Thursday, 14 February 2008

Ysabel, Owls and Other Fantasies, and Happy Valentine's Day to you!


Ysabel - Guy Gavriel Kay. I finished "Ysabel" on Tuesday. Guy Gavriel Kay has based the story on Celtic ritual and myth, but not a specific myth. At first I found this difficult to understand, but as the story moved along, I found it interesting. A bit of the Celtic belief in the afterlife and the soul are explored, but mostly, mainly, this is a story about the mythic landscape in Europe, and the mixing of Celtic and Roman history on the same sites. What makes a site powerful? Why? What was the site used for? Why do we resonate with some? These are some of the questions "Ysabel" brings up. I can't say any more, without giving the plot away, except to say the protagonist is a 15 year old boy, who discovers why the area he is visiting resonates with him. It ended much more powerfully than I thought it would. This is an excellent fantasy set in modern day France, one I highly recommend to YA fiction readers as well as fantasy readers.

Guy Gavriel Kay has been writing in the fantasy field for over 20 years now. I first read The Fionavar Tapestry - his first books, a trilogy - back in the mid 1980's when it was first published, and it was a series that for me, set the standard for writing fantasy that is partially set in today's world. The Fionavar Tapestry begins in the modern world, as does Ysabel; the Fionavar trilogy then moves to a fantasy Celtic world where the large part of the story occurs. Ysabel takes place in France; the mythic world overlaps here. In this I see a change in part of the fantasy world, a movement from going between worlds, to settling fantasy into this world. Like Charles de Lint's Widdershins which I posted on earlier this year, I enjoy very much fantasy set in this world. It brings back the capacity to see magic here, to see the world is full of imagination here, as all the folktales suggest. A final note, 'Ysabel" has made me want to go visit these historical sites in southern France now!

There are of course many ways of writing a fantasy series as the genre has existed for over 100 years now. I read alot of fantasy, having first discovered Tolkien in my teens. I don't read alot of sword and sorcery magic because I find the worst of it derivative; but I will read the best fantasy books. I love myth, and storytelling, and to me fantasy allows us to reach to those stories that speak of fires and shadows and night, that go back to myths and images we all know instinctively. There is power in myth that our souls resonate to, Joseph Campbell said over and over, and for me, fantasy is one way for us to access that power. Both Charles de Lint and Guy Gavriel Kay engage in this kind of mythic writing, with varying degrees of success in the various books and subjects they have done over the years. For me, de Lint's Newford books are amazing, and Kay's Sailing to Sarantium series (2 volumes) stand out. I want to write something similar to de Lint's Newford series, I find it so powerful! Where I blend myth and the modern city or town landscape.

Owls and Other Fantasies - Mary Oliver
It took me some time to read this poetry book, because I would dip into it and savour it a poem at a time. This is my first encounter with Oliver, who writes of the natural world from a naturalist's point of view. She has won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, as well as a National Book Award. This is one of her most recent collections, published in 2003.

There is no heavy Romantic flights of fantasy or sermonizing in raptures; just a quiet, elegant, thoughtful, realistic look at nature and the rewards for our imagination if we look and listen carefully. "Such Singing in the Wild Branches" is among my favourite poems in this collection; "The Swan", which I put down here on Feb 2, "Backyard", "September", "Little Owl Who Lives in the Orchard", and the essay "Owls". Mary Oliver is no sentimentalist; she writes of the death the owl brings, and the hawk, as well as the beauty of the loon's song, the meadowlark and swan. This is a collection of poetry that bears reading and reading again, and then again, to savor the images, the richness of imagination that Oliver brings. Here is 'The Loon on Oak-Head Pond', talking about a sound that is inescapably part of my Canadian landscape, as well as our American friends to the south, where Oliver has lived all her life:

The Loon on Oak Head-Pond


cries for three days, in the gray mist.
cries for the north it hopes it can find.

plunges, and comes up with a slapping pickerel.
blinks its red eye.

cries again.

you come every afternoon, and wait to hear it.
you sit a long time, quiet, under the thick pines,
in the silence that follows.

as though it were your own twilight.
as though it were your own vanishing song.

- Mary Oliver


My favourite walks are along the Ottawa River, where we have miles of walkway especially created for pedestrians and cyclists. I live near Mud Lake, a bird sanctuary and nature preserve by the Ottawa River, in the city of Ottawa. So, even in the city, I am fortunate to be able to see owls, hawks, turkey vultures, and a whole host of summering birds in the bird sanctuary, plus the winter birds like the blue jay, cardinal, sparrows and chickadees. Being in nature restores my soul like nothing else can, and so I felt like I had found a soul similar to mine in reading Mary Oliver's poetry. I will be looking for more of her books!

Finally - Happy Valentine's Day to you! I wish you joy with your loved ones today, Gentle Reader, and if you are far from home, or alone today, then spend it reading a book or author that you love, or do something that you love. I find, in this post Sept 11 world, a little bit of love is healing and reminds me that we can rebuild the world one act of kindness at a time. Love is about connecting, so I wish you all the love your heart can hold today, Gentle Reader!

8 comments:

Eva said...

I love Mary Oliver! One of my favourites is "Honey at the Table." Happy Valentine's Day to you as well!

Lady P said...

Gee...glad someone enjoyed Valentine's Day. I spent the day cleaning up the partially flooded basement. the fans and heat are trying to dry the carpet/flooring/concrete now. I was supposed to make a nice dinner for some company; instead mother-in-law brought supper to our home. Hubby is out with his brother, looking at cars. I feel quite huffy and haven't read one damn page today of ANYTHING - even the NEWSPAPER was soaking this morning!!

Table Talk said...

I read the Fionavar Tapestry just last yer and really enjoyed it, so I must now look out a copy of 'Ysabel' especially as I've been doing a fair bit of reading based on Celtic myth lately and it's always interesting to see what someone else has made of it

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