«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: ...»
Paul’s time on the Summer Tree combines pagan and Christian symbolism. He is bound, naked, to the tree in order to die and save the land having taken the ageing king’s place. This is reminiscent of J.G. Frazer’s The Golden Bough and his discussions on the concept of The King of the Wood. Kay utilises the connections between the king, the god and a sacred tree established by Frazer, who states that in primitive cultures
Sturluson, Snorri, The Younger Edda: Also Called Snorre’s Edda or The Prose Edda, trans. by Rasmus Björn Anderson, ([n.p.]: Amazon Media EU, [n.d.]), Kindle edition, ch, XV ‘The Death of Balder’, part 54.
Herbert Spencer Robinson and Knox Wilson, Myths and Legends of All Nations (Totowa, NJ:
Littlefield, Adams & Co., 1978), p. 163.
Sturluson, The Younger Edda, ch. XV, ‘The Death of Balder, part 54.
king to supply the required weather could eventually lead to him being sacrificed in order to appease the gods. Kay uses this motif in The Summer Tree but has the aging king Ailell refuse to go when called: ‘If there truly is some power of Darkness walking the land I can do nothing about it tonight unless I die. And truly, I do not want to die, on the Tree or otherwise’ (pp. 91-92). However, Kay includes a caveat in this ritual which enables the king to send a surrogate in his place, though the surrogate must offer themselves freely and be given permission. Paul offers to go in Ailell’s place and accepts that he will die in the process. However, Paul does not die; he is reborn as an agent of the god. This resurrection raises obvious similarities to the resurrection of Jesus. Yet Paul’s rebirth results in him becoming someone other than himself. Whilst in many ways Paul remains the same character, in some fundamental way he has changed, which is demonstrated in the changing of his name from Paul to Pwyll.
world from Norse mythology. As previously noted, this may be because Kay himself has stated in interview that much of the mythological landscape of Fionavar was shaped from Norse mythology. The connections are also quite obvious when you consider that
Mörnir is based upon Odin, who hung from Yggdrasil in order to gain knowledge:
I ween that I hung | on the windy tree, Hung there for nights full nine;
With the spear I was wounded, | and offered I was To Othin, myself to myself, On the tree that none | may ever know What root beneath it runs.19
James George Frazer, The Golden Bough, Vol. I ([n.p.]: Amazon Media EU, [n.d.]), Kindle edition, ‘Primitive Man and the Supernatural’, para. 3.
Henry Adams Bellows, (trans. by), The Poetic Edda, http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/poe/index.htm [accessed 10 August 2013], stanza 139.
nights. However Paul does gain knowledge and insight concerning the death of his girlfriend Rachel, though the forgiveness comes not from Mörnir but from Dana, the Mother. It is shown to Paul that Rachel’s death was an accident which he could not have prevented and this links him to his namesake, Pwyll from The Mabinogion, who described as ‘a fallible human’ rather than as a supernatural hero.20
Lancelot and Guinevere. Kevin means ‘handsome, beautiful’ a title which reflects his role as Liadon, the lost lover of the goddess Dana. Dave, the diminutive of David, meaning ‘cherished or beloved’ is perhaps initially used ironically as he seems to be neither loved nor cherished by his father. Yet as the trilogy progresses and Dave finds his place among the Dalrei he does become loved by the tribe. More importantly he also becomes the ‘beloved’ of the goddess Ceinwen, and fathers an andain child with her.
Paul’s name has obvious biblical connotations which further illustrate his connection to the story of the resurrection of Jesus. The name of the Dwarf Kaen is an allusion to Cain, the biblical character, though he does not murder his brother. However he is a treacherous figure and his offering to the dragon is rejected sending Kaen into a rage which results in his death. His brother Blöd is later killed by Matt Sören. Blöd’s moniker suggests the pagan blood sacrifice, blot. Starkadh, the name of Maugrim’s black fortress is an allusion to Starkad ‘a typical hero of Odin, whose story is most fully told in Saxo’s history, [who] held women in utter contempt’21. When you consider what happened to Jennifer in Starkadh, and the utter contempt for her, expressed through Maugrim’s violation of not only her body but her mind as well, it is easy to see the
Meic Stephens (ed.), The Oxford Companion to the Literature of Wales (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), p. 501.
Hilda Roderick Ellis Davidson, The Lost Beliefs of Northern Europe (London: Routledge, 1993), p. 78.
Maugrim’s subsequent command to Blöd that ‘[at] morning’s end you are to kill her […]. Any way you like, but she must die. There is a reason’ (ST, p. 387). As it is Blöd, whose name means ‘blood sacrifice’ who is commanded to kill her, Jennifer’s rape and murder become ritualistic; she is to be sacrificed, after her body and mind have been broken, to the powerful god Rakoth Maugrim. However, Blöd fails to accomplish this task and his failure to offer the correct blood offering to Maugrim not only signals his own death (he is after all Kaen’s brother) but initiates Maugrim’s own demise as the child he has fathered with Jennifer will tie him to the Tapestry thus meaning he can be killed.
