GGK Book Club: The Wandering Fire, ch 1-4

Oh, God, so many things I’d forgotten that come back with a single sentence…

After the harrowing final chapter of THE SUMMER TREE, it actually came as a shock to me that Jennifer is pregnant in the opening chapters of WANDERING FIRE. That whole storyline tumbled right back into place (and, indeed, I was somewhat surprised I’d forgotten its inception, since there are characters in the Walker Papers who owe heavy, deliberate homage to that storyline), but I was still completely surprised that Paul hauls them into Fionavar for a hiccup of time. I remembered the later crossing, not that one.

I’ve been reading the Paul/Jaelle scenes with a very close eye to subtext, because I was flabbergasted in my first (possibly several) read-through of the books where at the end Jaelle asks if he’s really going to leave her. It came out of absolutely nowhere for me as a young reader, and as an adult I’m…pretty sure, thus far, that if I wasn’t reading their scenes very carefully that I would still be flabbergasted at the end. I think the subtext is there, but it’s very, very sub. Which is actually a rather admirable trick for a writer to pull off, so I doff my hat!

Less doffy, or something, is–I’m torn on some of the language in these books. Normal modern people do not say things like “To this I will make reply although he be a god and it mean my death.” It’s dramatic, yes; it’s beautiful, yes; it gets the point across, yes; and arguably none of these are normal people nor have they been since perhaps long before the trilogy started, yes.

And yet.

I mean, again, *yes*: it’s got a hell of a lot more style than “I’m going to take this motherfucker out if it’s the last thing I do,” which is invariably the case when I come across these kinds of phrases in these books spoken by the Earth characters, of which I think Kevin’s oath there may be the most egregious in the whole trilogy. But I don’t understand *why* these characters often take the poetic route rather than the motherfucker route. *In* Fionavar, *with* Diarmuid, okay, I can see making the attempt to kinda sound like the people around you to get your point across, but overall…I really find it jarring. I’m pretty sure that in my earlier readings of the book I found it more romantic and–and, I suspect, how I *wished* people would talk, but as an adult reader there’s a lot more “really?” involved.

Hell of an oath, though. Gotta give him that.

Okay. Now. Now we reach one of what I think (as an adult; it never crossed my mind as a kid) is the contentious bits of the whole story: the return of the king.

I would like to get this off my chest right away: I LOVE THIS STORY THREAD. I love it with all the love in my little lovey heart. Now, I’m a child of the 80s, and there was a huge Arthurian resurgence in the 80s and I read all of it and loved it and what I particularly loved is that, as with current-day vampires, you can take Arthur and reshape the legend and retell it and find new ins and outs and it still offers the bones of something old and strong and powerful. I love retellings of many things for this reason, and the Fionavar Tapestry was probably one of the first Arthurian retellings I came across during that resurgence, so it holds a special place in my heart.

“Are they there yet?”

7 Comments


  1. Notes from the characters page: Paul and Dave have their new names listed, and Paul and Kim have their new titles.

    I love the initial interplay between Dave and Kevin. This is something that’s been going on for a while, and it’s been friendly teasing on Kevin’s side all along, but now Dave is able to give about as good as he gets.

    I hadn’t forgotten Jennifer’s pregnancy, but I had forgotten about Galadan finding them and the emergency trip back to Fionavar. I had mentally combined Jennifer giving birth with when all five of them return, too. Jen was established as being Roman Catholic in the first book, so I wonder if that also played a part in her decision to keep the child.

    I like the interactions between Paul and Jaelle here. I get the impression that while he can see her as a person and not just her position, he also respects her position. His lecturing can be a little insufferable, but he’s not wrong to be wary. Also amused by Jaelle telling Leila not to lecture her like the other priestesses.

    I had completely forgotten how they got back to Fionavar, or how Arthur came into it. I think I had him lumped in with Owein. Isn’t there an Owein in the Knights of the Round Table? Either way, it’s fun to see the setup of things and know what’s being set up on a reread. (Even Kevin’s thoughts about, well, making love.)

    I’m not really sure why the lios alfar were shielding themselves. Was Daniloth particularly ravaged by the first war? It makes for a beautifully poetic scene when they remove the cloaking, but I’m not sure why it was still there in the first place.

