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glatisant

Guy Gavriel Kay

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His name's popped up here before, though I couldn't find a thread dedicated to him, so...

So far, I've read:

Tigana

A Song for Arbonne

The Lions of Al-Rassan (just finished this morning)

In some ways, his work remind me of the great 19th century romantics in their unabashed trafficking in emotion and melodrama: think Hugo, or Dumas, or Sir Walter Raleigh. The reader's reaction to Kay, I think, may partly be gaged by whether the above writers "do it" for him or not. (Not to say that the reverse is necessarily true; one can very well like the writer's I've named and dislike Kay at the same time.) For my part, Tigana completely bowled me over (one of the top 10 reading experiences in my life, I think), though I've found the subsequent novels less satisfying, if stirring in their own ways.

There's so much to say, but I want to hear what others think too. I know opus has read Tigana, at least, and surely you Canadians would know more of Kay than those of us in the U.S.? :)

Edited by glatisant

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::w00t::

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ME!!

Guy Gavriel Kay's novels are crying out to be adapted for the big screen, and this is a great place to start! Thanks for the news. Man... I would love to see this.

If you haven't read Sailing to Sarantium and , you've missed his most compelling work. I love Tigana and Al-Rassan, but that two-book series is one of the best yarns I've ever read. I have a small list of books I revisit when I need to be inspired to improve my own work, and those are two of them (alongside the writing of Mervyn Peake, Tolkien, and some of Patricia McKillip's work.)

Edited by Jeffrey Overstreet

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I have a small list of books I revisit when I need to be inspired to improve my own work, and those are two of them (alongside the writing of Mervyn Peake, Tolkien, and some of Patricia McKillip's work.)

Jeffrey, are you a fan of the Gormenghast novels? I think I've got the series around here somewhere, but I've never been able to make it past the first novel - they're so ponderous, and I couldn't find a single character that I sympathize with.

Back to Kay, I've read Tigana, A Song For Arbonne, and part of the Fianovar Tapestry, and the one that I find myself coming back to the most is Tigana. I agree, his novels are very romantic and melodramatic, which only makes the characters that much more alive and the plots that much more vibrant. I'm also a fan of the way he weaves together the various subplots and storylines in his novels, bringing them together in unexpected and poetic ways. The resolution to the Prince Valentine storyline in Tigana gets me everytime.

I also like the fact that his novels draw heavily from real world languages and cultures (Tigana has an Italian influence, A Song For Arbonne has French and German influences). Almost makes the novels seem like alternate versions of those countries' Middle Ages/Renaissance periods.

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Guy Gavriel Kay's novels are crying out to be adapted for the big screen, and this is a great place to start! Thanks for the news. Man... I would love to see this.

Glad to be the bearer of good tidings. :) Now I'm just hoping they won't dumb it down too much. In your opinion, would Ed Zwick be up to directing this?

Most importantly, who would you guys cast in the main roles? Characterization is so, so key to this novel that getting the right actors to play them would be key, I think.

I have a small list of books I revisit when I need to be inspired to improve my own work, and those are two of them (alongside the writing of Mervyn Peake, Tolkien, and some of Patricia McKillip's work.)

Can you tell me what it is that specifically inspires you about Kay's work? How do they relate to what you try to do as a writer?

Incidentally, how would you rank Tigana against Lions? As I said, I'm partial to the former, but I think you can make a good case that the latter is the more accomplished work, at least technically.

I'm also a fan of the way he weaves together the various subplots and storylines in his novels, bringing them together in unexpected and poetic ways. The resolution to the Prince Valentine storyline in Tigana gets me everytime.

The first time I read that, I had to put the book down and go walk around a little, before I could get back to and finish everything off. :o 8O :(

I also like the fact that his novels draw heavily from real world languages and cultures (Tigana has an Italian influence, A Song For Arbonne has French and German influences). Almost makes the novels seem like alternate versions of those countries' Middle Ages/Renaissance periods.

Actually, this has been somewhat problematic for me in both Lions and especially Arbonne. It

Edited by glatisant

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Jeffrey:

If you haven't read Sailing to Sarantium and , you've missed his most compelling work. I love Tigana and Al-Rassan, but that two-book series is one of the best yard's I've ever read.