Whilst Maugrim is ultimately defeated and killed, his release does bring about a powerful change in the societies of Fionavar as they move towards a more human world as the gods recced into mythology and play a lesser part in the lives of men. Ragnarok was the destruction of one world and the creation of another and the effects of the war with Maugrim have altered the peoples of Fionavar. At the close of the trilogy, the gods, goddesses and andain of Fionavar retreat from the world, leaving it to the races of mortals. This marks a symbolic transition from myth to legend.
This chapter will examine Kay’s use of legends in a similar way to which we have already looked at myths. The focus of much of this chapter will be Kay’s use of the Arthurian legends and the way he adapts them to appeal to a contemporary audience. As with any legend, and indeed myth, there are many different versions of the legends surrounding King Arthur. This chapter will draw upon the accounts given in Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur and The Mabinogion. The Arthurian legends have been a rich source of inspiration to writers for many years and Kay also alludes to some of these in his trilogy. In The Fionavar Tapestry Kay combines the retelling of legends from the distant past with the creation of new legends as the actions of the five Canadian characters become part of the legends of Fionavar. The legends of the past are a major component of the history of Fionavar, as historical events develop a legendary quality
and the line between them blurs:
Legends, as we use the term, tell us the stories of the heroes of old […]. Tales of heroes often contain mythical or fanciful elements, but many of them are based upon at least some bit, or even a considerable amount, of factual or historical truth, though it is often impossible to determine just where fact ends and fantasy begins.1 However, Kay presents the legends of Fionavar in such a way that suggests that they are true rather than exaggerations of actual historical events. The only exception to his come at the end of the trilogy: ‘[t]here was a legend that took shape in after days, a tale that grew, perhaps, because so many of those who lived through that time wanted it to be true’(DR, p. 384). Here is there is an open acknowledgement of the construction of the legend along with an admission of the falsity often contained within them.
Herbert Spencer Robinson and Knox Wilson, Myths and Legends of All Nations (Totowa, NJ:
Littlefield, Adams & Co., 1978), p. x.
associated with legend. This is different to the rituals that are performed in order to reenact elements of myths as legends are concerned with the deeds of men rather than gods.
heroes from the distant past, especially those of during the Bael Rangat. These legends are repeated in various ways to the contemporary characters which highlights the importance of the oral tradition associated with myth and legend. In The Fionavar Tapestry the stories are not written down, even though the societies of Brennin and Cathal are shown to be literate. Instead they are told as stories; performed in song and even recounted in dance. The telling of legends starts from the prologue of The Summer Tree when the first battle against Rakoth Maugrim has become a ‘song for drunken tavern nights, no more true of less than any other such songs, no more bright’ (p. 15).
There is the suggestion that whilst the people of Fionavar have forgotten the actual battle, from a historical point of view, they have kept the associated legends and that throughout the ages these legends have been exaggerated and altered to fit the changing attitudes of their audience because ‘there were newer deeds to extol’ (p 15). The introduction of the five Canadian characters allows for the legends of old to be retold to a virgin audience. Not all the legends are told as stories though; Kimberley has the history of Fionavar spun for her by the lake spirit, Eilathen: ‘spin for her Eilathen. Spin the Tapestry, that she may learn what she is and what has been’ (p. 116). Through this Kay is able to provide all the history of this magical world to his readers by using a literary device more usually associated with science fiction; the ‘info-dump’.2 This
Farah Mendlesohn, ‘Introduction: Reading Science Fiction’ in Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), pp.1-12, p.5
understand its history and social structure in a way which is not too intrusive in the narrative. By transporting five Canadians into Fionavar, the need for them to have this information is matched by the readers need for it and therefore Kay is able to avoid this ‘info-dump’ being merely added to the story in order to inform the readers. The legends of Fionavar shape the new-comers understanding and are often presented as historical events, such as when Levon tells Dave the legend of Amairgen and Lisen in The Summer Tree. However as these events occurred several hundred years before the time of the novels and Levon does acknowledge that ‘[i]t is a long story […] and much of import comes into it, and has grown out of it’ (p. 312). Amairgen was the first mage in Brennin and his story is crucial in understanding the friction between the high priestess of the mother goddess, Jaelle, and Loren Silvercloak. It also offers an explanation for the hostility of the spirits in Pendaren Wood and introduces the devastating effect Lisen’s death had on Galadan, who desires the end of the world because of it. The legends of Fionavar that are offered as stories to the Canadians are essential for them to understand the alien society in which they find themselves.
The actions of the five central characters come to be told to groups of others and therefore become part of the legends of Fionavar. The lios alfar sing of the final battle during the banquet at the end of the trilogy but their exploits are also transmitted in other forms; Dave and Torc’s killing of the urgach in the woods when Dave first arrives in Fionavar becomes a dance amid bonfires in the camps of the Dalrei: ‘there was only a girl in the ring of fire, only a girl and her shadow, dancing, miming, becoming the scene she shaped, offering it to all of them’ (ST, p. 292). Therefore the story is not merely passed from person to person but it becomes part of the legends of the Dalrei, to be told around fires for years to come. Yet this legend, and the others that follow, also become
also because Dave ultimately leaves Fionavar and returns to Earth. By using characters from familiar Earth surroundings, Kay is able to extend the field of influence of the legends he has created back to the world from which the characters originate. This is the opposite to the way he treats the legend of King Arthur; here he transports a figure from Earth legend to a fantasy world and finally allows him peace and the longed-for departure with Lancelot and Guinevere.