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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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It would be the stuff of legend and of song if any generations came after them, to tell old stories and sing them. Sing the ride of Ivor, who rode to Celidon with the Dalrei behind him through a wild night and a day to meet the army of the Dark and to battle them on the Plain in the name of the Light (WF, p.311) This illustrates the creation of new legends and alludes to the legends of Fionavar from during the first war against Maugrim which emphasises the cyclical nature of these stories. The actions of current heroes are compared to the legends of old and as time


MacKillop, A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780198609674.001.0001/acref-9780198609674-erskey=VjKL3w&result=1 [accessed 12 September 2013].

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stories. This hybridisation often occurs as characters accept traditional titles, such as Ivor becoming the first Aven, the chief of all the tribes, in a thousand years. One of the legends of the previous Aven involves a perilous ride through Daniloth in order to join the battle against the Dark and this is a motif which is repeated in the actions of Ivor.

The repetition and duplication of legendary acts has already been discussed in the discussion of the Arthurian legends. There are many examples of the actions of the central characters developing into legends: ‘[t]hey will sing of [it] here as long as Brennin lasts, regardless of the end’ (ST, p.222) but there is also a suggestion that the legends will exist beyond Fionavar. This is connected to Kay’s use of the trope of departure into the unknown which is something that he uses often. Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere leave together with Taleisin with no explanation as to where they are going or what will become of them. Apparently, it is enough that they get their happy ending.

Paul does the opposite; he stays in Brennin with Jaelle. Leaving a character in Fionavar also suggests a continuation of the story after the book has finished; having all the five Canadians leave together would close the trilogy off with finality. Instead Kay has one die in self-sacrifice to the mother goddess; one leave Fionavar to travel to, presumably, some form of paradise; one to stay and continue as the hand of the thunder god and two to leave after their tasks are completed. But having two of them leave, and presumably tell their stories, transports the legends from Fionavar to Earth. But as Fionavar is the primary creation of the Weaver, what happens on Fionavar is reflected and echoed through all the other worlds. As Fionavar itself is mythical it is referenced in Kay’s

other texts, most notably in Tigana:

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often than his subsequent texts. In the three books that follow The Fionavar Tapestry, not only is Fionavar explicitly mentioned but this world has become part of the myths and folktales of the worlds in which these novels are set. Therefore, Kay is not only creating myths in Fionavar; he is creating myths of Fionavar in other worlds and texts.

In The Fionavar Tapestry Kay uses the characters from Arthurian legend to add depth to his narrative but rather than simply including them he adapts and modernises them. Kay’s versions of Arthur and Guinevere are more complex than the characters from the legends and this is due to a contemporary interest in psychology. The ways in which Kay combines legends from different sources and includes some of the lesser known figures is an extension of the ways legends develop over time. Instead of simply using legends within his fantasy narrative, Kay creates legends both in Fionavar and beyond it. The five Canadian characters become figures in the mythology and legends of Fionavar; they achieve a legendary status which was not available to them on Earth.

However, Kimberley and Dave are shown to desire a return to the normality of their lives, as they arrange a date once they have returned to Earth. This suggests that the two characters who return to their former lives have remained more connected to Earth than the others, even though they have both experienced a significant change in their personalities. Kay has the Seer of Brennin and Ceinwen’s lover return to Toronto to resume their lives and this extends the reach of the legends they have become part of back to Earth. This is perhaps the way the stories from the primary world are transmitted to the other planets; through the return of heroes.


Guy Gavriel Kay, Tigana (London and New York: Earthlight, 2002), pp. 432-433

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This chapter will demonstrate the structural connections between contemporary fantasy fiction and traditional story telling styles by mapping Vladimir Propp’s ‘Functions of Dramatis Personae’ on to The Fionavar Tapestry. However, during this process the limitations of Propp’s theories will also be used to show the development of fantasy literature from its basis in myth and legend to a vital contemporary literary genre.

Propp’s work is concerned with traditional folktales from a small but distinct geographic area. As these stories would have traditionally been told to an audience, rather than written down, the number of characters introduced will be fairly small.

Fantasy, particularly high fantasy such as The Fionavar Tapestry, has a much larger cast of characters and this results in a more complex narrative of stories within the overreaching narrative: ‘Often these functions are doubled or tripled, a rhetorical device that emphasizes their status as parts of a pattern, a story, rather than mimetic renderings of real human beings and lives. The pattern they make is usually a quest’.1 Because of this Propp’s functions can either be applied to the narrative as a whole or they can be mapped on to the individual narratives that comprise the story. Applying Propp’s functions to the separate narratives, rather than the text as a whole, you can see the ways in which the concept of ‘hero’ or ‘villain’ are fluid; transferring between characters depending on the situation that has arisen in the story. This chapter will apply Propp’s ‘Functions of Dramatis Personae’ to the separate narrative threads of the main


Brian Attebury, Strategies of Fantasy (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1992), p. 25.

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Propp’s thirty-one functions to Kay’s trilogy, and indeed to many fantasy texts, this chapter will only demonstrate the structural connections by applying a selection of the functions, examining in detail the functions concerned with absentation and using Propp’s definitions of ‘hero’ and ‘villain’ to show how the fantasy texts have developed these within a larger narrative.