Wow. I found these books (I assume the other one you're refering to is Lord of Emperors) the moist disappointing of his that I've read. It's been awhile since I've read them, but I seem to remember a lot of loose ends that weren't wrapped up in Lord of Emperors. The ending seemed so rushed, like he was trying to wrap things up quickly, but it just left me skatching my head.

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I thought his treatment of religion in The Last Light of the Sun was a bit more nuanced, but maybe that was because the alterno-Anglo-Saxon-England-and-Wales setting was more familiar.

But I think there's some truth to the claim that the alterno-religions in the alternative histories do seem empty, which is why, even though these later novels are indeed better in terms of writing and characterization, I still have a soft spot for the 4 vol. Fionavar Tapestry, which gets better with each book, and in which everything seems to matter deeply.

You might want to try an authentic historical novelist who inspired Kay: Dorothy Dunnett. He says in an interview she "taught me not to be afraid of complexity".

Dorothy Dunnett bibliography site, links to more info.

A&F Dunnett thread

Edited by BethR

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I thought Last Light felt like a lot of Kay ideas I'd visited before, until he went into the woods where things became more fantastical than they've been since The Fionavar Tapestry. But I didn't get nearly as attached to Last Light's characters as I did to the characters in The Sarantine Mosaic (Sailing to Sarantium and Lord of Emperors.) There are scenes in those books that involve a large crowd of characters in which the choreography of their interaction, and the surprise revelations about who is controlling who, just take my breath away.

And the chariot race was as exhilarating on the page as any chariot race on the big screen.

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But I think there's some truth to the claim that the alterno-religions in the alternative histories do seem empty, which is why, even though these later novels are indeed better in terms of writing and characterization, I still have a soft spot for the 4 vol. Fionavar Tapestry, which gets better with each book, and in which everything seems to matter deeply.

Yes, I suspected as much--that seems to be a function of myth (versus history), I guess. At the moment I'm trying to decide between reading the Tapestries first, or the Mosaic. I've picked up The Summer Tree a couple of times, but have never managed to make much headway before. But I think I'll finish up with the more historical works, then dive back into Kay's "first of all worlds."

You might want to try an authentic historical novelist who inspired Kay: Dorothy Dunnett. He says in an interview she "taught me not to be afraid of complexity".

Thanks for the recommendation. While we're on the subject of religion, there is an interesting paper from the same website that compares Kay to Tolkien, presented at the 2002 Conference on Christianity and Literature: From Middle Earth to Fionavar: Free Will and Sacrifice in High Fantasy by J.R.R. Tolkien and Guy Gavriel Kay.

Going back to the filming that's currently underway for The Lions of Al-Rassan, does anyone want to share their thoughts about possible casting, directions, etc?

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Ever since I read Tigana and Lions a few months ago, I've been trying to understand and state the differences between my experiences with them. For starters, they're both quite a bit more flawed than most of the books I enjoy and enter into as deeply as these two. For comparison, I'll mention Tad William's Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy, which is a better story but never quite resonated with me like these two books of Kay's.

The story of Tigana takes place in a rather creatively-flat world. We all have a soft spot for medieval inns and classic troubadors and all the "standards" of late 20th century fiction. But Tigana really went for the stock environment. One of the interesting aspects of my experience was how little this bothered me while reading the book.

I'll pick two flaws from Lions. First, the religion aspect is forced and preachy. Simple as that although, again, this bothered me less than expected during the reading. Second, the main characters are cut from a horribly cliched cloth. But I say 'cut from' because one of the triumphs of the book is the way in which Kay writes almost every one of his main characters out of their initial banality.

And now for what worked. Tigana is one heck of a story. It's well-paced and it fits so comfortably into the x00 pages that Kay provides. What a balance of believable detail and narrative arc! Kay does so many interesting, little things within a very familiar environment. This is a complete fantasy story if there ever was one.

Lions, on the other hand, is much less confident in it's construction, and it opening chapters left me wondering if I should go find some Terry Brooks and get a little originality. But Kay does something with his characters as the story progresses that I still can't explain. Somehow, without really reinventing the main characters, he made me care about them to a degree that really left me breathless. Throughout the whole story, the characters are the same: wise, stoic-yet-heroic battle leader; young, wide-eyed man with hidden potential; dashing, flashy warrior and lover; smart, spunky, and determinded young woman...Kay really doesn't go any further than this but somehow he make us (me, at least) empathize with them. The epilogue was one of the most poignant endings I've read in modern fantasy. And I just can't figure out how he pulled this off...

