Tuesday 27 July 2010
Nostalgia reading, part two: danger on every side
When I picked it up to consider reading it again (and I read it many, many times in the halcyon days of the late '80s, when my hair was tall and hard, my shoes pointy, and my arms concave) something about it (I can't recall what) suggested to me that I may have somehow failed to realize this was part of a series. I did a little interwebs research and discovered that not only is Gryphon's Eyrie part of a trilogy, it's the second book in the trilogy. Whatever OCD tendencies I may have simply wouldn't allow me to pretend I didn't know this; the only way to eventually re-read Gryphon's Eyrie was to read the first book first - which I have now done.
The Crystal Gryphon was penned in the early 1970s by Andre Norton only and apparently is a classic of high fantasy. It has a classic 1970s cover, in any case. I didn't care so much about that, obviously; what I cared about was finding out about Kerovan and Joisan before they're married and fleeing together through dangerous parts and making magics all over the place (book two). The narrative structure of Gryphon's Eyrie featured these characters telling the story in the first person, in alternating chapters, which I'd always believed was the result of two authors penning one novel together - it makes sense, in terms of divvying up the work. In fact, the first Norton-only installment has the same narrative structure, which surprised me, and which didn't always work (too much repetition of details at times); the similar structure, however, likely increased my reading pleasure in The Crystal Gryphon immeasurably since a significant part of what I liked as a kid about Gryphon's Eyrie was its constantly shifting viewpoint.
I can't comment yet on book two, but like I said, this doesn't always work in book one, and not just because of some repetition. Rather, what struck me most and irritated me to no end was Norton's inconsistencies in describing Kerovan's appearance. In Gryphon's Eyrie, Kerovan has cloven hooves instead of feet and golden, animal-ish eyes and maybe pointy ears. He's an edgy sort of Mr. Tumnus-esque hotpants, in other words, and more crucially, his odd appearance results a great deal in his and Joisan's successes and failures on their journey. So, colour me shocked and irritated when in the first half of the book, Kerovan does have cloven hooves but this is, we are repeatedly told, the only thing that differentiates him externally from other men. This is so adamantly insisted upon that when Kerovan wears his specially made boots, he can "pass" with no difficulty whatsoever. In other words, it's not just that we're given insight into how naive Kerovan is about the lies people tell him - he experiences this difference to be located entirely in his pegs.
But then I was shocked and more irritated in the second half of the book when we're told, from Joisan's point of view (confirmed later from Kerovan's p.o.v.), that in fact Kerovan does have those crazy golden eyes, etc. And this isn't merely a fact of him coming from parts foreign to hers, for the emissaries his father sends to make their marriage contract while they're still children do not have such unusual features. He is the only one like this, a sexy monstrous birth resulting from his corrupt and witchy mother's deal with the dark elements of the Old Ones; of course, her witchery is a partial fail for she does not produce a baby with a correspondingly dark soul. Kerovan's a good guy, which made his deformity all the more attractive to me when I was a bleeding heart 13-year old; it seems to have appealed to Joisan as well.
In case you're wondering about the plot, I'm not saying much about it because it's in no way remarkable. This is a fantasy novel with all the desired elements of fantasy novels, save characterological consistency and if Norton's to blame so is her coked up and sleep-deprived editor for missing something so crucial. What I'm saying is, I kind of enjoyed this book but would have enjoyed it much more for what it was if it'd been better handled before it was out of the printing gate. And given this major lapse, I'm doubly nervous about re-reading Gryphon's Eyrie!
This, however, won't be my third book for Nostalgia Week; in fact, I'm still deciding on what that'll be. I would like to get back to Stephen King's It, actually, but not only do I not have a copy at hand, it's also far too long (1,000+ pages). I am considering my beloved Bambi (Felix Salten) but am not sure I feel like bawling copiously and loudly this week. Then I was thinking A Swiftly Tilting Planet because I'd like to recapture my devotion to Madeleine L'Engle but then re-reading A Wrinkle in Time wasn't a match at all for my memories of it...I continue to fear my endeavour here, but will persevere. Onward!