|Original Cover of Summer Tree|
Someday, I hope to make a long list of the books that changed me. And on that list, taking its turn at the top, would be The Fionavar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay.
I remember it like it was yesterday, though the year was 1985. My graduation year. All the usual teenage things happened. The bad hair. The parties. The awkwardness.
The awesome heavy metal.
One of the highlights of that year shines through quite clearly: buying The Summer Tree at a bookstore in Swift Current. I was a constant loiterer in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section and the cover caught my eye. Then, when I picked up the book, the words caught my eye. I didn't know the writer. Had no idea he was Canadian or even that he had connections to Saskatchewan. No, I knew, almost instantly that he could write. "After the war was over, they bound him under the mountain." That's the first line. And who would be so powerful that he'd have to be bound under a mountain? I had to read on.
I won't go blow by blow through my reactions. I know I was a kid looking graduation in the eye and contemplating four years at university. This story that involved five university students visiting a fantastical realm rang perfectly true with me. I was also a kid with Tolkien and Lloyd Alexander running through my veins. Fionavar was the next step. The transition story. A series with depth and, somehow, it was more real than any other fantasy I'd yet read. Yes, Gandalf was amazing. So was Frodo (even if he did have hairy feet). But I could never BE one of them. But Dave Martyniuk or Kevin Laine or Paul Schafer. I could BE them. The three books in this series are burned into my memory. There are several scenes that burn bright all these years later (gee, I sound old when I say that--just imagine me with a cane and a derby hat). The story lifted my spirit, taught me about humanity. Surprised me. Also the books broke my heart, damn them. But a good book can break your heart and still get you to keep reading. To find hope again. And to believe in the power of story.
I haven't read the series for several years. Not because of a fear that somehow they won't measure up to the joy I felt when I was reading them as a youth. No, I keep waiting for that time when I can sit down and read them all in a row without interruption. In other words I want a deserted island and a comfy chair. Time to buck up and go back to them again.
I think the highest compliment I can pay these books and the author is this: I decided to only buy Guy Gavriel Kay's work in hardcover from that point on. He is one of the authors whose work deserved--no demanded to be read, preserved and treasured
I did get to meet Guy Kay years later at a festival in Moose Jaw. I nearly brought all of my copies of his books to be signed, but didn't want to appear too fanboyish. But I do cherish the first book in the series that he signed:
All of his novels sit on a shelf in my office as inspiration. As examples of what is possible with fantastical literature.
P.S. Being a hoarder, I now also have the books in softcover (and love the new covers--forgive me, I'm a book cover hoarder, too). These are the brand sparkling new covers from HarperCollins. Feast your eyes.