Great news about the film for Lions. I'd been wishing more for Tigana on film but I'm starting to think that the necessary omissions will matter FAR less in Lions than in Tigana. Exciting news!

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To me, Al-Rassan was claw-my-eyes-out bad, but that was largely because I find the actual legends and history of the Spanish-Moorish conflict he's drawing on way more interesting than what he did with them.

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Tigana is one heck of a story. It's well-paced and it fits so comfortably into the x00 pages that Kay provides. What a balance of believable detail and narrative arc! Kay does so many interesting, little things within a very familiar environment. This is a complete fantasy story if there ever was one.

What resonated most deeply with me in Tigana was the theme of memory: "What can a flame remember? If it remembers too much, it goes out. If it remembers too little, it goes out. If only it can teach us, while it burns, how to remember." The ideas of naming and identity have of course been explored before (Brian Friel's Translations, for example, explicitly links political repression with national identity and names/languages), but to symbolize it the way he did draws the story closer to myth, in the Tolkienian and Lewisian sense of the term.

Lions, on the other hand, is much less confident in its construction, and it opening chapters left me wondering if I should go find some Terry Brooks and get a little originality. But Kay does something with his characters as the story progresses that I still can't explain. Somehow, without really reinventing the main characters, he made me care about them to a degree that really left me breathless. Throughout the whole story, the characters are the same: wise, stoic-yet-heroic battle leader; young, wide-eyed man with hidden potential; dashing, flashy warrior and lover; smart, spunky, and determinded young woman...Kay really doesn't go any further than this but somehow he make us (me, at least) empathize with them.

I actually found Lions a more confident work in some ways than either Tigana or Arbonne. Part of this may be because Kay does variations on the same archetypes (the grizzled outlaw, the machiavellian monarch, the beautiful courtesan, to add a few to your list), and by this point, he is able to deepen their individual storylines and motivations while integrating them more seamlessly into the whole than before. (For example, compare the parts played by Alienor and Zabira in relations to the plot.) For another reason, one can argue that Tigana and Arbonne come with more ready-made, "fantastical" story arcs, while pulling the more historically-bound cast and numerous contending political forces in Lions together thematically is a much more difficult accomplishment.

The epilogue was one of the most poignant endings I've read in modern fantasy. And I just can't figure out how he pulled this off...

For me, the poignancy of the ending was ruined somewhat by the gratituous attempt at misdirecting the reader near its beginning. I understand the point is to underscore the mirror/doubling motif between the two main characters, but the way it came off was way too clumsy and heavyhanded to be effective. The three full glasses of wine, at the end, however, has to stand as one of the most lovely, pitch-perfect images in all his works.

To me, Al-Rassan was claw-my-eyes-out bad, but that was largely because I find the actual legends and history of the Spanish-Moorish conflict he's drawing on way more interesting than what he did with them.

I'm thinking of borrowing El-Cid from the library to check out his sources. The whole religious conflict has to have been more meaningful than the way it was presented.

Edited by glatisant

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Forgot to echo the praise for Tigana. The first book I read by him, and the one that really worked for me.

Kay also coedited the Silmarillion, and either cowrote or encouraged Christopher Tolkien to write the tail end of the story of the House of Hurin (all JRRT's surviving drafts of that part were from his early versions, and were basically unworkable in Middle Earth as it had evolved during and after the writing of LOTR, and JRRT's sidenotes made it clear that he had rejected that approach to the material. Christopher Tolkien felt guilty about doing this and not explaining it clearly in the Silmarillion, and ultimately turned against Kay).

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And I forgot to add that the appropriation of real-life histories and legends actually came off far worse in Arbonne than in Lions. In the latter, the Christian-Muslim-Jewish conflict was depicted as meaningless (a viewpoint I can understand if not endorse), and both sides are allowed their share of honorable (or at least ambiguous) characters. In Arbonne, the Christian-Catharist conflict had been baldly slated to equal repression of women/art vs. liberation of women/art.

