«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: ...»
battle.14 In contrast to the seeker-hero, victim-heroes have actions forced upon them rather than initiating the action: ‘the banished hero is transported away from home’; or ‘the hero condemned to death is secretly freed’.15 Kay chooses to have a young woman, Jennifer, in the role of victim-hero, and he effectively contrasts her passive character with the dynamic Kimberley. Jennifer, whilst she is never ‘banished’, is abducted and taken to Starkadh and after she has been raped by Maugrim she is ‘condemned to death’ and then freed by Kimberley. However, Jennifer is not the only victim hero in The Fionavar Tapestry. Due to the multi-faceted nature of fantasy literature, many different characters can occupy the role of victim-hero; Finn, Darien’s beloved brother is taken by The Wild Hunt to ride Iselen: ‘A child before them all’ and this means that he not only leaves the home he had with his family, but that he leaves the realm of the living (WF, p. 152). Yet after the final battle, when Galadan calls The Wild Hunt, Finn is ‘freed’ by Leila calling him from the temple in Paras Derval. Though he dies when he falls from Iselen, his soul is freed to journey to the Weaver’s side as the mythology of Fionavar dictates. Kevin combines aspects of both seeker- and victim-hero; he departs to sacrifice himself in Dun Maura under his own initiative though it is not in response to a call for help in a conventional sense.
Propp, Morphology of the Folktale, Function IX.
Propp, Morphology of the Folktale, Function IX.
than to murder as specified by Propp.
Propp’s functions then proceed through the stages of the hero’s quest until they reach what he describes as the ‘peak function’; Function XIX – ‘the initial misfortune or lack is liquidated’.16 Because there are so many narrative strands within The Fionavar Tapestry each separate interaction which follows Propp’s functions will end with ‘the initial misfortune’ being resolved. So for every heroic quest there is a villain who is defeated or a magical object which is located. Therefore by the end of the trilogy all the loose threads are tied off and, in keeping with the fantasy tradition, the forces of the Light are victorious though not without loss. Most obviously this function applies to Darien’s death and the killing of Rakoth Maugrim, as Maugrim is the instigator of all the misfortune in the novels. Darien, Maugrim’s son by Jennifer, has become a seekerhero during The Darkest Road as he was searching for the place in which he belonged.
This adds another dimension to the narrative as it suggests a psychological desire to find his family and this is not something which would be included in traditional story narratives. Darien’s quest leads him to Starkadh, to his father, who Darien had hoped would accept him and the gifts he brought: ‘He was a worthy son, an ally. Even an equal, perhaps. Bringing more than a Dwarvish dagger as a gift. He was bringing himself’ (p. 359). However, upon being mentally assaulted by Maugrim and realising that he had love in heart for some of the people dying on the battlefield, Darien chooses the Light and throws himself on the magical dagger, Lökdal, that is held by his father.
This sacrifice results in Maugrim’s death as Darien’s existence is the only thing which makes Maugrim vulnerable: ‘A child of my seed binds me into time! It puts my name in the Tapestry, and I can die!’ (p. 365). Upon Maugrim’s demise the forces of the Light
Propp, Morphology of the Folktale, Function XIX.
Galadan and the Wild Hunt and these threads are bound together. Galadan desires the total annihilation of Fionavar and the Wild Hunt are the means to this end. However his plan is thwarted when Finn is thrown from Iselen and Ruana comes to bind the Wild Hunt again. Galadan is offered forgiveness and leaves with his father Cernan thus liquidating the initial misfortune in Galadan’s narrative which started over one thousand years prior to its resolution.
Fantasy novels, such as The Fionavar Tapestry, are comprised of many, interconnected yet distinct, narratives which closely resemble the narrative structure of the folktales studied by Propp. By plotting Propp’s ‘Functions of Dramatis Personae’ onto Kay’s trilogy the structural similarities between the genres of folktale and fantasy literature become apparent. This further demonstrates the connections between these genres and shows that fantasy literature has developed from traditional story-telling in the style of its construction.
