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«Author(s): Sarah McColvin Title: The weaver at the loom: A discussion of Guy Gavriel Kay’s use of myth and legend in The Fionavar Tapestry Date: ...»

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Author(s): Sarah McColvin

Title: The weaver at the loom: A discussion of Guy Gavriel Kay’s use of myth and

legend in The Fionavar Tapestry

Date: September 2013

Originally published as: University of Chester MA dissertation

Example citation: McColvin, S. (2013). The weaver at the loom: A discussion of Guy

Gavriel Kay’s use of myth and legend in The Fionavar Tapestry. (Unpublished master’s thesis). University of Chester, United Kingdom.

Version of item: Submitted version Available at: http://hdl.handle.net/10034/312014 University of Chester Department of English MA Modern and Contemporary Fiction EN7306 Dissertation

The Weaver at the Loom:

A Discussion of Guy Gavriel Kay’s Use of Myth and Legend in The Fionavar Tapestry G33599 September 2013 Table of Contents Introduction Page 1 Chapter One: Page 8 The Mythical Aspects of The Fionavar Tapestry and the Influence of Christianity on Kay’s Fantasy Trilogy Chapter Two: Page 23 Legendary Figures and the Creation of Stories Chapter Three: Page 35 ‘The Morphology of Fionavar: Applying Propp’s ‘Functions of Dramatis Personae’ to Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fantasy Trilogy’ Conclusion Page 49 Bibliography Page 52

The Weaver at the Loom:

A Discussion of Guy Gavriel Kay’s Use of Myth and Legend in The Fionavar Tapestry This work will examine the ways in which contemporary fantasy author, Guy Gavriel Kay, uses myths and legends in the construction of his high fantasy trilogy, The Fionavar Tapestry by demonstrating the thematic and structural similarities between these genres. It will do so by analysing some of the myths and legends used in Kay’s texts. These come from a variety of sources including Celtic, Norse and Greek mythology; Judeo-Christian myths; and some of the legends associated with King Arthur. It will also show the connections between these myths and legends as they often utilise similar themes or have a shared heritage. For accounts of the Arthurian legends this study has used those given in Le Morte d’Arthur and The Mabinogion, though there are many other sources available. In order to demonstrate the structural connections, this work will apply the theories of Vladimir Propp as established in the Morphology of the Folktale. However, the complexity of the narratives in fantasy literature as compared to the simplicity of folktales and what that means for the application of the ‘Functions of Dramatis Personae’ will also be explored. The choices Kay makes concerning the names of characters and places within his trilogy will be examined alongside

–  –  –

It is difficult to avoid generalisations when discussing an entire genre; doubly so when discussing more than one. But the links between traditional story-telling styles and fantasy literature have long been acknowledged. Fantasy fiction is a genre which has developed out of the traditional oral narratives of myth, legend and folktale: ‘Fantasy is bound by tradition: its structure and motifs are drawn from folk literatures, including European fairy tales, Celtic legendary, Norse epic, and various bodies of myth’.1 Myth and legend are terms which have many definitions and they are often used interchangeably and because of the ambiguous nature of these terms it is worth defining how they will be used in this work. Therefore, for the purposes of this study, the distinction between these classifications of stories will be made along supernatural lines. Thus myth will be used to mean: ‘[a] traditional story, typically involving supernatural beings or forces, which embodies and provides an explanation, aetiology, or justification for something such as the early history of a society, a religious belief or ritual, or a natural phenomenon’.2 Whereas legends will be understood as stories concerning the actions of human heroes: ‘[a]n unauthentic or non-historical story, esp.

one handed down by tradition from early times and popularly regarded as historical’.3 This dissertation will examine the structural and thematic connections between Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Fionavar Tapestry and traditional story-telling, such as myth,


Brian Attebery, ‘Science Fantasy and Myth’ in Intersections: Fantasy and Science Fiction, ed. George E. Slusser and Eric S. Rabkin (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1987), pp. 181-189, p. 182.

Definition of ‘myth’ taken from www.oed.com, http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/124670?rskey=5TEacn&result=1#eid [accessed 22 September 2013].

Definition of ‘legend’ taken from www.oed.com, http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/107040?rskey=98n86x&result=1#eid [accessed 22 September 2013].

–  –  –

of mythical beasts and magical objects; the super-human endeavours of heroes; and gods walking the earth. However, much of the critical work which has been produced on the genre of fantasy literature has focussed on Tolkien and the majority of fantasy authors are largely ignored by the critical establishment. This is perhaps due to misguided belief that fantasy literature is for children. Though much of what comprises the canon of fantasy literature was originally aimed at a younger audience, such as The Hobbit, Alice in Wonderland and The Chronicles of Narnia, the genre has developed from there and now encompasses a wide range of styles. The lack of critical work on the genre beyond these canonical texts ignores the complexity of the narratives and their huge popularity. However, fantasy literature, being a modern genre, has to reflect the changes in society and cannot merely re-tell myths to its contemporary readers without up-dating them; revitalising them in some way: ‘Literary history will always be an expression of now: current needs, dreads, preoccupations’.4 Whilst Tolkien is undeniably an extremely important fantasy author, this dissertation will move away from his works and instead will examine an author who has been influenced by him: Guy Gavriel Kay. Kay’s connection to Tolkien is in part due to his work on editing The Silmarillion after Tolkien’s death but Kay was also fascinated by the myths and legends which inspired Tolkien.5 Whilst Kay was inspired by Tolkien, he wanted to show that the genre could evolve beyond Tolkien’s novels: ‘Fionavar was and is my 'take' on the classic Tolkienic high fantasy tropes and motifs. It was a


Gillian Beer, ‘Representing Women: Re-presenting the Past’ in Catherine Belsey and Jane Moore (eds.), The Feminist Reader: Essays in Gender and the Politics of Literary Criticism (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 1997), pp. 77-90, p. 80.