Interesting stuff about the Silmarillion. This conversation on Kay mentions the way the curse on the House of Hurin played out as a possible source of inspiration for the curse in Tigana. The relevant section is about two-fifths of the way down on my screen.

:spoilers: for Silmarillion and Tigana:

CC: The story of Hurin and his children has close parallels to the story of Brandin's revenge on the royal family of Tigana. Hurin was king of the men of Dor-Lomin. At the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, in which Morgoth destroys all the kingdoms of the High Elves, Hurin and his men serve as a rearguard for Turgon, King of Gondolin, Morgoth's most bitter enemy. While Hurin's men hold off Morgoth's armies, Turgon's people escape back to their secret city, escaping the slaughter. Hurin and his men fight to the last man, so that Hurin is finally left alone. He slays fifty orcs on his own, until finally he is captured, not killed, and brought before Morgoth. Morgoth tries to get his service, but Hurin reviles him. Still Morgoth does not kill him; instead, he curses Hurin and his family, so that all the good they try to do will turn to evil. He then sets Hurin in a high seat in the mountains above Morgoth's fortress of Angband to watch the unfolding of the curse. There's a close parallel here to

the Prince of Tigana's personal punishment

, I think.

...

CC: Hurin's young children, Turin and Nienor, escape separately from slavery but, through their well-intended actions, they help to bring about the destruction of two hidden Elven strongholds, Nargothrond and Doriath. Later, Turin and Nienor are reunited, but not before Nienor has been enspelled by the Dragon of Morgoth, Glaurung, to lose all her memory. Not knowing herself, she and Turin meet and fall in love (the close parallel here is to Dianora and Baerd and the incest in their story). When Nienor recovers her memory, she leaps into a river and drowns herself. Again, this fits with Kay's handling of

the story of Dianora

. So for those reasons I see the Silmarillion as an important source of inspiration for Kay.

derringdo, did you mean that Kay and/or Christopher Tolkien wrote that part of the Hurin storyline themselves, or did they do it from Tolkien's earlier drafts? Does anyone know the length of time passed from when Kay helped edit the Silmarillion, till when he wrote Tigana?

Edited by glatisant

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:spoilers: for Silmarillion-I don't remember how to do the blackout thingie.

glatisant: my main problem with Al-Rassan was that I found his story less interesting, as a series of moral or emotional dilemmas that the characters find themselves in, than source material. The "we're nice rational honorable people, too bad our anachronistic sense of patriotism binds us to political entities led by bigots who take this religion stuff far too seriously." issue was secondary to that, though it's safe to say that you cannot understand that conflict and the cultures embroiled in it without understanding the religious impulse a good deal better than Kay does. The people were also deathly dull to me, as if the brand of integrity these people possessed was one Kay recognized but did not understand and did not find particularly attractive-he was ultimately more interested in mourning the fall of the Moorish counterpart-kingdoms, which he had made too parallel to the real McCoy for me to be terribly sympathetic about: the Alhambra's fate was sealed the day a great Islamic force swept through corrupt Visigothic "Spain" and up to "France" and left a handful of Christian guerilla fighters in the Asturias mountains. They *forged* the "barbaric" "warlike" "bigoted" Christian cultures that would unseat their descendents in Spain as surely as they forged the Moorish realms that would become the among the most advanced, most enlightened subcultures Islam has ever produced. The sins of the fathers....

Arbonne didn't bother me as much because the analogies seem to be alot vaguer, or simply because I have less interest in that setting.

As far as the Silmarillion issue, what I read was that CT had done the rewritten version, at Kay's urging (though CT does not mention Kay when he discusses this "misguided decision" in the History of Middle Earth series). The net effect of that part of the story-Hurin is responsible for Thingol owning a necklace called the Nauglimir with Beren's Silmaril in it and the treasure of Nargothrond, Hurin dies or drops out of history, the Nauglimir brings about a feud between dwarves and elves and Thingol's death, Luthien wears it, and dies the younger for it-the effects are not dissimilar, but the motivations and causes and details are very, very different in JRRT's failed drafts. In the latter, the Dwarves were pretty much pure evil, Nauglimir was forged from scratch for Thingol from Nargothrondian treasure (Glaurung's hoard), after Hurin and he...acquire it by means that more suggest the lead characters from the Good, the Bad and the Ugly than Aragorn Elessar's forefathers. The Nauglimir and the Silmaril are described there as cursed outright by the dragon taint; while in CT's version, he uses his father's 'later' idea of the Silmarils being hallowed, and CT apparently invents and plants at an earlier point in the Silm. the idea of the Nauglimir as being originally a benign, mildly enchanted possession of Galadriel's brother Finrod (original king of Nargothrond), who was friendly with the Dwarves.