As established in the introduction, this study aimed to demonstrate the thematic connections between myth and fantasy by showing how Kay uses myth in the construction of his fantasy landscape. Whilst Kay has been inspired by Norse and Celtic mythology, his works also include a notable Christian influence which has been ignored by other critics. Kay uses a wide variety of mythical sources, only a few of which have been discussed, and this is demonstrated by the complexity of the narrative. The Fionavar Tapestry weaves Celtic, Greek, Norse and Christian mythology into its narrative framework which gives depth to the society of Fionavar. The inter-connected nature of myth is demonstrated by the way an allusion to one particular myth can also be a depiction of several other myths from a variety of cultures. It can be argued that Kay uses myth and legend as form of narrative shortcut; by utilising well-established narrative forms he is able to dispense with large descriptive passages. Little has been mentioned of the other myths and legends of Fionavar and how they can be mapped on to existing stories; such as those involving The Wild Hunt, Amairgen and Lisen, the corruption of the white swans by Galadan, the inclusion of the dragon and the flying unicorn, Imraith Nimphais. Many of these figures and mythical creatures feature in established myths and legends but their inclusion in Kay’s trilogy has been explored.
Kay’s use of the Arthurian legends is unusual as he subverts the general understanding of the idea that Arthur is the once and future king. Instead of Arthur being rewarded for his heroic deeds, he is punished for having the children killed. Arthur is only freed from this curse by the actions of Diarmuid, who takes his place in single combat. This relinquishing of responsibility enables Arthur to change from the Childslayer to a saviour of one particular child. Without Diarmuid’s sacrifice, a demonstration of his free-will, Arthur would not have been free to leave Fionavar. Kay does use the well-known love triangle of
is no illicit contact between Guinevere and Lancelot though their attraction and affection is acknowledged. The contemporary Canadian characters are shown to demonstrate free will and this alters the mythical and legendary structure of Fionavar. Jennifer’s influence over Guinevere is what, perhaps, prohibits her from acting on her feelings for Lancelot as her Catholic faith is of great importance to Jennifer. Kimberley’s refusal to bind the Dragon of Calor Diman and call it war is connected to Arthur gaining his freedom too. Kimberley’s actions force Tabor to face Maugrim’s dragon and it is Tabor whom Arthur catches, thus saving his life. However there are many depictions of King Arthur in the texts examined here which would merit further study, as well as those which are included in other sources. A greater discussion on the importance of names and what can be inferred from them, whether they are legendary characters or not could also field some interesting results.
Whilst the similarities between fantasy and myth or legend are obvious to most readers, it is the complexity of the narratives which have enabled fantasy to develop into a distinct genre. The Fionavar Tapestry weaves together several different narrative strands into a complex whole. The application of Propp’s theories demonstrates the structural similarities between fantasy and folktale, and these can be extended to myth and legend as folktale is a form of these modes of story-telling. However, as fantasy has a much larger cast of characters the functions Propp defines can be applied to many different characters at different points in the text. The character occupying the role of hero in Kay’s texts shifts depending on the skill set required to conquer the challenge faced at that juncture. Due to the length allowed for this work, not all of Propp’s functions could be discussed in much detail but that is something which could be addressed in subsequent studies.
Due to the length and complexity of The Fionavar Tapestry and the word limit allowed for this dissertation, there are many aspects which could have been explored but
investigation of the differences between the genders as depicted by Kay. Another possibility for analysis could be the non-sexual, but deeply intimate, relationships between characters such as Silvercloak and Matt Sören; Finn and Leila; and Tabor and Imraith Nimphais. Both of these relationships include death and a shift in power.
This study has attempted to offer an engaging and informative analysis of Kay’s use of myth and legend in his fantasy trilogy by examining some of the sources utilised there. By doing so, it has perhaps demonstrated one reason for the enormous popularity of the genre and its lasting appeal.
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