These are subjects which Kay has spoken about in many interviews including Nancy Pearl, ‘Book Lust featuring Guy Gavriel Kay’, Book Lust Podcast (3 March 2007).

–  –  –

many of the fantastic races of people in The Fionavar Tapestry are inspired by the figures from The Lord of the Rings; the lios alfar and their malignant opposites, the svart alfar, for example, are comparable to Tolkien’s elves and orcs. There are also comparisons which can be drawn between Gandalf and Loren Silvercloak, the mage in Kay’s trilogy. But rather than just retell Tolkien’s stories, Kay went to the sources which had inspired Tolkien; myths and legends, particularly those from the Celtic tradition.7 Kay has spoken at length about the research into Norse and Celtic mythology which he conducted before writing The Fionavar Tapestry and most of the critical work that has been produced on Kay’s works focusses on this aspect of it. However, there is a strong argument for the influence of Christian mythology on his works. Chapter one, ‘The Mythical Aspects of The Fionavar Tapestry and the Influence of Christianity on Kay’s Fantasy Trilogy’, will discuss Kay’s use of myths in the construction of his novels. Firstly, whilst there are many gods and goddesses who are present in Fionavar, the creation of all things is attributed to The Weaver. This omnipotent figure is also the only presence in Fionavar who is aware of the past, present and future in a similar way to which the Christian God is. The Fionavar Tapestry includes a figure who is the personification of evil, Rakoth Maugrim. Rarely in pagan mythology are there deities who are purely evil, though they are often shown to be spiteful and vindictive, pagan gods and goddesses can also display mercy and kindness to their favourites. Mercy and compassion are alien concepts to Maugrim. His utter lack of these emotions is perhaps linked to the idea that he is not of Fionavar; he was not born or created there but


Alma A. Hromic, ‘A Conversation With Guy Gavriel Kay’ http://www.sfsite.com/03a/ggk171.htm [accessed 22 May 2013].

Kay has talked about this in many interviews including the one conducted by Nancy Pearl, Book Lust Podcast (3 March 2007).

–  –  –

high fantasy trilogy, draws heavily from these traditions and also includes direct references to the importance of the oral performance of storytelling. The trilogy is set on the fantasy world of Fionavar, which has a rich mythology and a number of legends associated with historical events and these stories are told, sung and danced by natives of Fionavar to the Canadian characters who are magically transported to this world.

Fionavar is a pre-industrial society therefore myth and legend are appropriate literary forms. These stories enable both the Canadian characters to understand their surroundings as well as adding cultural depth to the narrative. Fionavar is depicted as the primary creation, therefore the existence of many well-known mythical and

legendary characters in this world is explained:

There are many worlds […] caught in the loops and whorls of time. […]. Only in Fionavar, the prime creation, which all the others imperfectly reflect, is the lore gathered and preserved that tells of how to bridge the worlds (ST, p.30) These existing myths and legends are added to by the inclusion of current events. As the group of five Canadians is separated by the events of the narrative, the recounting of specific events becomes more important as a way of sharing information. However as the events in question are often fantastic these reports gain significance and often become legendary. This lends itself to the argument that Kay is not only adapting and using existing myths and legends but that he is also creating them.

Because of the numerous gods, goddesses, demi-gods, and non-human races in The Fionavar Tapestry a certain amount of clarification might be of use. The lios alfar are an elf-like race who are not immortal but do live a long time, before sailing to a ‘world shaped by the Weaver for the lios alfar alone, and there we go when we leave

–  –  –

they behave in what can be considered the archetypal form, and they will not be included in any discussion of human characters. These two races will be discussed alongside the human characters as ‘mortal’ in order to differentiate them from the gods, goddesses and andain, or demi-gods, which feature in the texts. Whilst there are many andain, only Galadan and Flidais are named and these two characters play key roles in the narrative. The svart alfar and urgach, the vicious and deformed soldiers of Rakoth Maugrim’s army, do not feature heavily in the discussion here. Therefore, whilst the forces of the Light are often named, the army of the Dark are largely a nameless horde and this lack of distinction between characters enforces the idea that they are of no importance to their leader. The only members of Maugrim’s forces who are named are Uathach, the only urgach who is named; Galadan the Wolflord; Fordaetha of Rük;

Avaia, the black swan and the dwarf brothers, Blöd and Kaen. Fordaetha is a character who is, arguably, based upon the character of the Snow Queen but, as she only appears briefly in the text and is swiftly driven back to the ice-bound regions of Rük, she will not feature in the discussion here. Avaia is a hideously large black swan who has anthropomorphic qualities, such as an ability to speak and process information. She is a lieutenant in Maugrim’s army and she transports Jennifer to Starkadh, where she is raped by Maugrim. Uathach was an urgach who has been altered by Maugrim and it could be argued that he was created by Maugrim, thus making him closer to the andain than the humans. Galadan is the most important of Maugrim’s adherents though his purpose differs in a fundamental way to Maugrim’s: he seeks the total destruction of Fionavar whereas Maugrim desires to rule it. The mage Metran can be included in the list of Maugrim’s agents. He is a duplicitous character who is initially presented as on


Guy Gavriel Kay, The Summer Tree (London: Voyager, 2006), p. 180. All further references will be given in the body of the text.

–  –  –

celebrate the king’s jubilee. However, as the trilogy progresses, it becomes apparent that he has become corrupted by his quest for revenge and power thus shifting his allegiance to the Dark.

. As well as utilising many well-known myths and mythological figures, Kay includes characters from legend, most notably King Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot.

This will be the topic of chapter two, ‘Legendary Figures and the Creation of Stories’.

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