and, after a final tremendous battle known as the Bael Rangat (named after the mountain before which it took place), they defeated him and chained him beneath Rangat. His escape sets in motion the events of the trilogy.

Fordaetha of Ruk - ice queen of the Barrens in the far north, her touch freezes men to the bone.

Darien

Son of Jennifer and Rakoth Maugrim, Darien is precisely balanced between Dark and Light, and his choice turns out to be the most difficult of all. He is able to take the form of a white owl.

Other Characters

Ailell dan Art is the High King of Brennin. He has two sons, the elder of whom, Aileron, is in exile. The younger, Diarmuid, although a fearless and elegant fighter is also (apparently) frivolous, impulsive, and shallow.

Historically the Council of the Mages, headquartered in Brennin, may include up to seven mages, but at the time of the story there are only three: Loren Silvercloak, and his source Matt Sören, a dwarf; Metran, First Mage, and his source Denbarra; Teyrnon, and his source Barak. Each source is bound to the mage he serves by magical rituals and oaths, and provides from his own lifeforce the energy needed to power the mage's magical works. This link can be drawn upon even to the source's death, although this will then render the mage permanently powerless. The Book of Nilsom (a grimoire belonging to a mad mage of the past) includes secret knowledge of an abominable method by which a mage may gain power from more than one source.

Other important Brennin folk include Ysanne, the Seer of Brennin; Jaelle, High Priestess of Dana at the temple in Brennin; Vae, Shahar, and their son Finn

The Dalrei, plains-dwelling tribes of nomadic hunters who both hunt and guard the vast herds of eltor in the northern part of Fionavar. Each tribe is led its own chieftain, helped by the tribe's shaman who is ritually blinded in youth the better to focus the sight of his inner eye. Of particular interest to the story is the Third Tribe, under the leadership of Ivor dan Bannor and their shaman, Gereint. Ivor's wife Leith, and their children Levon, Tabor and Cordeliane also play important parts.

The lios alfar or Light Elves, live in Daniloth, a beautiful land in the northwest corner of the land which they have of necessity wrapped in a confusing mist as protection from Maugrim and others who wish them evil. Notable lios alfar of the past include Lathen Mistweaver who wove the sheltering mist, and Ra-Termaine, killed by Maugrim at the Bael Rangat. Present-day light-elves include Brendel, a lord of his people, and Ra-Tenniel, their king. The lios alfar are Maugrim's bitterest foes, "most hated by the dark, for their name is light" (ST, p. 138).

The dwarves dwell in the mountains near the twin peaks of Banir Lök and Banir Tal. Fierce fighters, they have recently been led into questionable acts by Kaen and Blöd.

The Men of Eridu, a proud and independent race, have been wiped out by a mysterious poisonous rain. The only remaining man is Faebur, exiled by his father and thus not present when the deadly rain fell.

The Paraiko, the peaceful giants of the mountains. It was the ancient Paraiko who long ago bound Owein and the Wild Hunt to obey Connla's Horn. The Paraiko refuse violence even in self-defence; in exchange, they are protected by the fact that he who draws the blood of a giant brings down upon himself the curse of the Paraiko. Ruana, however, finally breaks the Paraiko's long tradition of non-interference at the last battle when he places his will upon Owein.

A main thread of the story is the playing out of the legends of King Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere, all of whom appear in the story. Arthur is brought into Fionavar by Kimberley; Lancelot is rescued from Cader Sedat in the second book, and Guinevere's life and memories awaken within Jennifer; the three reenact some (though not all) of their well-known tale as expiation for their sins.

Creatures

  • Avaia, a black swan with vicious teeth and an odor of corruption, servant of Maugrim
  • Curdardh, "the Eldest," a metarmorphosing creature of rock and stone who dwells in Pendaran Wood
  • Imraith-Nimphais, a red unicorn capable of flight, a gift of Dana for the war against Maugrim
  • Uathach, an "enhanced" urgach who, with Galadan, directs Maugrim's forces in battle

Themes

Kay's central concept in the novels is that Fionavar is the first of worlds, particularly in a mythological sense; the sagas and tales of other worlds originate (or culminate) in this most primary of settings. Because of this, what happens in Fionavar ripples into other worlds -- thus the victory or defeat of Rakoth Maugrim has not just immediate importance for Fionavar but also implications for our own world.

The story emphasizes over and over the importance of free will, as demonstrated in Jennifer's decisions to keep Darien and later to send Lancelot away, Finn's choice to follow his destiny with Owein and the Wild Hunt, Paul and Kevin's acceptance of the role of sacrifice (though in different ways), Diarmuid's decision to take the final battle with Uathach on himself enabling Arthur to survive the last battle, and of course the vital importance of Darien's ultimate choice of allegiance at the end.

Another important theme is that of forgiveness: Arthur has long since forgiven Guinevere and Lancelot; Paul must learn to forgive himself for his girlfriend Rachel's death; Galadan at the end is forgiven his evil past and offered a second chance; Darien at the end understands his mother's treatment of him and forgives her; and more.

One of the more prominent themes is that of power, and the price that one pays for it. Oftentimes in the book, the price for power lies with someone else, as witnessed by the sources to the mages; as well as Kim's own summoning power, the price is often paid by whatever or whomever was summoned.

References and similarities

Ancient places

Stonehenge figures in the second book. The ancient caves of Dun Maura bring to mind the caves of the Oracle at Delphi as well as prehistoric caves such as Lascaux. The association of blood with magic (Kevin/Liadon, the avarlith) has roots that go back hundreds of thousands of years.

