We’ll be reading the whole of GGK’s works in publication order over the course of the year. January’s novel is THE SUMMER TREE, first of the Fionavar Tapestry, and since it’s a tidy 16 chapters, we’ll be reading (or at least discussing) 4 chapters from TST every week.
A comment from me as the moderator/organizer of this project: GGK does not work for everybody as a reader. In fact, he seems to either really work or really not, so if you’re coming to these books fresh and find that it’s a god-awful slog, possibly GGK is not a writer for you. It’s totally okay with me if you want to slog and talk about what doesn’t work and why–that would be interesting and enlightening–but I would like to keep this to reasoned discussion, not spitting on one another for different tastes, so basically, behave nicely in discussions, please, or I’ll land on you like an elephant. I said sweetly. :)
Spoilers exist behind the cut, although since this is just the first few chapters, which is almost entirely introduction and set-up, if you haven’t read yet and want to peek at the commentary, I think you won’t be burning yourself too badly.
Now, this (like all of these will be, save RIVER OF STARS) is a re-read for me, which means I’m coming in not with fresh impressions but a kind of combination of new and old, which will of course color my commentary. But I thought I’d make note of some things that struck me, particularly here early in the story where everybody’s just getting set up.
First off, as far as I know, these books are what GGK wrote once he was finished helping the Tolkien estate gather and complete JRRT’s works. It is not, therefore, a surprise that they’re heavily Tolkien-influenced, although unlike Tolkien, I found them readable when I encountered them, so they were always off on the right foot for me. The Tolkienesque aspects, though, have been known to get up people’s noses. It might be of more use as a practice in these discussions to do a compare and contrast rather than squeal indignantly, if you’re one of those who doesn’t like the Tolkienesqueness.
Honestly, the first thing I noticed is that once we’re beyond the (mercifully brief) Overture (which isn’t awful, as prologues go, primarily because it *is* brief, but gosh, it does smack of this feeling that This Is How Tolkien Did It, So This Is How It Must Be Done)–right, let me go back to the beginning of that sentence:
Once we’re beyond the Overture, the first thing I noticed is that the first two named characters are women. I seriously doubt I noticed that in my original readings, but as a grup who knows GGK *was* coming off working with Tolkien’s manuscripts, I found that a breath of fresh air.
The third named character is the one I remember the story starting with, Dave (and in fact, he really is where it starts). I remember incidents about most of the characters, but I’m not sure I’d have necessarily remembered all their names (although having started re-reading, how could I have forgotten any of them!).
I don’t remember thinking it in so many words back in the day, but jeez, these characters all have Issues. As an adult the Character Tragedies might be a bit, er, heavy-handed, in fact, to the reader, although for me the words still carry me along and draw me into their stories pretty well without hesitation.
I’d forgotten Diarmuid, whom I love, was introduced so early, and … gosh. He’s still charming and everything, but his interplay with Jennifer upon meeting her is a lot creepier than I remember it being. I’m sure this has to do with being *much* more aware, as an adult, of the prevalance of rape and abuse, and much more sensitive to behaviours that come across as, well, creepy.
OTOH, serious props to Jennifer for smacking him down for overstepping her boundaries.
Ah, I remember the phrase “brightly woven” as something to indicate delight, and how much I liked that. It was one of those I wanted to work into my regular conversations, but it never stuck.
With the writer hat on, there are a couple of fragmented sentences that I would’ve edited, but mostly, the language still sings to me. Structurally, well, this is all set-up–but in four chapters we get quite a lot of information about just *how* all these people are broken, and therefore some sense of how they’re going to have to heal.
As it happens, I actually stopped reading tonight at the end of chapter four, which is a slightly AUGH moment, because Paul sees the wolf for the first time, and that brought his whole storyline back to me. I think at this stage I remember what happens with everyone, even though they’re only just set up.
I feel like I’m talking around the plot a lot here, but it’s *so* early in the book(s), and I *do* know what happens next, so I don’t want to go overboard the other direction. I’m sure I’ll get better at this as we go on. :)
Talk to me! What were your thoughts and impressions? Is this your first reading of the Fionavar Tapestry, or is it an old friend? Who do you like, who makes you twitch, what makes you curious?