Basically, as I understand it, what you read in the Silmarillion, after Hurin stands at the entrance to Gondolin and yells at his old elvish friend, to the end of that chapter is pure CT-advised-by-Kay: the end disposition of the pieces they are moving is in accordance with Tolkien's known wishes, but how they get there, is CT's and Kay's best guess as to how to move Thingol, Hurin, et al., there without throwing them violently OOC or violating any magical concepts laid down in the JRRT drafts they're using for the rest of the book.

It's been a while, but I believe the main overview of the Hurin/Nauglimir business is in either "War of the Jewels" or "Morgoth's Ring", both "later" volumes in the History of Middle Earth series (unpublished drafts of JRRT's writings anthologized in the order they were written, loosely grouped by the timeframe he wrote and the subject matter). Here CT gives a brief overview of the earlier drafts of this substory, which he's already published, publishes the latest notes and drafts that he has and makes it clear that his father was stumped by how to reconcile what Hurin and Thingol and the Dwarves had become in his mind with what they needed to do (so he thought) to ensure the rest of the Silm. would proceed as planned. CT, in his editorial commentary, then "confesses" to what he did, in Silm., mentions having been advised to do this, but does not name Kay, and wishes he hadn't done it.

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Thanks for the detailed explanation, derringdo. I never made it past the second book of the Sil, so this is all new to me. A (very belated) thank you.

I share with you some of the same reservations you had with Lions of Al-Rassan, but I think I bought into the characters more than you did, perhaps.

I finally got my reserved copy of Sailing to Sarantium from the library today. For those of you who have read it, how was the depiction of religion in that book? How closely does the setting hew to Byzantine Orthodoxy, and does that affect the believability of the settings to you?

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Has anyone read Kay's new novel, Ysabel? Friends are recommending it, but I'm waiting for the paperback or my local library.

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Has anyone read Kay's new novel, Ysabel? Friends are recommending it, but I'm waiting for the paperback or my local library.

Why yes, now that you mention it, I have read Ysabel--the library finally got it in, around the end of May. It was a faster read than the alternate history novels, and with a 15-year-old protagonist, leans more toward a YA categorization. However, I was intrigued (though not all my cyberfriends agree) by its links to

The Fionavar Tapestry books

, but you really have to have read them to get the full implications.

Maybe he's planning to write more in that vein? I wouldn't mind. The characters he introduced in this book were interesting enough but could be developed in more depth if he wrote them into another book.

Edited by BethR

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I finished The Last Light of the Sun the other night. Interesting book. I was pleased to see the boldness with which Kay delved into the themes of faith and doubt, chance and inevitability. I got the idea that Light was less about the story itself and more about exploring some concepts and themes within the framework of the story. Kay makes some surprising narrative choices here that really do nothing the spin a better tale. Rather, these choices are ideological ones which take the reader further into the darkly existential world that Kay is exploring.

In spite of Kay's fascination with large-scale themes, the story doesn't suffer too much. It's not his best yarn, but somehow that matters less within Kay's world of tough but deep-felt ideas. I may have cared less about the characters here. But their world feels much more familiar than the entertaining but distant, unachievable world of Tigana, for example.

I recommend the book. It's a fairly successful experiment, with an almost-familiar world that deftly straddles the line between otherworldly, unfamiliar escape and all-too-familiar reality.

And he closes the book with a C.S. Lewis poem.

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Jeff, I liked it too. The closing act includes one of the more dramatic, compelling duels I've ever read. And some of the characters become really compelling.

But I was disappointed on some levels, and felt like it was a little too familiar compared to earlier Kay works. The Sarantine Mosaic involved so many compelling characters and storylines, and I just didn't find this one as interesting.

I love the way he weaves in threads from other stories he's written, so you can see how his alternate histories fit together.

[uPDATE: Oh, now I see that I said some of this before when this subject came up. Sorry.]

Edited by Jeffrey Overstreet

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