Welcome back to Muse Monday, where you will find essays, photos, or wise sayings to entice the muse to come by and whisper in your ear!
Susannah Clements wrote such a wonderful essay called “From Middle Earth to Fionavar: Free Will and Sacrifice in High Fantasy by J. R. R. Tolkien and Guy Gavriel Kay” I wanted to share it with you. Below are some of my favorite parts, but make sure you read the whole thing. (Also make sure you’ve read The Fionavar Tapestry first). It would be worth your while to wander around the other scholarly papers on Kay’s site for inspiration, too!
The similarities between Tolkien’s and Kay’s trilogies are obvious and intentional. Like Tolkien, Kay creates a world that is different from our own, inhabited by races other than human (including dwarves, miscellaneous monsters, and his equivalent of elves-the lios alfar, “most hated by the Dark for their name was light” (ST 15)). Many of the characters are types Tolkien uses: the powerful dark lord, the noble wizard, the wizard who betrays, the warrior king. And the reader is introduced to this world by characters who are, in essence, outsiders, and yet who become the most important actors in the world; instead of hobbits, Kay uses five characters from our world-Kim, Jennifer, Paul, Dave and Kevin-who are brought by Loren, the wizard, into Fionavar. Despite these obvious similarities, Kay’s work is not a mindless imitation of Tolkien like the dozens that still appear in the fantasy sections of our bookstores. He uses the elements intentionally, and the ways in which he distinguishes himself from Tolkien shed light on the complexity of how issues like free will and sacrifice can be explored in literature.
After Frodo’s companions discover the Ring-bearer missing and rush off in a mad panic, Clements observes this is another sign of the providence that guides them all: “What seems to be a chaotic mess actually ends up getting the characters exactly in the places they need to be, which would not have happened had they followed the original plan of conscious choice.” Many readers and Tolkien scholars recognize the hand of God in the providential happenings through the tale.
In Fionovar, above the other gods and goddesses that take an active and visible role in the world, is the Weaver at the Loom. “The Weaver ordains the events of the world, weaving each person’s life as a thread in the tapestry.” But like in Middle-earth, where Frodo is clearly chosen as Ring-bearer but still has to freely choose to embrace his calling, not everything is as set in stone in Fionovar as it may appear. “And yet, despite this clear, ordained destiny laid out for all who live and are part of the Tapestry, there is that which works against it. In contrast to ‘the woven’ there is ‘the wild’.” Even the Weaver cannot control this and when the Wild Hunt comes again to Fionavar, the Weaver watches “to see what would come back into the Tapestry” (Wandering Fire 103).
…the Hunt was placed in the Tapestry to be wild in the truest sense, to lay down an uncontrolled thread for the freedom of the Children who came after. And so did the Weaver lay a constraint upon himself, that not even he, shuttling at the Loom of Worlds, may preordain and shape exactly what is to be. We who came after . . . we have such choices as we have, some freedom to shape our own destinies, because of that wild thread of Owein and the Hunt slipping across the Loom, warp and then weft, in turn and at times. They are there . . . precisely to be wild, to cut across the Weaver’s measured will. To be random, and so enable us to be. (Darkest Road 94)
Clements further explores the idea of free will within both Fionavar and Middle-earth and how these worlds are affected by it. “The fantasy genre itself rests, not on the question of who will be victorious, but on how much it will cost in order for good to triumph. For both Kay and Tolkien, it is only through sacrifice that victory can be won. Therefore, the highest form of human choice, of free will, comes in the form of sacrifice.” There are many in both sub-creations who spend themselves for the good of others, and through their great efforts, filled with grace, save their worlds. For Paul, Jennifer, and Kevin who come to Fionavar from our world, it is perhaps even a greater, more moving sacrifice, for it is not even their own world they suffer so much to save. For those born within Fionavar, Matt and Darien among them, these free acts bring much good at a terrible cost to themselves.
Clements also brings up how essential forgiveness is in both Fionavar and Middle-earth. “Forgiveness is the grace that allows the victory in the end to be true and shifts the balance between happiness and sorrow.” Though she refers to Kay’s sub-creation with these words, she acknowledges the same is true for Middle-earth.
As much as Frodo’s sacrificial trip to Mount Doom moves and inspires me, I think reading about Darien’s Fionavarian via dolorosa broke my heart even more. I read these books about four years ago, and the power of the tale remains with me. “One should not disregard the power of the emotional pain involved in reading the Tapestry. . . . For the reader, as for Kim at the end . . . there is ‘so much glory and so much pain, all interwoven together and never to be untied’ (DR 326).” I love this cover from The Darkest Road. If you have read it, you know how heartbreaking it is. If not, what are you waiting for?
What stories have broken your heart (in a good way) and left you in awe of the power of a master storyteller like Tolkien and Kay?