Other literature

Tolkien

Fionavar has many similarities to Tolkien's Middle-earth, and seems to be directly influenced by it (perhaps not surprising, since Kay worked with Christopher Tolkien to edit The Silmarillion and prepare it for publication). The map of Fionavar shows the northwestern part of the continent and its western coasts, bordered by an ocean, like most of the Middle-earth maps drawn by Tolkien, especially of Beleriand. Beyond the western sea lies a place where the Lios Alfar (Elves) go when they want to abandon the world, similar to Tolkien's Valinor.

The east of the map is bordered by great mountain masses, where the dwarves live around and under the twin peaks of Banir Tal and Banir Lök, similar to the eastern part of Beleriand with the Ered Luin and the two dwarf mansions built on them.

To the north is the mountain mass of Starkadh, dominated by Rangat mountain where Raukoth Maugrim is trapped, reminiscent of Ered Engrin and the Thangorodrim.

The Council of Mages in Brennin is noted as having a formal limit of seven members (technically fourteen, including the mages' sources); Tolkien's Heren Istarion, the Order of the Wizards, had five known members.

Dalrei have some similarities to the Rohirrim, though they are less warlike. Pendaran, a wood of the Lios Alfar that has now become perilous, echoes Mirkwood which, with the return of the Necromancer, becomes dark and sinister.

Other

When Leyse of the Swan Mark, a member of the lios alfar, gives up her life as a result of her hopeless love for Lancelot, she lies down in a boat and sails away in a clear echo of Tennyson's "The Lady of Shalott," and the story of Elaine.

The incorporation of Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere both as story and as real characters echo the mythagos (incarnations of mythic figures) in the novels of Robert Holdstock, e.g. Mythago Wood.

Lios alfar and svart alfar (see below) also appear in The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner.

Myths and legends

The stories incorporate, either directly or indirectly, a number of other myths. The most obvious is that of King Arthur, with Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere/Jennifer working out their love triangle and atoning for their sins. Kay uses a lesser-known fragment of the Arthurian cycle, that of the May Babies, as the explanation for Arthur's punishment of repeated rebirth/death in battle against evil. "[T]he Weaver had marked him down for a long unwinding doom. A cycle of war and expiation under many names, and in many worlds, that redress be made for the children and for love" (WF, p.40) The grey dog who fights Galadan to protect Paul is recognized by Arthur as Cavall, his faithful companion. Lancelot's encounter with Leyse of the lios alfar, her hopeless love for him and subsequent departure by boat for the lios alfar's home in the West is a retelling of the tale of Lancelot and Elaine.

The powerful oak as the Summer Tree is similar to Yggdrasil, the World Ash Tree of Norse mythology. Norse elements also appear in Mörnir who with his two ravens, Thought and Memory (Odin's Huginn and Muninn), and the epithet "of the Thunderer," is a combination of Thor/Odin. The lios alfar (light elves) and svart alfar (dark elves) come from the Scandinavian Álfar (see also elves).

The Cauldron of Khath Meigol and its powers of resurrection hark back to Welsh mythology's tale of the Cauldron of Annwn, and a number of the deities seem to have Celtic or Welsh roots: Paul is known as Pwyll after his sacrifice, while Macha and Nemain come straight from Irish mythology. The wild boar that attacks Kevin, marking him as Liadon, closely resembles the Twrch Trwyth. Cader Sedat, the island where the renegade mage Metran works his dark magic in The Wandering Fire, is the analogue of Caer Sidi from the poem Preiddeu Annwfn, a poem that is, in the trilogy, ascribed to Taliesin, one of the names used by Flidais.

The Wild Hunt was a folk myth prevalent in former times across Germany, Britain and also Scandinavia. Seeing the Wild Hunt was thought to presage some catastrophe such as war or plague, or at best the death of the one who witnessed it. Mortals getting in the path of or following the Hunt could be kidnapped and brought to the land of the dead. The leader of the hunt varies from place to place, examples are King Arthur in Britanny and Odin in Scandinavia. The fundamental premise of the hunt is usually the same, a group of phantasmal huntsmen in mad pursuit across the skies.

The entrapment of Rakoth Maugrim the Unraveiller, as it was descriped in the beginning of the novel is extremely similar to one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature: the Journey to the West. Here is a quote from Wikipedia's description of the punishment of the Monkey King, or Wukong:

With all of their options exhausted, the Jade Emperor and the authorities of Heaven appealed to the Buddha, who arrived in an instant from his temple in the West. The Buddha made a bet with Wukong that he could not jump out of his palm. Wukong, knowing that he could cover 108,000 li in one leap, smugly agreed. He took a great leap and then flew to the end of the world in seconds. Nothing was visible except for five pillars ... When Wukong tried to escape, Buddha turned his hand into a mountain. Before Wukong could shrug it off, Buddha added another magical seal. There, Wukong remained imprisoned for five centuries.
This bear remarkable similarity with the book of The Summer Tree where Rakoth Maugrim the Unraveiller was bound by the five wardstones and placed under the Mount Rangat.

Real world echoes

  • The Dalrei share many aspects of Native American lifestyle, beliefs and ritual, including being a mobile people without permanent settlements; relying on wild hoof stock for most of their resources; the use of totems, dream quests, shamans; etc.

Books in the series

The three books are:

Awards for the Fionavar Tapestry

  • The Wandering Fire won the 1987 Aurora Award in the English category.
  • The Wandering Fire won the 1987 Casper Award for best speculative fiction.
  • Kay was nominated for a Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature in 1985 for The Summer Tree.

References

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