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Leaves Home’.2 This function marks the start of the narrative and is applicable to both the beginning of Kay’s trilogy as a whole, as well as defining the start of the individual quests within the trilogy. Kay’s fantasy work is a complex narrative containing several distinct threads concerning varying characters and locating Propp’s primary function

within the texts enables the reader to separate these plots within the larger narrative:

Propp, for his part, tried to find constraints that, rooted in the structure of the tale as genre, predetermine the order of the functions occurring in any tale. Such constraints would allow readers to correlate acts with functions in more than just an ad hoc way 3 Kay also alters the meaning of this function by having the central characters leave home at the beginning of the trilogy, rather than the more traditional examples of parents leaving which is cited by Propp. Rather than this being one person, Kay removes five members of five different families, joined together through friendship, from the familiar environs of the University of Toronto and magically transports them to Fionavar. Yet to further complicate this absentation one of the five, Dave Martyniuk, separates himself from the group during the crossing and becomes absent within this absentation. This double absentation emphasises Dave’s distance from the group and introduces him to


Vladimir Propp, Morphology of the Folktale, 2nd edn., trans. by Laurence Scott, ed. by Louis A. Wagner (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998), Kindle edition.

David Herman, ‘Scripts, Sequences, and Stories: Elements of a Postclassical Narratology’, PMLA, 112.5 (1997), 1046-1059, p. 1049.

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to his reluctance to rely on others. However, it can be argued that Loren Silvercloak’s departure from Fionavar to collect ‘the Five’ from Toronto is in itself an application of Propp’s initial function as it marks the beginning of the narrative.

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separate journeys or quests that the five central characters embark upon. Dave has already become absent within the narrative and his isolation continues as he is not reunited with the others until the end of the third part of The Summer Tree. After a few diversionary chapters where the Canadian characters become accustomed to the kingdom of Brennin and the reader is introduced to the other native characters, a series of departures initiates the individual journeys that these five will embark upon.

Kimberley leaves Paras Derval to travel to the cottage of the aging seer, Ysanne, and from there she embarks on a journey which will establish her role within the texts. Later Paul also leaves the city, accompanied by the aging King and his chancellor, to sacrifice himself to Mörnir of the Thunder by hanging from the Summer Tree of the book’s title.

Jennifer’s departure is less dramatic, though it does result in the most traumatic journey.

The trauma of what happens to Jennifer is highlighted by the perfection and joy of the gathering up until the moment she is captured.

This function is distinct from the later one ‘The Hero Leaves Home’ as at this point in the narrative the character in question has not yet assumed the role of hero.4 Arguably, Jennifer never takes that title and remains a character to which things happen rather than a hero in any traditional sense of the word. She does however retain free will and is able to deliver the child of Rakoth Maugrim rather than merely being a pawn in the narratives of the others. The first of Propp’s functions can also be applied to


Propp, Morphology of the Folktale, Function XI.

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adoptive brother, Finn, leaves home to join The Wild Hunt mid-way through The Wandering Fire and this, coupled with his super-(in)human parentage, leaves him confused and alone. It also marks the beginning of Darien’s journey which also mostly follows the map established by Propp.

Propp’s second function (‘An Interdiction is Addressed to the Hero’) and his third (The Interdiction is Violated) ‘form a paired element’.5 Kay uses much less direct forms of interdiction, supplying the characters with the required information and allowing them to form their own opinions and act accordingly. This illustrates the importance of free-will in the texts, and gives the impression of having characters forge their own paths. However, defining which of the many characters is the ‘hero’ is more difficult in fantasy literature as it can, and often does, include a much larger cast than traditional story forms. The interdiction can take the form of a command, or be offered as ‘a request or bit of advice’ and Kay uses both of these forms in his narrative.6 The interdiction addressed to Paul does not occupy either of these definitions. He is never directly asked to act as the aging king’s surrogate but, arguably, it is implied during his late night ta’bael game with Ailell. He is subsequently told about the significance of the Tree by Coll and this coupled with his troubled mental state after the death of his girlfriend, results in Paul taking Ailell’s place on the tree. Propp states that ‘the second half [of the paired element] can sometimes exist without the first’7 but in Paul’s case the first part exists without the second. Paul is never forbidden from or asked not to become Ailell’s surrogate but the reaction of Silvercloak, that Paul ‘cannot possibly understand what he is doing’ (ST, p.220), suggests that the implicit interdiction has indeed been


Propp, Morphology of the Folktale, Function III, para. 1.

Propp, Morphology of the Folktale, Function II, para. 1.

Propp, Morphology of the Folktale, Function III, para. 1.

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Propp’s theories in the form the exiled prince Aileron. Aileron offered to take his father’s place on the tree but was refused: ‘The High King must consent to his surrogate, and when he refused, the Prince cursed him, which is treason, and was exiled’ (p. 94). Ailell himself refuses to go to the Tree, though his position as king would traditionally demand it. Only Paul’s offer is accepted, after he has been renamed by the king as Pwyll.

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