Friday, July 20, 2012

Fantasy Matters Reads The Summer Tree

We have had an excellent month and a half of coverage here at Fantasy Matters of Guy Gavriel Kay's The Summer Tree.  We have featured some of the music inspired by Kay's work, Tia Mansouri wrote about the various covers of The Summer Tree, and we saw a dance inspired by the legend of Diarmuid, the character from Irish mythology who shares his name with one of the characters from The Summer Tree.  We will be announcing our next Fantasy Matters Reads! book next week, so make sure you come back to see what book to read next.

But before we move on, we'd like to share some of the highlights from our forum discussions with you:

We kicked things off by talking about our favorite characters.  I liked Diarmuid, but others picked a wide variety of other characters.  One reader considered Diarmuid,
but I think this time 'round I pick Dave. He has the best line in the entire book, in my humble opinion. "Forever and Revor?"
Others were drawn to characters, not because they liked them, but because they wanted to know more.  One person, for example, wanted to know more about Jaelle:
So many great characters, but my instincts pick Jaelle. What makes her tick? We get to know all the other main characters, but this woman remains a mystery. When Paul asks her, "Why is it so much easier for you to strike a defenseless man than to wipe the blood from his face?" I found her answer sooooo unsatisfying. I want to know more about the woman who makes the men wait, antagonizes them, and refuses to fall in line.
 And we were also interested in characters that we weren't drawn to as strongly, including Kevin, Paul, and Jennifer.  One person wrote,

Kevin's ability, as referenced again and again, is knowing or being able to say the right thing in a situation. He's clever and good with words and so I almost wonder if these traits make him more forgettable because they allow him to mesh the best into the narrative and leave little for readers to remember him by...
And another wrote this:
At any rate, Paul and Jennifer are very similar in that they both have experienced things (death and rape, respectively) that are outside the realm of what most people can easily empathize with. This isn't to say that they aren't interesting, or likeable, or sympathetic--just that I'm not able to get inside their heads as easily as Kim and Dave's.
Paul's character was a bit frustrating for some.  One person thought that his sacrifice on the Summer Tree was unexpected:
It seemed to me upon first reading that Paul jumped awfully quickly into the self-sacrificial role of Summer Tree offering. The details of his moments on the tree helped quite a bit, but his rapid volunteering with little insight as to his character's motivations was disconcerting to me.
But another reader helped trace the thread of Paul's suffering throughout the narrative.  He writes that Paul's suffering is

a theme that increasingly builds as he's in Fionavar. First when Paul spots the dog, a great deal over his game of ta'bael with Ailell, then in the conversation he has with Kevin while over the the river Saeren during Diar's escapade into Cathal when the topic of suicide is broached, and finally in the Black Boar when he cannot face either intimacy or Kevin playing Rachel's Song.

Throughout these passages a picture is painted of a character in deep pain, guilt-ridden, but also driven and with some pride. So when he sees a path that could end his pain and guilt, but in a way that may have some meaning, I think it is only natural that he grasped it.
However, we didn't just talk about the characters--we also talked about our overall impressions of the novel.  One of the things people most enjoyed about the book was the system of magic that Kay set in place in the novel.  One reader wrote this:
Kay's idea of magic drives this storyline. I call it "relational" magic since a source is needed for the mage. And that's the biggest surprise of all. Relationships, when none are actually developed at the start, define the entirety of this masterpiece.
In response, another reader said this: 
...the way magic works is one of the things I enjoy about the novel as well.

It's arguably the most significant example of one of the themes of the novel, which is the price of power. When the result of you wielding power is that the person closest to you is the one drained, you'd really have to think about how and when you make use of it (or at least you'd hope someone would!).

I like how...difficult this makes magic. Not difficult in terms of complex ingredients or hand motions, but on more of a moral level. In most fantasy books, magic is included just because it's expected to be, or because it's a useful deus ex machina. The personal cost of magic here (personal despite--or because of--the fact that it isn't the wielder of the magic who bears the cost of it) is much more interesting.
And finally, I'd like to share this chart that Firinneach, aka Alec, created, which shows the chronology of the novel and charts the characters' interactions.  It's visually arresting and provides a very helpful companion for reading the novel.

The Summer Tree Character Interaction Chart, copyright Firinneach.  All rights reserved.

You can find a larger version of this image here.

It was a wonderful discussion--and even though we're starting a new book on Monday, we'd love for you to check it out and share your thoughts, too.

Brightly woven, my friends.  Brightly woven.

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