    The Dalrei are still one of my favorite parts, and oh, Tabor. Every time he and Imraith-Nimphais talk with each other, it’s lovely and heartbreaking.

    Other notes: Dave makes a great berserker. ;)


    1. I bet her faith did have something to do with it, but I think far more of it is the reasons stated: that if Maugrin didn’t want the child in the world, then she was by god going to have it. So to speak.

      There’s an Owain in the Knights, which may be a deliberate homage on GGK’s part, or even just a different spelling of the same name, which is also (on a quick google) spelled Ywain and Yvain. I’d not lumped Arthur in together (tho I’m trying to remember how they come by Lance, at this point–I’d kind of thought maybe he was part of the Hunt himself).

      I’m not sure if Daniloth was particularly ravaged or if it’s just that the dark elves really, really like to kill and eat the lios alfar and therefore hiding themselves was prudent.

      I love Dave. Dave is my favourite. RAAR BIG MAN WITH AXE RAAAAR


  2. Hey, this doesn’t seem to have propagated over to your LJ, unless I’m completely crazy (which might also be the case)


  3. Don’t really have much to say about these opening chapters that I haven’t said before: breathless, absorbing plot movement. not a lot of explanation for character development.

    it did bother me that the team set up Jennifer to act as a “sexy distraction” at Stonehenge. And she does mention in the next set of chapters that she wasn’t entirely comfortable with pretending that way. But seriously? It shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to know that someone as thoroughly and brutally assaulted and objectified as Jennifer had been probably should not be asked put on that kind of an act.

    I feel like more recent books have had a better sense of how to illuminate character development, so it will be interesting to see if that holds up on this re-reading. Of course, his later books have been many more pages so that may help some.


    1. Well, Kim was busy and this was published in like 1986 so probably it didn’t occur to GGK that it could’ve been Paul and Kevin making out instead… :)

      I think you’re right about improved character development, but that’s not surprising, since most people get better at their jobs with practice. And yeah, not only are later books longer but also the expectation of book lengths had changed–if the Fionavar Tapestry had been written in the mid-90s instead of mid-80s each book could potentially have been considerably more substantial, as that was the fad by then. That could’ve changed the developments, too, but it’s more likely practice, I imagine.


  4. “Normal modern people do not say things like ‘To this I will make reply although he be a god and it mean my death.'”

    I noted that for comment as well. I mean, I could perhaps see saying it, and we’re given to understand that our crew from Earth is of the sort who have originally gathered for a Celtic culture seminar, with perhaps the implication of interest in SCA/HEMA/whatever the contemporary subculture is. So who knows? Maybe Dave is so great against the urgach because he’s spending Saturday afternoons at the pells after studying up on Law.

    Regarding Paul and Jennifer coming back to Fionavar – this, along with the trip to Stonehenge, had me thinking – ‘what’s the point of this?’ It’s like, they’re zooming back and forth between worlds, instead of being economical with the thread of the story and minimizing crossings.

    I’m totally down with Jennifer’s intent to spit in Maugrim’s eye with everything she does; how she chooses to do it is her choice. I confess that in her shoes I probably would not have kept the child, and would have started stocking up on cases of weaponry and plenty of jeweler’s rouge for the next crossing, but she’s keyed in on the child as a way to spite the god, and I can’t argue with that. Spite’s not something we like to talk about, but it can get things done.

    That said, the Arthurian bit seems… odd to me. It’s like, okay, here you have a sub-world whose resonances are then feeding back into the primary world of Fionavar. Like the shadow influencing the object casting it. Still, it’s early enough that I really haven’t seen how it affects things, and there’s only one remaining thing that I remember from my first read-through, and that’s at the very end, so I’ll be interested to see how all these things thread together.

    Absolutely, absolutely, concur on the sexy distraction bit. It serves its purpose from a story perspective of getting out information on her mindset, but it does so at the cost of making her companions seem unbearably unempathetic. Hard to read that.

    I’ve a picture of Imraith-Nimphais to post, once I finish it. It won’t be done to my liking, but that’s a given. ^_^;

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